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Orioles look to get back on track against struggling Blue Jays starting pitchers

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The Orioles return to Camden Yards tonight to start a three-game series against the Blue Jays. Tom Dakers of the SB Nation Blue Jays blog Bluebird Banter is here to give us some thoughts on what's up with the Jays this year.

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At one time on Camden Chat, there was a joke about how Matt Wieters would be the one to lead us to the Promised Land, "also known as slightly ahead of the Blue Jays." As it turned out, the Promised Land was far greater than that modest hope, although it wasn't really Wieters who played a huge role in getting them there, either. You never really know with baseball.

The Orioles begin a three-game series with the Blue Jays looking to claw a little closer to that old Promised Land - though, since the series is only three games, the O's would have to sweep to end up ahead of the Jays. I think we know that won't happen.

I checked in once again with Tom Dakers, my counterpart over at Bluebird Banter, to get some thoughts on what's been going on with the Jays since the last time we saw them. You can also find my thoughts on the Orioles for their blog here.

1. Jose Bautista hasn't played in the field since injuring his shoulder during the last series these two teams played. Do you miss him any in the field? What's the prognosis on his injury?

Tom: Most of why he's missed in the field is that with him DHing, is that messes up things in other spots. Since Jose is DH, Edwin has to play first base every day, which puts Justin Smoak on the bench. Smoak was signed because he's a good defensive first baseman and, the Jays hoped, that getting him away from Safeco Field, and getting to play in the much more hitter friendly Rogers Centre, Smoak would show the power that made him a first round draft pick, all those years ago. Unfortunately, Smoak is only getting work as a defensive replacement.

The other problem with Bautista DHing, is that, with Michael Saunders on the DL and Dalton Pompey playing his way back to the minors, we have the B or C team in the outfield. Kevin Pillar has played terrific defense, giving us a highlight reel catch almost every day, but he looks more like a fourth outfielder, than an everyday player.  Chris Colabello has hit great, since being called up last week (.556/.579/.833 in 18 at bats) but he has played outfield like you would expect a full time DH to play. Ezequiel Carrera has also hit great, in a very small sample (.389/.421/.444 in 18 at bats), but he isn't someone that we expected to see playing in the Jays outfield.

Bautista is going to DH until he can throw and he hasn't been able to throw yet. It will be at least another week, and likely more, before he plays in the field. The good news is that he's been hitting well. He's yet to go on one of those streaks where he carries the team, but it doesn't look like his swing has been affected by the pain in his shoulder.

2. I was surprised when I looked at the Blue Jays batting statistics heading into Sunday's games, with three players tied for the team lead in home runs with seven. Out of the trio of Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Devon Travis, who has surprised you the most? Do you think any of this trio will still lead the team in home runs by year's end?

Tom: Devon Travis has surprised me the most. Watching him in spring training, I figured I was going to like him, he seemed to have a good eye at the plate and a nice quick short stroke with the bat. But didn't expect the power. He hit his, team leading, 8th home run Sunday. I kind of figured him for 8-12 home runs on the season.  His defense has also surprised me. We were told he was going to be an offense first type of second baseman but his defense has looked very good to me. He turns the double play as well as anyone I've seen. He has had a bit of trouble recently, since pitchers have been trying to go at him with all off speed stuff, but he seems to be making an adjustment.

I always think that Jose Bautista is going to lead the team in home runs, because you know he's going to have a couple of those 2 week hot streaks, where he hits half a dozen home runs. But it wouldn't surprise me too much if Josh Donaldson led the team this year. He hit 29 home runs last year at that ugly mess they call a ballpark in Oakland. He could get to 40 in the smaller AL East parks.

3. Starting pitching has been a struggle for the Jays so far, much like it's been for the Orioles. Who has you worried the most? Who do you think will turn things around?

Who worries me the most is whoever is pitching today. I don't think I've ever seen this before where all five pitchers, that began the season in the rotation, have been terrible. The one of the five who had the best ERA (at the time), Daniel Norris, was sent down to the minors. The front office is in a bad spot, because, if it was one guy who wasn't performing, you could make a trade or call someone up from the minors. When it is all five? You have to hang on and hope they figure things out.

I guess, if you forced me to say which one worries me the most, I'd say Mark Buehrle. He's always been the sort that just throws it up there and hopes they hit it at a fielder. This year people are hitting rockets off him. His strikeout rate drops every year, this year it is down to 9.1%. His value is his ability to eat innings, but, his last start was his best of the season so far, and he only went 5 innings. It will be a minor miracle if he makes it anywhere close to 200 innings this year, after 14 straight years of 200+ innings. I'm thinking he may be done.

As for who will turn it around, I think Aaron Sanchez looks like he is figuring thing out. He walks too many and, I think, he'll always walk too many, but, in his last two starts, he's allowed just 6 hits in 12.2 innings. He gets batters to hit the ball on the ground. There will be a lot of double plays turned behind him.

4. How the heck is Jeff Francis still playing in MLB in the year 2015? Is he going to stick around for a while?

Tom: Our starters aren't going deep into games (which is a massive understatement), we need, at least 2 or 3 long relievers in the pen. Francis has been pretty ok in the mop up role. He's pitched 3.1 innings of relief on 2 occasions and more than an inning in 4 of 6 appearances.

You don't want him out there in a close game, 5 of his 6 appearances have been in losses, and each of those have been game the Jays lost by, at least, 3 runs. I mean, if you don't want to use a position player to finish off those games, Francis as a good choice as anyone. I wouldn't be giving him any high leverage work, but he'll give you some passable innings, in lost causes. And he's Canadian, eh.

5. The Jays have already made use of 18 different pitchers this season. What's the story of all of the turnover? Have they found the answer out there or are they still tinkering?

Tom: The Jays have subscribed to the ‘roster move of the day' phone app. If GM Alex Anthopoulos doesn't make a move by noon, the app will call up a reliever for him and DFA a random player (and you thought Blackberry couldn't come up with innovative apps). If I don't get a press release telling me about a roster move by midafternoon I figure there is something is wrong with my email.

Not buying that? The real explanation isn't all that much more believable.

The Blue Jays brain trust is impatient and lives in mortal fear of not having at least 3 rested long relievers. Add in that the definition of a Jays starter going deep into a game has become any pitcher reaching the 5th inning and you have the recipe for roster move roulette.

Also, as bad as the rotation has been, the bullpen hasn't been much better. Manager John Gibbons has had a hard time finding a closer and setup men that he trusts. So anyone that has 3 good innings in Triple-A gets an audition in the majors. If you are a career minor league reliever, looking for a job, sign with the Jays, you'll likely get a couple of days in the majors (and just as likely to be DFAed soon after).

**

Thanks again, Tom, for the insight! May the best bird win. (The Orioles are the best bird.)

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