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Orioles head to Toronto to face hot-hitting Blue Jays

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With the Orioles set to play the Blue Jays, we checked in with Tom Dakers of SB Nation's Jays blog Bluebird Banter to get some thoughts on just how this Toronto team has been succeeding.

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It's time for the Orioles to play an actual MLB team again. The brief experience against the Phillies, though enjoyable while it lasted, is over. Man, can you imagine what it's like to play those guys 19 times a year? I can't take the NL East seriously.

One division that I do take very seriously, Red Sox presence within it notwithstanding, is the AL East, where the O's have made their home for as long as there has been an AL East. With a trip to Toronto this weekend, the Orioles are back to that divisional grind.

The Blue Jays recently fired off an eleven game winning streak that has them right back in the thick of the division chase. I checked in with my counterpart at Bluebird Banter, Tom Dakers, to get some Jays fan insight on what's been going right for the team to do so well. You can check out some of my thought's on the O's on their blog here.

1. Approaching the halfway point of the season, Josh Donaldson rates as one of the best players in all of baseball - an impressive 3.8 fWAR through 67 games played. Is that trade already the greatest in Blue Jays history? Do you think you'll miss anyone you gave up?

Tom: Well, still the best trade ever, in my mind is when they picked up Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter and then went on to win two World Series. And then when Alex Anthopoulos dumped Vernon Wells' contract on the Angels, now that was an act worthy of a magician.

But, yeah, I'm thrilled with the Donaldson trade. As much as Billy Beans is a genius and all, I don't understand what he was thinking on this deal. Brett Lawrie is an interesting guy, I liked watching him play defense and he had an all-out all the time style that was fun to watch. He always ran hard down the line on any ground ball. Actually he did everything full out, which is likely why he spent so much time on the DL. Add in that his swing is a whole mess of Red Bull infused twitches and tics, making getting his timing down a full time job, I don't think he'll ever be the player we were promised he'd become.

Donaldson, well he's as good as Lawrie was defensively, but a) stays healthy and b) hits like Jose Bautista. I'm thinking of tempting fate by buying a Jays jersey with his name on it. Normally, when I do that, the player is soon to be traded, but in this case, I'm pretty sure he'll be around for long enough to get some use out of it.

The Jays did give up a prospect that I had very high hopes for, Franklin Barreto is just 19, and is a little ways away yet, but I really could see him being a middle infielder in the majors with a Manny Machado type bat.

2. Also among the best players in MLB is Russell Martin, another one of your offseason acquisitions. I guess maybe this time the Jays actually did win the offseason. Do you feel like there was more they should have done?

Tom: I was very disappointed that they didn't do more to shore up the bullpen. At the start of the off-season, GM Alex Anthopoulos laid the blame for last year's disappointing season at the feet of our relievers, stating that improvements would be made. What he did was grab every minor league free agent and waiver pick up they could and throw them against the wall, hoping that some stick. The trouble with that method is that it takes a long time to sort through the various options to find the guys that can actually help out.

The fact that, at the start of the season, the starting pitchers weren't going deep into games made the bullpen look even worse than it was. Now that the starters are going deeper into games, the bullpen has looked better, but a couple of good arms could have made quite a difference over the first couple of months.

3. We aren't too far out from the trade deadline and after you guys ripped off that impressive winning streak, you're right in the thick of the AL East chase - just like us. What do you expect the Jays to do before the deadline? Does that match what you think they should be doing?

Tom: They will be looking for arms. The Jays could use another starter (find a team that couldn't) and another reliever. If they can find someone without giving up too many of our top prospects, I'm good with that. I do expect they will make a move.

Last year, at the deadline, the team was in the race, but didn't make a move. Several players expressed disappointment with the front office. And the team fell out of the race. Now, I wouldn't suggest that there was an absolute straight line cause and effect, but I think the front office won't want the players to be able to use that as an excuse again.

4. A couple of weeks have passed since the draft. Obviously we won't be seeing any of those guys impacting this series or season, but I am curious what you thought of the haul. Is there a particular name you think that the rest of the league will hate facing in the years to come?

Tom: The Jays didn't get their first pick until the 29th spot in the first round, losing their first round pick for signing Russell Martin, and getting one back for the White Sox signing Melky Cabrera. The Jays, as is their habit, used their first few picks on tall, hard throwing pitchers. Their first pick was Jon Harris, who many thought would go higher in the draft, so the Jays were very happy he fell to them. A lot of us are worried he's kind of the safe pick, high floor, low ceiling type. He was drafted out of college, so the hope is he'll move up quickly.

My favorite pick was the 4th round pick Carl Wise, a third baseman who has a lot of power. Our first 3 picks were the usual tall hard throwing pitchers, so when they went against type to grab Wise, it made him a little more interesting to me. And I'm a sucker for a power hitter.

5. What is the secret to averaging 5.5 runs per game? Please share. Thank you.

Tom: Well, it definitely helps to have Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion batting 2-3-4 in the order. Jose Reyes leading off doesn't hurt either. On top of that, we've had a bit of luck on guys playing over their heads. I loved the Russell Martin signing but I didn't expect a .277/.359/.505 batting line from him. Chris Colabello, filling in for the injured Michael Saunders, is hitting .344/.384/.481 (powered by a totally sustainable (yeah right) .450 BABIP).

Every day we seem to have a different offensive hero, weak hitting Ryan Goins goes into last week's series with the Red Sox and gets 6 hits (including 3 doubles and a home run). Kevin Pillar hits almost nothing in May, but the calendar turns to June and he turns into Tony Gwynn, hitting .385/.400/.577 for the month.

I guess the secret is to have the stars at the top of the order hit the way they are meant to and have the guys in the back of the order surprise you.

**

Thanks, Tom, for checking in with us once again. May the best bird win in this series! (The Orioles are the best bird.)

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