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Orioles vs. Blue Jays series preview: July 29th-31st

The O’s have their work cut out for them this weekend, as they’ll face the Blue Jays’ best starters in Toronto.

The O’s travel to Toronto this weekend for one of the biggest series of the year. Just in case playing an away series against a division rival isn’t tough enough, the O’s will be facing the Blue Jays’ best three starters.

Friday, 7:07 PM: Kevin Gausman vs. Marco Estrada

Estrada has followed his breakout 2015 season by being even better this year; he’s sporting a 2.94 ERA and leading the league in WHIP. The thing that makes Estrada so good is his unique ability to prevent hits - while that’s often considered a product of luck as much as skill, he led the AL in the stat last year and is leading the AL by far this season.

His 5.8 H/9 not only leads Major League Baseball, but it makes him the only A.L. pitcher in the top ten. If the season ended today, Estrada would have the 12th lowest single-season H/9 of all time. Clearly, there’s something about his repertoire that helps him avoid solid contact and be a consistent FIP-beater.

Meanwhile, Gausman will be trying to build off of a great start against Cleveland in which he threw seven shutout innings. He’s been on a bit of a roll lately, with a 2.51 ERA and four quality starts over his last five outings.

Saturday, 7:07 PM: Yovani Gallardo vs. J.A. Happ

Just like they did with Estrada, the Blue Jays made a bet this offseason that Happ’s breakout in the second half of last year was legit. As with Estrada, that bet is paying off - Happ is 13-3 with a 3.27 ERA this season.

He threw six shutout innings in his last start against Seattle on Sunday, which was the third time this month that he’s given up one earned run or less.

He’ll be going up against Gallardo, who has lowered his ERA by almost a full run since getting shelled on July 4th in Los Angeles. Monday’s outing against Colorado was probably his best of the year, and hopefully he’ll continue to start looking like the pitcher the Orioles thought they were getting this offseason.

Sunday, 1:07 PM: Chris Tillman vs. Aaron Sanchez

This is the marquee matchup of the weekend. Tillman has been the Orioles’ best starter by far and will be trying to bounce back after a poor outing against the Rockies on Tuesday. His struggles against Toronto (and especially in Toronto) last season were well-documented, though, and this will be his first Rogers Centre start of 2016.

Sanchez is leading qualified A.L. starters in ERA at 2.72, and will come into Sunday’s game with an 11-1 record. The Orioles smoked him for ten hits and six runs on June 12th, but since then he’s given up just eight runs over 47 innings in seven appearances.

Other notes:

  • It seems laughable now that there was even a question as to who should close for the Blue Jays between Roberto Osuna and Drew Storen. After being acquired from the Nats for Ben Revere, Storen pitched to a 6.21 ERA in Toronto before being flipped to Seattle on Tuesday for Joaquin Benoit. Meanwhile, Osuna has a 1.99 ERA and 21 saves, and he’s still only 21 years old.
  • Troy Tulowitzki is starting to look like Troy Tulowitzki again. He was hitting .204/.289/.383 on May 28th when he was placed on the disabled list with a quad injury. Since his return on June 18th, he’s hitting .300/.338/.542. It seems like reports of his decline might have been premature.
  • Speaking of decline, Russell Martin is having a terrible season at the plate. He’s getting on base at about the same clip as last year, but his power has evaporated - after posting a .458 slugging percentage in 2015, he’s sitting at a ridiculous .336 so far in 2016. Toronto fans better hope that this isn’t the beginning of the end for the 33-year old catcher, because Martin is still owed $60 million over the next three seasons.

This is going to be a very difficult series - not only are the O’s facing the tough Blue Jays lineup, but they’ll miss Toronto’s two most hittable starters. A series win would be impressive, but the pessimistic fan in me is just hoping the Birds can avoid a sweep.