CLEVELAND INDIANS (19-21)
at TORONTO BLUE JAYS (20-21)
First pitch: Thursday, 7:05 p.m. ET
Line: Cleveland -105, Toronto -105, Total: 9.5
The Indians and Blue Jays try to inch closer to the .500 mark when they wrap up a three-game series north of the border on Thursday evening.
The Indians really struggled out of the gate this season after a great showing in Spring Training, but have begun to turn things around with wins in six of their past eight contests. They have won each of their past two series, against the Twins and Rays, and will have a chance to earn a series win on Thursday after a 15-4 spanking of the Blue Jays on Wednesday. Cleveland compiled 22 hits in the game as their 6-thru-9 hitters went an incredible 14-for-24 with 10 RBI. Both OF Donnie Murphy (.273 BA) and DH Lonnie Chisenhall (.361 BA) had five hits in the contest. Toronto has had an inconsistent year thus far, and after looking like it was turning a corner with a five-game winning streak, the club is just 2-4 over its past six games. The Jays were nearly swept in four games by the Angels in their last series, losing the first three games as their offense could not muster more than three runs against Los Angeles’ pitching. On Wednesday, the Blue Jays bullpen was shelled, going five innings and allowing 13 hits and 11 runs (10 ER) while striking out just two and walking three. One of the team’s top prospects, Marcus Stroman, has now allowed eight runs in his past three innings on the mound. One bright spot for the team recently has been DH Adam Lind (.321 BA), who has gone 7-for-22 with a homer, three doubles and 5 RBI since returning from a back injury on May 8. Looking to give the visiting Indians their third series win in a row will be RHP Danny Salazar (1-3, 5.65 ERA). Opposing him for Toronto is LHP J.A. Happ (1-1, 4.63 ERA) who has pitched as both a starter and a reliever for his club this season. Road games have been a struggle for Cleveland, as the team has gone 7-13 away from home, while the Blue Jays dropped to 9-11 at Rogers Centre after Wednesday’s loss. Over the past three seasons this has been a tightly contested matchup with Toronto holding a slight 9-8 edge while splitting their eight games at home (4-4). The Blue Jays are also a poor 5-16 after a game with a combined score of 15+ runs since the start of last year while going 249-179 (.582) in home games after having lost four or five of their previous six games since 1996. Both OFs Michael Brantley (back) and Nyjer Morgan (knee) are questionable for the Indians in this game, while OF Colby Rasmus (hamstring) is questionable for the host Blue Jays.
Danny Salazar broke onto the MLB scene at the end of last season, going 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA (1.13 WHIP) and striking out 11.3 batters per nine innings over 10 starts. He has not been able to find that success yet this season though, and posted a 6.04 ERA in his five starts in April. So far in his two May starts, Salazar has allowed 13 hits with eight runs (6 ER) and struck out 13 (4 walks) over 13.1 IP while his team has won both games. The one stat that he has still done well in is strikeouts, getting 44 so far in his first 36.2 frames (10.8 K/9), but has also walked 15 batters (3.7 BB/9) and allowed six home runs in that time. Salazar started just one game against the Blue Jays in his young career, going six innings of strong baseball, and allowing just one run on three base-runners (2 H, 1 BB) while striking out seven batters with one walk in the victory. One of the hits came off the bat of OF Jose Bautista, as he went 1-for-3 against the righty with a double and an RBI. Meanwhile, 3B Edwin Encarnacion and SS Jose Reyes combined to go 0-for-6 against him with a pair of strikeouts. Cleveland’s bullpen has done very well this season, going 7-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, and has 118 strikeouts in 114.2 innings while saving 12-of-16 games (75%). With John Axford losing the closer role, both Cody Allen (1.76 ERA, 1 save) and Bryan Shaw (1.37 ERA, 2 saves) will take over in the ninth inning.
J.A. Happ has had his issues since joining the Blue Jays and although they have been toying with the idea of using him out of the bullpen, Happ has started his past two games. His first start was solid, allowing just three hits over five shutout innings, but struggled with his control as he gave up four walks compared to just two strikeouts. His last start on Saturday versus the Angels did not go so well. He lasted only 2.1 frames while allowing seven hits (2 HR) and four runs with four strikeouts and one walk in a loss against Los Angeles. His control has been an obvious issue throughout his career as he has walked 4.1 batters per nine innings in 694.1 career frames, and has already issued 10 free passes in his first 11.2 innings this season. Happ had success in his one career start against the Indians, earning a win after throwing seven innings of four-hit baseball and allowing just one run while striking out five batters with two walks. No player on Cleveland’s roster has an extra-base hit against the lefty while banged-up OF Nyjer Morgan (2-for-4, 2 BB, 1 RBI) is the only player with multiple hits. OF Michael Bourn and 1B Nick Swisher have struggled to a combined 2-for-12 with a strikeout in the matchup over their careers. Toronto’s bullpen has been horrendous this year and after Wednesday’s blowup they are 4-9 with a 5.33 ERA and 1.54 WHIP while already giving up 70 walks in 138.1 innings on the mound. The Jays relievers have saved 10-of-15 games (67%), and Casey Janssen (0.00 ERA, 1 save) hopes he can somewhat stabilize the bullpen with his return from the DL. He picked up his first save of the year in Tuesday’s victory.