Blue Jays vs. Twins series preview: New faces arrive in Toronto clubhouse

Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield throws out Houston Astros' Alex Bregman on a ground ball during the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Houston. (Kevin M. Cox/AP)

The Toronto Blue Jays will meet up with their four deadline acquisitions on Thursday in Minnesota before starting a four-game series against the new-look Twins.

Relievers Anthony Bass and Zach Pop, infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield will be available for Thurday’s game after being acquired in deals on Tuesday.

With outfielder George Springer battling a lingering elbow injury and right-hander Ross Stripling placed on the IL with a glute/hip strain on Wednesday, Merrifield and White figure to be needed this weekend.

Bass and Pop, meanwhile, should help a Blue Jays bullpen that is short on high-leverage arms.

Much of the pre-game attention will be on Merrifield, who is sure to be asked about his vaccination status after he missed a trip to Toronto with the Kansas City Royals last month.

Here’s a look at the Blue Jays-Twins series.

Probable pitchers

Thursday, 7:40 p.m. ET / 4:40 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (11-5, 2.43 ERA) vs. Minnesota RHP Sonny Gray (6-3, 3.41 ERA)

Friday, 8:10 p.m. ET / 5:10 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (8-4, 4.96 ERA) vs. Minnesota TBD

Saturday, 7:10 p.m. ET / 4:10 p.m. PT: Toronto TBD vs. Minnesota RHP Dylan Bundy (6-5, 5.04 ERA)

Sunday, 2:10 p.m. ET / 11:10 a.m. PT: Toronto TBD vs. Minnesota RHP Chris Archer (2-5, 4.05 ERA)

(All games on Sportsnet)

Latest on the Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays (58-46) settled for a split of a mini-series at Tampa after a 3-2 loss to the Rays on Wednesday.

Yusei Kikuchi, in his second start back from a stint on the IL, looked good at first before the Rays got to the inconsistent lefty for one run in the third and another in the fourth. That was enough for Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider, who gave Kikuchi the hook after 74 pitches.

Offensively, the Blue Jays managed just four hits. Teoscar Hernandez was the bright spot with a solo home run and RBI double.

Before the game, Schneider said White, acquired from the Dodgers, is a candidate to start on Saturday in Stripling’s place.

Kevin Gausman would be in line to start Sunday’s game, though Toronto hasn’t named a starter yet. He pitched a gem on Tuesday, allowing just one hit and no runs in eight innings as Toronto won 3-1.

Toronto is in the first wild-card spot, two games ahead of the Seattle Mariners.

Latest on the Twins

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The AL Central-leading Twins (55-49) were buyers at the deadline, and three of their new players made an immediate impact on Wednesday.

Jorge Lopez, acquired from the Baltimore Orioles, nailed down his 20th save of the year in his Twins debut as Minnesota beat the Detroit Tigers 4-1.

Fellow reliever Michael Fulmer, acquired from Detroit, pitched a scoreless sixth against his old team, while catcher Sandy Leon, acquired from the Cleveland Guardians, had a two-run double as Minnesota won the series 2-1.

Minnesota is one game ahead of Cleveland for top spot in the AL Central. The Guardians and the Chicago White Sox, who are two games back of Minnesota, weren’t nearly as active as the Twins at the deadline.

The other new guy

The Twins also upgraded their starting rotation at the deadline, acquiring Tyler Mahle from the Cincinnati Reds.

The right-hander is 5-7 with a 4.40 ERA this season.

The Twins haven’t named a starter for Friday and Mahle hasn’t pitched since July 30, so that is the likely spot for his Minnesota debut. It would be an intriguing pitching matchup with ex-Twin Jose Berrios lined up to start for Toronto.

With their team ERA 19th in the majors, pitching was a priority for the Twins, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2004. By picking up Mahle, Fulmer and Lopez, they have improved on the mound and should be poised to make their third post-season appearance in four years.

Mahle did not make the trip to Toronto with the Reds in May because of vaccination status, so his status for any games at Rogers Centre in the playoffs could be in question.

Season series

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The Twins won two of three in Toronto in June, hammering Blue Jays pitchers for 20 combined runs.

Gausman didn’t get out of the fourth inning in an 8-6 loss in the series finale, while Kikuchi (who doesn’t pitch this series) was roughed up in the opener (a 9-3 loss).

Berrios got the win against his old team in the second game, striking out 13 in seven innings in a 12-3 victory.

Up next

The Blue Jays are in Baltimore for three games against an Orioles team that was a seller at the trade deadline, despite being in wild-card contention.

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