Blue Jays-Twins series preview: Chance to pounce on weak Twins

Blue Jays voice Dan Shulman addresses with Dean Blundell & Co. whether there is enough season left in 2016 for both Jose Bautista and Brett Cecil to build their free agent market values.

The Toronto Blue Jays will be looking to bounce back this weekend after two straight series losses.

The Blue Jays had trouble holding late leads last weekend in Cleveland and the final two games against the Los Angeles Angels unraveled due to poor starting pitching and a lack of offence.

John Gibbons’ club will look for better results when a six-game homestand concludes with three straight games against the lowly Minnesota Twins, who are 1-3 against Toronto this season and were outscored 18-11 in their May series at Target Field.

Here’s what to watch for…

Friday, August 26 — 7:07 p.m.
Pat Dean vs. Francisco Liriano

Saturday, August 27 — 1:07 p.m.
Ervin Santana vs. Marcus Stroman

Sunday, August 28 — 1:07 p.m.
Kyle Gibson vs. R.A. Dickey

Blue Jays need to pounce on opportunity
Toronto wasted an opportunity to gain ground in the standings earlier this week and now have a prime chance to strengthen their playoff position against Minnesota, who ranks last in the American League with just 49 wins on the season. The Twins have a disastrous minus-112 run differential in 2016 and have allowed more runs than any team in baseball by a fairly significant margin. Minnesota has lost seven straight games entering play Friday, and owns a lousy 24-38 road record this year.

If the Blue Jays don’t win at least two of three games this weekend, it would be considered a major disappointment.

Liriano faces familiar club
The Blue Jays could use a strong start from Francisco Liriano, who will be facing his former club. The veteran lefty played seven seasons for the Twins from 2005-12, racking up a 50-52 record with a 4.33 ERA.

Liriano was very solid in his last outing, allowing just four hits with no earned runs in six innings of work in Cleveland. He’ll be watched closely by the Blue Jays brass on Friday night.

Can Blue Jays slow down Dozier?
After a difficult series against Albert Pujols and Mike Trout of the Angels, the Blue Jays will face one of the AL’s top infielders this weekend. Twins second baseman Brian Dozier has been generating plenty of power of late, homering in four of his past seven games.

Dozier’s now hitting .269/.342/.541 with 30 home runs, 76 RBI, 79 runs and 10 stolen bases on the season. He ranks 14th in all of baseball with 4.5 wins above replacement.

Injuries lingering
While Kevin Pillar and Jose Bautista both returned from the disabled list this week, the Blue Jays have a couple of injury issues on their roster. Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis has not suited up in any of the team’s past three games due to a knuckle issue on his right hand while outfielder Michael Saunders is dealing with hamstring tightness.

Both players are considered day-to-day and are expected to play this weekend, but the Blue Jays need their players healthy as they begin a long run of matchups against AL East opponents following the Twins series.

Scoreboard watching
There’s still plenty of baseball left to be played, but the Blue Jays are right in the thick of a tight playoff race. The team caught a bit of a break this week as the Boston Red Sox lost two of four to the dreadful Tampa Bay Rays, but the Orioles played well against the Washington Nationals and the three AL East teams are now within one game in the standings.

The Red Sox will host the red-hot Kansas City Royals this weekend while the Orioles will be in New York to face the Yankees for a three-game set. Fans should closely monitor all of these games over the weekend.

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