Series preview: Blue Jays head into crucial set against surging Guardians

Shi Davidi joins Sportsnet Central to discuss the Toronto Blue Jays' two-day break after a tough road trip, and how it will allow them to reset their pitching rotation and gear up for the playoff chase.

We may be in the dog days of August but the American League wild-card race is intensifying to the point where every series carries weight for contending teams.

That’s been the case for the Toronto Blue Jays all month and will continue as the club opens a three-game set at Rogers Centre against the Cleveland Guardians on Friday.

Here is a look at the Guardians-Blue Jays series.

Probable pitchers

Friday, 7:07 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Cal Quantrill (8-5, 3.88 ERA) vs. Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (8-4, 5.19 ERA)

Saturday, 3:07 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Triston McKenzie (8-8, 3.16 ERA) vs. TBA

Sunday, 1:37 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Shane Bieber (7-6, 3.21 ERA) vs. TBA

(All games on Sportsnet)

Latest on the Blue Jays

The Blue Jays (60-50) currently sit atop the AL wild-card standings with a half-game lead over the Mariners and a two-game lead over the third-place Tampa Bay Rays.

The Blue Jays are coming off a 3-5 road trip through Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Baltimore. You could make the argument that Toronto got lucky when Wednesday's game in Baltimore was rained out, given the weather prevented an opportunity to be swept in three games by the surging Orioles.

The Blue Jays’ record against teams above .500 stands at 29-38 and that will need to improve in a hurry. Following the set against Cleveland, Toronto will host the Orioles for three games and then head to Yankee Stadium for a four-game series.

It's fair to say this is an important stretch for a Blue Jays club that lost outfielder George Springer, starter Ross Stripling and reliever Tim Mayza to the injured list on the recent road trip.

Latest on the Guardians

The AL Central-leading Guardians (59-52) arrive in Toronto fresh off a sweep of the Detroit Tigers and have won eight of their last 11 games.

In recent years, the Guardians have typically been buoyed by their pitching staff. That area has been a struggle for the team for parts of this season,but  it looks to be rounding into form.

Each of the three starters Cleveland will throw at the Blue Jays — Cal Quantrill, Triston McKenzie and Shane Bieber — is coming off a dominant, scoreless outing. Since the all-star break, the right-handed trio has combined for a 3.48 ERA over 12 starts.

Reliever James Karinchak won't make the trip to Toronto due to Canadian vaccination requirements.

Home sweet home

Blue Jays right-hander Jose Berrios was slated to start Wednesday's game but because it was postponed, he'll now take the mound on Friday. That might actually work out in his favour.

Berrios has been the author of some weird splits this season:

— In 11 starts at home, he sports a 3.23 ERA with 70 strikeouts across 64 innings.

— In 11 starts on the road, Berrios has posted a whopping 7.50 ERA with just 37 strikeouts over 54 innings.

There are times a pitcher's bloated ERA can be explained away as the result of one or two bad outings. That's not the case for Berrios, though.

The veteran has allowed at least five earned runs in six of his road starts. That includes his only outing against the Guardians this season — a May 5 contest in which he allowed six runs on eight hits over 4.2 innings.

The pitchers set to follow Berrios and toe the rubber in Saturday and Sunday’s games have yet to be announced by the Blue Jays.

Meaningful debuts

Remember all that hullabaloo about whether Whit Merrifield would get a COVID-19 vaccine and be allowed to travel to Toronto?

Well, shortly after he was acquired at the trade deadline by the Blue Jays, the utility player indicated that he did in fact get vaccinated. This series will feature his first home game with his new club.

Merrifield is hitting .286 (6-for-21) while playing mostly in centrefield since his trade from the Kansas City Royals.

In 15 career games at Rogers Centre, he sports a .263/.364/.421 slash line with two homers and three doubles.

This series will also mark a homecoming of sorts for a pair of Guardians players: Quantrill, of Port Hope, Ont., and first baseman Josh Naylor, a native of Mississauga, Ont.

This is Naylor’s fourth year in the major leagues and third with the Guardians, but the 25-year-old has yet to take the field for a major-league game at Rogers Centre. Quantrill, meanwhile, made his lone MLB start at Rogers Centre in 2019 when he was a member of the San Diego Padres.

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