Blue Jays vs. Orioles series preview: Keep your eyes on the catchers

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13: Gabriel Moreno #13 of the Mesa Solar Sox reacts after scoring a run in the first inning during the game between the East Fall Stars and the West Fall Stars at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Saturday, November 13, 2021 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Norm Hall/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays begin a seven-game homestand on Monday against division rivals with their first four games of the season against the Baltimore Orioles.

Toronto is coming off an 8-4 run against the AL Central.

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

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Monday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT (Sportsnet ONE): Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (7-1, 1.81 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Kyle Bradish (1-3, 6.45 ERA)

Tuesday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT (Sportsnet): Toronto LHP Yusei Kikuchi (2-2, 4.44 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Jordan Lyles (3-5, 4.97 ERA)

Wednesday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT (Sportsnet ONE): Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (5-2, 4.73 ERA) vs. Baltimore LHP Bruce Zimmermann (2-5, 5.52 ERA)

Thursday, 3:07 p.m. ET / 12:07 p.m. PT (Sportsnet): Toronto RHP Kevin Gausman (5-5, 2.67 ERA) vs. Baltimore RHP Tyler Wells (3-4, 3.86 ERA)

LATEST ON THE BLUE JAYS

The Blue Jays (35-24) return home after a 4-2 road trip against the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals.

The most encouraging part of the latter series against Detroit was the performances of the starting pitchers.

Jose Berrios had his second strong start in a row after a rocky beginning to the season, Kevin Gausman bounced back, albeit in a losing cause, in the second game after a couple of shaky outings and Ross Stripling gave up just one hit over six innings — continuing to fill in more than nicely for the injured Hyun Jin Ryu.

Offensively, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. belted his 14th homer of the season in a 6-0 win in the finale and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. went 2-for-3 with three RBI.

Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman missed the past two games with a sore wrist.

LATEST ON THE ORIOLES

The Orioles (26-35) are coming off a four-game split against the Royals.

Baltimore capped the series with a 10-7 win on Sunday, highlighted by a rare two-triple performance by Richie Martin. The Orioles also hit three home runs on the day — one by longtime nemesis of Jays fans Rougned Odor.

The offensive jolt was the boost the Orioles needed on a day one of their team strengths — the bullpen — faltered as relievers gave up five runs.

Like many previous teams to come to Rogers Centre, the Orioles are expected to add a few player to the restricted list because of COVID-19 border rules.

The Orioles have said outfield prospect Kyle Stowers will be one of the players joining the taxi squad for the trip and could make his major-league debut.

CATCHER COLLISION

It’s not a bad idea to focus on the young catchers this week.

Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 prospect in the majors, was the first overall pick in the 2019 Draft. He had the first three-hit game of his career and the first multi-extra-base hit game of his career on Saturday in a 6-4 win over Kansas City. He’s batting .179 in 67 at-bats in the majors and is still looking for his first homer.

The Blue Jays, of course, have the red-hot Alejandro Kirk and their own top prospect in Gabriel Moreno, who made his major-league debut over the weekend in Detroit.

BASEMENT DWELLERS

The Orioles are in a familiar spot — last in the AL East.

Since losing the American League wild-card game to the Blue Jays on Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off home run in 2016, the Orioles have finished at the bottom of the East standings in four of five seasons.

The other year — 2020 — saw them finish fourth.

BIRD BATTLE

Toronto won 14 of 19 games against the Orioles last season, though perhaps a Blue Jays loss was most memorable as Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde got into it with Robbie Ray last September.

In the past four years, the Blue Jays are 47-20 against Baltimore.

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KIKUCHI NEEDS TO REBOUND

Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi is coming off two bad starts — including not getting out of the first inning the last time out in Kansas City, when he struggled with his control.

If Kikuchi doesn’t improve on Tuesday, it’s a scary sign for the Blue Jays with his next start, as the rotation currently stands, slated for the series finale against the New York Yankees on Sunday.

UP NEXT

Those Yankees, who easily have the best record in the majors and are now eight games up on the second-place Blue Jays in the division, are in Toronto for three games this weekend.

The good news is Alek Manoah is lined up to pitch the second game — and he has given up just one run in two starts (each six innings) against the Yankees this year. If the rotations hold, Manoah could face Jameson Taillon (7-1, 2.93 ERA) in a Saturday showdown.

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