Series Preview: Blue Jays return to Rogers Centre for home opener vs. Mariners

Tim Micallef takes you on a quick "sneak peek" tour of the newly renovated Rogers Centre, as Phase two of the renovations was unveiled.

After managing four wins in their season-opening 10-game road trip, the Toronto Blue Jays will finally return home to play in front of their own fans this week.

For the second straight year, the Blue Jays will welcome fans to a new-look Rogers Centre after Phase 2 of the $400-million renovations were completed over the off-season. With less foul territory, a redone lower bowl and, of course, cup holders, the Dome will feature a new look in 2024.

Also waiting for them north of the border is a Seattle Mariners team sporting a 4-6 record of its own.

The Blue Jays will give the ball to Jose Berrios, who makes his second home opener start in Toronto, as they go for a fourth straight win while making their season debut at Rogers Centre.

Here are some storylines to watch this week in Toronto.

Probable Pitchers

Monday (7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT): Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (1-0, 2.25 ERA, 5.03 FIP) vs. Seattle RHP Luis Castillo (0-2, 6.75 ERA, 4.23 FIP), Sportsnet, Sportsnet+.

Tuesday (7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT): Toronto RHP Chris Bassitt (0-2, 7.71 ERA, 5.99 FIP) vs. Seattle RHP George Kirby (1-1, 5.23 ERA, 2.14 FIP), Sportsnet, Sportsnet+.

Wednesday (3:07 p.m. ET / 1:07 p.m. PT): Toronto LHP Yusei Kikuchi (0-1, 2.79 ERA, 3.82 FIP) vs. Seattle RHP Logan Gilbert (0-0, 3.55 ERA, 4.38 FIP), Sportsnet, Sportsnet+.

Homestand coming at just the right time for Blue Jays

Through the first 10 games of 2024, the Blue Jays bats haven’t done much to alleviate the frustration built up during a disappointing 2023.

Yusei Kikuchi’s scoreless 5.1 innings led Toronto to a 3-0 win over the New York Yankees on Friday, but in the two following games, when Kevin Gausman and Bowden Francis struggled, Blue Jays hitters couldn’t pick up the slack.

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The Blue Jays offence at least showed some signs of life in New York but still ranks 29th in the majors in batting average (.193), 26th in slugging percentage (.327), 24th in OPS (.626) and 22nd in runs scored (36).

Toronto put up six runs over the final three innings on Saturday, collecting seven extra-base hits in a comeback effort that came up just short but forcing the Yankees to turn to their high-leverage relievers. On Sunday, Toronto had runners in scoring position and the tying or go-ahead run at the plate in the fifth and sixth innings but just wasn’t able to come through with a big hit.

While finding that big swing has been an issue for Toronto’s offence at times over the past two years, they did total 14 runs, 24 hits and 16 walks over three games in New York — better than the three-game showing in the series before in Houston.

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On the pitching side, the Blue Jays’ staff dropped to 27th in MLB in ERA (5.46), one year after finishing fourth. The team continues to be ravaged by home runs, now having allowed a league-high 19 long balls, and it has issued an uncharacteristically high 4.19 walks per nine.

So, perhaps a return home is what the Blue Jays need to find consistency on both sides of the field as they look to win their first series of 2024 against the Mariners.

Mariners struggling to open 2024

The Mariners come to Toronto after losing two of three in Milwaukee to the Brewers.

Seattle’s young starting rotation was supposed to be the selling point for this Mariners team, but so far, the five haven’t quite lived up to the hype.

The rotation holds the fifth-highest ERA in baseball after Emerson Hancock allowed eight runs in 2.1 innings on Sunday.

Luis Castillo and George Kirby, Monday’s and Tuesday’s starters, respectively, are coming off outings that saw them both take losses after being hit around by the Cleveland Guardians.

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Like Toronto, the Mariners have struggled at the plate. They own a team slash line of .213/.276/.313 and have managed only 31 runs over 10 games.

Star outfielder Julio Rodriguez is off to a slow start for the second straight year. He has struck out 13 times in 39 at-bats, has just one extra-base hit and two walks this season, and owns a measly .493 OPS.

Offensive shift in Seattle

The Mariners feature a new-look offence from their strikeout-heavy 2023 group of hitters. Gone are former Blue Jays Silver Slugger Teoscar Hernandez, former top prospect Jarred Kelenic and steady third baseman Eugenio Suarez.

Mitch Haniger, Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver and Luke Raley were all brought in over the off-season to change the look of Seattle’s offence.

Now a two-time Mariner, Haniger has looked the best off all the additions, slashing .290/.371/.452 in his first nine games.

Return to Dome

In last season’s home opener, the Blue Jays claimed a 9-3 win over the Detroit Tigers, smashing five home runs and getting what was maybe the catch of the year from Kevin Kiermaier.

Kiermaier, Matt Chapman, George Springer, Bo Bichette and Alejandro Kirk all went deep in the win.

Berrios started the 2022 home opener and didn’t make it out of the first inning in a wild 10-8 Blue Jays win.

After pitching in low-A Dunedin on Sunday, there could be a chance that reliever Erik Swanson returns at some point during Toronto’s homestand, and closer Jordan Romano might not be far behind him. The Canadian righty is reportedly getting close to joining his bullpen-mate in returning to game action.

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2023 season series

The Blue Jays and Mariners split their six-game season series in 2023. In both series, the home team took two of the three games.

Up next

After wrapping up their three-game set with Seattle, the Blue Jays continue their season-opening homestand with a series against the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are off to a 2-8 start and will face the Arizona Diamondbacks to open the week before coming north to Toronto.

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