With the AL East very much up for grabs, the Baltimore Orioles travel to the Rogers Centre to take on the Toronto Blue Jays in a series starting Friday (7.05pm ET). Here is our series preview with Game 1 predictions and betting picks.
The Baltimore Orioles, with a combination of great offense and top of the line pitching, has been one of the best teams in baseball this year. They have done just about everything right en route to having the best record in the AL East and the second best record in the American League. However, they are running into a bit of a buzz saw against the Toronto Blue Jays, who have won six of their last 10 and who are 30-23 at home.
It is because of that that Toronto finds itself just 1.5 games out of first place and definitely within striking distance. The two teams are starting a four game series on the Blue Jays’ home turf, where Toronto is 66-30 against Baltimore since 2006 and 174-118 lifetime.
Which Struggling Slugger will come out on Top?
When Baltimore rose to the top of the AL East and returned to the picture for the first time in over 10 years, a big part of their success came off of the bat of Chris Davis. He has been among the MVP candidates in recent years. Conversely, for the Blue Jays, their winning ways were also courtesy of their top slugger, Jose Bautista (pictured). He burst out of obscurity a few years ago to become one of the premier home run hitters in the game.
This year, despite how well both teams have done and how high they have climbed in the always competitive and tough AL East, they’ve done so largely without the aid of their top bats. Both Bautista and Davis have been mired in slumps for most of the season.
A career .255 hitter, Bautista’s 2016 average is just .224, the lowest it has been since he hit just .214 in an injury-shortened season in 2008. As a regular starter however, this has been Bautista’s lowest average output of his entire career. Average isn’t the only thing that is down either as the 35-year-old veteran has just 12 home runs over the first half of the season, a far cry from the 40 he hit in 2015.
Doing only slightly better is the 30-year-old Davis, who broke out the power in 2013 to record a 53-home run season. Davis’ power dipped in 2014 but returned as he hit 47 home runs the following year. This accounts for a two-year span in which Davis had 100 home runs. This year, he is on pace to best his 26 from 2014, but it is likely 40 will be out of reach. Additionally, he is only hitting .223 and is striking out at an alarming rate of over 25 percent.
These two guys carry the offense for their teams and without them, both Toronto and Baltimore have been lucky they haven’t suffered. Even though Davis and Bautista have struggled, that’s not to say they aren’t primed to break out of the slump at any time, especially with matchups that favor both players.
In his career, Davis is a .303 hitter against the Blue Jays with 49 homers, 107 RBI and a lofty 1.079 OPS.
The same goes for Bautista who has 25 home runs, 84 RBI and an .872 OPS in 125 career games against the Orioles.
Game 1 Pitching Probables: (BAL) Kevin Gausman vs (TOR) Marco Estrada
The first game of the series sees Baltimore sending Kevin Gausman to the mound to face off against Toronto’s top hurler, Marco Estrada.
Looking at Gausman’s season the first thing that stands out is his record, just 2-7. However the 25-year-old righty has been better than those numbers would suggest especially over his last handful of starts. In the month of July, Gausman has a 3.28 ERA down from 3.77 on the season. Additionally, he has tossed a quality start in four of his last five outings, posting a 2.51 ERA with 33 strikeouts and just five walks in that span. This includes his most recent outing in which Gausman didn’t allow a run in seven strong innings against the Cleveland Indians.
Estrada, who is in his eighth major league season, second of which is with Toronto, has been enjoying a career year. In 110.1 innings pitched, the veteran righty has just a 2.94 ERA (3rd in the AL) and 1.01 WHIP (1st in the AL) with 102 strikeouts and a 2.8 WAR. However, as good as he has been, Estrada has been dealing with back issues this season, causing him to spend time on the DL and something that going forward the Blue Jays will have to properly manage. He is coming off a strong first start back and will be entering into this game on two additional days rest due to scheduling changes among the rotation.
Estrada’s experience when facing Baltimore’s offense has been mainly a positive one. In the last five years, top names like Pedro Alvaraez, Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado are all hitting .200 or less in at least 10 at-bats against Estrada. Also, over the last three seasons, in four starts, Estrada is allowing just a 3.42 ERA and .152 batting average to Baltimore’s hitters.
Gausman too however, has excelled against the opposing line-up, albeit in a much smaller sample size. Worth noting is the fact that Jose Bautista, a career .255 hitter with 298 home runs and 835 RBI, has yet to get his first base knock against Gausman. The young righty has also been good when facing Toronto, allowing just a 3.03 ERA and .255 batting average in 29.2 innings pitched.
Here are this preview’s betting picks’ predictions for Game 1:
- On the moneyline, Toronto is favored to win Game 1. Keeping home field advantage in mind and the strength of Estrada on the mound, take the action on the Blue Jays @ best betting odds of -127 with BetOnline Sportsbook. It is -135 with Bovada and -134 with 5Dimes.
- The total runs for the game is set at nine and this should be a pick on the over. So bet on over 9 runs @ -110 with BetOnline or 5Dimes. It is -120 with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.