A?s/Blue Jays in Showcase Series

OAKLAND A'S AT TORONTO BLUE JAYS SUDDENLY A HUGE SERIES!

We hadn't anticipated granting a series like Oakland at Toronto "showcase" status here in the NOTEBOOK. That's usually reserved for matchups like the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox. But, Oakland just swept the New York Yankees...and Toronto just swept the Boston Red Sox!

In fact, you could argue that Oakland has become the New York Yankees over the past six weeks...while Toronto is pretty much a dead ringer for the Boston Red Sox.

RECORDS SINCE JUNE 13TH
Oakland 23-9
NY Yankees: 20-13
Toronto 17-15
Boston 17-16

Because of publication deadlines, those are records through the games of Sunday. Oakland and Toronto were off Monday for travel, but the Yanks and Red Sox had late finishes. Adjust accordingly if you know the final scores as you're reading this. Of course, there's not much to adjust in terms of what those records mean!

OAKLAND has been on an absolute tear that has shocked the baseball world. And, that tear has included very good results vs. top teams. The only strike against the run is that many of the victories were nailbiters, and it's impossible to win all of your nailbiters on purpose week after week.

NEW YORK is still a championship threat. They've been dealing with some injuries recently, and are doing more than treading water as they coast toward the postseason. They just had some bad luck in close games at Oakland over the past weekend. The record above was a stellar 20-9 before that trip.

TORONTO is pretty much where it always is...on the fringes with stats and production that would suggest a possible title in the AL Central, but also-ran status in the AL East. Note that also-ran status in the AL East still has you in the Wildcard picture much of the season because MLB has added a fifth playoff spot in both leagues. The Blue Jays were only three games out of the playoff picture after finishing their sweep of Boston.

BOSTON has been floating along like this season. Everyone keeps waiting for the breakout. Everyone keeps waiting for the rotation to pitch up to past norms. Everyone keeps waiting for a few of the high priced hitters to play up to past norms. The playoffs are in reach should that ever happen. But, each passing day makes it seem less likely. How promising can things be if you just got swept at home by Toronto just after the Blue Jays had been hit with some injuries!

Oakland at Toronto isn't so much a showcase series in terms of the championship picture. Like the LA Dodgers/St. Louis matchup we discussed yesterday...it's a tester series for both that could serve to poke a big hole in playoff hopes for any team that struggles. Toronto could plummet out of the picture if they can't figure out how to slow down this recent Oakland onslaught. The A's are so ripe for a letdown that the league wants to make guacamole out of them. This is a week for darkhorse drama.

Here are the probable pitchers for the A's/Jays series...

TUESDAY
Oakland: Blackley (2-2, 3.36 ERA, 1.07 WHIP)
Toronto: Cecil (2-2, 6.34 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)

Blackley has 8 starts and 8 relief appearances. Has been holding his own as a starter, but you can't assume that he's going to maintain those low ERA and WHIP numbers the rest of the season. We'll see. His home park does help him. This is a good test for him...on the road in a less friendly pitcher's park against an offense that's on a roll of late. Cecil comes from the other end of the spectrum. He has only six starts this year, so sample size may be making him seem worse than he really is. These guys will probably meet somewhere in the middle of those numbers. It's your job to figure out which teams enjoy line value at that projected meeting point. For now, edge Blackley...but not by as much as those numbers would suggest. We'll think about the Over if the weather conditions favor scoring.

WEDNESDAY
Oakland: Griffin (2-0, 2.70 ERA, 1.00 WHIP)
Toronto: Romero (8-6, 5.22 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)

Griffin has only five starts this year. It's amazing how relative unknowns have popped up to do such good work for the A's during the recent tear. Can they keep it up as word spreads throughout the league about their strengths and weaknesses? He has faced some strong opponents in limited time...so that is a good indicator in his favor. Romero has been throwing all year, and is having a very tough go of it as you can see. It's very hard to have a 1.50 WHIP as a full-time pitcher in the Majors. That gives you a sense of the desperation mode grasping the team right now because of so many staff injuries. And, it also tells you how hard it is to post great stats in the AL East. Edge to Griffin, though you should always assume Oakland pitchers will be more vulnerable on the road than their overall pitching numbers would suggest. Let's see how Vegas handles the Over/Under here too.

THURSDAY AFTERNOON
Oakland: Milone (9-6, 3.34 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)
Toronto: Laffey (2-1, 2.77 ERA, 1.15 WHIP)

Laffey only has 5 starts this year, but has held his own based on the numbers you see above. And, he was facing some good teams too. Amazing how small the sample size is for so many pitchers in this series! Milone has been solid all season, one of the unsung quality pitchers who doesn't get enough ink because he doesn't pitch in a major media center. This is a day game after a night game, which could cause some distractions for one of the teams. Oakland has a plane to catch afterward for a series in Baltimore that begins Friday. Toronto stays at home to take on hot Detroit. We'll try to get a read on Oakland's mindset over the first two nights. This is a clear spot for a potential letdown given the awkward spot on the schedule and July Juggernaut storyline. Toronto may get the nod from us if they're down 0-2 in the series of if it's even at 1-1.

JIM HURLEY has his TEAM of experts, scouts, statheads, computer programmers, and Wise Guy sources combing the card to find the best options on the board every night. Other marquee matchups we're studying on Tuesday are:

Boston at Texas
Tampa Bay at Baltimore
Detroit at Cleveland
Washington at NY Mets
LA Dodgers at St. Louis

If you missed our showcase series coverage of Dodgers/Cards, please check the archives for Monday's report. That series runs through Thursday afternoon as well...and we outlined the key stats in the probable pitching matchups.

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Back with you Wednesday for more baseball coverage as we take stock of the pennant races through the looking glass of key indicator stats and angles that have proven the test of time. Football returns this weekend with previews of the Mountain West conference (Saturday) and Independents like Notre Dame and BYU (Sunday)

It's a great time to be a sports fan because the baseball has been fantastic all summer and we're all gearing up for the coming football season. Even if you're doing well on your own, you'll make MORE MONEY by signing up with JIM HURLEY!

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