Toronto comes into the series just 8-15 for July where the deficit in the ultra-competitive American League East has gone from eight games to 14.
With the trade deadline getting closer, the A's have reportedly been active in the market for starting pitchers. They were in on Matt Garza, although there might be a discrepancy between the team's real interest in dealing their top prospects rather than just driving up the price the Rangers paid the Cubs for the right-hander.
Then there's Jake Peavy, who the White Sox would love to deal for a package of young talent. The A's have reportedly been interested Peavy, but the price seems overly steep for a player that's performed closer to league average levels than his $14.5 million salary would indicate. Ervin Santana would also make sense, but in the midst of his career-year without Peavy's injury history, Santana would likely cost more.
However, reports surfaced Monday afternoon indicating the A's have pulled out of the race for Peavy because Chicago was asking for teams to take on the remaining $20 million in his salary in addition to returning a package of quality prospects.
The Athletics' needs for a starting pitcher are less about replacing current starters than adding depth. In an ideal world, a playoff rotation of Brett Anderson, Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin/Tommy Milone/Dan Straily would be good enough to compete for a World Series title.
But with the uncertainty around the pending Biogenesis scandal and Anderson's health in October being far from a sure thing, the A's don't think a contingency plan lies within the organization. It would be asking an awful lot of Sonny Gray – who still has never made a major league start - to come in and become a piece of a playoff rotation. The A's would likely prefer to have Gray in the bullpen and give him a chance at a rotation job in 2014.
Phil Hughes, the Yankees' right-hander with a 2.66 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in four career games in Oakland, is a considerably better pitcher away from Yankee Stadium, where he's been a source of frustration for the Bombers. The Southern California native that turned 27 in late-June and is a very similar pitcher to Griffin in regards to batted balls. As of Monday, reports said the Yankees have fielded no offers for Hughes, which means he could be had for a bargain relative to Santana or Peavy.
If Hughes comes to Oakland and continues his .235/.299/.390 opponents slash line with a 3.02 ERA away from Yankee Stadium, he could be a valuable pickup at a minimal price. Many evaluators believe a change of scenery – especially a move to the west coast - could yield dividends for the former first-round pick. Hughes has a 3:1 K:BB rate in 2013.
Another name that could fit the A's the criteria could be Angels' lefty Jason Vargas. The southpaw has experience within the division and gets ground balls at a good rate. He's thrown well at the Coliseum throughout his career and could come at a minimal price should the Halos decide to become sellers at the deadline. The caveat is Vargas is currently on the 15-day DL after surgery June 26 to fix a blood clot in his left shoulder. Vargas has a 3.65 ERA in 14 starts this year.
The Blue Jays' have been a disappointment after their splashy offseason remade their roster. They've hit for power (fourth in slugging at .423) but have struggled on the mound with the second-worst team ERA in baseball (4.35). They're seventh in scoring but 29th in opponents' runs allowed.
The series opens Monday when Esmil Rogers (3-4, 3.74 ERA) takes on A.J. Griffin (9-7, 3.84). Griffin has allowed seven earned runs and five homers in his last two starts. The right-hander is happy to return home where opponents are slugging 101 points lower than on the road. He's allowed just six home runs in Oakland and 17 elsewhere.
Rogers went to Toronto last fall in a trade from Cleveland for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. The right-hander has spent most of his major league career in the bullpen and joined the rotation on a permanent basis June 7. Since then, the Blue Jays have gone 5-4 in his starts and he's allowed opponents a .270/.314/.441 slash line and eight home runs.
Rogers throws a fastball that averages just under 94 and relies heavily on a hard slider he throws more than 25 percent of the time. He also mixes in a curve and changeup. His slider is rated as his best offering.
Tuesday night will have Dan Straily (6-4, 4.43) and Mark Buehrle (6-7, 4.50). Straily has thrown better than his numbers would indicate, especially considering the way he's bounced to and from Sacramento for most of the season. For now, he has a grip on a rotation job (although that could change at the deadline) and is looking to pitch well with consistent opportunities. The right-hander is coming off a rough outing in Anaheim, which he allowed five runs in 4.1 innings.
Buehrle was apart of the 11-player trade between the Blue Jays and Marlins that dramatically changed the landscape of both organizations. Since returning to the AL after a year in Miami, Buerhle's measurables are in line with his career numbers from the White Sox. He's appeared in 29 games against the A's throughout his 14 years in the big leagues and is just 6-13 while allowing a 3.73 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. In his last start, he threw his first shutout in four seasons in 4-0 win over the Astros. He had nine strikeouts.
The series concludes Wednesday (trade deadline day) with R.A. Dickey (8-11, 4.86) taking on Bartolo Colon (14-3, 2.54). Dickey's season has been emblematic of Toronto's struggles on the hill this year and hasn't lived up to the expectations created by his Cy Young season in 2012.
Dickey went to the Blue Jays for a package including top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud. The velocity has been down on Dickey's knuckleball since last year and his strikeout rate has dropped from 24.8 percent to 18 while his walks have increased slightly. The regression appears to be validated based on BABIP numbers, which are similar to last season.
Colon continues to have a great season and has just one loss since May 20. Over that span, he's gone 12-1 with a 1.53 ERA and 590 opponents OPS. He backed up a four-hit shutout in Anaheim with a six-inning, two-run performance against the Angels back in Oakland to get win No. 14. Only Max Scherzer (15) has more wins that Colon.