Series Preview: Oakland A's vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The A's look to stay red-hot as they head to Toronto for a three-game set. Pitching should be the main focus in this series.

Who: Oakland Athletics vs. Toronto Blue Jays
When: September 3-September 5
Where: Sky Dome in Toronto, Canada

Overview: After taking two out of three from the Chicago White Sox, the A's fly north to take on the Toronto Blue Jays. This series will be a bit of a reunion week, as the A's will face-off against their former number four starter Ted Lilly and will see former second baseman Frank Menechino and former minor league farmhands Eric Hinskie and Justin Miller. In addition, A's bench coach Chris Speier will have the treat of seeing his son, Blue Jays' reliever Justin Speier, and Billy Beane will get a chance to catch-up with former A's Assistant GM and current Blue Jays GM J.P. Riccardi.

The Blue Jays are in the midst of a disappointing season. Expected to challenge the Boston Red Sox for second place in the AL East, the Blue Jays are instead fighting to stay out of the AL East cellar. They have been beset by injuries which have seen them lose last year's Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay and catcher Greg Myers (another former A who hit over .300 for the Jays in 2003) for much of the season and 1B Carlos Delgado and utilityman Frank Catalanotto for extended periods of time. This is the A's first trip to Toronto this season, but the teams have faced each other six times in Oakland with the A's taking four of six of those games.

The A's are riding a hot streak, having won 14 of 16 games. Oakland's only two losses during that period were one-run losses in games the A's probably should have won. They have seen their division lead rise from a half game to three games during that span. After struggling on the road much of the year, the A's have moved to within one game of .500 away from Oakland at 33-34. Oddly enough, their last two losses came on opportunities to move to .500 on the road. The A's will look to break that trend this weekend.

The series will feature some intriguing pitching match-ups, as Toronto and Oakland will send their three best healthy starters to the hill. Tim Hudson will face Lilly in the opener, Mark Mulder will take on Miguel Batista in the second game and, in the finale, Canadian Rich Harden will take on the recently recalled Ryan Glynn, who is taking the place of the injured Josh Towers.

Game One

The first game of the series should be a good one. Ted Lilly is having arguably his best season as a full-time starter. His record is only 9-9, but his ERA is 3.93 and he recently pitched a complete game shut-out over the Boston Red Sox. He struck out a career high 14 in that game. He didn't fare so well in his last start, however, as he gave up 7 runs in 5.1 innings against his other former ballclub, the New York Yankees. Lilly spent one and a half inconsistent seasons with the A's. His best stretch of pitching came last August through October, highlighted by his outstanding performance against the Red Sox in the ALDS. Lilly was the Blue Jays' lone All-Star representative this season. He has not faced the A's since being traded for Bobby Kielty this off-season. Ironically, it is Kielty who has had the most success against Lilly of any of the A's on the roster (2-5 with 3 walks). With Jermaine Dye still nursing a sore thumb, look for Kielty to get the nod against Lilly in the opener.

Lilly will face Tim Hudson, who has pitched extremely well since coming off of the disabled list He is 3-1 since returning and he has trimmed his ERA to a league-leading 2.84. Hudson has faced Toronto only once this season, but it was a memorable performance as he spun a complete game shut-out over the Blue Jays. In that game, he scattered 8 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 5 and inducing 15 groundball outs. The Blue Jays have had limited lifetime success against Hudson, although Carlos Delgado has nicked Huddy for 4 career homeruns. Hudson won his last start over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, going 7 strong innings in which he allowed two earned runs.

Roster Report: If Dye is healthy enough to play, the A's may chose to sit Mark Kotsay in Game One. Three games on the turf in Toronto probably won't be good for Kotsay's sore knee, so it would make sense to rest him against the lefty if Dye is healthy enough to man rightfield. If Dye still needs to sit out, there is a chance that rookie Nick Swisher will be recalled for the three game set. Swisher is a switch-hitter who can play all three outfield positions.

Game Two

In the second game of the series, Mark Mulder will attempt to win his 18th game when he faces Miguel Batista. Batista, the former Arizona Diamondback and teammate of Erubiel Durazo and Damian Miller on Arizona's 2001 World Series Championship team, is a pitcher with great stuff who doesn't always know how to use it. Batista is often very wild and has walked an astonishing 80 batters (versus only 93 strikeouts) this season. He is also prone to giving up the longball, as he has allowed 18 homers so far this season. Batista beat the New York Yankees his last time out on the hill, tossing 7 solid innings. However, he had lost his preview four starts before that one. He was very good in his one start against Oakland this season, going 8 innings and giving up only one first inning run. However, Barry Zito was equally as good in that game and the A's eventually beat the Blue Jays, 2-1, on a walk-off sacrifice fly by Jermaine Dye in the bottom of the 11th inning.

Mark Mulder will make his second attempt at winning his 18th game of the season. Mulder has had an outstanding year, but is in the midst of a bad stretch right now. He posted ERAs of over 5 in both July and August and has been walking batters at a much higher rate then normal lately. In his last start, Mulder walked 6 and gave up 4 runs in only six innings. Despite his struggles, Mulder has lost only two games in July and August, a product of receiving good run support and of lasting deep into ballgames. In fact, Mulder has only had one game all season where he has failed to pitch through the sixth inning and no games where he has failed to pitch a complete five innings. Mulder has not faced the Blue Jays this season. The Blue Jay starters have had limited lifetime appearances against Mulder, and only Chris Woodward has homered off of him.

Game Three

When the season started, if someone had asked who would be the winner of the only two games the Blue Jays had won against the A's this season, I doubt too many people would have predicted Josh Towers. However, that is what has happened this season. The former Baltimore Oriole has been phenomenal against the A's this season, going 2-0 and giving up only three runs in 14.1 innings pitched. He should be a part of what could be a formidable starting five nest season with a healthy Halladay, Lilly, Batista, David Bush and Towers. Fortunately for the A's, the Blue Jays announced late Thursday that Towers is going to miss the Sunday start to do a tight shoulder. So for the second straight series, the A's will miss a pitcher who throws well against them.

Taking Towers' place will be Ryan Glynn, who was recalled on Friday. Glynn has not pitched in the major leagues since 2001. He spent parts of three seasons (1999-2001) with the Texas Rangers, compiling a career mark of 8-16 with a 6.42 ERA. Glynn has had control trouble during his time in the majors, having walked more batters then he has struck out. The righthander has not faced many current members of the A's. Of note, Mark McLemore is 2-3 lifetime and Eric Chavez is 1-6.

Glynn will face Rich Harden, who has arguably been the A's most consistent starter since the All-Star break. Harden, who struggled to get past the sixth inning in many of his starts earlier in the year, went 7 innings in his last start, allowing only one run. More importantly, Harden didn't allow a walk. That start followed an 8-inning, shut-out masterpiece that Harden threw against the Orioles. That was the second start Harden had this season where he had gone 8 or more shut-out innings, but received a no-decision. The other such start was his last against Toronto, where he went 8.2 innings without giving up a run. In both cases, the A's won the ballgame (courtesy of a Marco Scutaro homerun in the bottom of the 9th in the Baltimore game and of a walk-off single by Damian Miller in the 14th inning). Harden also pitched well against Toronto in June, as he went 7 innings, allowing one run. He received a no-decision in that contest, as well. If Harden gets the win in this game, he will become the fifth A's starter with 10 wins, something the franchise hasn't done since moving to Oakland in 1968. Harden currently sits sixth in the league in ERA with a 3.69 mark.

Outlook: The A's have been playing well and have gained a little breathing room in the AL West leaderboard. However, with a tough home stand against the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians looming, the A's would be wise to win at least two out of three in the series. If they do, the A's will return home with a .500 record on the road. Since only one team in A's history (last year's squad) has ever made the playoffs with a sub .500 road record, the A's know that they will have to continue to be road warriors the rest of the season.

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