Blue Jays-Twins Preview
Pitching isn't considered the Toronto Blue Jays' greatest strength, and it's become a major liability over the past week.
Marcus Stroman attempts to bounce back from his rough outing as the slumping Blue Jays conclude a four-game series with the lowly Minnesota Twins on Sunday.
Toronto hurlers have a combined 5.94 ERA over a 2-6 stretch it began by permitting 44 runs over five consecutive losses. Strong starts by Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez over this series' first two games appeared to stabilize things, but the problems returned during the late stages of Saturday's matchup.
After J.A. Happ lost a shutout bid by surrendering a game-tying two-run double to Danny Santana in the eighth inning, Gavin Floyd yielded a three-run homer to Eduardo Nunez that propelled the Twins to a 5-3 victory that halted an eight-game home losing streak.
Minnesota (11-32), which had lost five straight overall and six in a row to Toronto, entered the contest 1-23 when trailing after seven innings.
''It's hard to say they were better than us (Saturday), but that's the fact of the matter,'' said Happ, who allowed one hit prior to the eighth. ''A groundball, and a walk and a slap hit, and that's the game. It's tough to take.''
Stroman (4-1, 4.23 ERA) has had his issues of late, with opponents batting .358 off him over his last three starts after he held them to a .191 mark through his first six. He allowed career highs of 13 hits and seven runs over 5 2/3 innings in Tuesday's loss to Tampa Bay.
"They definitely took advantage of me falling behind in counts and did some damage," he told MLB's official website.
The Twins don't figure to pose quite the threat of the hot-hitting Rays, as they rank near the bottom of the majors with a .234 average and 151 runs scored. They've received a spark of late from Santana, who's 5 for 11 for the series and hitting .372 at Target Field, while Robbie Grossman is 4 for 7 with a home run and three RBIs since being promoted from the minors Thursday.
Toronto (21-24) continues to get production from Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders, both of whom homered Saturday. Bautista's two-run shot was his 13th in 20 games at Target Field, the most by any visiting player, and he's driven in 11 runs over his last seven overall.
Saunders owns a .333 career average at the venue and is hitting .444 with three homers over an eight-game span.
Minnesota aims to win consecutive games for only the second time this month, and Phil Hughes (1-6, 5.70) looks to build off his best performance of 2016. The struggling right-hander held Detroit to one run on three hits over 6 1/3 innings Tuesday, though he was denied a victory when the Twins' troublesome bullpen allowed six in a 7-2 defeat.
Hughes had allowed 17 runs over 18 innings in losing his four previous starts and is 2-9 with a 6.07 ERA over his last 12, a stretch that began with a 3-1 loss at Toronto on Aug. 4. He's been dealing with a sore shoulder that limited him to 75 pitches Tuesday.
''I've had the shoulder fatigue for about four starts now," he said. "Once I get to about 60 or 70 pitches, I'm losing a couple ticks off my fastball. That's why I told them to watch me in the seventh."