Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Toronto Blue Jays

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After a rough week last week that included losing three of four games to the hated Detroit Tigers, the Indians will look to rebound this week as they head into the all-star break. They could use a solid week of quality baseballing following a less than stellar week. Six games should provide them ample opportunity to build some real momentum as the second half of the season and the playoff push begins. First up on the agenda, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays come into play tonight in a very difficult spot. The currently find themselves sitting in 5th place in the crowded AL East with a record of 43-45. They are currently 10 games back of the Boston Red Sox and while things may seem less than stellar on the surface, they could be much, much worse.

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An 11-game winning streak during the month of June helped pull the Blue Jays back within a handful of games of first place in the East. Unfortunately, an equally cold streak followed that has seen them lose 9 out of their last 14 games. If not for that impressively hot streak, one has to wonder just how much worse off the Blue Jays night have been as they enter play tonight.

But what has gone so wrong for a team with so much talent? After acquiring a stable of players this offseason from the Mets and Marlins, the Blue Jays looked primed for legitimate contention for the first time in decades. It just hasn’t worked out because so much of the can’t miss talent brought in has done just that – Miss.

Jose Reyes, to the surprise of almost none, injured himself awkwardly sliding into second base and missed nearly the entire first half of the season. He has played well in the 22 games he has played in, posting a slash line of .326/.371/.494. The problem is the Blue Jays have played 80+ games at this point, not 22. Also worth noting is the fact that Reyes has yet to hit a triple. This is strange considering he is second among active players with 111 career triples.

Another disappointment has been free agent signing Melky Cabrera. The Jays took a flier on Cabrera following his suspension for performance enhancing drugs, and so far the return has not been what they had hoped. It made sense to sign Cabrera and hope for lightning in a bottle, but the difference between the 2012 Cabrera and 2013 version is like night and day. At the All-Star break in 2012, Cabrera was hitting .353/.391/.519 with 8 homers, 44 RBI and a 150 OPS+. In 2013 Cabrera has hit .278/.321/.362 with 3 homers, 29 RBI and an 86 OPS+. None of this is probably related to his suspension. Not at all.

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Other disappointments for the Jays have been Emilio Bonifacio, brought in for his speed and defensive versatility but barely hitting above the Mendoza line, former top prospect Brett Lawrie, also barely hitting above the Mendoza line, and former NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, who has struggled to command his knuckle ball in a new environment. When you add all of that up along with the other less than stellar performances on this team and you end up with the product the Jays have trotted out onto the field for the better part of 80 games.

Of course, the Blue Jays still have Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to fall back on. They rank right up there with some of the most feared power hitting combos in the game today and may very well be the most dangerous after Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Encarnacion has built off of a stellar 2012. So far this season he is hitting .268/.357/.532 with 23 homers (4th in the AL) and 68 RBI. Bautista, meanwhile, has hit 20 homers and driven in 52 runs while hitting .265/.364/.513. Together they have accumulated 5.7 WAR thus far, 2.3 and 3.4 respectively.

Despite their best efforts, the Blue Jays just haven’t been able to put everything together this season. They are a talented team but injuries combined with underwhelming performance have done them in. Can the Indians take advantage of a team struggling to find their way? Let’s hope for their sake and for our own sanity that they are able to right the ship. If not, it may be another long week for Indian fans.

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