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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Blue Jays vs. Twins Series Preview: Brutal AL East stretch finally over

The slumping Toronto Blue Jays get a much-needed break from American League East competition when they face the Minnesota Twins in a three-game weekend series that starts Friday.

Toronto is coming off a woeful 2-9 run against the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, dropping the Blue Jays into last place in the best division in baseball.

Although starting pitching wasn’t the biggest issue for most of that stretch, Yusei Kikuchi and Alek Manoah both were bad in the last two games in Tampa.

Apart from a 20-1 win on Tuesday, the offence has been shaky — especially with runners in scoring position. Defence also has been a problem — the Blue Jays are not making fundamental plays.

Here’s a look at the Blue Jays-Twins series.

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Probable pitchers

Friday, 8:10 p.m. ET / 5:10 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Kevin Gausman (2-3, 3.14 ERA) vs. Minnesota RHP Louie Varland (2-0, 4.18 ERA)

Saturday, 2:10 p.m. ET / 11:10 a.m. PT: Toronto RHP Chris Bassitt (5-3, 3.03 ERA) vs. Minnesota RHP Pablo Lopez (2-3, 3.90 ERA)

Sunday, 2:10 p.m. ET / 11:10 a.m. PT: Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (4-4, 4.22 ERA) vs. Minnesota RHP Bailey Ober (3-1, 2.55 ERA)

All games on Sportsnet and SN NOW.

Latest on the Blue Jays

The Blue Jays (26-25) are 10.5 games behind the AL East-leading Rays after a 6-3 loss on Thursday.

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Manoah lasted just three innings, tying for the shortest start of his career.

All the good energy from a 20-1 win over a Rays team that resorted to position players pitching at the end of a blowout on Tuesday disappeared in a hurry.

Toronto’s bats went quiet against top Tampa starters Shane McClanahan and Zach Eflin on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

With catcher Danny Jansen sidelined by a groin injury, Alejandro Kirk started and had all kinds of problems handling the Rays, who stole seven bases.

The Blue Jays are 6-15 against the AL East this season.

Latest on the Twins

The Twins (26-24) are coming off a 3-6 West Coast swing against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants.

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Minnesota’s bats finally came to life in a series-ending 7-1 win over the Giants on Wednesday. The Twins had scored just 19 combined runs in their past six games.

Canadian rookie Edouard Julien, the club’s No. 4 prospect, had a leadoff home run and later added a sacrifice fly in Wednesday’s win. He has three home runs in 39 at-bats in the majors.

Minnesota also was aggressive on the basepaths, stealing four bases, including a steal of home by Willi Castro.

The Twins need more noise from their bats if they want to gain separation at the top of their division — which is far weaker than the AL East. Minnesota is two games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers.

The pitching has been strong, with the Twins having the second-best ERA (3.40) in the majors.

Gausman rolling

The Blue Jays have the right guy starting Friday’s opener in Gausman.

The right-hander had a pair of no-decisions (that ended up as losses) during the stretch against the AL East — and he was probably Toronto’s best player on the field during both games.

Gausman gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits in seven innings on May 16 against the Yankees and allowed two runs on six hits in eight innings versus the Orioles last Sunday.

Twins battling injuries

The Twins are fielding a short-handed roster.

Second baseman Jorge Polanco (hamstring), and outfielders Trevor Larnach (pneumonia), Max Kepler (hamstring) and Nick Gordon (tibia) are all out.

Star shortstop Carlos Correa (heel) and outfielder Joey Gallo (hamstring) also sat out Wednesday, though the Twins are hopeful they’ll be back for the weekend series.

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Julien, a Quebec City native, was called up for the second time this season on Saturday to replace Polanco.

No Ryan vs. Jays

The Blue Jays catch a break in not facing Twins ace Joe Ryan, who started Wednesday.

The 26-year-old right-hander is 7-1 with a 2.21 ERA and looks poised to make his first All-Star Game appearance.

2022 season series

The Blue Jays went 3-4 against the Twins last year, winning one of three in Toronto and splitting a four-game series in Minnesota.

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Homecoming for Berrios

Berrios, Sunday’s starter, will make his third start in Minnesota since the Twins traded him to the Blue Jays midway through 2021.

Berrios took the loss in his initial return in September 2021, giving up three runs on five hits in six innings.

The right-hander had a no-decision in Minnesota last August, allowing five runs on six hits in 3.2 innings in a game Toronto would lose 6-5 in 10 innings.

A 32nd-round pick by Minnesota in 2012, Berrios was a two-time All-Star with the Twins.

Up next

The Blue Jays have an off-day Monday and then face Rowdy Tellez and the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers in a three-game series at Rogers Centre.

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