Sports Baseball

On Deck: Blue Jays at Royals

By Donald Duench, Toronto Sun

Royals catcher Salvador Perez celebrates after his team’s win over the Boston Red Sox on June 21, 2017. (JAMIE SQUIRE/Getty Images)

Royals catcher Salvador Perez celebrates after his team’s win over the Boston Red Sox on June 21, 2017. (JAMIE SQUIRE/Getty Images)

TORONTO BLUE JAYS at KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Probable starting pitchers

FRIDAY 8:15 p.m.
LHP J.A. Happ (2-4, 4.26 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Junis (2-1, 5.56 ERA)
Junis has been called up from triple-A Omaha on four occasions this season. This will be his fourth MLB start in a row on this callup.

SATURDAY 2:15 p.m.
RHP Marco Estrada (4-5, 4.98 ERA) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (10-3, 2.27 ERA)
Vargas has won each of his past five starts, including a shutout of Cleveland.

SUNDAY 2:15 p.m.
LHP Francisco Liriano (3-3, 5.76 ERA) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (4-6, 4.83 ERA)
Helped by some tips from pitching coach Dave Eiland, Hammel has won three of his past four starts after beginning the season 1-6.


TOP 3 STORYLINES

1. Look in the mirror
The Blue Jays and Royals have taken similar paths recently. Both broke long playoff droughts by reaching the post-season in two of the past three years, and both had a poor April this year, prompting chatter that it might be time to trade away some star players. However, both have improved in May and June — the Royals are 9-2 in their past 11 — and both entered play Thursday with a 35-36 record, two games back of the AL’s second wild-card spot.

2. Hosmer heating up
Royals 1B Eric Hosmer, who is atop the AL all-star fan voting at his position, is one of those players who might be coveted by a team looking to upgrade. He batted .225 in April, but has hit .344 since then. However, Hosmer doesn’t expect a selloff. “The plan is to keep the band together,” Hosmer said in a TV interview Wednesday. “The (AL) Central is up for grabs right now, so whatever team gets hot can really run with it, and we feel confident that can be us.”

3. Vargas’ golden nights
The Royals are remembering pitcher Yordano Ventura, who passed away as a result of a car accident in January, by wearing an
“ACE 30” uniform patch. Kansas City may have found its new ace in Jason Vargas. He missed most of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but was the first MLB pitcher to reach 10 wins this season by defeating the Angels on June 18.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

SS Troy Tulowitzki, Jays
His career slugging percentage is .496, but this season it was .333 going into play Thursday. So far in June, only three of his hits have been for extra bases — all doubles. What’s going on, Tulo?

C Salvador Perez, Royals
Need a great all-around catcher? Better Call Sal. He can hit, clouting a grand slam Wednesday as part of a 3-for-3 day which improved his batting average to .292. He can throw, retiring 109 base-runners since 2013, second-most in MLB in that span. He’s durable, starting 588 games behind the plate since 2013, most in MLB in that span.

 

DUENCH'S TAKE

That Hosmer interview? He was wearing an “Archer Sucks” sign after Rays pitcher Chris Archer wore a sign in an earlier interview to promote a Tampa Bay teammate’s all-star campaign. K.C. wins two of three.