Twins-Blue Jays Preview

The Associated PressJune 11, 2014

The Toronto Blue Jays are one of the best offensive teams in baseball, but they haven't looked anything like that recently.

After being shut out for the third time in four games, the AL East-leading Blue Jays again try to get back on track against the visiting Minnesota Twins in Wednesday's finale.

Toronto (39-27) is among the majors' leaders with a .261 average, .443 slugging percentage and 4.8 runs per game, while its 91 homers are the most in baseball.

The offense has sputtered while dropping three of four games, mustering a .186 average - 2 for 22 with runners in scoring position - while being blanked in all three of those defeats. The Blue Jays had been shut out only once previously.

"You never see that coming," manager John Gibbons said. "Naturally, as hot as we were, you figure you're going to cool off a little bit."

Toronto had seven hits in Tuesday's 4-0 loss to Minnesota (30-33), a day after winning the series opener 5-4.

Edwin Encarnacion has been a major culprit of the struggles at the plate, going 2 for 14 with one homer and three RBIs in four games. The first baseman had been hitting .324 with 17 homers and 33 RBIs over his previous 29 games, helping the Jays win 22 of them.

Toronto may not need much offensive production with Marcus Stroman (3-0, 5.40 ERA) bidding to become the team's first rookie to win his first three starts since Mauro Gozzo in 1989.

The right-hander, one of the Blue Jays' top pitching prospects, has been outstanding since being added to the rotation, yielding two runs with 13 strikeouts over 12 innings. He held St. Louis to one run Friday while scattering seven hits with seven strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter in six innings of a 3-1 win.

"I have always felt that when guys get on, I feel I have been able to buckle down and really be at my best," he said. "That's something I have always prided myself on."

Stroman will have to contend with Brian Dozier, who has homered on both of his hits in this series while driving in three runs.

The second baseman is 11 for 33 with three homers, six RBIs and nine runs in nine games. Half of his six hits in six games at Rogers Centre have left the park.

Phil Hughes (6-2, 3.46) has found little success there, compiling a 7.39 ERA while going 1-4 over his last seven starts in Toronto.

The right-hander has also struggled versus Encarnacion, who owns a .378 average in 37 at-bats against him while Jose Reyes is 4 for 10 with two doubles and two homers.

Hughes looks to bounce back after permitting season highs of five runs and three homers in six innings of Friday's 5-4 loss to Houston. He had been 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA over his eight previous starts, during which he served up only two homers.

"I just wasn't making adjustments the way I have before," Hughes told the team's official website. "I didn't recognize it early enough to make some better pitches with the two-seamer or the cutter. I tried to generate some extra velocity and came out of my mechanics a little bit and just left some balls over the plate."