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MLB Preview: Toronto Blue Jays (20-14) at Pittsburgh Pirates (20-14)


THE LATEST: The Blue Jays took the middle match of their three-game set in Pittsburgh last night by an 8-2 final…Have won consecutive games on the back of a season-long 5-game losing skid…Improved to 8-3-0 in series play this year and 4-3-0 on the road. Toronto has won 10 of its last 17 games and 19 of its last 30…With a win today, can claim their 2nd sweep of the season (also: 3G sweep on April 24-26 vs. CWS).

MORE ON BRAND-ON: Brandon Belt reached base four times last night, notching a pair of doubles while drawing a pair of walks, finishing the game 2-for-3 with two RBI…Marked his 4th multi-hit game of the year…Was also ejected after striking out looking in the 8th inning, the 1st Blue Jay with an ejection this season…Has 12 hits in his last 14 games (12-for-44), including six extra-base hits, after recording one knock in his first six contests.

IT’S ‘SHO-TIME: Daulton Varsho singled in the 1st and 8th innings on Saturday, finishing the night 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored…Was his 9th multi-hit game of the season, with four coming in the last five games…Is riding a season-long five-game hitting streak, going 9-for- 9 (.474) with two doubles, two homers, and seven RBI (1.371 OPS). The 26-year old has reached base safely in 20 of his 21 road games with an at-bat this season, hitting .280 (23-for-82) with six doubles, four homers, and 12 RBI… Owns an .844 OPS as a visitor this year, compared to a .389 mark at Rogers Centre.

OUTLAW ABOVE AVERAGE: Kevin Kiermaier singled twice, drew a walk, and drove in a pair of runs last night, part of a 2-for-4 effort, his 7th multi-hit game of the year…Is now batting .278 (25-for-90) with four doubles, two triples, a home run, and 10 RBI (.737 OPS)…His 25 hits while batting 9th are the most in the Majors (2nd: Michael A. Taylor – 22), while his 13 runs scored from that position trail only J.P. Crawford (14) for the most. The 33-year old has recorded three outs above average this year, tied with five others for the most among MLB centerfielders.

KIRK CONNECTS: Alejandro Kirk singled, doubled, walked, and reached on a hit-by-pitch on Saturday, finishing the game 2-for-3 with an RBI, his 5th multi-hit effort of the year… Reached base safely four times in a single game for the 2nd time this year (also: April 15 vs. TB). The All-Star catcher has reached base in 23 of his 26 games with an at-bat for a .404 OBP while going 20-for-78 (.256) with four extra-base hits, 11 RBI, and a 18BB/13K ratio…His walk rate of 5.50 PA/BB is 7th best in the Majors (min. 75 AB) and trails only Ryan Noda (4.90), Gunnar Henderson (4.95), and J.P. Crawford (5.39) for tops in the AL.

CHAP’S STICK: Matt Chapman went 2-for-5 last night with a 6th-inning double, his 13th multi-hit game of the season, tying him with Alex Verdugo for the most among AL batters. The 30-year old leads the AL in batting average (.352), while sitting 2nd in hits (43), 3rd in OBP (.436), 3rd in SLG (.615), 3rd in OPS (1.050), 3rd in total bases (75), and tied for 15th in RBI (21)…His 17 doubles and 22 extra-base hits were both the most in the Majors. The third baseman also continues to lead all MLB hitters in barrel rate (19.3%) this season, is 2nd in hard-hit (95+ MPH) percentage (67.4), 2nd in average exit velocity (95.5 MPH), and 3rd in hard-hit balls (60).

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Blue Jays are on a 10-day, nine-game road trip (2-4 so far) with four contests in Boston, three in Pittsburgh, and two in Philadelphia (15-19)…Their 22 road games played are the most in the Majors (BAL/NYM – 20G)…Own an 11-11 road record this year for a .500 win% (T-8th in the AL). Blue Jays hitters lead MLB in road hits (198) while ranking 4th in the AL in AVG (.256), 4th in SLG (.413), 4th in OPS (.742), and 5th in OBP (.329)…The pitching staff ranks 12th in the AL in road ERA (4.98), 13th in road WHIP (1.39), and 14th in road opponents’ batting average (.272).

HITTING IT: The Blue Jays have notched 302 hits so far this season, 3rd most in the AL…Are also 5th in the AL in team batting average (.258), 5th in OBP (.334), 6th in SLG (.411), and 6th in OPS (.745). Toronto’s offence has racked up at least 10 hits on 14 occasions this year, tied for 7th most among MLB clubs…Since the start of 2022, the Blue Jays have 80 such games, four more than any other team (ATL/BOS/COL – 76). The Blue Jays are one of just two AL teams who have scored a run in every game this season (also: LAA)… Have gone 52 consecutive games without being shut out, the 2nd-longest active streak in the Majors (LAA – 75G).

INTERTAINMENT: Toronto is playing its 2nd interleague series of the year after opening the season with a three-game set in St. Louis (1-2)…Led the AL with 13 interleague wins last season, which was one off the franchise’s all-time single-season record, set in 2021 -14)…Since the beginning of the 2021 campaign, Toronto’s .667 win% in Interleague Play (30-15) is 3rd best among all MLB clubs (TB – .714, LAD – .675). The Blue Jays have connected for 648 home runs all-time in Interleague Play, the most among all 30 teams.

EXTRA! EXTRA!: The Blue Jays have notched 103 extra-base hits this season, good for 5th most among American League clubs…Have recorded an extra-base hit in all but one game this season, doing so in each of their last 32 contests, trailing only the Pirates (60) for the longest active streak in the Majors.

VS. THE PIRATES: All-Time: 13-7
2023: 2-0 Road: 7-4
Road: 2-0 PNC Park: 7-4
The Blue Jays took all three games at PNC Park last season, outscoring the Pirates by a 12-4 margin and notching four runs in each contest…Have won each of the last seven meetings and eight of the last nine, dating back to 2014. Brandon Belt leads all current Blue Jays with 51 career games against the Pirates, posting a .297 batting average (52-for-175) with 21 doubles, one triple, three home runs, and 20 RBI (.854 OPS)…Has multiple hits in 10 of his 32 visits to PNC Park. Whit Merrifield has notched 16 hits in 13 career games with an at-bat vs. PIT, batting .302 (16-for-53) with three doubles, a homer, five RBI, and six walks for a .373 OBP and a .788 OPS…Has reached base safely in 12 of those 13 meetings with the Pirates. Bo Bichette drove in five of the 12 runs scored by the Blue Jays in that three-game set in Pittsburgh last season, going 6-for-12 (.500) with a pair of doubles, and a home run (1.455 OPS)…Has hit safely in all five of his career games vs. PIT, batting .400 (8-for-20)

STARTING PITCHER – Yusei Kikuchi, LHP #16
Making his 7th start of the season and his 5th on the road…Took a no-decision his last time out on 5/2 at BOS, giving up 5 runs on a season-high-tying 9 hits with a pair of strikeouts. Has cut his BB/9 rate by 3.47 from last season (5.19 -> 1.72), the largest decrease among MLB hurlers with at least 5 starts in each season.

2023 HIGHLIGHTS: Improved to 4-0 on 4/26 vs. CWS, throwing 5.2 frames of shutout ball while scattering four singles and a walk along with eight strikeouts…Has allowed one run or fewer in four of his five starts this year while the Blue Jays have won all five of his outings.
Earned his 3rd win of the year on 4/21 at NYY, tossing 6.0 frames of one-run ball with 4 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts…Has back-to-back starts of 6.0+ innings and 0-or-1 runs allowed for the first time since 6/18-25 of his 2021 All-Star campaign. Improved to 2-0 on 4/15 vs. TB, throwing 6.0 innings of one-run ball with 4 hits, a walk, and a season-high 9 strikeouts…Marked his most punchouts in a single game as a Blue Jay…Completed 6.0 frames for the 1st time since 6/30/22 vs. TB. Took a no-decision on 4/9 at LAA, giving up 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk
over 4.1 innings with 6 strikeouts…Threw 99 pitches (59 strikes) on the day, his most pitches in a single outing since 7/28/21 vs. HOU (101). Picked up the win in his season debut on 4/4 at KC, tossing 5.0 innings of one-run ball with 3 hits, a walk, and 2 strikeouts…Was his 1st start since 8/15/22 vs. BAL, and his 1st win as a starter since 7/28/22 vs. DET

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