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Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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BOSTON, MA:  Aaron Laffey #32 throws against the Boston Red Sox in the first inning at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA: Aaron Laffey #32 throws against the Boston Red Sox in the first inning at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox have come out of the All-Star break strong, and looking different than they did heading into it. Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Dustin Pedroia have all returned, and while David Ortiz remains out, they're still in a better place than they were recently. Until Ortiz is back, the Red Sox will just have to make do. Of course, if Pedro Ciriaco continues to hit like he belongs at DH, and Adrian Gonzalez's recent play is indeed a return to form, then Boston will do just fine without Ortiz around.

The Jays look a little different than last time, too, as Adam Lind is back and hitting for the first time in years. Whether that's a temporary or permanent thing isn't known, but it does make them more dangerous. That is, if it wasn't for the loss of Jose Bautista, anyway.

Game 1: Aaron Laffey (32 IP, 2.3 K/BB, 128 ERA+) vs. Josh Beckett (95-1/3 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 98 ERA)

Game 2: Carlos Villanueva (50-1/3 IP, 2.1 K/BB, 161 ERA+) vs. Aaron Cook (29-2/3 IP, 1.0 K/BB, 131 ERA+)

Game 3: Henderson Alvarez (113-1/3 IP, 1.6 K/BB, 100 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (116-1/3 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 90 ERA+)

The Blue Jays starters for the weekend have combined for 25 starts total in 2012, with 18 of those coming from Henderson Alvarez. Toronto's rotation is a bit of a mess due to injury, and if something more serious had been the matter with Alvarez not that long ago, things would be in even worse condition.

Laffey has been great in his short time in the bigs this year, and has already pitched well against the Red Sox once. Hopefully, with Boston's lineup in better shape than it was last time around, things will be a bit different in their second go at him. He'll take on Josh Beckett, who looked pretty good against the Rays last time out, punching out seven in six innings while throwing a quality start.

Carlos Villanueva is kind of in the Alfredo Aceves territory, where he can start if you need him to, or just throw 100 innings out of the bullpen. Aceves is likely a worse starter, though, since he seems to need to work constantly, whereas Villanueva still maintains some usefulness in the role. Of his 25 appearances, 22 have come in relief, but the Jays need him to start right now. He misses a lot of bats, but also walks more than enough hitters, and Boston should be able to take advantage. He'll be facing the complete opposite kind of hurler in Aaron Cook, who hasn't struck out a hitter in four of his five starts this year, but thanks to extreme sinker usage, has been able to get things done with ground ball outs. With Boston's infield finally whole again, you can expect more of that.

For what it's worth, if Cook can go another game without a punch out, he'll have the second-lengthiest streak of starts without a strikeout since 1994. Pat Hentgen is the only pitcher with four straight in that time frame, and Cook is currently tied with a long list of others at two, including himself earlier in the year. This would also give him five starts without a strikeout on the season, tying him with Bret Saberhagen's 1998 campaign, the most recent Sox pitcher to have five in an entire year.

Speaking of not striking anyone out: Henderson Alvarez.

Boston has the lineup, and they have the pitching match-ups, and with all of Toronto's injuries, they even have the bullpen. Losing is a thing that happens, of course, but Boston is set up to sweep away the Jays this weekend, and bring themselves that much closer to the playoff race in the process. As it stands, they are just one game out of the wild card, and heading in the right direction as far as health and finally being whole goes.