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Blue Jays vs. Angels series preview: Guerrero Jr. faces Ohtani in opener

The top two vote-getters in last year’s American League MVP race — unanimous winner Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — are set to battle it out on Thursday.

A four-game series against a solid Los Angeles Angels club, with Ohtani on the mound for the opener, concludes a six-game road trip for Guerrero and the Blue Jays.

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Thursday: 9:38 p.m. ET / 6:38 p.m. PT (Sportsnet ONE) Toronto LHP Hyun Jin Ryu (1-0, 6.00 ERA) vs. Los Angeles RHP Shohei Ohtani (3-2, 2.82 ERA)

Friday: 9:38 p.m. ET / 6:38 p.m. PT (Apple TV+): Toronto RHP Alek Manoah (5-1, 1.62 ERA) vs. Los Angeles RHP Chase Silseth (1-1. 2.61 ERA)

Saturday: 10:07 p.m. ET / 7:07 p.m. PT (Sportsnet ONE): Toronto LHP Yusei Kikuchi (2-1, 3.47 ERA) vs. Los Angeles RHP Michael Lorenzen (5-2, 3.05 ERA)

Sunday: 4:07 p.m. ET / 1:07 p.m. PT (Sportsnet ONE): Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (3-2, 4.75 ERA) vs. Los Angeles LHP Patrick Sandoval (3-1, 1.79 ERA)

LATEST ON THE BLUE JAYS

One game does not constitute a turnaround, but perhaps the Blue Jays (23-20) can build off a rare offensive surge in an 8-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday. It marked just the sixth time in 21 games this month in which Toronto has scored more than three runs.

Danny Jansen’s three-run homer, his first of two home runs on the night, marked the first Toronto hit to clear the fence with more than one runner on since April 29. Guerrero Jr. also connected for a home run – just his second this month and first since May 5.

Despite the offensive woes before Tuesday, Toronto had won more than it had lost in the past week thanks in large part to excellent work by the starting rotation.

LATEST ON THE ANGELS

The Angels (27-18) settled for a split of a mini-series with Texas after a 7-2 loss to the visiting Rangers on Wednesday. Angels star Mike Trout struck out four times for just the eighth time in his career, while Ohtani was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and stumbled running the bases before scoring in the first.

Manager Joe Maddon’s club leads the AL with 214 runs scored and is two games behind the Houston Astros in the race for first in the AL West.

The Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2014 and their last winning season was a year later.

VLADDY VS. SHOHEI

For the first time since Ohtani beat out Guerrero Jr. for the MVP award last season, the two stars go head to head on Thursday.

This time around, though, neither man is really in the prime MVP conversation. Ohtani is having another impressive year on the mound (he hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his past five starts), but he’s been quieter at the plate (.251/.318/.451 with nine homers and 28 RBIs). Guerrero (.263/.356/.447 with eight homers and 22 RBIs) was scuffling before his homer on Tuesday – a nice boost heading into a marquee matchup with Ohtani and a return to one of his dad’s old stamping grounds.

Guerrero has faced Ohtani just once — he went 1-for-2 with a single, walk and strikeout last August in a 6-3 Angels win in Anaheim.

SPEAKING OF MVPs…

Could the Angels become the first team to have back-to-back MVP winners since the Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander in 2011, Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and ’13) took three in a row?

Trout (.319/.425/.674 with 12 homers and 26 RBIs) is doing his best to make that happen. After missing most of last season with a calf injury, Trout ranks second in the big leagues in wins above replacement this year, per fangraphs.com.

TORONTO CONNECTION

Two members of the Angels bullpen — left-hander Aaron Loup and right-hander Ryan Tepera — were part of Toronto’s playoff teams in 2015 and ’16.

The Blue Jays won’t face former Toronto prospect Noah Syndergaard, a starter, this series. After missing most of the past two seasons with the Mets following Tommy John surgery, Syndergaard signed a one-year deal with the Angels this year.

Toronto also won’t face rookie lefty Reid Detmers, who threw a no-hitter earlier this month against Tampa Bay. Detmers took the loss in Wednesday’s defeat against Texas.

UP NEXT

The Blue Jays get an off day Monday before beginning a three-game set at Rogers Centre against another playoff contender — the Chicago White Sox. A six-game homestand then concludes with three games against the team Chicago is chasing at the top of the AL Central — the Minnesota Twins.

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