My Sports

10 June 2017

Artificial Turf Blues Games 59-61: Tough Love

By // Sports

GAME 59
4-1 Loss at Oakland
Season Record: 28-31

After enduring a humiliating, franchise record streak of 34 consecutive hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position, did the Blue Jays finally break it with a ringing double off the wall to score a pair of runs?  A no-doubter three run home run? No. They broke the streak with a weakly hit infield single, on which the runner at second was immediately thrown out at the plate. Anyone else feel like June is starting to look a whole lot like April?

COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA
(with each loss, three things that might have made a difference)

In the fourth inning the Jays had bases loaded with just one out. Oakland Starter Jesse Hahn wasn’t getting much help from his defence, with an error and a play-not-made that inning and then failing to turn a double play quickly enough to get lumbering first baseman Justin Smoak. Somehow the Blue Jays managed to get two hits, a walk and an error from the defence with just one out and still only managed to score one run when Ryan Goins chased the first pitch with the bases loaded and grounded into a taylor made double play. This COULDA been a sneak peek at what life will be like without Devon Travis in the lineup for a while again.

In the first inning, speedy outfielder and former Blue Jay Rajai Davis hit a leadoff double (well, it should have been a single but Ezequiel Carrera was in left field and played it poorly). Davis moved to third on a single but was prevented from scoring when right fielder Jose Bautista made a pretty good throw to home plate with one out, forcing him to stay at third, but apparently really tired his arm out in doing so. The next batter Khris Davis then hit a fly ball which Bautista caught, took a step and then unloaded a throw that looked like it was supposed to hit the popcorn vendor above the A’s dugout. As Harry Doyle would say “juuuust a bit outside”. It was actually kind of impressive how far away from home plate it was while still technically remaining in the field of play. Now, you WOULDA thought that would be the worst outfield play of the day for Toronto, but you forgot that Ezequiel Carrera was playing left field every day, didn’t you? A few innings later he cost the Jays another run by losing one in the lights and then falling over like he was a bison on roller skates. Isn’t it nice we have two or three options for “Worst Play of the Night” instead of having to pick just one? Dalton Pompey please get healthy quickly. By comparison, the A’s started an infielder, someone named Chad Pinder in right field tonight, who was playing in the outfield for the second time in his career and he looked like the second coming of Dwight “Dewey” Evans, making several really nice running catches and throwing out a runner trying to stretch a single into a double (ironically it was Bautista, doubling down on his shame). We started two guys who are supposed to be outfielders by trade and they looked like Huey, Dewey and Louie.

In facing a similarly all-or-nothing offence like Oakland’s, I think the Blue Jays SHOULDA felt like they had a starting pitching advantage these last two games with J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada matched up against Sean Manaea and Jesse Hahn. Instead, both of Toronto’s veteran pitchers blinked first, giving up big hits and home runs in big situations. The A’s pitchers were able to take advantage of the fact that Toronto’s has three or four automatic outs in their lineup right now (Kendrys Morales, Goins, Maile, Carrera) and kind of shaped innings around them. The Blue Jays currently are trying to win with the equivalent of four pitchers hitting in their lineup. In a league that uses the D.H. because pitchers suck at hitting. Oakland’s young group of starting pitchers is going to be the backbone of their team in a few years. Facing Toronto’s unidimensional ‘offence’ was all they needed to gain confidence going forward.

GAME 60
7-5 Win at Oakland in 10 innings
Season Record: 29-31

That will help to make a day off in Seattle a lot more pleasant. After dropping the first two games of this series despite plenty of chances to win them both, the Blue Jays stole an extra inning win today despite every player on the roster making at least eleven defensive miscues each. Except Justin Smoak – he’s just the dreamiest.

Speaking (writing?) of Seattle, the Mariners will be a much different team this weekend than they were when they visited Toronto a few weeks ago. Their offence is back on track, having scored 40 runs in their last four games and their pitchers are getting healthier. They will also likely be seeking a pit of payback for the beatdown they received from the Blue Jays last month, especially with their ballpark half full of noisy Canadian fans. So a getaway win this afternoon to avoid a sweep and improve club morale was very big, even if it didn’t do anything to allay my worries about this team going forward.

BASKING IN THE GLORY
(after each win, three things that may have been the difference)

A BIG PLAY – The Jays’ bullpen was a clear advantage over Oakland in this series and it finally played out today. After the Jays’ relief squad held the A’s hitless for four straight innings to that point, Oakland was forced to put someone named Frankie Montas in the game to pitch the 10th inning. The amped-up rookie plunked leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar on a 3-2 pitch as the prospect of Josh Donaldson loomed in the on-deck circle. He actually got Donaldson behind in the count 1 and 2, but then he left a 98 MPH fastball up in the zone which J.D. turned around over the giant wall in left-centre field to put Toronto back in front for good and another reminder to all 188 fans in attendance how bad that trade was two years ago. It was the difference maker in the game made by one of the league’s great Difference Makers. In fact, I kinda think “The Difference Maker” should be his nickname. Let’s get a grass roots movement afoot to try to get that happening.

A BIG MOMENT – With the game tied at 1 in the second inning, Chris Coghlan came to the plate with two out and none on. After Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin had both struck out swinging (God, those two contracts are going to just crush the Blue Jays for the next few years), it didn’t look like most of the Jays had much going against starter Jharel Cotton. Well, except for Justin Smoak, who is the hunkiest. Since promising to “break the doors down” during his time with the Jays, Coghlan hasn’t done a hell of a lot other than an acrobatic flip over St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina to score a run about a month ago and is probably a healthy Dalton Pompey away from being back in Buffalo. The walk he drew in the second inning tonight didn’t seem like it was going to change that narrative, either. However, after his walk and Ryan Goins’ two-strike single, Kevin Pillar hit a home run, giving the Jays three runs with two outs from their 8-9-1 hitters. Coghlan deserves credit for initiating the Jays’ unexpected, unlikely big inning. Now, as for his ‘outfield defence’…

…AND A LITTLE THING – After Oakland had come back from the aforementioned 4-1 lead to tie the game thanks to Toronto’s relentlessly atrocious defence, “The Reverend” Danny Barnes was again called upon to do God’s work and did it. (Yes, I’m giving everyone new, unsolicited nicknames today. I’ve even begun calling myself “The Sandwich” all day. I think it’s going to stick.) Barnes has been consistent and workmanlike in the middle innings this year, taking over for those Jays starters who have not been carrying their share of the load (which is all of them). Today, he retired all six batters he faced in the 6th and 7th innings and slowed Oakland’s momentum when it really felt like the game might be slipping away from the Blue Jays.

NOTES FROM MY COUCH

I’m not Francisco Liriano’s biggest fan, but he did not get any help today from his defence. Pillar took a terrible route to a ball hit to centre field in the first inning, misplaying it into a double that would become the A’s first run. I think he’s been standing too close to our atrocious left fielders and has come down with the same disease this season. Then, in the third inning, Tulowitzki botched a double play ball (his 5th error already, despite missing over a month) and then two batters later Goins couldn’t get the ball out of his glove on another double play opportunity to allow a run to score. None of that would have mattered if Donaldson hadn’t made a strange choice to try to go around the horn for a double play instead of just getting the lead runner at third on a ground ball hit to him. Liriano was let down by three different infielders (not Justin Smoak, of course – he was perfect) in the same inning and still just allowed one run. Coghlan also absolutely butchered two different fly balls in left field to add to the misery and his pitch count. If the Jays want their starters to go longer in games to try to preserve their bullpen, they are going to have to play better defence than they did tonight. That was bush league.

How hilarious would it be if the Schneider’s insipid “Fire Up the Grilli” free apron promotion on June 18 happened after Jason Grilli was released by the Jays? I suppose he could still hang out at the park in street clothes, right? Either way, anyone who still has one of those things five years from now won’t even remember who the hell it was named after.

Every time the Jays play in Oakland, all of the ‘atmosphere shots’ they show of the area during the broadcast are of San Francisco. That’s idiotic. Oakland is a city that has seen its share of tough times, certainly, but like Detroit or Cleveland it is in the midst of a pretty exciting urban renewal. It would show a modicum of respect if the Sportsnet folks showed spots around the city they’re actually playing in, rather than the more cosmopolitan, white people-friendly city that’s been colonized by tech gazillionaires across the bay. San Francisco doesn’t need the hype. Oakland could use it.

Anyone else catch the shot of the amateur ventriloquist sitting in the seats that the camera guys captured for a few seconds during today’s game? He was sitting all by himself in a section of seats with no one else anywhere near him, having a full-on conversation with his hand puppet monkey. The best part was that neither Buck or Pat could come up with anything to say about him, so it just ended up being a few seconds of awkward television silence. Pure gold.

We will begin our list of the Top 15 seasons by a starting pitcher on Friday night, so back off with all the emails and texts about it.

GAME 61
4-2 Loss at Seattle
Season Record: 29-32

Before we begin to discuss tonight’s game, here are the first few entries in our promised list of the Top 15 seasons from starting pitchers in Toronto Blue Jays history:

15. (tie) J.A. HAPP (2016) and AARON SANCHEZ (2016) – Despite the fact that they appear to be very different pitchers, their 2016 seasons were nearly impossible to separate, hence the tie for the final spot.

Happ : 195 innings, 168 hits allowed, 163 strikeouts with a 3.18 ERA with a 1.169 WHIP.

Sanchez : 192 innings, 161 hits allowed, 161 strikeouts with 3.00 ERA and a 1.167 WHIP.

They are astonishingly similar in the stats that count and even in the ones that don’t mean nuthin’, like winning percentage (.833 and .822 respectively). They even finished 6th and 7th respectively in voting for last year’s American League Cy Young Award. Maybe their big 2016 seasons (both threw a career high number of innings) took something out of them because neither will receive a single Cy Young vote in 2017.

14. DOYLE ALEXANDER (1984) – Alexander’s tenure with Toronto was pretty near perfect a few reasons : 1) He was acquired for nothing, having been released by the Yankees during the 1983 season and signed by Toronto two days later in a no-risk move. 2) He was an above average pitcher (worth nearly 13 WAR) in his three seasons with the Jays, helping them to their first-ever playoff appearance, and 3) at age 35 he was then traded for a 22 year-old Duane Ward in the middle of the 1986 season, bringing one of the best relievers in Jays history to Toronto in exchange. (Later, at age 37 he was even traded by the Braves to Detroit for a 20 year-old John Smoltz, making him really perfect for Atlanta). 1984 was his first full season with the Blue Jays and he made it count, throwing 261.2 innings, allowing just 238 hits and finishing with a 17-6 record and a 3.13 ERA. The Jays had four pitchers make at least 35 starts and throw at least 220 innings that season. There’s a statement you won’t ever read again about any team in the future.

13. ROY HALLADAY (2005) – If he’d finished it, this season might have been #1. However, thanks to a line drive from the bat of Texas Rangers slugger Kevin Mench on July 8 that struck Doc in the shin and broke his leg, his great (perhaps best?) season ended prematurely. It deserves commemoration here even though it ended before the All-Star break. Get a load of these numbers : he had already won 12 games, thrown 141 innings and allowed just 118 hits. He’d struck out 108 hitters while walking just 18 to the tune of a 2.41 ERA and a 0.960 WHIP. Projection for the rest of the season is pointless – it’s really just taking a series of numbers and extrapolating them over a few more months, and that’s not how the ebb and flow of a baseball season works. However, what we can say with certainty that is he was the clear front runner in that year’s Cy Young Award race and was scheduled to start the All-Star Game before the injury happened. Even though he made just 21 starts, he still led the American League in complete games that year. It certainly had the potential of being his greatest season and one that would have further solidified his somewhat murky Hall of Fame case. (A few seasons later, Kevin Mench ended his MLB career with 115 below average at-bats for the Blue Jays. That was the first year after Halladay left for Philadelphia. No official word on if he used Doc’s old locker.)

Well, you knew Seattle would be keened up to play the Jays this weekend. After being swept (and embarrassed) in Toronto a few weeks back, the Mariners played with a palpable focus and determination tonight. Which brings the grand total of teams playing that way tonight to one. The Blue Jays got ahead by 2 runs in the top of the third inning and promptly shifted into some wildly unsuccessful combination of Cruise Control and Self-Destruct Mode, handing this game over like it was their lunch money in an after-school special from 1982. They went to sleep against starter Sam Caviglio (a 27 year-old who had pitched all of 23 MLB innings in his career to this point) and they paid for it. Again.

Frankly, the obnoxious way that the Sportsnet broadcast team continues to talk about Jays fans ‘taking over’ Safeco Field makes the punk rock kid in me kinda glad Toronto lost. It’s fantastic that Canadians travel to Seattle to see games in huge numbers and cheer. I just think the Jays’ broadcast network could follow Kendrick Lamar’s timely advice be a bit more humble about the whole thing. You’re covering a Blue Jays game, not a Raptors game.

COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA
(after each loss, three things that might have made a difference)

Tonight’s starter Joe Biagini was pretty good tonight and was again unlucky tonight. Whatever good fortune he was the beneficiary of last season is coming back to bite him on the rear end this year because, while he has pitched well enough, he certainly isn’t getting many breaks (or much run support). Biagini will still have to earn his good luck, too, though, by working harder at containing baserunners. After singling with one out in the third inning, it took Jarrod Dyson all of two pitches to time Biagini’s delivery to the plate and steal second easily. Then, with two outs Ben Gamel’s single scored Dyson to score Seattle’s first run. Dyson is a fast dude, but a little more attention from Biagini COULDA kept him from scoring a key run.

If I were making a DVD on how not to handle a hit to left field with runners on first and second, all I WOULDA needed was the Blue Jays’ 7th inning. After Danny Valencia singled through the left side of the infield, Ezequiel Carrera (who else) picked up the ball as Robinson Cano was rounding third and heading home to score the tying run. The arc of his throw home precisely mimicked the first hill of the Great Canadian Minebuster, somehow managing to complete overshoot the cut off man and not even come close to getting Cano at the plate. Catcher Russ Martin then threw to third base in time to get Kyle Seager, but Troy Tulowitzki caught the throw in front of the bag and then missed with a weak sweep tag, instead of blocking the bag, where missing the tag is next-to-impossible. These defensive lapses at a time when they’re not hitting much are why .500 seems like an unreachable star right now. Baseball’s a cruel game – when you put players in left field (or anywhere) who can’t play out there, the ball will continue to find them.

Kevin Pillar probably SHOULDA scored the Jays’s third run of the game in the 7th inning but three outstanding defensive plays foiled him. With two outs, he hit a ball down the right field that he probably deserved a double on, but Ben Gamel raced to the wall and cut the ball off before it reached the wall, forcing Pillar to retreat back to first. Then Josh Donaldson hit a ball into the left-centre field gap that Jarrod Dyson couldn’t quite make a catch on. After Dyson fell to the ground, though, he made an astonishing athletic play, somehow preventing the ball from bouncing away from him, barehanding it and throwing an absolute strike from his knees to shortstop Taylor Hanson, sorry – Taylor Motter – who then made another perfect throw home to get Pillar. It took three perfectly executed defensive plays in the same inning for Seattle to preserve their tenuous lead. Their outstanding defensive effort vs. Toronto’s poor one was the difference tonight.

NOTES FROM MY COUCH

Even though it might have cost Toronto the game, I loved John Gibbons leaving Biagini in the game in the seventh inning, even though he struggled a bit to get through it. If the Blue Jays ever want their young starters to be reliable, they are going to have to learn to get themselves out of trouble without help. Toronto cannot keep running to an already overtaxed, overperforming bullpen the moment one of their starters is struggling. As Biagini laboured his way through the seventh inning, the camera kept showing Gibbons in the dugout, waiting for him to run out and save him. Like a parent providing a bit of tough love, he stayed right where he was and let his youngster figure things out himself. Today the bully roughed him but in the end I believe knowing that daddy’s not going to come and save you every time things aren’t going perfectly will be better for the young pitchers on this team. Besides, even after ‘all that’ Biagini still threw less than 100 pitches and allowed just one extra-base hit the whole game – he was hardly getting knocked around out there. I applaud Gibbons for not being a helicopter parent. Today his kid came home with a bit of a black eye but he might go back to school tomorrow a little bit tougher.

Content developed in partnership with sports-genius.com

In: , , ,

Comments are closed.

  • Connect

    Facebook Twitter RSS Pinterest Instagram

  • patreon-image

  • What's Your Favourite Sport?

    View Results

  • Sports Archives

  • Related Posts