8-4 Win at Tampa
Season Record: 10-19

As we all know, the Toronto Blue Jays have suffered a number of tough injuries this season. They have lost two above average starting pitchers and two key cogs in their lineup. Those injuries have unquestionably contributed to their struggles so far this season, but I thought it might be interesting to compare how badly other teams in the American League East have been bitten by the injury bug and how it has affected their play this season so far.

BOSTON (15-13) David Price, a perennial Cy Young candidate, has not appeared yet this season due to arm troubles, knuckleballing starting pitcher Steven Wright has been injured and is now out for the season, All-Star CF Jackie Bradley Jr. missed two weeks and has struggled since returning; briefly rejuvenated third baseman and World Series hero Pablo Sandoval is hurt (again); Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg, two key relievers the Red Sox have acquired in the last two seasons, have both yet to appear in a game for Boston. Super utility man Brock Holt, who can play any of 7 positions for them, has had just 19 at-bats due to vertigo symptoms. Given their high expectations this season, they’ve underachieved slightly so far but are certainly in the thick of things.

BALTIMORE (17-10) Chris Tillman, their best starting pitcher, has yet to appear for them this season and Zach Britton, one of the top 3 or 4 relievers in MLB, missed three weeks with an arm problem. Their starting catcher Wellington Castillo just went on the DL with shoulder issues.   Safe to say the Orioles have exceeded preseason expectations so far this month, in spite of injuries to their two best pitchers.

TAMPA BAY (15-15) Starting shortstop Matt Duffy, whom they traded starting pitcher Matt Moore to San Fran for last year, has yet to play this year. Reliever Brad Boxberger, who led the AL in saves and was an All-Star in 2015, has yet to recover from a lat muscle injury to pitch this season. They signed catcher Wilson Ramos to a big free agent deal (for the Rays, anyway) and he hasn’t played yet this season and likely won’t until July. Pitcher Jake Odorizzi, their #3 starter, has also appeared on the DL already this season. They are treading water so far, but luckily for them they still have 13 games left against Toronto this season and we’ve seen how that usually goes.

NY YANKEES (18-9) They played their first month without starting shortstop Didi Gregorious and most of it without wunderkind sophomore starting catcher Gary Sanchez, who hit 20 home runs in the second half of last season. Starting first baseman Greg Bird, who won the job after swinging it like Lou Gehrig in Spring Training, is on the DL after struggling with a foot injury. So far this season it appears they have made the jump from an up-and-coming young team into a reborn Evil Empire in spite of missing two of their best young players. Their pitching won’t likely hold up without reinforcements, but they have put themselves in a good position to add some at the trading deadline.

Bottom line: no team in the division has avoided the injury bug this season and yet no team in the division has played nearly as poorly as the Blue Jays. Rather than just injuries, Toronto’s struggles in the first 4 or 5 weeks of the season are more legitimately due to the simple fact that most of the key players left on the Blue Jays’ roster (Bautista, Travis, Martin, Morales, Pearce, Osuna, Grilli) all struggled simultaneously for most of that time and that the some of the backups the team had ready (Saltalamacchia, Latos, Lawrence, Coghlan) have had exactly zero miracles in them in the wake of the stars’ injuries. It should not be overlooked who has been injured as well. It might draw attention as to how especially important Tulowitzki and Donaldson are to this team beyond just occupying 2 of their 25 roster spots. Missing Mr. Accountability and the guy who plays like his hair is on fire might be a bigger hole than this team (or any) could manage.

(after each win, three things that might have made the difference)

A BIG PLAY- After the Jays defence spit the bit in the 7th inning to allow the go-ahead run to score, you could feel this game starting to swing in a certain direction (y’know, badly). Certain stupid writers probably even started to write a post-mortem for a game they assumed was lost because they’d seen it happen so many times already this season and they’re playing in Tampa – that’s just how things go down there. However, Devon Travis hit a leadoff double, Chris Coghlan sacrificed him over to third (!) on some good base running from Travis (!!!!!!!!) and then Kevin Pillar hit a double to left field to tie the game. Kendrys Morales (!!!!!) and Justin Smoak (!!!!!!!!!) hit subsequent home runs to salt the game away, but coming right back to score the tying run after having appeared to fritter it away yet again in the previous half-inning was a big psychological hurdle for a snake-bitten team to leap over.

A BIG MOMENT- Through six innings, Chris Archer had been cruising along, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out 11 and appeared poised to crush Blue Jays fans’ will to live yet again. Russell Martin drew a tough walk, however (his first of two key walks in the game), to begin the inning and bring Kendrys Morales to the plate. Morales has hit Archer remarkably well in his career and had already crushed one ball to the deepest part of the ballpark earlier in the game. Tampa manager Kevin Cash doesn’t have a lot of reliable arms in his bullpen, though, and chose to stick with Archer for one batter too many. Morales deposited his 3-1 pitch well into the right field seats, forcing Archer from the game with the score tied and sending a good chunk of the 79 fans in attendance into despair.

AND A LITTLE THING- In the bottom of the fourth, Danny Barnes was summoned from the bullpen with the bases loaded and the Jays behind 3-0 after starter Francisco Liriano had surrendered three runs that inning on two home runs (to Derek Norris and whoever the hell Daniel Robertson is), two walks, a single and a hit batsmen. With Rays pitcher Chris Archer throwing seeds again tonight, the game seemed already lost. However, Barnes struck out Corey Dickerson to strand those three runners and pitched an impressive two more innings after that, allowing no runs and no hits in just 22 pitches. He calmed the waters and set the stage for the comeback tonight. The Blue Jays’ bullpen leprechaun (seriously, look at that dude) continues to bring good luck with him and has pitched well enough to be counted on in higher leverage situations.

6-1 Loss at Tampa
Season Record: 10-20

(to be read in a resonant, sympathetic announcer voice:)

“Are you battling a baseball addiction? Spending too much time watching America’s former national pastime and ignoring other parts of your life that should be getting more attention? Do you feel lost and hopeless, worried that you will never have the strength to overcome this addiction? Then please join us at the world famous Tropicana Institute here in scenic St. Petersburg (not Tampa), Florida. We guarantee we can cure you in one afternoon! By watching one Blue Jays/Rays game here any love you may have formerly felt for the game will be syphoned out of you to the point where we feel confident you’ll never want to watch baseball again!”

“While you’re here, feel free to talk to the staff, take a tour of the grounds and have a look at some of the options we offer here at “The Trop” to that will help loosen the grip that baseball has on you.”

– while trailing 5-1 in the 8th, you can ‘enjoy’ watching Jays reliever Jason Grilli huff and puff and require 39 pitches to get 3 outs while walking two, unleashing a passed ball, allowing two hits and a run and thinking to yourself that this truly ugly appearance might actually be one of his better innings of late!

– let go of the grip baseball has on you as the Blue Jays turn Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi into a modern incarnation of Satchel Paige, throwing seven innings (four of them while facing just three batters), allowing just 3 hits and no walks and never really be challenged by an almost irresponsibly feeble batting lineup!

– behold as Devon Travis make yet another poor defensive play that won’t be reflected in the box score, failing to throw a Rays runner out at home plate when even an average throw would have done the trick! (Officially it will be scored a fielder’s choice! So satisfying!)

– watch as former Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus, one of the more disappointing Toronto trade acquisitions of the last decade, crushes his former team by hitting his first home run of the season against them!! You could then remind yourself that that same human garden shovel has earned nearly 45 million dollars and won a World Series ring during his perpetually middling MLB career!!

– you can waste a perfectly good Saturday afternoon sitting through three hours of a plodding, listless game where the best highlight from a Jays fan’s point of view was when a pudgy 9 year-old made a pretty decent catch on a foul ball pop up from his seats near home plate.

– and to top it all off, you can behold it all in an air-conditioned, dimly lit, sparsely populated giant concrete wagon wheel with a white roof that keeps out all of Florida’s warm weather, fresh air and sunshine!

We at the Tropicana Institute feel confident that in just a few short hours, we could cure you of any love you may have previously felt for baseball. Just think of all the things that a recovered addict could accomplish if they could just kick this habit and remove this torture from their lives forever…

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

Odorizzi has struggled vs. left=handed pitching, so not having lefty Chris Coghlan in the lineup today was puzzling. Neither Darwin Barney or Devon Travis are exactly ablaze at the plate this season and having better defensive players in the infield for a fly ball pitcher like Marco Estrada makes no sense either. “All” 3 hits Odorizzi allowed today were to lefties. As tantalizing a thought as it is, having one more lefty in the lineup today COULDA upped the chances of maybe getting two hits in the same inning! I’ve heard that can be helpful for scoring runs.

Right after Ezequiel Carrera hit a home run to give the Jays their only run and only lead of the game in the top of the first inning, Jose Bautista had a 3-0 count and Odorizzi threw him a fastball down the middle. He watched it go by. Then with a 3-1 count, he swung at a breaking pitch that wasn’t close and then somehow managed to be late on another cookie fastball. Bautista probably WOULDA chosen a different approach if he were given a do-over for this at-bat.

After he was hit in the hand by a pitch yesterday, Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier inferred in a postgame interview that Jays pitcher Francisco Liriano had thrown it at him on purpose. This was a ridiculous assertion, of course – Liriano couldn’t have hit water if he’d thrown the ball from a boat in the middle of Lake Ontario yesterday. Kiermaier SHOULDA been fed a steady diet of inside pitches during today’s game. Not thrown with any intention to hit him, but when you know a guy’s hand is sore and he’s likely to be jumpy about seeing any pitches inside and he’s been killing you the last few seasons, the inner half of the plate would have been a good place to look for an advantage today. It probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea for Evan Longoria or Logan Morrison or Rasmus, either. Lefties looked awfully comfortable at the plate against Marco Estrada today.

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