My Sports

12 May 2017

Artificial Turf Blues Games 33 & 34: Expectation Game

By // Sports

GAME 33
6-0 Loss vs. Cleveland
Season Record: 12-21

As I began to do last night, tonight I will continue my list of the top 25 offensive seasons in Blue Jays history. Today we look at numbers 20-16. I’ve probably already screwed up the order, but, hey, it beats talking about tonight’s game, right?

20. Shannon Stewart (2000) – a .319/.363/.518 slash line from a leadoff hitter who also stole 20 bases and had nearly 200 hits merits commemoration. If he had drawn more walks, he’d have been higher on this list. Looking at it today, he probably shouldn’t be as high as 20th, but I always liked Stewart. Ah well, when the book gets published maybe I’ll change the order to seem more neutral and unbiased.

19. Jose Cruz Jr. (2001) – by far his best season in the majors, Cruz became just the second Blue Jays player to hit at least 30 HR and steal at least 30 bases in a season. He also added 38 doubles and had a slugging percentage of .530. Pretty good when you consider the pressure he faced of having been traded for legendary players like Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric.

18. Carlos Delgado (2001) – 111 walks, 39 HR and a .408 on-base percentage didn’t earn him a single MVP vote that year. This was right in the middle of 12 or 13 consecutively seasons where Delgado’s numbers were above average (even during the apex of the steroid era). He was at the game tonight and still looks like he could hit 25 home runs right now. Actually, with all these injuries – someone stop him from leaving town…

17. Jose Bautista (2015) – In what almost certainly was his last great season, Bautista led the A.L. with 110 walks, while hitting 40 home runs. It was the end of an almost unprecedented run of six consecutive seasons after he suddenly ‘figured it out’ at age 29 and became one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters after 6 years as a non-entity who barely stayed in the major leagues.

16. Jesse Barfield (1986) – This year he became first Blue Jays player to hit at least 40 HR in a season (he hit exactly 40), he also hit 35 doubles and finished with a line of .289/.368/.559. He stole 8 bases but was also caught stealing 8 times. Maybe he’s a little overrated here, but I’m a sucker for Soul Glo.

Many of the Blue Jays’ losses so far this season were frustrating because they were winnable games. There were numerous times, especially in the first three weeks, where an eminently winnable game somehow managed to wiggle out of their grasp and end up another notch in the loss column. I take no comfort in one run losses and can’t for the life of me understand the psychology of thinking that a loss in a close game is some sort of minor victory. The close losses are the ones that are crushing. The close losses are the ones that stick with me as a fan, because those games are the ones that haunt a team when it’s September and they’re two games out of a playoff spot. Or when you’re two games away from fourth place in your division. Whichever.

Tonight was never going to be one of those nights. I am remarkably placid and un-bothered about tonight’s game because the Blue Jays had zero chance to win it. What looked like a mismatch on paper with Mike Bolsinger matched up against Carlos Carrasco proved to be exactly that. Spot starter Bolsinger actually did yeoman’s work and wasn’t terrible, but Carrasco tonight was the best starting pitcher the Blue Jays have faced so far this season. Mixing a 97 mph moving fastball with a knee-buckling breaking ball and then mixing in a change up that is on par with Marco Estrada’s as his third pitch, John Gibbons’ undermanned Blue Jays lineup looked a lot like the cast of The Sandlot tonight. They managed just four singles tonight and only once reached second base the entire game (that was Jose Bautista, who was credited with stealing second base in the 7th but I think he was just disoriented and confused after actually reaching first base.)

The 30 year-old Carrasco is a big reason teams won’t want to face Cleveland in a playoff series. The great news is, Toronto will get a look at another big reason tomorrow night, when 27 year-old starting pitcher Danny Salazar takes the mound. Yippee.

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

Tonight this exercise was a stretch. There really wasn’t one turning point in this game, never mind three.

With the score just 2-0 in the top of the 7th inning, if the Blue Jays’ relief corps COULDA avoided the walks, the game might have at least theoretically stayed close enough to steal a late win. For “That’s So Dominic” Leone to walk the #9 hitter (who came around to score) and then “He’s the Sheriff” J.P. Howell to walk the first batter he faced right after that felt even more costly than usual tonight because they happened in a game where Toronto had to be perfect to have any chance.

At some point, I knew Aaron Loup WOULDA reverted to form. He had an ERA of 0.71 coming into tonight’s game but tonight he started to retain his form as one of the more frustrating pitchers on the roster. Entering the game to start the eighth inning with the Jays down just three runs and Carrasco finally out of the game, Loup managed to get the first two outs of the inning and then hit a batter, allow a single and then surrender the game’s euthanizing three run home run to former Blue Jay Yan Gomes. It just warms my cockles that all of the former Blue Jays players get a chance to feel good about themselves before they leave town again.

Just as word came out that Troy Tulowitzki and Aaron Sanchez might be making their returns to the active lineup sometime soon, we probably SHOULDA guessed that Kendrys Morales would injure his hamstring and will likely miss some time. Heaven forbid the Toronto Blue Jays play a game in 2017 without 4 or 5 of their better players injured.

GAME 34
8-7 Win vs. Cleveland
Season Record: 13-21

I’m not going to lie to you, loyal reader (okay, possibly readerS). I only caught the last few innings of tonight’s game live. I went back to watch the first 7 innings after I already knew how it had ended . Instead of watching the game I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Electric Boogaloo with my kid. I’d be an even worse film critic than I am a baseball writer, but I thought it was pretty fun and also maybe 20 minutes too long. It’s way more fun for her to go to the movies on a school night than be stuck watching the game with her old man, so I figured that’s what PVRs are for. It was way less irritating to watch the early inning clown show knowing how things ultimately ended up, though. I highly recommend it.

After watching last night’s game be utterly dominated by Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco, I had a sinking feeling that tonight’s game was going to follow a similarly depressing path. With Danny Salazar starting the game for Cleveland and the Blue Jays’ already depleted lineup now missing Kendrys Morales to injury as well, my vast supply of baseball knowledge made me confident that I had picked a good night to play hooky. I was pretty certain that tonight’s game would have just been another tough one to watch and would have held very little intrigue. Perhaps now you understand why you are literally the only person you know who reads this blog.

It started out looking like my gut feeling would be right. Francisco Liriano was terrible (again) and had to be removed early (again), allowing 7 earned runs on 5 hits and 3 walks in the first two innings. On the night after your team started a call-up from Buffalo and thus had to extend their bullpen to compensate, a veteran pitcher like Liriano simply has to be better than he was. It doesn’t matter that he sometimes can be dominant, what is far more valuable from a starting pitcher is the ability to be consistently competent.   All the Blue Jays needed tonight was competence and Francisco Liriano wasn’t anything approaching that. Not having his personal valet/psychotherapist Russell Martin in the game to tend to him isn’t an excuse either. Mike Bolsinger might want to get an apartment in Toronto after all.

After he’d finished turning the game into a tire fire and left with the bases loaded and none out in the third inning, the Blue Jays soon found themselves down 7-3 and faced with the prospect of overextending their bullpen again. Even if they had gotten the game close, I thought to myself as my phone kept updating the score for me during the movie, Toronto doesn’t want to get into a bullpen showdown with the Indians – that’s a showdown the Blue Jays will lose. And yet, somehow, this ramshackle team, full of Buffalo Bisons alumni and 2018 Spring Training non-roster invitees somehow managed to come back and steal this game. On paper there’s no way this team should have been able to win 2 of 3 from a Cleveland team whose current roster is vastly more talented than theirs. Good for them. Seriously.

After last night’s game was almost entirely devoid of ‘impact moments’, for tonight’s game it was hard to choose just three. Clearly I picked the wrong night to go out and see my first summer blockbuster. Plus, aren’t movies cheaper on Tuesday nights anyway? I did this all wrong, apparently.

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

A BIG PLAY- With the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Blue Jays managed to load the bases vs. Cleveland closer Cody Allen, who had allowed just one run in 13 innings so far this season.   Jumping on the very first pitch he saw, shortstop Ryan Goins lashed a fastball into right field to score Ezequiel Carrera and walk-off the Indians. Not only did Goins win the game, almost as importantly for his taxed bullpen pitchers, he ended it, too. If this game had gone to the tenth inning, we likely were looking at Grilli time. No one wanted to see that, except maybe Terry Francona.

A BIG MOMENT- With the Blue Jays trailing 7-5 after three and a half innings (!!), Darwin Barney led off the inning with a hustle double, revitalizing the Rogers Centre crowd and, maybe for the first time, making a comeback seem like a realistic possibility. However the next two Jays batters, Luke Maile and Kevin Pillar, both grounded out meekly to the left side. Indians reliever Dan Otero was one pitch from escape when Ezequiel Carrera hammered a pitch over the right field bullpen to tie the game. Stranding a leadoff double in that situation would have been both painfully familiar in this early season and really dispiriting. Both teams’ bullpens settled in after that and took back control of the game, so if Carrera isn’t able to tie the game there, it’s possible the noble efforts of the Jays’ relievers tonight would have been wasted in a game where their offence couldn’t quite bring them back.

…AND A LITTLE THING- At the time it appeared largely inconsequential, because he had just put Cleveland ahead 7-3 with a three run double, but Brandon Guyer made a key base running mistake in the third inning that ended up costing the Indians badly when the Jays rallied back. Instead of parking himself at second base after clearing the bases with a rocket into right field, he foolishly tried to get himself to third base with no one out and was thrown out. There is no greater sin on the bases than getting yourself out at third base with none out. The Indians would have had three chances to score him from second with Dominic Leone on the bump for the second night in a row. I think in retrospect, they’d like to have that chance again. (After constantly reading me harp about it, just think how much smarter of a base runner you’re going to be in your softball league this summer. You’re welcome.)

NOTES FROM MY COUCH

Full credit to Steve Pearce. He’s having a horrible season thus far, but last night he made two small, key contributions late in the game to help Toronto win. In the eighth inning he ran back to the wall to make a running catch and steal a double away from pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall. It was a horribly awkward looking thing and I suspect StatCast would have a hard time calculating how bad a route he took to the ball, but ultimately it was effective. Style points mean nothing when you’re 9 games under .500. Then, in the ninth inning he laid off a number of very tough pitches and grinded out a tough two out walk vs. Allen to load the bases and set the stage for Goins’ walk-off heroics. In spite of his struggles this year with a new team, Pearce has generally kept his head up and his body language has not resembled that of a beaten man. Unlike certain other Jays players whose sulking, slouching, beaten-down looking face used to sell a lot of Booster Juice.

I just began to write yet another criticism of yet another terrible play from Devon Travis and now I’m stopping myself. He seems like a nice kid who cares a lot and he’s not hard to like, but you can actually feel his tentativeness through the television screen right now. Picking on him is a joyless exercise so I’m going to take a break from it and hope he turns it around. After watching Ryan Goins evolve, though, I’m also secretly hoping that Troy Tulowitzki is starting to take some ground balls at second base.

I’ll continue my poorly organized list of Top 25 Blue Jays offensive seasons tomorrow night. Hopefully the anticipation doesn’t keep you from sleeping.

Content developed in partnership with sports-genius.com

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