My Sports

04 June 2017

Artificial Turf Blues Games 52-55: That’s so Jays

By // Sports

GAME 52
6-4 Win vs. Cincinnati
Season Record 25-27

The Toronto Blue Jays are finding their feet. They are starting to play like the team that I expected them to be before the season. They are hitting home runs, playing better defence and the bullpen appears to have righted the ship after a shaky beginning to the season-long voyage. They have a 18 and 10 record in the month of May and appear capable of making a run at the American League East before the season winds down (there’s a jinx if ever one was written, am I right?).

The only concern at this point is the starting pitching. In the month of May the only Toronto pitcher who has pitched seven innings in a start is Marco Estrada, who has done it twice. That means in the other 25 games, no one has given the bullpen an easy night (never mind a night off). As well as Joe Smith, Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera and others have been this month, the Blue Jays came into this game fifth in bullpen innings in MLB and had to cover five more innings tonight. John Gibbons does as good a job as he can preserving pitchers and using them sensibly, but overused relievers in May often (usually) means tired arms that struggle in big situations in August and September. One advantage the Jays’ pen has is that they haven’t had any rainouts and won’t be forced to play any arm-killing doubleheaders down the stretch and will also likely be able to keep their late seasons days off as days off. Many other teams will not be in that position after the terrible weather this month. Yay, Rogers Centre roof!

A big reason for the bullpen’s overuse, of course, is multiple untimely injuries in the rotation. Aaron Sanchez has had starts cut short a number of times due to his blister issues. It’s likely J.A. Happ will pitch more than four innings in his next start, but with Flaky Franky Liriano making his first start after an injury on Friday and Mike Bolsinger starting tomorrow, and no day off this week, the bullpen’s workload isn’t likely to lighten soon and that could exacerbate things before long. The starting pitchers will need to stay healthy, obviously, but they also need to do a better job of economizing pitches to eat their fair share of innings, otherwise by autumn a lot of the relievers could be running on fumes while potentially pitching in meaningful games down the stretch.

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 third inning, Reds outfielder Scott Schebler hit a rocket up the middle on a 2-2 pitch which would have easily scored two runs, but Troy Tulowitzki speared it on the backhand and made a strong throw to get him by a step at first base and end the inning. Aforementioned starter Happ was in serious trouble at that juncture and would have probably been removed from the game had Schebler reached. Tulowitzki’s pick accomplished three things: it kept the score close, allowed Happ to stay in the game longer and spared the aforementioned bullpen another inning, all of which was important – for today and tomorrow.

A BIG MOMENT – Not exactly a pair of Nostradamuses (Nostradomi?), Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler spent the first few pitches of Josh Donaldson’s second at-bat of the game talking about how J.D. was ‘starting to look dangerous’. In my experience, that kind of talk from those two usually immediately precedes a painful 1-for-33 streak for whoever they’re talking about. (They spent the entire month of April talking about how dangerous Jose Bautista looked and it seemed like he never hit a ball out of the infield). However, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Donaldson proceeded to crush the 11th home run in Rogers Centre history to land in the fifth deck in left field. It was impressive and exciting. More importantly, it tied the game after Reds starter Asher Wojciechowski had been perfect in his first time through the Jays lineup tonight. The sheer majestic scope of the ball’s trajectory may have rattled Cincinnati’s young pitcher (I’m not even gonna try to spell his name correctly again) as well, as he then allowed no-doubt home runs to Russell Martin and Bautista and hit Tulowitzki with a pitch subsequently that same inning and was out of the game before the next one began.

…AND A LITTLE THING After he stole second base in the sixth inning, Buck, Tabby and sideline reporter Arash Madani (also known to you and I as the reigning Czar of inane postgame questions) were all prattling on about how much smarter Billy Hamilton is as a baserunner these days, instead of just being a ‘fast guy’. As if on cue as those three wrapped up their inane, incorrect blathering, Hamilton attempted to steal again and was thrown out at third base. For the first out of the inning. With two on and none out. In a tie game. On the road. With Joey freakin’ Votto hitting. Honestly, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a scenario in which a baserunner, quicksilver fast though he may be, could have made a dumber decision. It almost certainly cost his team an opportunity to take the lead late in the game. This occurred right after Buck and Pat began the inning by talking about Ryan Tepera’s streak of not allowing a leadoff batter to reach base (which was then ended almost instantly) or allowing an earned run (which was also broken soon after). Someone get those three guys to Vegas because they are on fire!!

NOTES FROM MY COUCH

I love that Reds first baseman Joey Votto, Etobicoke native and possibly the best pure hitter on the planet, chokes up on the bat like he’s an 11 year-old playing on a team with 13 and 14 year-olds whose bats are all too big. That dude is essentially slump-proof and has been a great hitter a long time. People should probably ask him why he does it – chances are he’s on to something.

Russell Martin was charged with his first error of the season on a throw to second that rolled into centre field as he tried to throw out Jose Peraza stealing second. The throw was right on the money and was short-armed by Tulowitzki. Martin made a terrific throw and would have gotten Peraza out despite (what else) a great jump at first. Him being given the error on the play (and not Tulowitzki) was a terrible bit of scoring.

Watching Hamilton run is nevertheless a joy and got me wondering if he is the fastest player in the majors right now. My Top 5: Hamilton, Trea Turner (Washington), Dee Gordon (Miami), Jarrod Dyson (Seattle), Byron Buxton (Minnesota). That’s a race I’d love to watch.

The suspension fallout from the Bryce Harper/Hunter Strickland fight last night is patently absurd. Strickland throws a 97 MPH fastball directly at Harper in retaliation for him hitting two home runs off of him in the playoffs 2 1/2 years ago, Harper understandably doesn’t like it and the two men had a tussle. Fine. While it seems equitable, MLB’s decision to suspend Harper four games and Strickland just six doesn’t make sense. Strickland is a shitty one inning relief pitcher who the Giants don’t use in many big situations. His suspension might cost him two innings of work. Harper is in the conversation for best player in the game and his suspension will cost Washington 36 innings of him, even though he was not the aggressor.

GAME 53
5-4 Win vs. Cincinnati
Season record 26-27

After much speculation and deliberation, in January of this year, Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays finally realized that they both wanted each other more than anyone else did and Bautista signed an $18 million contract with two mutual option years. Immediately after the ink dried, there were a lot of sports media pundits confidently spouting that the contract’s mutual option years (annual renewals that the player and team both have to agree to, for relatively the same amount of money) were just window dressing and that neither party would want any part of each other beyond 2017. In the usual rush for premature ‘perspective’ and hot takes, many radio and t.v. hosts were sure this season would be his last in Toronto. I thought differently at the time, and still do.

After (oh, what’s the polite term for it…?) a goddamned awful April, Bautista has recovered his form from previous years, appearing both healthy and dangerous in the month of May. Even if he continues to struggle against sliders as he has, if he could finish this season with, say, 30 or 35 home runs and an OBP at .370 or so, which party would say no to a contract renewal? The free agency market was thin for aging sluggers last year, with Edwin Encarnacion’s 3 year, $60 million contract being the largest one doled out by far. This coming winter teams will want clear room to participate in the looming 2018 free agent bonanza, not add big obligations a year earlier. Bautista will also be three years older than Edwin was when he signed his deal with Cleveland, meaning Jose signing a multi-year deal with any team for that kind of money is highly doubtful.

National League teams without a Designated Hitter spot to rest/hide Bautista probably wouldn’t commit multiple big money years to a 37 year-old outfielder, so that eliminates half of his potential suitors right away. In the A.L., the Yankees just got rid of all their old guy contracts to get younger, the Orioles and Rangers wouldn’t sign him at gunpoint, the Red Sox already have three good young outfielders and a D.H. in place and the Rays, Twins, Royals, and A’s don’t ever spend that kind of money on free agents. The Angels will already have an aging Albert Pujols making too much money, the Mariners will already have a 37 year-old Nelson Cruz playing Bautista’s role, the Astros have too many hitters already and the White Sox are in a youthful rebuild. There aren’t a lot of options around.

Conversely, the Blue Jays in 2018 will still have highly paid veterans Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrys Morales and J.A. Happ around in an effort to compete for a World Series one more time. Why not load up to let the gang have one more good run at it before evolving to a younger team? A one year, $17 million contract for a guy coming off a strong season the year before is considered team friendly in today’s baseball marketplace. With the contract structure currently in place, I think there is a much better chance of Bautista retiring a Blue Jay than the ‘experts’ might have originally spouted on about.

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

A BIG PLAY – After the Blue Jays scratched back to tie the game 3-3 on Luke Maile’s two run home run (sic) in the fifth inning, Devon Travis had one of the best at-bats any Toronto player has had this season. With two outs, Reds reliever Wandy Peralta was paying far too much attention to Ryan Goins and his four career stolen bases (three times caught stealing) at first base when he should have been focusing on Travis. Devon battled through a nine pitch at-bat, fouling off four tough pitches away before turning on the first inside pitch he saw and just getting it over the left field fence for the game’s decisive blow. Despite struggling all day at the plate (he’d struck out looking at fastballs down the middle twice already), and just missing a double down the right field line one pitch earlier, Travis was able to bear down and get the biggest hit of the series, completing a three game series sweep just before the Yankees get into town.

A BIG MOMENT – After he allowed a first pitch, leadoff home run and Ryan Goins subsequently committed a rare error to extend the ninth inning instead of ending it, Jays closer Roberto Osuna showed why he is such a special pitcher. After Goins whiffed on an easy double play ground ball from Jose Peraza, Osuna was facing runners at second and third with one out and a tenuous one run lead. He then struck out Billy Hamilton on four pitches when he absolutely needed to, then got the red-hot Zack Cosart on five pitches to slam the door on the Reds and leave Joey Votto standing in the on-deck circle (deep exhale). He struck out all three batters in the inning and they all went down swinging. A blown save that extends this game and further abuses an already overworked Jays bullpen on the eve of an important series vs. New York would have been really badly timed. After struggling in April like everyone else, Osuna has again belied his youth by righting himself like it never happened. His preternatural calm, mental fortitude and pitching skill make quite a package for a kid who just turned 22. If ever a regular season Save could be underrated, it was this afternoon.

…AND A LITTLE THING – On the rarest of days when he made a defensive miscue, Goins more than compensated with two very important at-bats this afternoon. Batting eighth with regulars Kevin Pillar, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki all resting on the bench, Goins managed to reach base in the fifth on a bunt single and in the seventh on a walk, doing two things he’s struggled with in the past and putting himself in line for a pair of easy jogs around the bases on home runs from Travis and Maile. As the Jays try to preserve their veteran regulars with extra rest during the season, having players like Goins (and, of course, Maile) contribute offensively will be a huge advantage if it can continue. BTW, that bunt he laid down was perfect. I hope that he can successfully incorporate at least the threat of a bunt into his game. It would help him become a steadier, more versatile bottom of the order hitter.

NOTES FROM MY COUCH

Jays starter Mike Bolsinger allowed three runs in the first two innings, then retired 9 consecutive batters after he started incorporating his cut fastball more. He really seemed to turn a corner at that point, looking the best he has since coming to Toronto. It’s so Blue Jays to have him ‘figure it out’ in what was likely his last game for them.

Now that we have StatCast to analyze defensive data for catches made by outfielders, I would love to have it also do some sort of measurement for how badly Ezequiel Carrera missed the ball when he dove after Jose Peraza’s ground rule double in the second inning. Theoretically it was a noble effort in that he was clearly willing to sacrifice his body, but neither his glove nor his body were anywhere near the ball when it landed. What would we call this new StatCast metric? Widest Miss Circumference? Poorest Dive Angle? Largest Ball-to-Glove Chasm? How about just “the Zeke”? Whatever it would be called, Carrera would be among the league leaders after today. It was awesomely terrible. I think he was feeling cocky after yesterday’s diving stab in left.

Despite the win, Russ Martin and Goins both committed killer mistakes today that almost cost the Jays the game. In April somehow it would have cost them the game – in May it’s just anecdotal. Goins’ error in the ninth was one thing, but Martin getting picked off at second base with no one out and two runners on in the second inning with Toronto down 3-1 was even worse. Those two were feeling pretty good after Travis’ home run and Osuna’s heroics saved their bad moments from infamy. But I’ll remember, you two. I’ll remember. Bwahahahahahaha.

The Reds have scored at least one first inning run in 9 of their last 10 games and still managed to lose 6 of those games. That’s hard to do and hard on a team’s collective psyche.

Nothing says more about how shitty the food at Rogers Centre is than the fact that when the guys in the Production Truck want an “atmosphere shot” of game day at the ballpark, the best they can do is resort to shots of a grease-laden grill cooking burgers that resemble game-used hockey pucks from the 1978 WHA Avco Cup Finals (nerd alert: it was the Winnipeg Jets over the New England Whalers in a four game sweep). Every other ball park on the continent goes out of its way to have creative, fun, memorable food and beer options for fans at the game. Like a cranky old lunch lady with a stogie blazing away in her maw, the Rogers Centre forces loyal fans to overpay for delicacies like Pizza Nova, Schneider’s Hot Dogs and those craptastic hamburgers (or cheeseburgers, if you’re feelin’ swishy). You can practically hear the director hollering into his crew’s headsets “Don’t we have any better food to look at?” …Pause…”Well, there’s some three day old popcorn in section 127…”

Not going to lie : after 9 pm tomorrow my attention on the Jays/Yankees game will be divided, at best. The NBA Finals begin tomorrow night and this Cavs/Dubs series has potential to be one of the few sporting events that actually lives up to lofty expectations and a year of anticipation. I will have some picture-in-picture action happening, but the Jays will be on the little screen six or seven times over the next two weeks. Even Aaron Judge will look small.

GAME 54
12-2 Loss vs. NYYankees
Season Record: 26-28

*written at around 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning*

The Toronto Blue Jays saved their 2017 season in the month of May. After winning just 6 of their first 23 games and finding themselves already 9 games out of the division lead, the season was very much hanging in the balance as the month of April wound down. Despite the fact that I would never conclude that the entire season was lost so early (plenty did – you know who you are), the fact that Toronto faced such an uphill climb while missing so many key players certainly made for an ominous feeling.

The most impressive element of the fact that they won 20 of their next 30 games is that they did it almost entirely without Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and J.A. Happ, with 11 earned runs allowed in just 11 innings from Francisco Liriano and just 12 total innings from Aaron Sanchez. They endured 5 generally bad, short starts from Mike Bolsinger and were forced to convert their most reliable bullpen pitcher into a starter out of necessity. They did it despite just two pitcher starts that lasted 7 innings, two missed weeks from their starting catcher and starting left fielder and while their erstwhile set-up man Jason Grilli couldn’t get anyone out for the first few weeks. There was also a suspension and scandal inserted in there, too, when their starting centre fielder was caught on camera spewing highly inappropriate invectives at an opposing pitcher. Yet, they survived all of this, pulled their season off of life support and even managed to thrive.

The predictable narrative is that the Jays struggled in April because they were banged up and got well in May because they finally got healthy. Strangely, the reality is almost precisely the opposite case. With most of the aforementioned injured players now back or soon to return, the Blue Jays are nearly the roster they hoped to have back in Spring Training. With four months remaining, they are just 5.5 games from first place in their division, one game under .500 and their mettle has passed some pretty tough tests. They’re beginning a pretty big series with the Yankees and they’ll even manage to avoid seeing their nemesis Masahiro Tanaka in these four games. Let’s see what they can do now that they’re back in it…

*written at 10:30 pm Thursday and later*

The season is over.

Seriously, though, there isn’t much postgame perspective to offer tonight. The Blue Jays were never in it and they never really threatened to get into it. In a fitting metaphor for this game, the Rogers Centre roof was open and the sun was shining right before it started and by the end of the top of the first inning, the roof was sealed shut and everything looked a lot darker. The best thing I can say about it is that everything but the crying was so clearly over by 9 p.m. that it allowed me to switch over to Game 1 of the NBA Finals without worrying too much about missing a big play. Of course, that didn’t turn out to be much of a game, either.

Other than the fact that tonight was the only game where the Blue Jays had a clear advantage in starting pitchers, games like this generally don’t even bother me. They are easier to dismiss and forget about because it was never within reach. I’d much rather the Blue Jays lose 12-2 than 4-3. 4-3 games you can look back on and see places where one or two little plays might have changed the outcome. That’s harder in games like tonight. However, I have to try to come up with something, because after all the segment is entitled…

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

(N.B. in games like tonight’s, even the word ‘might’ is pretty speculative and optimistic.)

Marco Estrada came very close to escaping the first inning with just one run allowed, which, given his first inning struggles, would have seemed like a victory. Having already allowing Brett Gardner’s leadoff double to score, Estrada had Aaron Judge at first base and one out. He then induced Matt Holliday to hit a ground ball to the right side, which Darwin Barney COULDA made a play on, but quite simply just missed it. The play was scored a hit because Barney’s glove never actually touched the ball, but, much like Ryan Goins’ ninth inning miscue last night, it appeared that the usually sure-handed Barney didn’t come up with it because he was thinking too much about quickly starting a double play to end the inning. Instead, rather than just concentrating on cutting down the lead runner, his whiff had the exact opposite effect, extending what turned out to be a long, deeply deflating first inning of a pretty big series. Barney also had a bad error in the seventh inning which allowed two more unearned runs to score and gently pushed this game off the cliff and into the blowout territory below.

It’s not very often that a home run gets hit at the Rogers Centre (or anywhere else) where the pitch is struck so soundly and travels out of the park so quickly that by the time the camera shot changes to show it’s trajectory, it is already in the seats, has ricocheted off of some poor schmuck’s hands and into another dude’s nachos. Gary Sanchez’ second inning dinger was hit so hard that it was quicker than the Sportsnet broadcast crew’s camera guys could turn their heads. If the game were just played in a field and the second deck of the left field seats weren’t there, I think that ball WOULDA travelled far enough to land on my patio. I live at St. George and Bloor.

Already trailing 5-0, the Jays got the first two runners on in the second inning when Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales each singled. Troy Tulowitzki was then retired on an unproductive fly ball to left field. Darwin Barney then probably felt like he SHOULDA had a hit after he squared up a 2-0 cookie from 78 year-old Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia. He had about as good a swing as he could have, but he just missed it and flew out harmlessly to centre field. Soon after that, Ezequiel Carrera struck out swinging and the Jays’ best opportunity to score while the game was still within reach had been quickly, unceremoniously quelled. (I know, I know it’s a pretty weak SHOULDA. You saw the final score, though – there weren’t a helluva lot of fulcrum moments tonight.)

NOTES FROM MY COUCH

I didn’t see anything that I could be certain of, but after a start like tonight’s, I worry that Estrada may be tipping his pitches. When he is going well, he leaves opponents completely baffled as they scramble to guess which end of the change-up/fastball mix is coming next. No one on the Yankees looked like they were guessing much tonight. A lot of balls were hit really hard, as if they had been expecting it and New York’s lineup looked unusually (suspiciously) comfortable in the batters’ box tonight. I’ll be curious to see if there is any talk about tipping pitches over the next few days. If the Yankees are smart, though, no one will hear anything so they can exploit it again the next time they face Estrada.

GAME 55
7-5 Win vs. NYYankees
Season Record: 27-28

Every year in early June, the Toronto Blue Jays’ JaysCare Foundation hosts a live auction during the broadcast of a home game at Rogers Centre. The items that are up for bidding are prizes that involve meetings and meals with current Blue Jays players, trips to see the Jays on the road and other things I can’t afford. It raises a lot of money for charity and allows rich people to do things the rest of us resent them for, because most of the items up for auction are pretty cool. However, as happens at any auction, some of the items are of less interest, sitting there unloved like the girl with a face full of dental headgear or the boy who wears a trenchcoat and fedora at their cafeteria table in junior high.

Here are a few of the items that didn’t sell so well tonight:

-A game-worn, cast iron frying pan that Toronto outfielder Ezequiel Carrera uses in games instead of a glove. (highest bid – $11.50)

-Much like pharmaceutical magnate/douchebag Martin Shkreli once spent $2 million to purchase a top secret Wu Tang Clan album only for himself, one lucky fan was given the chance to buy the only known copy of Justin Smoak’s hip-hop album, “My Flows Are Real Slow”. (highest bid – $ 31.00, coincidentally also purchased by Martin Shkreli)

-A collection of finger paintings by Aaron Sanchez (all done with actual post-game finger blood) (highest bid – $19.75)

– A Saturday night pub crawl throughout Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood with outfielder Kevin Pillar. (no bids as of yet.) What, too soon?

– A 30 minute on-field session with Blue Jays hitting coach Brook Jacoby called “Bunting for Success”. (highest bid – $0.99 – purchased by Luke Maile, interestingly enough)

– An advance copy of Troy Tulowitzki’s upcoming book “How to Get Play 120 Games Every Year and Get Paid for 162”. (highest bid – $25.00 – purchased by someone named C.Ripken Jr.)

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

A BIG PLAY – It is really rare that the biggest play of a game comes within the first four batters, but tonight might have been that rare bird. After Yankees’ leadoff hitter Brett Gardner hit a fly ball to left centre that clanked off of the wrist (yes, wrist) of ‘outfielder’ Ezequiel Carrera instead of being caught, Gardner was on third base with none out. After having their heads handed to them last night by Yankees hitters, this was not the start Toronto needed tonight. To say the least, this was an ominous moment, especially with unreliable starter Francisco Liriano making his first appearance in nearly a month. However, Liriano flipped the script on those expecting a second consecutive Yankees rout, retiring Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Matt Holliday harmlessly without allowing Gardner to score. If he hadn’t been able to stop the bleeding early, this game (and series) would have had an entirely different feel and result.

A BIG MOMENT – The Blue Jays began the sixth inning with what felt like a comfortable 5-0 lead. Four batters later, the score was 5-4. Liriano and Danny Barnes gave up back-to-back two run home runs before anyone got back from their bathroom break. Still shell-shocked from yesterday’s shellacking, Jays fans couldn’t be blamed for feeling like this was where the game was going to take an ugly turn. Give Barnes credit, though. After surrendering an opposite field bomb to Starlin Castro, he took a deep breath and went to work, retiring three of the next four New York hitters to quell the storm and finish the inning with the Jays still ahead. Obviously it wasn’t a masterful appearance by Barnes, but I liked that a relatively inexperienced MLB pitcher didn’t completely fall apart after giving up a big home run. I liked that he stayed in there, buckled down, and finished what he started. I also think it says a lot about him that John Gibbons left him in at that point. It’s not how you fall down, it’s how you pick up the pieces. Er, it’s not what kills you – it’s what makes you stronger. No, no… whatever doesn’t die makes you live longer. Ah, whatever. Just pick a ‘bend but don’t break’ cliche and insert it here.

…AND A LITTLE THING – If you’ve watched the Jays over the last 10 years, you’d have noticed a pattern. When they get out to a lead early in games, they’ll often just sit on it, rather than add to on. Their all-or-nothing offensive approach doesn’t lead to a lot of add-on, insurance runs while playing with the lead. Swings get a little longer while at-bats get a little shorter and before they know what hit them, an early 3-0 lead has become a 4-3 loss. The Jays today went up 1-0 in the first inning, 3-0 in the second, 4-0 in the third and 5-0 in the fourth. Then, when the Yanks came back to within a run, Toronto added more insurance runs in the sixth and seventh. Not lying down after procuring an early lead was different and made the difference today.

NOTES FROM MY COUCH

I know that in Spring Training they both did their level best to downplay their rumoured feud, but have you noticed that former ‘best buds’ Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are literally never sitting or standing anywhere near one another on the bench during games? For two starting pitchers who spend over 80 per cent of their time chilling and cheerleading from the dugout, that avoidance must be difficult for them to manage, and difficult for the rest of the team not to notice.

The Yankees had last year’s National League home run champion Chris Carter, who hit 41 home runs last year, batting ninth in their lineup today. He’s not swinging well right now, but man, that is still a daunting gauntlet of hitters for opposing pitchers to run through. Give Liriano credit for getting through 5 innings and making just one big mistake in his return.

I’m sure it’s just random variance and not any kind of diminishing skills, but doesn’t it just feel like more Kevin Pillar has had more hits just get past him in centre field this season? The problem may just be that he set the bar for dramatic catches so high last year. That would be tough to repeat, let alone improve upon.

Justin Smoak saved Devon Travis what would have been a very costly error in the third inning. With the Jays leading 3-0 and the bases loaded with one out, Matt Holliday hit a hard ground ball to Josh Donaldson, who threw to Travis for the first out and then Travis rushed a one-hop throw to first base which Smoak rescued with a terrific stab to complete the double play. If that ball had bounced away, two runs would have scored on the unforced error, completely changing the game for both teams. Travis had more than enough time on the play, too, because Holliday doesn’t run well anymore. Hitting a two-run home run as well today, Smoak is easily today’s Player of the Game. As a way of saying thank you, Devon Travis bought Smoak one of the items up for bid in tonight’s JaysCare auction: a one-on-one training session and supplement consultation with former Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello.

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