The Toronto Blue Jays rode into St. Petersburg over the weekend with high expectations. They were lucky to leave with a single win
That was rough. The Toronto Blue Jays rode into St. Petersburg this past weekend with momentum on their side. They sweep the Minnesota Twins at home before taking two of three contests from the Baltimore Orioles on the road. A three-game series against the lowly Tampa Bay Rays seemed like the perfect way to cap off an excellent week, but their hosts had other designs.
Tampa, it turns out, was determined to test every aspect of the Blue Jays’ identity: the vaunted defence, the home run swagger, the steady rotation, the unreliable bullpen. I can’t say Toronto passed many of these tests, if any of them. In truth, they were lucky to leave Tampa Bay with a single win.
The defence was the first aspect of the Blue Jays’ identity that found itself under pressure. An overall poor defensive effort, highlighted by two errors, saw the Blue Jays waste an otherwise strong start from Marcus Stroman in the first game of the series. Tampa Bay would eventually win the game 8-3 as Toronto’s bullpen was unable to contain the damage at four runs (three earned) after Stroman left the game following six innings of five-hit ball.
Marco Estrada treated Blue Jays fans to a vintage performance of himself until the sixth inning arrived and he simply collapsed – there’s really no other way of describing it – allowing five runs to score without recording a single out. This time, however, the bullpen did a respectable job in limiting the damage, though – as Buck Martinez would like to remind Blue Jays fans – Joe Biagini finally surrendered his first home run of the season. It was a two-run shot hit by Kevin Kiermaier in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The Blue Jays would make it close in Game 2 by rallying for four runs in the top of the ninth inning, but they couldn’t close the gap, ultimately losing 7-5. They had a total of six hits in the game – the same number of hits they recorded in Game 1 of the series – getting outhit 21-12 and outscored 15-8 by the Rays to this point. The Blue Jays were still looking for their first home run of the series as well, which may strike you as odd or make you feel uncomfortable.
Things didn’t get off to a great start in Game 3 either. J.A. Happ lasted only 2.2 innings after allowing three runs on six hits. Three consecutive hits with two out in the bottom of the third inning saw his day come to an early end, but the bullpen bailed him out (and the team) by holding the Rays to only two hits over the rest of the game.
The Jays made their unlikely comeback in the top of the seventh inning, first chasing Rays starter Chris Archer, then tying the game on a two-run single by Devon Travis against reliever Brad Boxberger. This set up Russell Martin to play the hero in the top of the eighth inning, hitting a two-run blast and handing Toronto a decisive 5-3 lead. It was the only hit by the Blue Jays to leave the park in the entire series.
Without meaning any offence to Stroman, it’s somewhat odd to think he may have been the team’s best starter over the three games. Estrada looked sharp until falling apart in the sixth inning while Happ struggled from the start. The defence improved after Game 1, but there was still a collision between Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera in yesterday’s game that should have never happened.
In terms of offence, what we got was essentially what we’ve come to expect from this team: an inconsistent and oftentimes middling performance at the plate. The strikeouts were there, but the home runs were strangely absent. The real winner of the weekend was the bullpen, however, which moved past its stumbles in Game 1 to keep the Blue Jays in contention throughout the rest of the series.
Think about that for a second. The bullpen performed best, surviving if not passing the various tests set up for it by the Rays – the bullpen.
Like I said: the Blue Jays were lucky to leave St. Petersburg with a single win. It was rough.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: kdemerly UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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As a long-time Jays fan, I’ve invested more time in bad baseball than a sane person would allow. Fortunately, I was finally rewarded with some post-season action last year! This year?