Game Threat: September Baseball. A Tie For First. Just breathe. Blue Jays (76-59) vs Rays (58-76)

They’re supposed to be easy wins. That’s what you expect when you see the name of the division’s last placed team on the schedule. Get the automatic wins against the junk-ass Rays out of the way so we can worry about the Orioles and Red Sox, ya know, the real teams that actually matter. But it isn’t that simple. It never is. 

There’s never an easy win in September when you’ve been grinding day in, day out for five months straight. And that’s exactly what we’ve come to understand this past week as the Jays have had an unfathomably difficult time with terrible teams clawing away at them from the basement. First it was the Angels, now it’s the goddamn Rays. It’s frustrating as hell, of course, but it’s the reality of the torturous, unpredictable, gut-wrenching game of baseball. 

Yesterday


Source: FanGraphs

It was pretty much the same story yesterday as it was in the series opener on Friday. Marco Estrada, like Marcus Stroman did, had a pretty nice start to his outing, then, it quickly came unraveled. Through the first five innings, Estrada looked excellent, surrendering only one walk and two hits as the Jays carried a 1-0 lead.

Then, in the sixth, it all fell apart. The Rays figured out what Estrada was doing: single, single, single, single, walk, double. Boom. 5-1. Brett Cecil and Joe Biagini limited the damage in the inning, but the Rays extended their lead in the seventh inning with a two-run homer. 

The Jays mounted a little rally in the ninth, scoring four runs to make the game somewhat interesting, but it wasn’t enough, as they fell 7-5. In the process, with a Red Sox win in Oakland, Toronto fell into a tie for first in the division with Boston. 

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It’s only actually categorized in that way because the B in Boston comes before the T in Toronto in the alphabet, but my goodness, is that an ugly sight. It’s the first thing that jumps off the page when you look at the standings. You see Boston in first, Toronto in second, and clench your fists in frustration at that L2 over to the right that represents the two easy wins that were wasted. It was the same thing with the Angels series not too long ago. Dropping those easy wins to a bad team, failing to make space at the top, letting Boston and Baltimore stay alive. It’s frustrating as hell at this time of year. 

But over the past 10 days? Nothing’s changed. We’re still in the exact same spot as we were the morning after the Jays topped the Angels 7-2 in the series opener last week. That’s the reality of a baseball playoff drive. You can’t get caught up over a couple of games because anything and everything can and will happen so quickly. 

Mixed in that 5-5 for the Jays? Four disturbing losses to the Rays and Angels that make you question whether this team should actually be contending for a playoff spot. A couple of commanding wins that made them look dominant in Baltimore, and a fantastic series sweep over the Twins loaded with comebacks and drama that was 2015-esque. 

How about for the Sox? Three losses to the Rays of their own, for starters. Two more against the Royals, who happened to be in the middle of a hot streak. A couple of wins against Tampa, and a couple of very commanding wins over the Athletics. 

Whats’s the theme here? A lot of ups and downs and very little predictability. 

I’m not going to say that the Jays are better off for losing easy games against bad teams, but I am going to say that it isn’t the end of the world, either. Two losses to Tampa Bay last week wasn’t the end of the world for Boston, and it isn’t for Toronto either. Unforgettable wins against Minnesota last week didn’t singlehandedly clinch the Jays a playoff spot, and complete beat downs of Oakland won’t do it for Boston either. 

This is going to be an ugly battle all the way to the end with both joy and frustration, and it’s no different for the Red Sox. Isn’t this what we asked for when we said we wanted meaningful baseball in September? 

Today 

Blue Jays: Jose Bautista RF, Josh Donaldson 3B, Edwin Encarnacion 1B, Dioner Navarro DH, Russell Martin C, Troy Tulowitzki SS, Michael Saunders LF, Kevin Pillar CF, Devon Travis 2B

J.A. Happ: 17-4, 3.23 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 1.151 WHIP, 7.7 H9, 2.6 BB9, 7.9 SO9

Rays: Logan Forsythe 2B, Kevin Kiermaier CF, Evan Longoria 3B, Brad Miller 1B, Matt Duffy SS, Steven Souza Jr. RF, Corey Dickerson LF, Bobby Wilson C, Curt Casali DH

Chris Archer: 8-17, 4.10 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 1.266 WHIP, 8.2 H9, 3.2 BB9, 10.8 SO9

That record certainly isn’t impressive, bur Chris Archer is still Chris Archer, and his numbers this season really aren’t indicative of the pitcher that he is heading into this afternoon’s game. Archer leads the Majors in strikeouts per nine innings, but has seen an increase in both contact rate and walk rate this year over his career norms. That said, a big reason for his poor overall season numbers was an ugly start that he has since reconciled. Recently he’s been quite good, getting himself past the ugly start he had to the season when everybody was crushing his usually-lethal slider, and, as we know, he’s always excellent against the Jays, so J.A. Happ will have to put on his cape and be Jays Ace Happ today.