It’s been a nightmare start to the season, there’s no doubt about that. But the Blue Jays are heading out of April with some momentum after stringing back-to-back wins together (and coming out of a series with a win) for the first time this year.
On Friday, Marcus Stroman tossed an excellent game, but the bullpen imploded, allowing five runs in the final two innings. The baseball gods, they hate us. Why do they hate us? 7-4 Rays.
On Saturday, Francisco Liriano gutted out five innings of work, the bullpen redeemed itself, and Justin Smoak and Russell Martin came up with two big hits. 4-1 Blue Jays
On Sunday, Aaron Sanchez’s return to action was halted after one inning, but Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, Dominic Leone, Joe Smith, J.P. Howell and Roberto Osuna combined to pitch eight innings of one-run ball and the bats finally woke up in the eighth inning. The baseball gods, are they okay with us? 3-1 Blue Jays.
Things that weren’t good
- Let’s mix it up this time and talk about things that weren’t good before getting into all of the positives from the series so that we can exit with positive vibes. The series got off to a hideous start on Friday, but the team rallied hard and earned two huge wins on Saturday and Sunday, so I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the bad stuff.
- The bullpen was junk on Friday night. Marcus Stroman pitched a gem, giving the Jays a 3-2 lead with just five outs left in the game. But Jason Grilli came into the game and imploded, immediately allowing a home run to Evan Longoria to tie the game. Grilli walked a guy and got a strikeout, then Dominic Leone came in and added fuel to the fire, allowing a two-run homer, and another homer and double in the ninth. All told, Grilli and Leone allowed five runs while only managing to get two outs. Really, really ugly stuff in a very winnable game.
- Aaron Sanchez returned on Sunday after spending two weeks on the 10-day disabled list, but only managed to pitch one inning before getting pulled due to a split nail on his blistered finger. In his one inning, Sanchez clearly had command issues, and didn’t throw anything other than fastballs. It’s an unfortunate outcome for the Jays who badly need Sanchez healthy, but it also really sucks for him, because I imagine being held out by things like blisters and broken nails is just ridiculously maddening.
Things that were good
- The bullpen was bad on Friday, but they certainly made up for it the next two games. On Saturday, Francisco Liriano put forward a gritty outing, in which he battled through five innings without his best command, allowing just one earned run. Joe Biagini came in and stranded two runners with nobody out, then pitched another clean inning before Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna closed the game in the eighth and ninth innings. Big Joe, Little Joe, and Joe-suna combined for four innings of work, one hit, one walk, and four strikeouts. Very, very good stuff.
- Also encouraging was the fact that Osuna’s velocity was back up to 96 mph after his poor showing in St. Louis that prompted some worry about his health.
- On Sunday, as I mentioned before, Sanchez was only able to pitch one inning, but the bullpen managed to toss a damn good game in relief, combining for only one earned run over eight innings.
- Ryan Tepera had likely the best showing of his Major League career, tossing three-and-one-third innings, allowing just one hit while striking out five. Aaron Loup came in after, and pitched two scoreless innings thanks largely to his ability to induce ground ball contact. Leone managed to redeem himself, pitching two-thirds of an inning with a big strikeout. Osuna ended up getting the save, giving him back-to-back clean outings, which is a major positive. All told, the relievers tossed eight innings, allowing just one run.
- Jose Bautista got his 1000th hit as a Blue Jay, and it was a big one. With Darwin Barney on second base down 1-0, Jose clubbed what appeared to be a home run (thank you, Buck) off the wall, scoring the tying run. Joey Bats is the ninth Blue Jays to record 1000 hits with the club.
- The team up with big hits this weekend, which is something we haven’t been able to say much. On Saturday, Russell Martin clubbed a double and Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer, giving the team badly needed runs. Again Sunday, Bautista had a big hit, scoring a leadoff walk in the eighth inning, and Martin and Zeke Carrera squeaked out a couple of hits to pull ahead. Hopefully the tides are turning.
The Blue Jays will head to New York for 2017’s first meeting with the Yankees. It’ll be Marco Estrada, Mat Latos, and Marcus Stroman going up against Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia. Both Estrada and Stroman have pitched the Yankees very well in their careers, but the Bronx Bombers have come back to life recently, and are crushing the ball like mad. After that series, the Jays will have a much-needed off-day Thursday before travelling to Tampa Bay for three more against the Rays.