This series with the American League Eastl eading Yankees was an important test for the Blue Jays, and while it certainly wasn’t pretty, they passed. The Jays earned a split with New York and are still alive and well in the division race.
Before the series, I said this was a test to see if the Jays actually belonged among the contenders in the division since they had been playing well but largely against bad teams. A series win or sweep would have been amazing, of course, but there was a lot to like about this weekend’s effort.
On Thursday, Marco Estrada was uncharacteristically bad. His three-and-two-thirds innings was his first outing of the season in which he didn’t last at least five, and his seven hits and nine runs surrendered were both a season high. CC Sabathia was solid, though he didn’t have to be, making the Jays lineup look pretty hopeless. 12-2 Yankees.
On Friday, Francisco Liriano made his return to the rotation and pitched very well. Liriano was strong through five innings, but allowed a two-run homer before getting pulled in the sixth. The lineup was able to tag Michael Pineda and the Yankees bullpen, and the pitching was just good enough. 7-5 Blue Jays.
On Saturday, Joe Biagini pitched well, but the offence was completely hopeless against rookie lefty Jordan Montgomery. Biagini was strong for seven innings, then Jason Grilli got absolutely bombed, resulting in the score looking a lot more lopsided than the game really was. 7-0 Yankees.
On Sunday, Marcus Stroman duelled with Luis Severino. Both pitchers were excellent, but a couple of late homers from Justin Smoak and Josh Donaldson combined with amazing relief gave the Jays the edge. 3-2 Blue Jays.
Osuna ? pic.twitter.com/SRc9zwgbLu— Andy (@_rallycap) June 4, 2017
Things that were good
- The back end of the bullpen, Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna, were absolute nails in Toronto’s two wins. On Sunday, Smith and Osuna combined to strike out five hitters in a row to close the game. It was the same deal on Friday night when Smith and Osuna suffocated the potent Yankee lineup at the end of the game. This is a difficult team to shut down, as they can mash up and down the lineup, but Smith and Osuna were dominant.
- Joe Biagini had likely his best outing since being moved to the starting rotation. He went seven innings allowing just one earned run (three unearned in total thanks to a Troy Tulowitzki error) while striking out six. It’ll be interesting when Sanchez returns whether or not the Jays decide to move Biagini back to the ‘pen. You have to think they want him starting long-term, though he might be a better fit on the 2017 team in the ‘pen.
- Stroman was also very good in the most important game of the series on Sunday. That’s kind of become Stroman’s calling card over his young career, a pitcher who performs exceptionally well in key, high pressure games. Severino was on his game, and Stroman had virtually zero margin for error. He allowed two runs over six innings and gave the Jays a chance to win the game.
- Liriano was better than most likely expected in his first game back from injury. He had been kind of all over the grid when healthy, but was very good in his five innings against the Yankees on Friday. A good Liriano like the one we saw down the stretch last season would be a major help on this team.
- Justin Smoak has continued to look damn good at the plate. He went 5-for-12 over the series and clubbed a massive home run on Sunday. Throughout all of the injuries and the slow starts, Smoak has been a rock in the middle of the lineup all season. Smoak now leads hitters in WAR (according to FanGraphs) and has easily been worth his salary so far.
- Having Josh Donaldson back is such a game changer. He hit a game winning bomb in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game, and generally adds such a massive threat to the lineup.
Donaldson you beauty. 3-2 Jays. pic.twitter.com/hyc6caRA1Y— Blue Jays Nation (@thejaysnation) June 4, 2017
Things that weren’t good
- It’s definitely time to worry about Jason Grilli. His outing on Saturday was one for the ages for all the wrong reasons, as Grilli allowed four home runs while only recording two outs. He was a damn good soldier for the team last season, but at this point, considering his age, it’s hard to say if he’ll be able to pull it together again.
- Same goes for J.P. Howell, who hasn’t really been good at all this season. He got some extended innings on Thursday in the blowout, but wasn’t able to get the Jays through the rest of the game. The Jays have some decisions to make when Aaron Sanchez (…and Glenn Sparkman?) come back from the disabled list, and while Tepera, Barnes, and Loup have options, the veterans Grilli and Howell might be the ones who end up on the outside.
- Those two games on Thursday and Saturday in general were just terrible. The offence looked totally listless against Sabathia and Montgomery, which is odd because of all the right-handed power the Blue Jays feature. The Jays have a wRC+ of 85 against lefty pitching and a 96 wRC+ against righties this season.
- Zeke Carrera bunted with one out and a guy in scoring position and Luke Maile up behind him. That’s, uh, no. Zeke is a very endearing player, but he does some stupid shit.
- Marco Estrada had a rough start, but I wouldn’t look too much into it. The Yankees are a good lineup and they clubbed a couple of pitches that he located poorly.
- Devon Travis left the game after taking a pitch in the hand in the bottom of the seventh. With the way Travis has been swinging, losing his for any period of time would obviously be devastating. Hopefully it isn’t serious. UPDATE: It seems Travis is going to be fine after X-rays came back negative. Good, good stuff.
The Jays will travel to the West Coast for a three-game series against Oakland and Seattle. They’ll head to Oakland right away, but will get a day off on Thursday before playing in Seattle on the weekend. The A’s are bad and the Mariners are broken, so this should be a great chance for the Jays to finally pull themselves over .500 for the first time this year, but West Coast trips are never as easy as they seem.
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