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Photo Credit: © Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Series Recap: Blue Jays Pass Test With Gritty Series Split

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.

What happened?

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. 

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.

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.

Up next…

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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  • Rob Ray

    The Jays seem to have fallen into a pattern pf not being able to score unless they hit a home run the last 5 games. I think the only exceptions were two of the runs they scored Friday night. David Cone, who does color commentary on some Yankee broadcast, was on the YES network on Saturday. Cone said that while he wanted the Yankees to win, Grilli’s outing was “really hard to watch as a former pitcher”.

    • AD

      Totally agree about the not being able to score unless its a HR issue… That to me is very concerning, they don’ t seem to be able to string hits together like other good offensive teams (like skanks and red sux) And I think that was the downfall of the team in the postseason in the last 2-3 years. That also means getting completely shut down some games. Also I don’t understand why they struggle against LHPs so much. Maybe they don’t see them enough cuz teams tend to shield them from the Jays with all the right handed bats.

      Overall, the series split is an ok result but I have some concerns about this team.

  • Knuckle Balls

    Yah I think the Grilli needs to be gassed out. He is flaming out like Mark Burhley did a few years ago. You can through 94 mph but if you cannot locate look out. Also his slider was flatter than pee on a platter. It was like watching BP

  • Barry

    There’s one thing I like about playing the Yankees, and that’s turning down the TV volume and syncing the TV to the WFAN radio broadcast. John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are a joy to listen to. They do their homework and can tall about any opposing player with detail and insight. And while they obviously root for the Yankees, they don’t have that starstruck-awe feeling you get from Buck and Pat, who can’t stop gushing about all-things-Yankee.

  • Barry

    I’m sure it doesn’t happen, and I hope like hell it doesn’t happen, but I wonder if a front office, considering whether or not to DFA a player, would say, “but we’ve got that Fire Up the Grilli apron giveaway on Father’s Day” …

  • Malcolm

    “Zeke is a very endearing player, but he does some stupid shit.”. This.
    He’s atrocious on the basepaths too – running into outs, getting picked off. At his age I don’t expect the light to get switched on anytime soon.