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Photo Credit: © Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Series Recap: Continuing The Unlikely Climb

This is what they’re going to have to keep doing from here on out. The Blue Jays, who are limping on one leg, patched together with random minor leaguers, are still somehow alive in this playoff race, sitting three-and-a-half back of the second wild card. It’s going to take a lot to climb over half of the American league down the stretch, but excellent series like we saw this weekend against the Pirates will go a long way in making it happen. Or, at least, making baseball interesting down the stretch, which is all we can really ask for in the wake of a season derailed by injury.

What happened?

On Friday, Marco Stroman pitched another solid game, but the defence let him down, leading to a four-run rally by the Pirates in the third inning. The bats also weren’t able to get much going off of Jameson Taillon. 4-2 Pirates. 

On Saturday, Chris Rowley turned a damn good start in his first major league outing, holding the Pirates to one run over five-and-two-thirds innings. The bats didn’t muster many big hits, but the Pirates were sloppy on defence, reversing the script from the previous night. 7-2 Blue Jays.

On Sunday, J.A. Happ went up against his former team for the first time since signing with the Jays, turning six strong innings. The bats jumped all over Chad Kuhl, drilling him for five runs in the first inning. 7-1 Blue Jays. 

Things that were good

  • Chris Rowley was certainly the storyline of the weekend. He became the 12th different pitcher to make a start for the Blue Jays this season — as opposed to the seven we saw in a very healthy 2016 season — and he became the first pitcher from West Point Military Academy to make an MLB start. The undrafted free agent signing who spent two years in the U.S. military between 2014 and 2015 turned a damn good start, allowing just one earned run over five-and-two-thirds, and did enough to get likely a few more looks down the stretch. He wasn’t on anybody’s radar at the beginning of the season, but some more starts like this one in which he comes in and consistently pounds the strike zone could help play him into a depth starter or bullpen role on the big club in 2018.
  • Marcus Stroman had another great start, going eight innings while only allowing four hits. Unfortunately, he allowed four runs, none earned, because of some poor defence in the third inning. He was good enough to get a W, but baseball is baseball. Anyways, Stroman now has a 3.00 ERA, good for fourth in the American League. Stro Circus? Lmfao.
  • J.A. Happ has looked a lot like 2016 J.A. Happ recently, which is great for the Jays and their unlikely pursuit of a last-minute run down the stretch. His ERA is now down to 3.63 on the season, and, after tossing six innings of one-run ball, Happ has his fourth quality start in his last five outings.
  • The bullpen didn’t have a hell of a lot of work this weekend because the starters were great, but they were virtually perfect when called upon, tossing seven-and-two-thirds innings while allowing just one earned run. The guy who really stood out is Dominic Leone, who low-key has a 2.55 ERA on the season and is striking out 9.7 batters per nine. He had a great showing in relief of Rowley on Saturday, fanning three over an inning and a third of work.
  • Pitching was the story of the weekend, but there were also some good offensive performances to talk about. Justin Smoak has been ridiculously consistent all season and that continued this weekend, Josh Donaldson has returned to MVP form at the plate, and Ryan Goins has continued to be inexplicably clutch with runners on base.
  • Also, speaking of Goins, he had this to say about the terrible red Rogers brand synergy jerseys…

Things that weren’t good

  • Russell Martin left Friday’s game with an injury and has been placed on the 10-day disabled list, leaving the Jays with their top three catchers on the shelf. They’re now rolling with Raffy Lopez and Mike Ohlman, which, uh, isn’t ideal! Hopefully Martin’s oblique injury isn’t major.
  • Rob Refsnyder had one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen on Friday. He made two errors in the third inning, leading to the four-run rally against Stroman, and he struck out four times in four at bats. It isn’t often one guy can singlehandedly gutter a game in baseball, but Refsnyder managed to do just that! Thankfully for him, Refsnyder had himself a solid conclusion to the series, going three-for-four on Saturday.

Up next…

The Jays will welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to Toronto for a crucial four-game series starting on Monday. The Rays are only two games ahead of the Jays in the standings now, so a three-win series could have the two teams tied in the middle of August, which is something nobody expected a month ago. The Jays need to jump Texas, Seattle, Anaheim, Baltimore, Tampa, Kansas City, and Minnesota to get into the second wild card, but they’ll see three of those teams again this season, which sorta kinda maybe makes it doable?

  • lukewarmwater

    Cam as you astutely point out this has been a truly full moon every night season. As you name it and indeed it has happened to the Jays. We are like that famous Monty Python scene of the two knights going at it and the one knight cuts the other knights left leg off, and then his right leg and then his left and right arm but he still freaking keeps coming. This Jay team despite the injuries, weird happenings, bizarre umpire calls etc. etc. won’t quit.
    I mean how classic was it to have the first major league player from West Point to come out there before over 45, 000 fans and simply perform like a soldier is suppose to under pressure. I wonder if in the press conference his mind went into military form as he responded to the question YES SIR SIR. AYE AYE SIR SIR.
    Jay fans were indeed a hoping and praying and a wishing that we could get a start like we did from Rowley.
    Fasten the seat belts boys and girls as this is looking like a fun ride the rest of the way.

  • lukewarmwater

    Cam, regarding Refsnyder’s melt down game. It reminded me of a triple A game out here in Vancouver years ago. The Vancouver affiliate was playing a Chicago Cubs affiliate and their second baseman booted 4 balls in one inning. The manager actually came out on the field and took the poor guy out of the game. I’ve never seen anything like that in all the years of baseball I’ve watched.

  • Rob Ray

    Refsnyder had a bad game, but I’ve seen worse. Several years ago, while playing for the Mets Jeromy Burnitz had a doubleheader to forget. He struck out 8 times in 9 at bats and committed three errors. When he came to bat the final time in the 2nd game, the fans at Shea Stadium mockingly chanted M-V-P!, M-V-P!

  • Jeff2sayshi

    Listening to post game comments from Campbell/Zaun was kinda funny. They were trying to tamp down expectations. They were saying, yeah they’re 4 back, but have 7 teams to climb over so don’t really expect anything unless they win 7 or 8 straight. Interesting way of acting to a win, by the team’s broadcaster no less.