Blue Jays – Three takeaways from a strong Opening Day performance against the Rays

Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Shushkewich
18 days ago
The Toronto Blue Jays took a road trip down the coast to bring in the new year, taking on the Tampa Bay Rays in a four-game set at Tropicana Field. The 2024 season has the Blue Jays starting the year on a 10-game road trip as the Rogers Centre completes the final phase two renovations, with the Jays set to take on the Houston Astros and New York Yankees next week.
For the Jays, manager John Schneider sent veteran right-hander José Berríos to the mound. The Rays countered with right-hander Zach Eflin, who was coming off a hot 2023 campaign that saw him reach personal bests in numerous categories.
When the dust settled, the Blue Jays left the stadium with a 1-0 record, dismantling the Rays by a score of 8 to 2. It was a dominant performance offensively for the Jays, who now sit under the guise of Don Mattingly and his new offensive coordinator role while the Jays’ pitching staff also put forward a solid effort on the mound. The pitching corps looks a bit different to start the season with Erik Swanson, Jordan Romano, and Alek Manoah all starting the year on the IL but things are going well for Toronto out of the gate.
The Jays now have five consecutive Opening Day wins which currently leads the league and sets a franchise record. As well, this win is the fourth consecutive Opening Day win on the road for the Blue Jays, another franchise record.

José Berríos shakes off past Opening Day demons

This was José Berríos’s fourth Opening Day start in his career, as the Puerto Rican product had two previous nods with the Minnesota Twins before his 2022 Opening Day start with the Blue Jays.
For those who remember, Berríos’s last Opening Day game went awry quickly for the right-hander as the Jays faced the Texas Rangers at the Rogers Centre. He mustered just one out while allowing three hits, two walks, and a home run to the tune of four earned before getting pulled early, although the Jays clawed their way back into it to win the game. The following season would also go off the rails for Berríos, as he posted a 5.23 ERA with a league-worst 199 hits and 100 earned runs allowed with a 4.55 FIP, leading some to believe a curse followed Blue Jays Opening Day starters given how Manoah struggled in 2023 after getting handed the ball to start the campaign.
Against the Rays, Berríos started on a rough note, giving up a home run to lead-off batter Yandy Diaz on a squeaker of a ball over the left field line, but he settled in nicely the rest of the way. The 29-year-old would go six innings on the day, allowing six hits, one walk, and two earned runs while striking out six and generating ten whiffs on the day with a 64.9% strike rate on 91 pitches. He earned the win and worked well mixing his sinker and fastball along with his plus slurve, which generated four of those swings and misses. He also mixed in his changeup on occasion to keep hitters off balance but only went to his new cutter once in the game.
Overall, it was an impressive start for Berríos to begin the year and helped get the Blue Jays in the win column early. He even got himself out of trouble in the bottom of the sixth where he gave up back-to-back doubles and a walk with zero outs before retiring the side on a flyout and a pair of groundouts to limit the damage to one run that inning.
If there was a curse, it appears to be no more.

Better swing decisions and working with runners on base

Last season, the Blue Jays finished in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories. Multiple Jays’ regulars fell below expectations in the batter’s box last year and the team decided to shuffle around the coaching staff to try and produce some more offence this campaign, a notion endorsed by the front office given the lack of bats acquired this offseason.
While the sample size is limited to just one game, there were a ton of positives to take away from yesterday’s contest. Only three batters were unable to produce a hit yesterday (Justin Turner, Daulton Varsho, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa) while the Jays lineup as a whole was able to work into good counts with consistency, producing seven walks in the game.
Five players broke the 100 MPH exit velocity mark and George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Cavan Biggio all contributed with a long ball of their own, with Guerrero Jr. knocking on straight to centre field that went an estimated 450 feet. The Jays also took advantage with runners on base, with the team going 3 for 9 with runners in scoring position and cashing in five runs in the sixth inning alone. This was a sore spot for the club last year and it seems things are clicking well for the Jays out of the gate.
There were seven strikeouts on the day, with five coming in the first trip through the lineup, but once the Jays saw Eflin again and a third time through the order, they made the necessary adjustments to do damage and capitalized by being patient in the box and waiting for their pitches. Even Varsho, who went hitless on the day with one strikeout, put together some strong at-bats and wasn’t chasing as many borderline pitches out of the zone as we saw last year.
It was a positive day at the plate for the Blue Jays hitters and one that will need to continue into the rest of the season if the team wants to have any chance of making the postseason for a third consecutive year.

Cavan Biggio starts strong

At the bottom of the order stood left-handed batter Cavan Biggio, who was playing second base with a right-hander on the mound. Injuries have impacted his production at the plate over the past couple of seasons and Biggio enters this year with an opportunity for increased playing time with Santiago Espinal and Whit Merrifield no longer in the picture, likely platooning with Davis Schneider for the campaign at second base.
Biggio made the most of the opportunity, going 1 for 2 at the plate and clubbing an Opening Day home run over the right field wall that left the bat at 99.6 MPH and landed at 366 feet. The solo shot put the Jays in the lead in the sixth inning and they didn’t look back. The left-handed batter also scored the first run of the seventh inning for the Jays, as he generated a lead-off walk and would eventually be scored by a Bo Bichette double. He also made a terrific play on the field, tagging out José Caballero on his back foot during a stolen base attempt in the fifth that ended the inning for the Rays (he would homer immediately in the sixth).
If Biggio can continue to find ways to get on base similar to how he produced back in his rookie year with the club, the Jays may have just found more opportunities to score if he can get on base at a high clip in front of the Jays power hitters at the top of the lineup (especially if they continue to produce with runners in scoring position as we saw yesterday).

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