Three Key Things: Blue Jays flirted with history (in a bad way), another strong Manoah start, and more!

Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
1 month ago
Are you still patient? Are you encouraged? Do you feel the urgency?
If you answered “no” to any of those questions, you probably didn’t enjoy Ross Atkins’ media availability on Saturday afternoon. His comments fell right in the middle of a tough series loss to division rival Tampa Bay, with the Blue Jays falling to 20-25 on the season, and 7-8 against AL East opponents. Let’s take a look at my Three Key Things for this weekend’s series.

The Blue Jays were uncomfortably close to history on Friday

Friday night was “Country Night” at Rogers Centre, and standing in between the Jays and victory was 29-year-old lefty Tyler Alexander. Alexander was designated for assignment by the Tigers just a month after last season concluded, and the Rays claimed him off of waivers just a few days later. Used as a starter and in long-relief, Alexander entered Friday night with a 5.45 ERA through 8 appearances this season. Furthermore, the Blue Jays tagged him for five earned runs on six hits back on March 31st.
Well, not only did Alexander have his way this time around, but he was dangerously close to etching his name in the history books on Friday night. He retired the first 22 batters he faced, carrying a perfect game one out into the eighth inning. On his 97th pitch of the night, however, Danny Jansen finally broke up the feat with a bloop single into right centre field, and Davis Schneider would end the shutout with a two-run homer one batter later.
The rally continued with a Cavan Biggio RBI single later in the inning, but that was as close as they were able to get in a 4-3 defeat. The “lightning-in-a-bottle” innings are fun to see, but the Blue Jays have been extremely reliant on them this season. The seven innings of…well…nothing before the three-run eighth buried them in a ditch that they could not climb out of.
Not only was Alexander close to making history of his own, but the Blue Jays also got close to becoming quite notable themselves. Had Alexander completed the perfect game, it would’ve been the second time this season that Toronto had been no-hit (see Ronel Blanco’s no-hitter about a month and a half ago).
Naturally, this scare came just hours before Ross Atkins held his press conference.

This would’ve/could’ve/should’ve been a sweep

Even with the above happening, there’s a reasonable world out there where Toronto should have swept this series.
Let’s start with Friday night, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. committed two critical errors in the field that both led to runs for the Rays. We’ll play the “what if” game with these. Had Guerrero Jr. not committed these errors, do those two runs score? Even with Toronto’s offensive struggles, three runs still could’ve been enough to win the game if Guerrero kept things clean on the field.
George Springer had a massive opportunity to keep the aforementioned rally going during the eighth inning go Friday’s loss. Following Biggio’s RBI single, the lineup turned over to Springer, who came to the plate with only one out and runners on first and second. Unfortunately, Springer grounded into a double play, ending the threat.
Springer found himself in the same situation on Saturday afternoon, coming to the plate in the 8th inning with runners on first and second and one out. Although advancing the runners 90 feet each, Springer grounded the ball just a few feet in front of home plate, resulting in a ground out. Jansen would ground out directly after that, and the Blue Jays couldn’t overcome blowing a 4-0 lead.
In a not-Tampa-Bay-like way, the Rays committed three errors throughout the weekend that all led to Blue Jays runs. On top of that, Saturday’s game featured multiple base running errors, with Jose Caballero being picked off at second base and Isaac Paredes being thrown out trying to advance to third on a ground out to shortstop. The Rays are never a fun team to play against, particularly because they do all of the little things really well. All of that to say, the Rays handed the Blue Jays some good fortune this weekend, and the Jays couldn’t make the most of it.
We’re seeing these kinds of game multiple times a week in which the Blue Jays were just one or two plays away, and those plays need to be made if Toronto wants to hang onto their postseason aspirations.

Alek Manoah revival

Oh boy, do we have something here?
In Alek Manoah’s third start of the season, he tossed seven one-hit innings in front of 35,000+ on Sunday afternoon. It was undoubtedly Manoah’s best start since his 2022 season. While he had some “good” starts peppered in his ’23 campaign, Sunday just felt different for the 26-year-old righty. The depth to his slider, the continued use and effectiveness of the changeup (has he been talking to Marco Estrada?), and the shouting on the mound – this was vintage Manoah.
Manoah never faced more than four batters in one inning, and he had spurts in which he retired seven and six batters in a row. He generated 11 whiffs on the day with five coming against his slider, and he also had seven called strikes on that same pitch. His ability to throw sliders for strikes as well as throw strike-to-ball competitive sliders were essential to his success on Sunday, something Blue Jays fans were yearning for last year. His final line: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K’s. One of his seven strikeouts brought him to 400 in his career, making him the second-fastest pitcher in franchise history to that mark.
Manoah has now thrown 14 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, and if this pace continues, he is making a very tough decision for the Blue Jays as Bowden Francis and Yariel Rodriguez are both rehabbing from their respective injuries.
Honourable Mention: Daniel Vogelbach with a 3-for-4 day on Sunday, just a triple shy of the cycle.

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