Three Key Things: José Berrios, Kevin Gausman, and the long ball help Blue Jays earn split at The Trop

Photo credit:© Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
26 days ago
Let’s all just take a second and acknowledge that baseball is back. For 158 more days this season, we get to watch the Blue Jays play baseball, and that is a wonderful feeling.
Starting out a season at Tropicana Field will never be at the top of Toronto’s wish list, but this was the hand they were dealt to start the 2024 season. Looking back at the series, you were either blown out by the opposition or you won handily. There was no in-between. These are the three key things I took away from Toronto’s opening series split.

Welcome back, home runs

Last year, Bo Bichette hit Toronto’s first home run of the season during the fourth game of the season in Kansas City. The Blue Jays went on to finish 16th in the league in home runs, something that the franchise hadn’t been used to in recent seasons.
This season, however, it took only four innings for the Jays to hit their first home run, thanks to George Springer’s solo blast on Opening Day. It was a sign of things to come for this series, as the Jays tallied six total home runs against the Rays this weekend, and it sits them tied for fourth among all MLB teams. Springer hit two of them, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Justin Turner, Cavan Biggio, and Davis Schneider getting in on the fun as well.
Even the Rays, who ranked sixth in home runs last year and possessed six hitters with 20+ home runs, flexed their muscle against the Jays hitting five homers in the series. It’s not normally Tampa’s bread and butter – we’ve all grown tired of the “get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in” and “death by singles” approach from the Kevin Cash-era Rays – but they’re evolving into a stronger team as well.
Sure, the season just started, and home runs don’t directly correlate to success, but the power that fans were craving last season was one of the most glaring holes on Toronto’s roster. This is definitely an encouraging sign to see during the first series of the year, especially one that started at Toronto’s House of Horrors.

Some good and some bad from the starting pitching

While the offence was a major topic throughout the offseason, the question of whether last year’s stellar rotation could duplicate their efforts this season was another worthy topic.
Let’s start with José Berrios, who earned his first win of the season with a six-inning, two-run, six-strikeout performance on Opening Day. Despite allowing a leadoff home run to Yandy Diaz, Berrios turned away his 2022 Opening Day demons by retiring 15 of his next 17 batters and ending his performance getting out of a two-on, no-out jam unscathed. I further dove into Berrios’ outing here, but what stood out to me (like in many of his outings) was his pitch mix; he had great success with the sinker, good zip on the slurve, and his pitch mix was elite.
Probably the most reassuring outing came from Kevin Gausman, who was sidelined during the majority of Spring Training due to a shoulder injury. Gausman showed no signs of being hurt, as he posted 4.1 innings of effective baseball allowing only two hits, one run, no walks, and six strikeouts. He was likely on a pitch count as he has not been built up fully yet, but it was a sigh of relief to see one of last year’s Cy Young finalists shaking off a spring setback.
Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Bassitt didn’t achieve the same level of success as the aforementioned Berrios and Gausman, but I didn’t see anything that was worth sounding the alarm over. Five of Bassitt’s first six outs were by way of a strikeout, but the game broke open in the third inning when a single, an HBP, and a fielder’s choice error led to a grand slam from Brandon Lowe. Bassitt was tagged for another run later in his outing, but nothing to suggest any level of concern.
Kikuchi and the Rays are never a match made in heaven considering Tampa’s ability to platoon and stack their lineup with right-handed hitters, but given how Toronto’s rotation was laid out, he had to pitch in this four-game set. The three walks he surrendered drove his pitch count up, and he lasted only 90 pitches, but he also fought traffic on the base paths all night. His fastball still averaged 95 mph, and he generated 8 whiffs from it, but he didn’t get any whiffs from his slider.

The battle for super utility playing time

If nothing else, Ross Atkins has got to be loving the depth he has developed with his utility players. I mean, seriously, let’s just say that Immaculate Grid combinations of players who have played multiple positions will have several options on this year’s Toronto roster.
If the conversation hasn’t been had yet, it’s time to have a serious conversation about Ernie Clement earning more at-bats. A .362/.388/.638 slash line during 17 spring games earned Clement a spot on Toronto’s roster, and he went 3-for-9 in this series to kick off his season. Despite grounding into a pair of double plays, Clement’s bat-to-ball skills are hard to ignore, and he also missed a home run by inches during Sunday’s game (shoutout to Randy Arozarena, who made a great play).
What may be most impressive about Clement has been his defence. He made multiple web gems during this series — at multiple positions — that are refining his super-utility resume. While it came at the expense of losing Bichette for Sunday’s game due to neck spasms, Clement had the opportunity to fill in at shortstop, and he made this outstanding play:
Biggio (3-for-12, HR, 3 RBIs, 3 BB), Schneider (1-for-4, HR), and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (3-for-9, BB) all played very well this weekend, and there’s a valid reason to play all of them. Especially with Addison Barger looming in Buffalo, there are bound to be some creative lineups built this season with the above names involved. Thankfully, I am not the one who needs to make these decisions, but John Schneider certainly has his plate full with this one. At the end of the day, this is a good problem to have, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.


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