What we learned about the new-look Blue Jays during their first series of 2023
Photo credit:Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
The Toronto Blue Jays opened the season against a strong St. Louis Cardinals squad, featuring two of the top players in the National League, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, while also having one of the most potent lineups in the league throughout the starting nine and a strong pitching corps that should be one of the top teams in the league.
After three games, the Jays walked away with the series loss, winning the first game on Thursday 10-9 before dropping Saturday and Sunday’s contest to the Cardinals, losing 4-1 and 9-4 respectively.
Opening Day was a back-and-forth contest between both squads, with the lead changed hands multiple times before the Jays rallied in the ninth to take the lead with closer Jordan Romano shutting down the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth to secure the win. The Saturday affair saw the Blue Jays bats struggle against an inconsistent start from Jack Flaherty while Chris Bassitt struggled in his Jays debut yesterday, allowing nine runs while Toronto could only counter with four runs of their own.
Alek Manoah got the nod for Opening Day and struggled through 3 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits, two home runs and five earned runs while striking out three batters. The right-hander was wild with his command and left a few balls over the plate that got hit hard, although the Cardinals also put some balls in play that would have impressed the BABIP gods given how far outside the strike zone they were. Overall it wasn’t the best start from the 25-year-old, who surrendered five earned runs for the first time since his rookie campaign, but if anybody can bounce back after a rough start, it is “Big Puma”.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman got the start for game #2 and he was by far the best starter this weekend, going 6.0 innings and striking out seven against eight hits while allowing zero earned runs. An errant throw from Matt Chapman would unfortunately cost the Jays three runs, all unearned for Gausman, who eventually earned the loss in the low-scoring affair even though he allowed zero earned runs.
Last to take the mound was Chris Bassitt, the newest member of the Blue Jays rotation this past offseason on the heels of a three-year, $63 million contract. The former Mets starter would also last only 3 1/3 and surrendered four home runs, 10 hits, and nine earned runs while walking zero and striking out zero as well. Bassitt struggled with his command at times too, leaving pitches over the plate that the Cardinals batters capitalized on (especially Nolan Gorman, who had two home runs on the day). Featuring eight pitches in his arsenal, Bassitt was controlling his destiny with the Pitch Com device but only generated four whiffs on the day, with the right-hander struggling to generate ground balls and get outs when needed.
With Manoah and Bassitt failing to get past the fourth inning, manager John Schneider had to call upon the bullpen early and often through the first series of the season. Given the Friday off-day following the Opening Day start, the Blue Jays could run the tank on Thursday without too many repercussions but considering the squad is heading to Kansas City and Los Angeles over the next seven days, it will be interesting to see how the Jays utilize their relief corps heading forward.
On Thursday, parts of the Jays’ relief corps struggled to find the strike zone, with Tim Mayza, Anthony Bass, and Yimi Garcia all allowing an earned run during their respective outing. Zach Pop, Erik Swanson, and Adam Cimber led the way that day while Romano shut down the Cardinals in the ninth to secure the win. The Saturday and Sunday games saw the bullpen perform well again, with Swanson being the only reliever to surrender an earned run over the past two days.
The Starting Nine
Over the first series, each player on the roster featured in the weekend in one way or another.
The Thursday game saw the Blue Jays rack up 19 hits on the day and three walks on their way to ten runs, with the 19 knocks an Opening Day record for the Jays within their franchise history. George Springer led the way with five hits, tying the Jays record for Opening Day hits, while Bo Bichette also added four hits on the day. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led the team in RBIs with three while Daulton Varsho and Alejandro Kirk added two apiece, helping the Jays squeak out a win to take a 1-0 lead to start the year.
With Jack Flaherty on the mound for the Saturday game, the Jays were unable to capitalize on the Cardinals pitcher’s wild command, issuing seven walks through five innings of work but unable to drive in a single run or generate a hit. The Jays were getting no-hit until the seventh inning when Kevin Kiermaier dropped in a single, with Toronto scoring a run in the eighth on a wild pitch, their only run in the contest.
The Sunday contest saw the Blue Jays collect 10 hits and four runs with each member in the lineup collecting a hit except for George Springer and Santiago Espinal, who was scheduled into his first game of the season. Whit Merrifield led the group with two RBIs while Matt Chapman went 3 for 4 on the day with two extra-base hits, improving his batting average to .500 on the season.
Overall, the Blue Jays currently own a collective .299 batting average with 14 RBIs on zero home runs, which is uncharacteristic for the Jays and their fans compared to the past few seasons where they used the long ball to win games.
Looking back on the weekend, there were some high points from a defensive standpoint and also a few miscues that impacted the team at the end of the day. The outfield played well, making some excellent diving plays as well as hitting cutoffs and holding runners in place to limit the damage when needed, which is vastly different compared to last season. One of the reasons the front office brought Varsho and Kiermaier in this offseason is their defensive ability and they put on a showcase this opening series. There was a slight blemish with a miscommunication miscue between Varsho and Merrifield in yesterday’s contest that resulted in a dropped ball but overall, there was a lot of positives.
Bichette made an error on his first hit ball on the year as well as a questionable throw to second base instead of throwing home in the Thursday game which would have kept the game tied late in the contest, instead, giving the Cardinals a one-run lead. Chapman also made an unfortunate throwing error during Gausman’s start which scored three runs, which is unlike the three-time Gold Glove Award winner.
Looking Ahead for the Blue Jays
The Blue Jays will now be heading to Kansas City for a four-game series before heading to Los Angeles to face the Angels for another three games before heading back to Toronto. José Berríos will get the ball tomorrow while Yusei Kikuchi will get the start on Tuesday, which will be interesting to see considering how each performed in 2022.
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