A wild weekend and a tough week ahead for your new AL Wild Card leaders!
On Friday's disaster, Saturday's near disasters, Ray, Merryweather, Brandon Hyde, Charlie Discourse, Abad, Ryu, Jake Lamb, an 11-run inning breakdown, Dingers!, the week ahead and more!
The Toronto Blue Jays took three of four from the Orioles in Baltimore over the weekend — an outcome that would have felt a bit like a loss if you’d told Jays fans about it late last week, but that absolutely felt like huge a win given the fact that after losing on Friday, the Jays trailed for most of both games of Saturday’s doubleheader before launching twice into improbable comebacks. So let’s talk about it!
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Friday (Blue Jays 3 - Orioles 6)
There’s something awfully special about this Blue Jays team, but they certainly didn’t show it in this one — really, they were just awful. Here’s six down…
▼ Robbie Ray
A rare down arrow here for Robbie Ray, whose major sin on the day was simply not being spectacular. That’s become the expectation here in the second half of 2021 for Ray, because so often that has been the case. In this one he was very good in ways, having only walked a pair and striking out two over 4 1/3 innings. But he also gave up three runs on eight hits, two of which left the yard, and needed 98 pitches before departing in the middle of the fifth. Three runs is hardly a brutal showing, and the Jays proved it by tying the game up with a run in the fifth and two in the sixth, but Ray could have been better. We know this because Friday's was his first start in nine tries in which he allowed more than two runs, and his shortest start since the last time he pitched in Baltimore, way back on June 18th.
There's nothing to worry about here, of course. It was just one of those games, and Baltimore is a sneakily decent offensive team, having produced a 101 wRC+ as a club since the All-Star break (good enough to rank 15th in the majors; the Jays at 125 wRC+ rank first) and boasting three very good hitters in Anthony Santander (132 wRC+), Cedric Mullins (137 wRC+) and Ryan Mountcastle (144 wRC+). Still, Ray can't escape a down arrow here.
▼ Brandon Hyde
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde? More like Orioles manager Brandon Cried, am I right? What on earth were you doing chirping Robbie Ray in this one for, you absolute fucking 46-97 loser?
Hyde apologized after the game, but this was an absurd outburst. Get outta my face!
▼ Julian Merryweather
As noted above, the Jays scratched and clawed their way back into the game in the fifth and sixth. Heading into the bottom of the seventh the game was still tied, and following a pattern that the Jays have abided in the vast majority of games this season, they chose to turn to a reliever a little farther down the depth chart than the guys they tend to use when in the lead. In this case it was Julian Merryweather, who hadn't pitched in the majors since April 13, and hadn't exactly looked like his most electric self over the course of the handful of rehab innings he threw down in Florida and during a brief spell with Buffalo. Still, the quality of his stuff and his impressive stretch in April before injury once again wiped out most of his season didn't make you feel too bad about the Jays going to a guy like that in this spot.
Problem is, Merryweather does not appear to be the same guy he was earlier in the season — a period that, it's worth noting, came before mid-June's crackdown on "sticky stuff" usage.
Merryweather’s spin rate was noticeably down in both this game and his appearance on Sunday. There appears to be a correlation with the amount of swing-and-miss he’s been able to generate too, with the whiff rate on all three of his pitches taking hit, but in particular his fastball, which has dropped significantly from April (23.5%) to September (8%). Though part of that is likely also due to the fact that he just isn’t throwing it as hard at this stage, with an average velocity of 98.2 in April, and just 97 here in September.
It’s still impressive stuff, and there are still many things to like about Merryweather. The whole inning could have been completely different if not for Merryweather’s own stumbling attempt to field a lead-off bunt from Mullins that resulted in an error, or the fact that he lost a nine-pitch two-out battle with Trey Mancini that preceded Santander's three-run shot. There are also reason to believe that, like Jordan Romano, in time he’ll be able to find a way to offset what he’s lost in terms of spin rate. He just probably shouldn’t be out there in the seventh inning of tie games quite yet.
▼ Not getting to Chris Ellis
Orioles starter Chris Ellis walks too many guys (4.1 BB/9), doesn't strike out enough guys (5.60 K/9 in four starts with the Orioles), and had a 6.32 ERA in the Rays system. His expected ERA of 5.09 is worse that that of 450 pitchers with at least 20 big league innings this season. And yet his actual ERA is a tidy 2.08. In this one he managed to allow just a single run on five hits to a Blue Jays offence that — as we saw in the subsequent games of this series — was primed to explode. HOW?
▼ Abad play
The bulk of the Jays’ damage in this one, which is to say two runs, were the result of a disastrous inning from O’s reliever Fernando Abad and the fielders behind him. What was notable, however, was how Abad ended his day: adding injury to insult as he collided with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. as the Jays’ left fielder was halfway down the third base line as he tried to score on an error.
I think Abad was simply caught up trying to decide if he was going to run after the ball that had scooted away from third baseman Kelvin Gutiérrez toward the dugout, but it sure didn’t look great. Fuck off, Orioles!
▼ The Charlie Discourse
Charlie should have fought Hyde. Charlie should have fought Abad. Do the types of people who say these things actually hear themselves???
Yes, it was a good day to watch the existence of Charlie Montoyo continue to break the brains of people who refuse to believe that the role of a manager has changed over the last 30 years — or that the Blue Jays specifically want an even keeled manager who actually tries to keep tensions from boiling over and also does things like abiding the guidance of the High Performance department when it comes to pitcher usage.
And no, Charlie isn’t just the smiling “development manager” who is ultimately due to be replaced by a win-now red ass tactical field general, you’re just old. They became win-now when they gave Ryu $80 million two winters ago mate!
Anyway, huge down arrow here to the fact that I had to see and hear this nonsense. The Jays win eight in a row and at the first possible opportunity we’re back to this stuff like Charlie isn’t part of the reason the team was able to keep on believing in each other and thrust themselves back into the playoff race? Please, I’m begging you, if you want to watch junior hockey just watch junior hockey.
Saturday (Game One) (Blue Jays 11 - Orioles 10)
A near disaster pulled out of the fire at the very end. Here’s down, three up…
▼ Hyun Jin Ryu
The Blue Jays' ace-in-name-only had a couple decent starts in his two outings previous to this, allowing us to hope that he'd finally figured things out. Having Danny Jansen back behind the plate for him during this recent turnaround also seemed to bode well, as Ryu for his career has a 3.14 ERA in 27 starts with Jansen behind the plate, but just a 4.90 mark over 11 starts throwing to Reese McGuire.
Ryu had what may have been his worst outing with the Blue Jays, allowing seven runs on eight hits over just 2 1/3 innings. The Orioles' 98.9 mph average exit velocity on the day was the highest of his career, and the 72.7 Hard Hit percentage he surrendered was the second highest. Ryu's ERA in games where his fastball averages below 90 mph jumped to 5.11 for the season (in games where he averages 90 or above his ERA has been 3.18). Nine of the 15 games in his career in which opponents have had a Hard Hit percentage over 50% against him have come here in 2021. All but one of those have come since the start of June.
▼ Ross Stripling
I can give Stripling a bit of a mulligan for this one because it was his first time pitching in the majors in a month, his first time pitching out of the bullpen all season (technically he also did so once back in May, but only because he was scheduled to pitched the bulk of the innings behind Trent Thornton as an “opener”), and he only managed to get in 1 1/3 innings of rehab work with Buffalo before returning to the Jays. He also managed to clean up Ryu's mess in the third with a couple big outs to keep the score 7-3. Unfortunately he then got walloped for three in the fourth thanks to back-to-back homers to Austin Hays and Mountcastle to lead-off the inning, then three straight one-out singles to make it 10-5. It happens, but clearly not great.
▼ Almost losing again to the Orioles
Imagine losing a second straight game to a team that’s on pace to lose 110 games. Imagine losing that game and then having to sit through the first six innings of the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader! Wooo-hoooooohuhuhuufff. Thank goodness they pulled this one out of the fire.
▲ Jake Lamb, somehow
Jake Lamb had a couple very good seasons in Arizona, including an All-Star campaign in 2017. He hit 29 homers in 2016, putting up a 114 wRC+, then 30 more the following year, in which he had a 111 wRC+, but spent the next three seasons completely lost at the plate. Over 563 plate appearances from 2018 through 2020, Lamb's wRC+ was just 78. He slashed .205/.309/.351 and managed just 15 home runs in 165 games. Arizona released him last September but he gave a good account of himself after catching on in Oakland, slashing .267/.327/.556 over 49 PA in 13 games, adding three homers as well. That run, and his past success, helped net him a $1 million major league deal with the Braves this season, but he struggled in spring training and was released. The White Sox picked him up and he was decent enough at the plate over 43 games to post a 100 wRC+, though his slash line of .212/.321/.389 certainly doesn't leap off the page. And with those good years of 2016 and '17 pretty firmly in the rearview, there wasn't much to hope on when the Jays took a flier on him earlier this month in the wake of Santiago Espinal's injury.
Truthfully, Lamb mostly hasn't delivered on what little big league promise may be left in him. The 30-year-old currently sports an identical 100 wRC+ in 26 PA for the Jays as he did in the early part of the season with the White Sox. But he's been competent enough as a fielder, and has shown at times that there is something left in his bat.
He homered on Sunday, but that was hardly noticeable given the parade of Blue Jays to cross the plate in that one. In this game, though, he was maybe even more impressive, going 2-for-2 with a walk, a sac fly, and a run scored. In addition to the sac fly, which brought the Blue Jays to within a run of the Orioles in the top of the seventh, he slapped a two-out bases loaded single up the middle through the Orioles' leaky and noodle-armed defence in the fifth, scoring a pair of runs to make the game 10-7 for Baltimore.
Lamb was never going to be the guy to get the headlines in this one, but his contribution absolutely deserves to be noted. It was pretty huge, all things considered.
▲ Pearson and Romano
Lamb's single had brought the Jays to within three of the Orioles heading into the bottom of the fifth. They were in a position to potentially still win the game, but not one where they ought to be blowing their best relievers, given that there was still one more game left in the doubleheader, and a 1 PM start on Sunday to get through as well. Enter Nate Pearson, who looked like the dominant guy the Jays hope he can be for them down the stretch in his first inning of work, getting Martin to line out before overpowering Hays and Mountcastle for strikeouts to end the frame. His second inning of work was trickier. Trey Mancini led off the inning with a single, Ramon Urias easily picked up a four-pitch walk with one out, then Pearson uncorked a wild pitch to move the runners up to second and third. He was in trouble. Yet he managed to wriggle out, inducing a pop-up to first from Pedro Severino before intentionally walking Mullins and then getting Gutiérrez to ground out to second to end the threat.
Romano, as you'd expect, made quick work of the Orioles, facing four batters only because of a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. error as he picked up his 17th save of the season.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a two-run shot in this one to tie the game at 2-2. He has fully turned his season around, and has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last two months and then some.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his 43rd of the year in the third inning to make the score 5-3 Baltimore. On Sunday he would homer again, tying him with his Hall of Fame dad's best ever single season in terms of home runs. His 171 wRC+ is currently the best in baseball, and the best in the American League by 15 points over Shohei Ohtani. His 6.4 fWAR is the best in baseball among position players. He ain’t slumping no more.
Danny Jansen homered in the fourth with Lamb on base. He now has eight of them in just 169 plate appearances and a 103 wRC+ on the season. Since returning from the injured list on August 31 he's hit three of those bombs, while going 11-for-25 with four walks, six doubles, and just five strikeouts. Could the former bat-first catcher actually be rediscovering the form that made him such an exciting prospect a few years ago? It’s too early to tell, but a great problem to have.
And, of course, the biggest blast of the game came in the top of the final frame (the seventh). George Springer has been in and out of the lineup recently as he tries to play through a sprained left knee — an issue compounded by the fact that he fouled a ball off of it in the first game of the Yankees’ series last week. He still doesn’t look quite right when running the bases. But boy is his swing ever sweet.
This was Springer's 17th home run as a member of the Blue Jays in just 59 games — a 47 home run pace over the course of a 162 game season. It gave the Jays, who had been down 10-5 heading into the top of the fifth, an incredibly dramatic 11-10 lead that would ultimately hold up as the final score. He's real good.
Saturday (Game Two) (Blue Jays 11 - Orioles 2)
Game two of Saturday's doubleheader was an incredibly frustrating affair that looked like it was going to waste an excellent outing from Thomas Hatch until it wasn't and it didn't. Here's twelve up...
The eleven run inning
The Blue Jays got four strong innings out of right-hander Thomas Hatch, freshly summoned to the minor leagues for this one, as he allowed just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out three. Joakim Soria and Trevor Richardd followed up with a couple of good outings of their own. However, somehow O's started Keegan Akin, who entered the game with a 7.00 ERA and 96 hits allowed in 79 2/3 innings, managed to allow just a pair of walks through his first six innings of work. With the O's up 1-0 in the seventh, Akin came out to finish what was on track to be the best start of his career. He, uh, did not do that. All but one of the first twelve batters the Jays sent to the plate in the seventh avoided making an out — and that lone out was a sac fly off the bat of Breyvic Valera.
▲ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a single the other way for the Jays’ first hit of the night.
▲ Bo Bichette then held back just enough on a 2-1 changeup to park it into the seats beyond left field, and just like that the Jays had the lead at 2-1.
▲ Teoscar Hernández singled to right on a 3-2 pitch to end Akin’s night.
▲ New pitcher Tanner Scott put a 1-0 slider right into Alejandro Kirk's wheelhouse, and the Jays' catcher hit it out the other way at 104.2 mph, making it 4-1 Jays.
▲ Lourdes Gurriel Jr. laced a 1-0 slider for strong single over the head of the shortstop.
▲ Randal Grichuk blooped a 1-1 slider over first base and pinch runner Jarrod Dyson went first to third.
▲ Breyvic Valera got another slider over the plate at 3-2 and lined it into centre for an out, though it was more than deep enough to score the speedy Dyson to make it 5-1.
▲ George Springer smacked a 2-2 fastball that tailed away from Mullins in centre field for yet another base hit. Grichuk went to third on the play.
▲ Marcus Semien swung over top of another slider that caught a lot of the zone, then saw a second one, slightly higher and more toward the middle of the plate, and managed to pull it just beyond the left field fence (despite the best efforts of O's left fielder Ryan McKenna). His three-run shot made it 8-1 Jays.
▲ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. smashed an 0-1 fastball at 109.8 mph off the bat between the third baseman and shortstop for yet another single, mercifully ending Scott's night.
▲ Bo Bichette got himself down 1-2 against new pitcher Manny Barreda, then reached for a slider on the edge of the zone and smoked it under the glove of the shortsop for another single.
▲ To cap it all off — though, actually, Kirk and Grichuk would also manage to work walks before the Orioles were finally able to put an end to the frame — Hernández got a 2-1 fastball over the heart of the plate and blasted it 445 feet at 110.6 mph into the Blue Jays’ bullpen deep in centre. Barreda knew it right away.
Sunday (Blue Jays 22 - Orioles 7)
The week ahead
The Jays are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the AL Wild card, having now caught and passed both the Yankees and Red Sox, as well as the A's and Mariners (remember them?). Of course, they're only ahead of Boston by fractions of percentage point, holding a .5594 winning percentage to the Red Sox' .5586. Nonetheless, the standings right now are a beautiful thing.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Jays, though, as they have a tricky series at home to the Rays coming up. I don’t think I have to tell anybody what a difficult time the Jays have had with the Rays this season — and, seemingly, every single goddamn season. Get ready for an edge-of-your-seat few weeks, Jays fans!
• Monday, 7:07 PM ET vs. Tampa Bay: RHP Alek Manoah (5-2, 3.71 ERA, 92 K/31 BB/11 HBP/85 IP) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (6-1, 1.46 ERA, 69 K/12 BB/55 1/3 IP)
• Tuesday, 7:07 PM ET vs. Tampa Bay: RHP José Berríos (11-7, 3.52 ERA, 177 K/42 BB/166 IP) vs. RHP Drew Rasmussen (2-1, 3.25 ERA, 65 K/23 BB/61 IP)
• Wednesday, 3:07 PM ET vs. Tampa Bay: LHP Robbie Ray (11-5, 2.69 ERA, 220 K/43 BB/170 1/3 IP) vs. RHP Michael Wacha (3-4, 5.37 ERA, 104 K/26 BB/105 2/3 IP)
• Thursday: Off
• On the weekend: At home vs. Minnesota
• Though the Rays will send McHugh to the mound to start the game here on Monday, he’s merely being used as an opener and the bulk of the innings will go to the dreaded Ryan Yarbrough. The lefty has a 4.21 ERA for his career and a 4.90 ERA this season, but against the Jays those marks are 2.41 and 2.49 respectively. Maybe this is finally the time they change that!
• The Jays announced here on Monday afternoon that Ryan Borucki is back with the club. The lefty has struggled through an injury-riddled campaign this year while also losing effectiveness (and spin rate) since the sticky stuff crackdown in mid-June. He hasn't pitched in the majors since August 6th. But with the Rays full of lefties, he’s not a bad option to have around.
• Heading the other way in the transaction is Trent Thornton, who returned to the Jays on Sunday as a replacement for Anthony Castro. These three guys, who all can be optioned, will likely be shuttled up and down more as the season winds to a close.
As you can see in the image above, the Red Sox, Yankees, A's, and Mariners all lost on Sunday. The Red Sox' loss to the White Sox and the Yankees' loss to the Mets were both particularly delcious. In Chicago the White Sox took a 1-0 lead over Boston into the ninth inning, only to have former Red Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel blow a save. But it mattered not as Leury García homered on an 0-2 fastball to walk it off. Then in the Sunday night game between the Yankees and Mets at Citi Field, the Yankees came back in the seventh to tie the game at six only to have Francisco Lindor blast a home run in the bottom of the eighth that would hold up as the winning run.
• The Yankees are back at it already today, trailing the Twins at home in a make-up game for an August rainout. They'll head to Baltimore for three before coming home to face Cleveland on the weekend. Their schedule stays light next week with a visit from the Rangers.
• The Red Sox out west facing the Mariners for three this week before hosting the Orioles on the weekend. The Mariners visit the Royals on the weekend and get four against the A's next week.
• Lastly, the A's are off here on Monday, then visit the Royals for three and the Angels over the weekend. They finish the season with seven against the Mariners and six with the Astros. Not easy!