Eight straight! How sweep it is!

On a massive Blue Jays sweep, playoff odds, Thursday's win, Bichette's turnaround, Gurriel's throw, Berríos's importance, Jansen's streak, manufacturing runs, VLAD, the upcoming weekend and more!

The Toronto Blue Jays did it again, beating the New York Yankees on their home turf in the Bronx to sweep a four-game set and run their winning streak to eight games. So let’s talk about it!

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The Jays and Yankees played another smashingly entertaining ballgame on Thursday night — something I’m sure I’d be less inclined to say if the score had been reversed, but that nonetheless would have still been accurate. There were twists and turns and a ton of simply excellent baseball, particularly on the side of the Blue Jays, who remained one of the hottest teams in baseball by winning their eighth straight, and their eleventh in twelve games. Um… holy shit!

Yes, you’re seeing that playoff odds chart right: the Blue Jays now have a better chance of making it to the postseason than they did back on August 8, when they had just finished their first homestand in Toronto since 2019 with a 9-2 record and everything seemed possible.

Let that sink in for a second.

This too:

The amazing thing about it — you know, other than the fact that it’s happening at all — is that you absolutely cannot say that the Jays’ play hasn’t warranted all this. They are finally — finally! — getting great pitching performances from their starters and relievers at the same time as their offence has come alive. They could have simply had more games like these over the course of the season and saved us all several months of heartache and frustration. But blasting back into the playoff race all at once? That works too.

And though their task this season is still far from complete, they’ve given themselves the platform to get it done, and right now it’s pretty impossible not to believe.

Anyway, here’s three up, three down minus the down. Six up!

Thursday (Blue Jays 6 - Yankees 3)

▲ Bo Bichette getting the party started early

Bo Bichette gets himself into a lot of two-strike counts, but he generally finds a way to make it work, and that's exactly what happened at the beginning of the first inning in this one. Leading off the game, Bichette took a fastball from Nestor Cortes Jr. for ball one, then proceeded to foul off six straight pitches. The eighth pitch of the at-bat was a changeup low and outside that he read well enough to not chase, and then pitch nine was a four-seamer on the inside of the zone that he turned on and clubbed into the left field seats.

It was tremendous, violent swing, followed by a beautifully knowing disposal of the bat as he began his saunter around the bases, fully confident — and correctly so — of what he’d just done. 1-0 Blue Jays. They would never trail.

Bichette has slumped a little since the All-Star break, posting just a 97 wRC+ over that span mostly due to his slugging percentage dipping below .400 to .390. At least temporarily. His lead-off blast on Thursday came at the start of a three-hit night (which also included a stolen base!) which pushed his wRC+ on the season from 114 to 116. That's still low for him, but if he gets on track, look out. (And even if he hovers in that range for the rest of the month, that still makes him a tremendously valuable player, especially considering the strides he's taken on the defensive side of the ball this season.)

It’s worth noting here too that one of the other two hits Bichette had on the day was a two-out RBI single in the top of the seventh to cash Danny Jansen from second base (after he’d doubled with two outs, and Jake Lamb, pinch hitting for Kevin Smith, reached base on a hit-by-pitch) and put the Jays back on top at 3-2. You love to see it!

▲ Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s incredible throw

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been a key offensive threat for the Jays during this incredible streak, having slashed a prepostrous .375/.429/.875 in the month of September heading into Thursday's affair. He brought those numbers down with a 1-for-5 night at the plate, but still made himself vitally important for the Jays.

With the game still on a knife's edge in the bottom of the fourth inning — the score still just 1-0 Jays, and starter José Berríos looking to rebound from a nervy two-hit third inning — slugger Giancarlo Stanton hit what looked like a sure double to start the frame. Though the hitters to follow, Gleyber Torres and Joey Gallo, have struggled of late, this was still trouble.

Or, at least, it would have been. Instead, Gurriel played the ball perfectly off the wall in left field with his bare hand, then let his rocket of an arm do the rest.

It took a few moments for the umpiring crew to review the play and overturn what was originally a safe call, but that hardly made it any less spectacular. It also allowed Berríos a chance to relax a little, which he exactly did, striking out Torres and Gallo on five pitches to send the game to the fifth.

▲ Berríos not being undone by the awful hit preceding Rizzo’s homer

Jays starter José Berríos pitched another great game on Thursday — his third straight since, with the assistance of Pete Walker and the Jays’ coaching staff, simplifying his windup in order to keep himself better in line with the plate and (as we learned from Arash Madani during Sportsnet’s broadcast on Thursday) avoid tipping his pitches. Frankly, he deserves a full up arrow of his own here for a performance that saw him allow just two runs over 6 2/3 very strong innings, surrendering just five hits and two walks while striking out eight. But what was I going to do, hand out seven up arrows? Absurd!

Plus, here we are talking about his great performance anyway. We're just coming at it from a slightly different angle: one of appreciation for the fact that he didn’t succumb to a tough break he was dealt in the bottom of the sixth in the form of a bullshit one-out single off the bat of Aaron Judge that careened off of the third base bag and out to Bo Bichette at shortstop.

Would that one have been a tough play for Kevin Smith at third base? Oh definitely. But I wouldn’t put it past him to make it. And Judge being on base made it that much more difficult to see Berríos make maybe his only awful pitch of the night to the next batter, Anthony Rizzo, who walloped it to tie the game at two. (The Jays had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth on Randal Grichuk’s 22nd home run of the season — which apparently doesn’t get its own up arrow either. Sorry, Grich.)

That’s not exactly where you want to put a 1-0 fastball to a big league hitter! And yet, as we’ve already seen a few times this season, Berríos bent but didn’t break. He proceeded to strike out Stanton and Torres to end the inning, then gave the Jays two more big outs in the seventh — both strikeouts — to help save the tired bullpen. (A necessity, it turns out, given what we saw from Nate Pearson — who certainly won’t be getting an up arrow either — in the ninth.)

Berríos seems to genuinely have righted the ship now, and that’s huge. They Jays are going to need him.

▲ Working an insurance run in the eighth

Wandy Peralta came into the game for the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded, two outs, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at the dish. He did an admirable job in getting out of that one, striking out Vlad on four pitches, but when he returned for the eighth things didn’t go nearly so well.

Teoscar Hernández worked himself a walk to lead off the inning, but ended up getting thrown out trying to steal second. Alejandro Kirk followed suit with a walk of his own (then was immediately replaced by pinch runner Breyvic Valera). Peralta caught a bad break when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a tailor made double-play ball to short but second baseman Tyler Wade muffed an easy throw from Torres resulting in both runners being safe. A Randal Grichuk single loaded the bases for Danny Jansen.

Jansen, of course, has looked like a different offensive player since his recent return from the injured list, having come into this one with three home runs in 20 second-half plate appearances while also walking as often as he's struck out. That sample is obviously incredibly small, but for a guy who was viewed all he way through the minors as a bat-first catcher, only to have his offence dry up and the narrative flip over the course of his first big league seasons, it's a pretty intriguing little run he's on.

In this particular situation, it wasn't his suddenly powerful bat that was needed though. Just his ability to take a walk, as Peralta threw him a steady dose of changeups that, as the at-bat progressed, Jansen managed to recognize well enough to lay off of. A six-pitch walk was the result, and another run for the Jays to make the score 4-2.

Breathing room. Not a lot of breathing room, mind you. But breathing room.

Fortunately for the Jays, they’d find even more of it in the next two half-innings.

▲ The Vlad and Mayza Show

The expectation at the start of this one was that closer Jordan Romano wouldn’t be available to the Jays after pitching on both Tuesday and Wednesday. That later appeared not to be true, as we saw Romano warming up at points in the ninth, but either way, Mayza ended up pitching in the biggest spot in this one — and nailing it, albeit with some help.

The Yankees had the top of their order coming up to start the eighth, and to make matters worse, instead of seeing Brett Gardner, Aaron Boone sent out D.J. LeMahieu to face Mayza — a much tougher assignment than going lefty on lefty against a 38-year-old with an 89 wRC+.

With the count at 2-2, LeMahieu reached out and dunked an outside pitch into right field for a single. Aaron Judge followed with a not particularly hard-hit single into left, and suddenly the Jays' 4-2 lead, their eight game winning streak, and their chances of pulling off a sweep began to seem precarious. Mayza hadn't been making bad pitches, but he was in trouble, with runners standing at first and second and no outs.

Enter Vlad.

Rizzo was the next batter up, and at 1-2 he tapped a grounder down the line to first base. Vlad, with the arm of a former third baseman, tried to start a double play, whipping the ball to Bo Bichette at second to get the lead runner, LeMahieu. The return throw never made it, but with Yankees on first and third with one out it was hard not to feel a little bit better. The next batter, Stanton, showed why. Keeping the double play alive, it turned out, was crucial, as Stanton rolled one to third baseman Jake Lamb. Lamb fed the ball to Marcus Semien, who made the turn and had to hurry a throw to first.

The throw wasn't quite perfect, but that merely gave Vlad the opportunity to show off another part of his new first baseman's skillset, as he made a good stretch for low ball to make the second out and end the inning with the Jays' 4-2 lead still intact.

Mayza was pumped up after that one, and how could he not be? How could anyone, apart from Yankees fans, not be???

Ah, but Vlad wasn’t even done just yet. He was on deck to start the top of the ninth, but was quickly pressed into action after Marcus Semien hit a first pitch fly ball for out number one. He took a different, more patient approach against Yankees reliever Andrew Heaney, quickly going up 1-0 on a curveball that missed before fouling off four tough fastballs, taking a changeup for a ball, fouling two more pitches off, taking a fastball up high to run the count full, then smashing a heater at the top of the zone the other way into the New York night.

The Jays would score another run in the frame, thanks partly to a burst of speed from Teoscar Hernández, who raced home on a Breyvic Valera double, and partly due to the fact that Yankees catcher couldn't come up with the ball even though the throw to the plate had beaten Teo there. Then, in the bottom half of the ninth, Nate Pearson would wobble enough to get Romano up and throwing (potentially for the third day in a row) before finishing the job. But really, the final inning-and-a-half of this one — like so many other innings this season — belonged to Vladdy, whose bomb was his 42nd of the year, while the RBI that went along with it was his 100th.

Those are lofty numbers for anyone, let alone a 22-year-old, and I’m sure you won’t have to look very hard to find some fun facts about just how special the things he’s been doing all year have been. Oh, wait. Here’s a good one:

Ho hum.

▲ Springer coming back and the Orioles coming up

Let the good times keep a-rollin’. The run of ‘21 is in full swing and things have a real chance to get even better still — at least until they have to face the Rays next week, in what genuinely could be an ALDS preview.

I say that not even just because the Jays now heading to Baltimore for four games with the Orioles this weekend. I say it because a lineup that has averaged 7.4 runs per game (note: LOL) in the month of September so far isn’t far from getting one of its best hitters back into action too!

This team is something else, man. Never in doubt.