The Jays lose an epic battle with the White Sox and an umpire
On Doug Eddings, Dyan Cease, Kevin Gausman, Tim Mayza, Santiago Espinal, Alejandro Kirk, a wasted comeback, extras heartbreak, George Springer, outfield shifts, and more!
The Blue Jays and White Sox played a four-hour-long advertisement for robot umpires on Tuesday night in Chicago. There were twists, there were turns. There were moments of rage, there were moments of delight. There were heroes, there were villains. The game had absolutely everything, except a Blue Jays win.
So let’s talk about it! Here’s three down…
Down: The battle against Doug Eddings
I try not to spend a ton of time around here worrying too much about umpires. I’m not a conspiracy theorist about it. Calls usually even out. These guys are human and they have a really difficult job that has only become more and more difficult as velocity in the game has increased. It cannot possibly be easy for a 53-year-old to stand for four hours in 35° heat and make inch-perfect calls on 97 mph heaters and 87 mph power sliders.
That said, holy shit! I know it’s very easy to get blinded by recency bias in moments like this, but I’m not sure I can recall as bad a strike zone in my life.
The White Sox dealt with it too, and they have every right to be as mad, but the thing that sticks out to me is just how ludicrously good a zone it was for Sox starter Dylan Cease in particular.
Cease's most-used secondary offering is his slider, which breaks to his glove side and lives up and down the outside edge of the plate to right-handed hitters. Gausman, of course, uses his splitter, which has arm-side run and dives low and inside to right-handers.
Eddings' puffy zone, particularly to the outside to right-handers, was giving away free strikes in territory that Cease simply works in much more often and more comfortably than Gausman. So, what we ended up seeing were not just zones that looked noticeably lopsided, but Gausman going to his slider far more often (27%) than in any other start of the year (12.6% usage on average) — presumably in an attempt to get more of the kinds of calls that Cease was.
Under the circumstances, Gausman battled well against a pitcher who would later say he felt his slider was “unhittable” — which, yeah Dylan, when you’re getting an extra five inches off the plate, that’s probably going to be the case.
Whereas Cease struck out 11 over six innings, allowing just one hit and only two balls struck at 95+ mph, Gausman gave up a pair of runs on seven hits and two walks with seven Ks over six innings. On most nights that would be good enough for a win, unfortunately Cease plus a helping hand from behind the plate was just too good.
Now, the Jays did other things that lost them this game. There were baserunning mistakes. There were less-than-patient plate appearances at crucial spots in extra innings. They were burned by more than one of those too-clever-by-half shifts — which I’m sure are less noticeable when they work out and probably not as bad as they sometimes feel, but are very noticeable when they don’t work out!
They also don’t have much in the way of a bullpen, it turns out. Especially when Tim Mayza can hardly buy a call despite pitching to spots that had been considered part of the zone all night!
They also had Santiago Espinal managing just a single walk in five plate appearances, which… uh… I… oh, lord that’s brutal.
The 3-2 called strike call on Espy to end the eighth with the bases loaded and the Jays up by just two runs was particularly egregious, given where two other pitches had been called balls in that very same at-bat.
Anyway, again, the White Sox had to deal with Eddings’ inconsistency and general awfulness too. Highlighting it isn’t as much about “woe is us” stuff as it is bewilderment — or so I’m telling myself. Either way, I’d have have liked to see these two pitchers, and these two teams, go at it with some level of normalcy and competence from the human calling the balls and strikes.
Or, better still, with no human being asked to do that at all.
Down: Wasting a great comeback
The comeback in this one was maybe not as spectacular as the one the Jays pulled against the Yankees on Sunday or nearly did against these White Sox on Monday night, but it was nearly as satisfying, considering the two-headed monster they’d faced in the form of Cease and Eddings. Alejandro Kirk got things started with a solo home run in the seventh, because of course he did. The world’s most popular catcher is now up to a 148 wRC+ on the year, the identical number to what Mookie Betts and Byron Buxton have produced. Lmao!
Kirk started his at-bat looking at a pair of called strikes — the second of which was, of course, well off the plate — before working his way back to a full count by laying off a trio of sliders and fouling off a four-seamer and a changeup from Jimmy Lambert. When he finally got his pitch to hit, he made no mistake.
An inning later, with Davis Martin inexplicably in to protect a 2-1 White Sox lead (despite the much better Kendal Graveman clearly being available, as he showed up later on in the game), the Jays clawed back with walks and singles. And not particularly authoritative singles, either.
Matt Chapman worked a four-pitch walk to start the frame before Lourdes Gurriel Jr. tapped one toward third that died in the grass and left the White Sox without a play. Raimel Tapia then successfully bunted Chapman and Gurriel ahead a base — a questionable play when trailing on the road, especially with George Springer about to come out of the game with elbow soreness (more on that in "Other Notes," ugh) and Cavan Biggio coming up, but one I didn't hate (though had it not been successful I might be singing a different tune). Biggio then flared one just beyond the reach of Tim Anderson out beyond second base to tie the game.
Bo Bichette then chopped a ball to third that got over the head of third baseman Danny Mendick, giving Biggio enough time to get to second safely before Anderson could field it and make a throw to Josh Harrison at the bag. Vladdy then walked to load the bases. Kirk walked, overcoming yet another absurd called strike to give the Jays a two-run cushion, before back-to-back strikeouts to Teoscar Hernández (his third of the night) and Espinal (the egregious one addressed above) ended the threat.
Sadly, after a gutty performance from Yimi Garcia in the bottom of the eighth, it would be Jordan Romano — easily the Jays’ best reliever all season long, and one of the best in the American League — who gave it all back.
Romano's fastball was down 0.7 mph from his average this year, sitting at just 95.7 (he averaged 97.5 last season), and he struggled to command both it and his slider, perhaps owing to the sweaty conditions. Whatever the issue, it was apparent fairly early that he didn't have his best stuff — though not so quickly that there was anything Charlie Montoyo and Pete Walker could do to rush him out of the game. Nor should they have wanted to, really. A five-pitch walk to Harrison was followed by a double play that brought the Jays within an out of victory. Romano then walked Anderson on four pitches and afterwards gave up a double to Andrew Vaughn on an 0-1 slider that was right down the middle.
Tough situation, but with two outs and the game on the line there is no one the Jays would rather have on the hill. Unfortunately, Luis Robert singled to bring him two runs and tie it up. José Abreu also singled, though Robert was held at third. By this point Romano had thrown just seven pitches since the Anderson walk — the first point at which it was even conceivable that the Jays would have rushed someone into action in the bullpen. Even with a mound visit to buy extra time, I don't think anyone could have come in sooner.
Romano stayed in to face A.J. Pollock, who on a 1-2 pitch hit a sinking liner to centre that was spectacularly caught by defensive sub Bradley Zimmer, who had to come a long way into left-centre, as he was following the Jays’ orders and shading Pollock toward the opposite field, literally saving the game.
You hate to see Romano not have his best stuff and blow a save on any day, but after all that? Oof.
To extra innings we went!
THE BATFLIP is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Down: The bitter end
The Jays started out the tenth inning about as well as they could, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. smashing a double to score the "free runner," Bo Bichette, from second. Unfortunately the Jays could do no further damage, despite an Espinal walk. Matt Chapman struck out to end the frame on — you guessed it! — a called strike that certainly looked low (thought the more accurate Statcast data has it right on the line at the bottom of the zone, unlike what many saw on their MLB apps).
Tim Mayza was then called upon to try to keep the White Sox' free runner from scoring, but like Romano he didn't seem to be at his best — though, as noted above, Eddings' wacky zone didn't offer him much help. Mayza threw only sinkers in this one, not a single pitch of another variety. A walk, a strikeout, and a pair of soft singles tied the game. The only hard hit ball produced off Mayza came from Anderson, who with the bases loaded, just one out, and the infield drawn in, smashed a ball straight to Bo Bichette who started the rare 6-2-3 double play.
The Jays would strike quickly again in the 11th, with Sox pitcher Vince Velasquez balking free runner Matt Chapman to third base before he even threw a pitch (which I'm sure White Sox fans had no strong opinions about!). Gurriel was then hit by a pitch and Raimel Tapia singled Chapman home to push the Jays out front. Cavan Biggio — who, remember, was in the leadoff spot for Springer — bunted the runners to second and third, giving the Jays two cracks at putting more on the board, with Bichette and Guerrero due up. Alas, the pair saw just three pitches combined — not ideal, though they did swing at fair pitches to hit that would have been called strikes had they not swung — as they both grounded out.
Matt Gage came in for the bottom of the inning and was fortunate to have the White Sox playing for just one run. Adam Haseley bunted Tim Anderson to third to start the frame. Luis Robert hit a sac fly to tie it. Gage then got Abreu to strike out swinging.
The Jays would, unfortunately, come up empty in the 12th — though not before Espinal had a chance to get victimized by the awful zone again, as he watched an outside fastball that should have made the count 3-1 be called a strike to make it 2-2, then eventually flying out. Gage would again do a nice job in the bottom of the inning, getting to within a strike of escaping and forcing a 13th but the veteran Harrison stroked a well-placed 1-2 slider into centre to walk it off.
• As mentioned, George Springer left this game with what the Jays called “right elbow discomfort.” That’s not good! Though it’s proooooobably a good sign that this is something he’d been dealing with for “a while,” according to Charlie Montoyo, and had been able to play through it. He’ll likely not go in Wednesday’s finale and, per Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet, will continue to undergo testing. “The Blue Jays hope to know more Wednesday,” Arden adds. *Fingers crossed so hard they may snap off.*
• A good mini-thread here on Wednesday morning from Joshua Howsam on the Jays' outfield shifts, which, because Substack/Gmail cuts off messages after certain point and embedded tweets take up a lot of precious kilobytes, I will simply quote as text so as not to push this thing beyond those limits.
There was a lot of anger at the Jays' outfield shifts last night (from me included).
I should say that I do sort of understand the concepts behind it. A batter is more likely to hit a ball the other way that is catchable (not a ball over your head or the fence).
That sort of shows up in the data (two images below are outs and hits on flyballs/liners to the OF from RHBs).
That said, you can also see a number of balls going for singles and doubles that would almost certainly be caught with normal depth.
I look at this chart, and I can justify covering that RCF gap. But to me that would mean playing the RF closer to the CF, not all the OFs pushed to the opposite field. They aren't even catching that many extra balls down the RF line.
• The Jays have Ross Stripling on the hill for Wednesday’s afternoon game, and they’re going to need some length out of him considering that five relievers were used in this one. Stripling has done about as well as can be expected in that regard during his spells as a starter this year, but as we can see from this chart via Props.cash — player prop research made easy! — only three times in eight starts has he managed to reach five innings of work (15 outs).
The Jays are probably going to need reinforcements. Tomorrow’s day off will be welcomed by this bullpen, I suspect.
• Lastly, Nick and I had the pleasure of podcasting live after this one, talking deep into the night and taking your calls. Be sure to find it on your podcast app of choice — like Apple, Spotify, or Google — and to get the Callin app and follow Blue Jays Happy Hour so that you can join us next time. We’ll be back again on Thursday’s off-day!
⚾ Be sure to follow me on Twitter // Follow the Batflip on Facebook // Want to support without going through Substack? You could always send cash to email@example.com on Paypal or via Interac e-Transfer. I assure you I won’t say no. ⚾