(The) Twin('s Are) Killing (Me)

On two ugly losses, the Kiermaier flap, Borucki's suspension, Walker's outburst, an awful inning in Minnesota, Gurriel's and Hatch's injuries, missed opportunities, Matz, scoreboard watching, and more

The Toronto Blue Jays have lost two games in a row for the first time since August 26th and 27th. Uh… not great. So let’s talk about it!

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Wednesday (Blue Jays 1 - Rays 7)

I suppose we need to talk about this, eh? Here’s one down…

▼ The whole debacle

Sigh.

We’ll get to the baseball part of the game in a moment, but obviously the big story in this one was the Jays’ act of retaliation against Kevin Kiermaier for his “theft” of a card of scouting information that popped out of Alejandro Kirk’s glove essentially into his lap on Monday night. I want to be careful not to argue with ghosts here, but I can’t help but notice a whole lot of Jays fans who seem to morally object to this “theft” but are quite alright with baseball’s version of frontier justice, and I’m not really sure how they square that. Frankly, I’m also not so sure that a lot of these ultra-competitive folks would be quite as enthusiastic about a teammate in Kiermaier’s position politely declining to take the scouting card as they suggest. Which is to say that where one comes down on this, in a lot of cases, seems to depend on which team you support. Understandably, I suppose.

There are, of course, people who think both things are wrong, or that both things are no big deal, which in my view are valid takes. Personally, I think Ryan Borucki throwing at Kiermaier is dumb, but not really an outrage in the context of the sport. This happens. Players do this and have for a very long time. For me, the culprit is as much the league as the players, because they have shown absolutely no interest in trying to deter this stuff, as evidenced by the toothless three-game suspension and undisclosed fine handed down to Borucki on Thursday afternoon. (He’s appealing, but that was likely just to keep him available for Thursday’s game, and it’s expected he’ll drop the appeal on Friday.) Losing a player like Kiermaier to a potential injury would be a blow to the playoff-bound Rays, and I don’t understand why MLB wouldn’t want to better protect — for lack of a better word — their “assets.” (Yes, injuries in these situations are rare, but still!)

As for Kiermaier, I remain unbothered by what he did, though I suppose his string of changing excuses after the fact suggests that maybe he isn’t. I’m of the mind that if the Jays don’t want other teams to get their hands on that kind of proprietary information the onus is on them to not leave it on the damn field — just as the onus is on the pitcher and catcher to frequently change their signals up to prevent opponents from breaking the code.

I also think it’s important to try to keep some perspective on just what might have been on that card. Maybe I’m about to downplay it, because I obviously don’t know what it said and the Jays were certainly upset that it fell into “enemy” hands, but if there was actually any kind of fantastical information on there the Jays probably wouldn’t have allowed 4.4 runs per game over 19 contests with the Rays this season. It definitely would have given an indication of how the Blue Jays organization thinks, which is something the Rays would have already been trying to glean through advance scouting. Laying such things out for them obviously gives the Rays a hand in that, so it’s not nothing. It’s not great that they have this. But these aren’t exactly the nuclear codes. The Rays hitters’ tendencies aren’t something the Rays don’t already know. The way the Jays intend to attack their hitters could be useful information, but pitch sequencing is so fluid that it really could have only been expressed in generalities. And, as I said when I last wrote about the issue, the fact that the Jays know the Rays have all this counteracts a ton of the benefit immediately.

That said, the Rays sure were able to get to Blue Jays pitching on Wednesday night. Particularly in the third inning, when Ross Stripling and Tayler Saucedo were tagged for six runs on six hits and a walk. However, I suspect that has more to do with the fact they were facing post-IL Ross Stripling (four earned runs on seven hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings before Wednesday night) and Tayler Saucedo. Otherwise, they used their ill-gotten gains to pick up one run on five hits and two walks over their other seven frames. (Yes, I know that’s not how it works.)

Then we had the eighth. After a pair of strikeouts in a 7-1 game, Borucki intentionally plunked Kiermaier. Tempers flared. And then, after Borucki was ejected, Pete Walker’s temper really flared.

My first thought was that this outburst might have had as much to do with the way the umpires had been absolute garbage for the first two games of the series as it was about Borucki getting ejected. Either way, he got his money’s worth.

People love this stuff! And yeah, like a hockey fight, it undeniably gets a rise out of you when you’re watching. Also like a hockey fight, it doesn’t change a damn thing about the game. But that’s OK. Nobody’s getting CTE from this. Give ‘em hell, Pete.

Now, do I think this shows that Walker actually has passion and a desperately needed willingness to stand up for his team, unlike that soft, passionless loser Charlie Montoyo? No. Is some profanity-laden rant from me going to change the mind of anyone who bizarrely thinks that way and refuses to recognize that a huge part of Charlie’s job description is clearly to keep the tensions low and the vibes loose? Also no. So let’s just leave it at that.

Anyway this game was bad!

Tuesday (Blue Jays 2 - Twins 7)

Good lord. Here’s three down…

▼ The bottom of the fifth

Welp. Innings sure don’t get much worse than this.

Thomas Hatch began the frame by walking Josh Donaldson. He then gave up a hard hit double to left-centre that centre fielder Randal Grichuk and left fielder Loudes Gurriel Jr. converged on. Grichuk ended up with the ball and made the throw with Gurriel crouched in front of him, but his momentum carried him forward, and his right foot came right down on Gurriel’s hand.

Gurriel was visibly in a lot of pain and had to leave the game. Per a mid-game update from the Jays he was taken for X-rays, which came back negative. He did, however, require two stitches to close a cut from Grichuk’s cleat.

If he misses any time, or isn't the same for a while after this, it's going to be a blow. Gurriel has been crucial to the Jays' late surge, posting a 155 wRC+ since the All-Star break and a ridiculous 209 wRC+ in September. This month he's slashed .360/.424/.760, has hit seven home runs, and knocked in 18 runs. The Jays need his production, or will need it from elsewhere. It could be a critical loss.

Less significant but still a loss is Hatch, who induced an RBI groundout from Luis Arráez, managed to get Miguel Sanó to strike out, but then looked increasingly uncomfortable during a four pitch walk to Brent Rooker.

Truthfully, Hatch clearly hadn’t been himself all night. His fastball averaged just 92.2 mph, which is 1.9 mph below his season average, and well down from his 95.5 mph average as a reliever in 2020. It was just that on his last pitch to Rooker, he couldn’t hide it any longer.

The news on this one is better than it could have been, as the Jays announced that the issue was “hamstring discomfort.”

With Hyun Jin Ryu out, Hatch could have been called on to some big innings for the club down the stretch — especially if he looked anything like he did last season. Now that’s all on pause.

Someone did have to finish off this inning though, and it was Julian Merryweather who got the call. Unfortunately, as has been the case since his return from a nearly season-long stint on the IL, he wasn’t at his best.

Quickly down 2-0 to Nick Gordon, Merryweather battled back to even the count with a couple good fastballs at the top of the zone. Then he threw him a changeup, 83 mph, a little bit lower and a little bit more toward the middle of the plate. A batting practice fastball, in essence.

Gordon, whose career high for home runs in a season as a pro is the nine he hit in 122 games at Double-A in 2017, made no mistake.

Ughhhh. 6-2 Twins.

▼ Missed opportunities

The Jays scored just two runs from 11 hits and four walks in this one. It was a second straight frustrating and unhappy night for the usually jovial club. But there were two moments in particular the stood out where the game could have really changed in the Jays favour but didn't.

In the top of the sixth, still reeling from Gordon's home run, the Jays got something of a fresh start as Nick Vincent replaced starter Michael Pineda. Corey Dickerson immediately worked a walk, then moved to second on an errant pick-off throw. Randal Grichuk and Brevic Valera couldn't cash him in, but Danny Jansen managed a two-out single to left.

Naturally, Dickerson was running on contact and seemed for a second to have a chance to score — or so third base coach Luis Rivera thought. Rivera started to windmill his arm to wave Dickerson in, but realized that the ball had reached the left fielder Arráez rather quickly and, presumably, that Arráez — who had been a mid-game replacement in left for Max Kepler, who had taken ill, and has spent the bulk of his time this season at third base — has a strong arm. He feebly threw up a late stop sign — as you can see him doing at the bottom of the below clip — but Dickerson blew past it and was D.O.A. at the plate.

Yeah, there were two outs, and yes, George Springer, the batter due up, was in the middle of an 0-for-5 night and is now 2 for his last 28. But the Springer of Thursday night isn't the Springer of last week. He's wearing his usual high socks again — an indicator that he's finally out of the knee brace he'd been forced to wear since his late August return from the IL — and was spotted doing some drills in the outfield before the game started. He also hit two balls off the bat at over 100 mph in this one. It's not showing up in the numbers yet, but the return to the real Springer could come at any moment. He didn’t get a chance to try here, but he absolutely should have.

It’s never good to get thrown out at the plate, obviously, but when you have the top of the order coming up and are in need of a big inning? Oof.

Springer would get a chance to make a big impact in this one, though.

In the eighth inning the Jays managed to load the bases against Luke "John Farrell's son" Farrell, which brought Springer up to face a new pitcher: Ralph "Matt" Garza Jr.

Garza is actually kind of amazing. Not necessarily good, but amazing. Or at least novel. A right-hander who throws a curve and a sinker sidearm to right-handed batters, and a four-seamer, cutter, slider, and change from a regular three-quarters delivery to left-handers.

He came into this one with a 2.67 ERA, but FIP (4.90) liked him quite a bit less, and he'd been rather homer-prone, having allowed five in just 27 innings this season. With the score at this point 7-2, one swing of the bat from Springer couldn’t have tied it up, but a hit or a walk to pass the baton? Good things could have really started happening.

It just wasn’t meant to be.

▼ Steven Matz

Steven Matz has been so good for the Jays in the second half that I think it’s fair to say that he’s allowed a dud every once in a while. And though this was technically his second poor outing in three, he only allowed two runs. That makes it just once in 10 starts, dating to the end of July, that he's allowed more than two earned.

That said, he was only able to last three innings against the Twins, allowing seven hits and two walks over that span, and needing 80 pitches to get there, including a 38 pitch third inning. He got out of that frame with a couple big bases loaded strikeouts, limiting the damage he allowed to just two runs, but it almost got very ugly.

We don’t need to belabour it, but after using six pitchers on Wednesday, the Jays really could have used more out of Matz in this one.

Scoreboard watching

We’re really in it now, aren’t we? The Yankees and the Red Sox were idle on Thursday night, but they still gained ground on the Jays. Toronto now sits on the outside of the wild card race looking in at 1.0 games back of the New York and 3.0 games back of Boston. Even Seattle, on a five-game winning streak including four straight over the A’s, is now within just a single game of the Jays.

The Jays’ situation is better than that makes it sound, though. But before we talk about that, let’s take a look at the state of the AL wild card race as of the conclusion of play on Thursday night.

OK, so why is the Jays’ situation better than it seems? The short answer is the schedule. The Jays have three games over the weekend against lowly Minnesota, and they’ll send their three best starters — José Berríos, Robbie Ray, and Alek Manoah — to the hill in succession against them. Meanwhile, the Red Sox and Yankees will face each other, ensuring that at least one of those teams will lose twice.

Beyond that, Boston will visit the Orioles next week and then the Nationals next weekend, which gives them a great chance of maintaining their position atop the AL wild card race. The Yankees, on the other hand, will go from Boston to a series in Toronto with the Jays next week. They’ll then have to host the Rays for their final three games of the regular season while the Jays host the Orioles.

If you were asked to pick the hardest of those schedules it wouldn’t exactly be difficult: NYY-BAL-WAS and MIN-NYY-BAL are basically a toss-up. BOS-TOR-TBR is quite tough. So, even at a game back for the moment, the Jays really still control their own destiny. They’ve just got to stop pissing games away — and against the lowly Twins ought to be able to do that, Thursday’s result not withstanding. (Seattle’s ANA-OAK-ANA schedule, with the final two of those series at home, gives them a shot too, to be fair.)

Speaking of games to potentially be pissed away, on Friday at 8:10 PM ET the Jays have Berríos making his Target Field return against Baily Ober, who was tagged for four runs over four innings at Rogers Centre last weekend. An hour earlier the Yankees will turn to Gerrit Cole, who will be looking to bounce back from last week’s hilarious seven run blow-up against Cleveland, while the Red Sox counter with Nathan Eovaldi (2.72 FIP, 5.5 fWAR).

Playoffs? They’re basically already here.