ARLINGTON, Texas – This season’s front end couldn’t have done better with the Toronto Blue Jays, and now the challenge really mounts with eight base games against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles.
The defeat match in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Texas Rangers, capped by an 8-2 road trip that cemented their grip on a wild spot, was all about improving the looming showdown with Reese.
Jose Berrios was playing his Globe Life Field Final before a crowd of 20,984 spectators, but facing five games in four days against his arch-rivals, the Blue Jays chose their best four-armed formation for the occasion. Berrios got the opener, followed by Alek Manoah and likely Mitch White in Tuesday’s twin bill, with Ross Strebling and Kevin Gusman getting the last two matches.
The Blue Jays have another gap to fill in Friday’s opener against the Orioles, and without a viable Triple-A option, there is a possibility, with Berrios and Manoah to follow.
It’s time to let him ride.
“It was a great road trip,” said interim manager John Schneider. “The guys really compete and play really well overall. I really like where we are as a group and look forward to an exciting week at home.”
The standings remain tight, with the Seattle Mariners (79-61), the Rays (78-60) and the Blue Jays (78-61) half a game for each other in the three wild cards. The Orioles (73-67) 5.5 games are off their pace and in danger of falling out of the mix.
“Really our season is in the next two weeks with the number of games we have head-to-head against Reese and Orioles. That’s what he’s going to tell us here. “We’ve done really well lately from playing right now, and understanding that you have to take care of the Buccaneers, you have to take care of the winable Rangers. Don’t look forward to the rays. Kind of did that maybe in the last game against the Cubs at Rogers Center (loss 7-5). 31st August), let that match slip away and maybe look forward to a winnable streak. But for the most part I feel like we’ve really stayed in the moment.”
The Buccaneers’ three-game sweep, three of four in Baltimore and two of three against Rangers talk about it. The Blue Jays had their chances against Martin Perez for an additional win, but they couldn’t combat both Rob Drake’s interpretation of left-wing referee and compound on the field, a somewhat liberal interpretation of the strike zone deep in the Texas heart.
Questionable calls against Matt Chapman, who was caught looking at 3-2 and Wyatt Merryfield, buried 1-2 with two planning strokes, helped end a two-and-a-half-lose career, for example, while Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., And Alejandro Kirk all looked at the sky at different points.
Any hitter who walks into this one really earns it.
“We were trying to get Perez off the board and he did a really good job of hitting her there. I’m sure Jonah Heim got huge acclaim from (Rangers coach) Bobby Wilson for picking it up,” Schneider said in a diplomatically witty manner. “I was impressed that the players stuck to their approach and game plan and kept their cool and I think that’s a sign of a really good team that is growing somewhat as well.”
Just as he did a week ago against the Buccaneers, Trevor Richards started this but couldn’t escape the first half, giving up the Nathaniel Lowe RBI double and leaving the bases loaded to David Phelps, who cleverly limited the damage.
Phelps followed by two seconds before handing the reins over to Yossi Kikuchi, who pushed Cory Seeger to finish the frame before giving up a two-round shot in the third for Adulis Garcia. The left had two more for fourth, but also left loaded bases for Zach Pope, who shot Garcia and then followed suit with three, three on five.
Julian Meriwether then threw two frames without goals before Anthony Bass tackled the eighth, giving up a lone shot to Liodi Tavares.
Finally, it was a strong team effort.
“We gave our team a chance,” Phelps said. “The goal is to put zeros, but we saw what our attack could do. Even in that ninth inning there, we were a few flips away. I think it speaks to the resilience of our club that when we have a busy day, it’s man after man picking up on each other. We talked about it because I feel like in the last three or four months now, it would take 26, and now 28 men to fight for each other, lift each other up to get to where we want to go.”
Using six reducers before five games in four days isn’t optimal, but part of the Blue Jays account is that Berrios, Manoah, Gausman and Stripling are reliable enough to anticipate six rounds from them, allowing them to spread the roles. Tuesday’s double-header will challenge that, but this is a position that has been imposed on them due to their lack of turning depth and that means an even bigger loss for the four core starters.
“We’ve strategically tried to get the guys an extra day here or there, and we’ve rotated that through the main four guys,” Schneider said. “You are strong and all the matches are great, especially when you come home and have a mixed double head in there against Tampa. Hopefully we can get through that and we can line up whoever we want with the right rest. That’s kind of the plan now.”
The Blue Jays are so far 4-6 against the Rays and 6-7 against the Orioles and after keeping up with the standings, tie-breaking merits will also be on the line. After next week, four more games loom in Tampa Bay while there are still three more games against the leading New York Yankees, and while that’s unlikely, a race in AL East is out of the question.
“It’s going to be key for us,” said Teoscar Hernandez, who has returned from paternity leave with two hits, including the next two series. “That’s going to determine if we’re going to fight for a playoff or if we’re going to be where we say, OK, we just have to play hard and try to stay where we are at.”
However, following a three-city, 10-game road trip, eight matches in seven days against fellow rivals is going to be tough. The Blue Jays, after a 6-1 road trip to New York and Boston in late August, came home and played one of the worst series of the season, a three-game sweep by the Los Angeles Angels.
They will dive into the clash with Rays after a transcontinental journey.
“Everyone at the big leagues is tired now,” Chapman said. “What really sets guys apart is how strong you mentally are. We have high expectations but you don’t go out there and try to force yourself to play. Let it come to you. Live in the moment. Control what you can control and trick yourself into finding ways to get the job done.”
Phelps added, “Every guy at the club knows what this team can do. At the end of the day, we’ve spent the whole season in a playoff zone. We know what we can do. We know what we want to do. If we can keep winning series, we’re in Really good place.”