PITTSBURGH – It was a blissful weekend at one of America’s largest ball parks, with Blue Jays fans vastly outnumbering the local nine backers.
The sweep was a bonus, capping three players with a very close 4-3 victory over the Pirates here at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon. The results definitely provided a quick start to the 10-game road trip, even if it was a sweep against the miserable, 49-84 Bucs.
But now it’s about to become a reality, starting with four games scheduled in the three-day series against the stubborn Orioles in Baltimore, beginning with a double dip on Monday.
The biggest series of the year? Now, anyway, let’s go with that.
“We know every game is going to be a playoff and how important and valuable it is, especially the four games that Baltimore will face,” Jays assistant Anthony Bass said Sunday. “The Baltimore series is going to set the tone for the rest of the way, especially because they’ve been playing so well lately.
“They are right behind us and we have to bury them behind us. We have to win those matches.”
They’re not really games to win, of course, but they’ll definitely feel that way when Jays enters the last 30 matches of the campaign.
Ideally, Jays would be at the top of the wild card race at worst now, rather than holding third place and only 1.5 games in the O before Sunday’s procedure.
Motivation is deep, starting with Bass’ meticulous assertion that they above all need to be taken care of by the brave O. Ideally, returning to Maryland for a season-ending series in Baltimore in early October wouldn’t be loaded with the pressure of securing a place in the post-season dance.
“We know we’re up against a lot of really good teams in our division, so we know every game is going to be a playoff,” said Bass, who was in the 1-2-3 eighth game on Sunday. “We try not to look too far ahead, but obviously we will write our fate here in the next week or two.”
Of the 30 games remaining on Jays’ schedule, 19 are against the Orioles (10) and Rays (9), a pair that could have a prominent role in Jays’ playoff image.
John Schneider made his managerial mark as the Blue Jays beat another Pittsburgh Pirates
Manoah shines in Blue Jays’ knockout win over Pirates
As tempting as it may be, Blue Jays are not in a position to look forward
Despite their uneven play at times, the Jays have won 12 of the past 17 games and in finishing their sixth sweep of the season, scoring 73-59 is now their 14th best of the season .500.
The challenge is that others in the AL wildcard race haven’t given up either. Entering Sunday’s play, the Mariners won eight out of the previous nine, and the Rays captured 11 of 13.
Interim manager John Schneider’s approach is for his players to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them and play with ease.
“Enjoying these moments and embracing the fact that that’s why you play… that’s the most important thing,” said Schneider. “They’ve been around each other long enough, for a few years, and I think the guys who came in here all got that. It’s a fun atmosphere.
“The more I can be in these places… this is still a relatively young core… the better for them to move forward.”
It’s quite clear that Schneider and his staff recognized the importance of the Baltimore Series and manipulated the spin accordingly. Kevin Gusman and Jose Berrios are set to start with a double header on Monday at Camden Yards followed by Mitch White and then Alec Manoah in the final on Wednesday.
“Right now, they realize they were in a playoff last year where they finished one short game,” said Schneider, whose team has now won nine of their last 10 games on the road. “They know what we have to do to improve a little bit and now we have a chance to write our face with the schedule we have set.”
They’ll bet on work on writing this story early Monday afternoon for what the Jays hope will be their own version of the Labor Day classic.
“Good teams take care of business,” said Sunday rookie Ross Stripling. “If we go to (Baltimore) and win three… that’s the motive.
“We understand that we are the better team.”
The game is running
The Jays had another strong outing from Ross Streibling who started on Sunday, which allowed two strokes and three runs over six innings. Hit the right hand eight while going three… Jays seemed to be sailing early, taking a 3-0 lead through four, the biggest hit being the single human presence Cavan Biggio. But the Buccaneers got back to it with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the half and then tied it up with Homer’s single Oneil Cruz in the fourth… Jays had a golden opportunity to grab a big lead in the sixth with loaded bases and one out. But a modest double-playing ground ball by Wyatt Merrifield ended that threat… The eighth started with some promise as well, with singles from Danny Jansen and Matt Chapman before Vlad Guerrero Jr. played a double. But when Tuscar Hernandez hit one shot through a hole on the field, the Jays led 4-3. The hitter to score his thirtieth block.
About the rules
Sunday was a rest day for George Springer and Schneider went with Matt Chapman in first… He had some way to travel after to get back into the major leagues, but Nate Pearson’s rehab took a good step forward on Sunday in Florida as he put in a goalless run for Dunedin Blue Jays. Pearson’s fastball was traveling at 99mph…Second baseman Santiago Espinal appears to have survived the fastball he took to his left hand on Friday. Espinal wasn’t in the squad on Sunday, but reported he had full mobility in his hand… The Jays fans’ traveling road show was well represented on the team’s first visit to this great sporting city since 2014.