The Toronto Blue Jays came off a midweek sweep at the hands of the Angels that could only be properly summarized by starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez as “just [expletive] brutal.”
If the weekday series against the Angels was brutal, I think it would be fair to categorize the weekend set with the Texas Rangers as “miserable” at best. The Blue Jays were blown out on Saturday and Sunday, and the only salvaged win was an exhausting 1-0 game in 12 innings during a consistent downpour of rain.
So no, it wasn’t pretty, but there are always little things to take away from even the worst sets of games. Here are three positive and three negatives from the series loss to the Rangers.
Sogard as it gets - I think we all know that this whole Eric Sogard thing is available for a limited time only, but until he stops getting on base I won’t have much reason to stop putting him in the column.
Sogard once again reached at least once in every game of this series and on Sunday connected for his CAREER HIGH fourth home run of the season. He’s only played 15 games! He has only had one game in his Blue Jays career where he didn’t get at least one hit, and he’s already third on the team in walks with 10.
It seems pointless to play the “he’s going to regress” card at this point, because any player in baseball short of maybe Mike Trout would regress from a three-week span like this. He’s a 33-year-old utility guy who has two career seasons with an OPS above .600, so there’s a long way to go down to get back to where he normally is.
In the meantime, it’s an easy story to get behind and until the big fall happens, it is funny to go “well thank goodness for Sogard being in the lineup” and mean it.
Friday’s pitching - When you get 12 scoreless innings pitched from your staff, don’t ask questions, just say thank you and chalk up the W. Friday night’s game was a scoreless, sloppy marathon played mostly in heavy rain, but that doesn’t change the raw fact that six Blue Jays pitchers combined to give up four hits and not allow a run.
Trent Thornton, who really needed a solid start, gave up just one hit and walked two over seven innings. He limited hard contact and stayed out of trouble, which got him the deepest he has been into a game all season.
Tim Mayza, Joe Biagini, Ryan Tepera, Daniel Hudson, and Ken Giles combined for another five shutout innings, with only Tepera needing to get out of trouble when he loaded the bases in the 10th.
It may have been a bit of a blessing in disguise, as Blue Jays pitching basically got shelled for the remainder of the weekend, but it was Friday’s combined effort that salvaged the series from being a second straight sweep.
Maile on the mound - To put it politely, the two series this week from the Blue Jays were flat and uninspired.
You can say it was the immediate aftermath of a fresh wave of rumours that the team is expected to sell off its veterans, or that it is already making a second trip to the West Coast in the first month of the season. Whatever it is, sometimes a team going through it like the Jays are going through it this week just needs a reason to smile.
To that end, I don’t think it was a terrible time for Charlie Montoyo to turn to backup catcher Luke Maile to pitch the final inning of a 10-2 loss in the last game of the series.
If nothing else, it gives everyone on the team a reason to flash a quick smile at the end of a bad week, and him striking out the last batter he faced was a reason to get a fresh round of high fives in the dugout after a game that had gone sideways.
Every other moment that leads to “backup catcher pitching an inning” is obviously quite bad, but sometimes in the middle of a bad streak you need to be reminded to lighten up just a touch.
The 5th starter problem - Thomas Pannone has been mostly quite good in his nine appearances out of the bullpen. His ERA is under 4.00 as a reliever and more often than not he has come in, done his job, and been fine.
In his two starts, however, Pannone has been absolutely shelled. He’s given up 11 runs in his five innings of work as a starter, not making it out of the third inning in either appearance.
There aren’t a ton of other incredibly inspiring options to fit into that slot in the rotation. Sean Reid-Foley is struggling at Triple-A and a litany of injured arms are not sounding much closer to returning, so it is going to be a regular question mark about who fills that spot of the rotation.
Sam Gaviglio has been excellent so far in a long relief role, and two more good innings on Saturday lowered his ERA to 1.21 over 22 innings this season. That might have earned him at least consideration for the next time through, even if it gets framed as an ‘opener’ appearance with a three-inning target.
Clayton Richard is a hopeful two weeks away, but we don’t even know what a healthy Richard can reasonably be expected to contribute. It isn’t ever easy to be digging this deep into your pitching depth, and this weekend is what it looks like when things go wrong.
Buchholz belted - Clay Buchholz was mostly playing with fire in his first four turns through the rotation. A lack of a true ‘out’ pitch and velocity below 90 mph is a tough way to try to navigate through major league lineups without being beat up, and the chickens came home to roost in a big way on Sunday.
The Rangers teed off on Buchholz throughout the afternoon, picking up seven runs through four innings to put into motion an absolute blowout.
As described in the point above, the team has big-time issues looming in the back end of the rotation, and Buchholz’s turn comes the day after the empty slot. If those days are being conceded as likely bullpen-heavy outings, having Buchholz max out at five innings the very next day is not a lot for relievers to look forward to. It also adds even more onto the plate of Marcus Stroman to go deep the next game to provide a rest for the ‘pen.
Buchholz danced his way through these issues to put up a stellar ERA last year, but it may be asking a lot from him to do it again. His ERA is 6.57 after Sunday’s loss, which feels a lot closer to his current stuff than last year’s 2.01.
Guerrero grounded - No, we’re not panicking - I’m not panicking - and we’re not writing him off in any way, shape, or form, but it would be hard to not notice that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a ton of ground balls in this series.
In total he hit nine grounders in 13 plate appearances in the three games, a sign that the Rangers got him off balance and out of his timing a little bit here in the first week of his major-league career.
The grounders weren’t all bad - he collected his first career RBI with a ground ball and beat out an infield single on Friday - but they are decidedly not what people are tuning in to see when he steps to the plate.
Of course, in as bright and as big of letters as I can possibly get away with typing on this website, this is NOT cause for concern. He’s still very young and very new, and every player to ever pick up a bat is going to have weeks like this. Vladdy Jr. is eventually going to be hitting the ball very hard and very far, and we will all remember the time he hit a bunch of grounders as a hilarious anecdote of a far worse time in our lives.
The very bad 1-5 road trip is over, and the Blue Jays return home to host the Minnesota Twins for three games at the Rogers Centre. That’s a lot of flying all over the continent to fit into one week, but settling back into the comfort of their own home should be a welcome reprieve from a rough week away.
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