TORONTO — The last time the Baltimore Orioles appeared on the Toronto Blue Jays’ schedule their presence was something of a relief.
Sweeping the hopeless husk of a ballclub helped the Blue Jays avoid 100 losses, a milestone that manager Charlie Montoyo had no interest in achieving.
“It’s almost like hitting .299 or .300,” he said. “It’s a big difference.”
When Baltimore rolled into town on Monday, though, it wasn’t as positive for the Blue Jays brass. Considering wins and losses no longer matter to the team, they’re exclusively in the player evaluation business, and it’s tough to make meaningful evaluation against a team like these Orioles.
"When you play not the good teams you don't really know [what to think] because a lot of guys get called up and you're not facing the best all the time,” Montoyo said before Monday’s ugly 11-10 marathon win.
Conversely, the Blue Jays’ tough schedule down the stretch, and their relative success against it, has been a point of pride for the skipper.
"The teams that are fighting for homefield advantage and trying to make the playoffs we faced their best all of the time and it was great to see how we competed," he said.
Put as honestly and directly as possible, the Orioles are dreadful - historically so and from a talent perspective. This team brought a 51-105 record to Rogers Centre and they’ve overachieved to manage that.
It’s hard to sift through games against teams of that ilk, because it’s hard to know what’s real. For instance, the Orioles sent Chandler Shephard to the mound - a 27-year-old 13th-round pick making his second MLB start. Randal Grichuk taking him deep in the first inning was impressive in the sense he hit a ball 414 feet, but he was also bashing a hanging slider from a Triple-A calibre pitcher.
Similarly it’s tricky to parse the home runs from Jonathan Davis and Brandon Drury, neither of which went impressive distances. A total of 10 home runs were allowed in the game, and only one of them was conceded by a guy sure to be in the majors next year - which is probably a generous assessment of Orioles’ southpaw Paul Fry.
Even Anthony Alford’s game-winning home run in the 15th came against Ryan Eades, a 27-year-old with 8.2 innings of big-league experience. The team’s ninth-inning rally came off Shawn Armstrong who brought a thoroughly-mediocre 5.43 ERA into the save situation. Its sequel in the 12th was courtesy of David Hess, a guy with a 5.91 ERA, and even worse 6.44 FIP in 181.1 IP over the last two years - establishing him as one of the very worst pitchers in the majors.
From start to finish, Monday’s 15-inning slog didn’t quite resemble an MLB-level event, and not just because it spanned well over five hours. The Blue Jays were missing their most exciting player in Bo Bichette, perhaps their most reliable thumper in Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and their token veteran hitter in Justin Smoak. They also sent a thoroughly-washed Clay Buchholz to the mound and watched him get lit up to the tune of six earned runs over four innings. Behind was a parade of replacement-level bullpen arms. In the other dugout, the Orioles were the Orioles.
If you were desperate to draw conclusions from the matchup, you could be particularly down on Buchholz or middle relievers Justin Shafer and Derek Law for poor performances against such an unimpressive slate of hitters. However, none are guys the Blue Jays are counting on going forward, and all of them are having rough years anyway (even if Shafer holds a superficially-palatable ERA). Perhaps you could point to Danny Jansen’s 0-for-6 against pretty brutal competition, but he was inches from a walk-off hit in the 12th when Jonathan Villar snagged a ball off his bat with an Expected Batting Average of .600.
When it comes to September games between non-contenders, it’s not fair to expect much. That said, the team the Orioles are brought to town, and the state of the Blue Jays pitching staff, are both so rough they make the game opaque from an evaluation standpoint.
Each remaining Blue Jays game is supposed to be an opportunity for the team to learn what they’ve got in-house. Theoretically, that’s what Monday was, but the club isn’t going to be able to get too serious about that until the Tampa Bay Rays roll into town on Friday.
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