Series Sum-up: at Houston, August 1-4

Edwin Encarnacion


Game 1: Monday, August 1st
Jays lose,  1-2 (14 innings)
Starting Pitcher: Marcus Stroman
Losing Pitcher: Scott Feldman


On this Trade Deadline Monday we got a look at the lineup minus Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, and it was not pretty. After seven innings through which a Jays runner had yet to reach third, Devon Travis finally got there in the 8th via a single and two wild pitches. They had stranded a runner in each of the 2nd through 6th innings, and would strand Travis as well. Jose Altuve put the Astros on the board with a solo home run in the 6th, which was one of only three hits Marcus Stroman gave up in seven innings of work. Stroman also set a new career high for himself in strikeouts, with thirteen (it had previously been nine). Russell Martin tied the game with an enormous solo shot of his own in the top of the 9th, and Jaoquin Benoit stranded a two-out walk to send it into extra innings.


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In spite of terrific work from the Toronto bullpen (Bo Schultz threw a perfect 8th, Joe Biagini caught a line drive, struck out two, and allowed just a single over two innings; Brett Cecil had a perfect 12th and Roberto Osuna stranded two runners in scoring position), their hitters couldn’t even get a man on base from the tenth onward. Eventually the recently-acquired Scott Feldman would allow a leadoff single in the 14th to Jose Altuve, then a double to Carlos Correa which scored Altuve and walked off the game for Feldman’s former team.


Game 2: Tuesday, August 2nd
Winning Pitcher: R.A. Dickey
Save: Jason Grilli


Behind a strong start from Dickey, which began with six scoreless innings, the Jays reversed the score from the previous game and held on through a close game. The first run was scored in the 3rd, with a two-out Jose Bautista solo shot. The 300th homer of Bautista’s career, it was the only run they scored that inning, in spite of three hits (a Josh Thole leadoff single was erased on a double play, then Josh Donaldson singled to left and was thrown out trying to advance to second). Edwin Encarnacion led off the next inning with a gigantic home run of his own, and the Jays had eight hits total on the evening.



The Astros’ lone run was in the 7th, with a double and an RBI single. Dickey left the game following that inning, stranding a runner. But what Dickey himself said should be the ‘story of the game‘ came next. Danny Barnes made his MLB debut pitching the next inning, facing the top of the Houston lineup with only a one-run lead. He got George Springer to pop out and struck out Alex Bregman before Altuve singled. The next hitter, Carlos Correa, also struck out swinging to end the inning. Grilli came in for the 9th and retired the side in order to end the game.


Game 3: Wednesday, August 3rd
Winning Pitcher: Marco Estrada
Save: Roberto Osuna


Yet again, the only runs the Blue Jays scored were on one-run homers. This time, the three came from Josh Donaldson in the 4th, Jose Bautista in the 6th, and then Donaldson again, right after him. It was the third time this year Donaldson had hit more than one homer in the same game. Other offensive highlights of the night included a Kevin Pillar bunt single, Russell Martin going 2-for-3 with a walk, and an Edwin Encarnacion double.


On the pitching side of things, Marco Estrada gave up just one run and four hits over seven innings, striking out seven along the way. His one run came on back-to-back doubles from Carlos Gonzalez and Jose Altuve in the 6th. Altuve only had the one hit in the game, but he could have had another if it weren’t for a certain center fielder…



In the bottom of the 8th, Altuve was up again, with his Astros ahead by two, men on second and third, and only one out. Russell Martin appeared to signal for an intentional walk, but instead John Gibbons walked out to the mound and told Joe Biagini to pitch to him. Altuve flew out to right field on the first pitch, and Biagini struck out the next hitter to escape the jam.


Game 4: Thursday, August 4th
Winning Pitcher: J.A. Happ
Save: Roberto Osuna


You know, the home runs were nice, but it’s good that they finally remembered how to play small-ball. Devon Travis started the game with a double, and scored on a Josh Donaldson groundout. Houston starter Mike Fiers shut them down for the next three innings, but then Russell Martin singled in the 5th, advanced to second on a wild pitch and to third on a Troy Tulowitzki single, then scored on another wild pitch. Tulo was back in the lineup for the first time after a hit-by-pitch caused a chip fracture in his thumb.


Kevin Pillar scored in the 8th after reaching on a fielder’s choice, stealing second and getting to third on yet another wild pitch, this one from Will Harris. Devon Travis then drove Pillar in with a single, his third hit of the game. Edwin Encarnacion led off the 9th with a home run because you didn’t think we were getting out of here without another solo HR, did you? His 30th of the year put his team ahead 4-1.


After four innings of one-hit ball, J.A. Happ allowed a leadoff double to Evan Gattis in the 5th, and then another double to Tyler White, scoring Gattis. Happ left after the 6th, and Jaoquin Benoit, Jason Grilli, and Roberto Osuna each threw a scoreless inning. Osuna struck out the side, and Grilli got some help from Devon Travis as the second baseman made a nice catch on a line drive to start a double play.


Russell Martin also made every defensive effort, albeit to no avail. In the 9th, he first caught a would-be foul pop-up that turned out to be a dead ball because it had bounced off the closed roof of Minute Maid Park. A few batters later, he chased another foul ball over – and very nearly into – the Astros dugout, where it bounced out of his reach and he toppled over the railing.



Overall Notes:

The non-waiver trade deadline was Monday, the day of the first game in this series. Once again, the Jays saved money on plane tickets by acquiring a player from the team across the field. This time, it was reliever Scott Feldman switching sides, in exchange for a prospect.


They also sent Jesse Chavez to the LA Dodgers, in exchange for reliever Mike Bolsinger. An interview with Bolsinger discussing his reaction to the trade can be found here. Additionally (and perhaps most surprisingly) they acquired two prospects and starting pitcher Francisco Liriano from the Pirates, with Drew Hutchison being sent to Pittsburgh. It was also announced before the start of this series that Franklin Morales had been designated for assignment. Ezequiel Carrera was placed on the DL with an Achilles strain Monday, the same day Ryan Goins returned from said DL. Goins played on Monday, but was optioned back to Buffalo the next day to make room for more relievers.


I love a good coincidence, and I’m really enjoying the fact that they scored 1 run, then 2, then 3 and then 4 in the first, second, third and fourth games respectively. Especially since those games happened to fall on the first, second, third and fourth days of the month.


Weirdly Specific Record Alert:

  • The Blue Jays set a new team record for strikeouts by batters in one game on Monday, with twenty-two (although it was extra innings).
  • Back in July, against Cleveland, their hitters had set a new team record for strikeouts in a four-game series, with fifty. This time around, they tied that record on just the third day. On the fourth, they broke the record and set a new all-time MLB record, reaching 59 strikeouts.


My favourite player(s) this series: Stroman/Dickey/Estrada/Happ/Biagini/Barnes

The starters were really phenomenal in this series, and due to the low-scoring nature of all four games they really gave their teams the best chance to win by each going six+ innings and holding the Astros to one run.


Stroman set a new career high for himself, as well as a new season high for the team, with thirteen strikeouts. He allowed just three hits and one walk. One of his more impressive moments came in the 5th inning, when he made a throwing error that allowed Tyler White to reach second on a ground ball. Instead of allowing the mistake to get to him, Stroman turned back around and battled Jason Castro for eight pitches to get a strikeout and end the inning.


R.A. Dickey’s deep start was important because it allowed the bullpen to get some much-needed rest. After the marathon, six-reliever game the night before, they were pretty thin in that department. He, too, held Houston to one run, allowing six hits and only one for extra bases. He didn’t walk anyone either, which was particularly impressive given that he has the most walks on the team.


Marco Estrada didn’t walk anyone either, and needed just 98 pitches as he gave up just four hits and struck out seven. He also kept alive a streak of 12 consecutive starts with three or fewer earned runs.


J.A. Happ won his ninth consecutive decision, giving him fifteen total, the most on the team. He only allowed four hits, one walk, and twice needed just six pitches in an inning.


Biagini threw two innings on Monday, allowing just one hit in a situation where any run would have ended the game. He threw nine pitches in his Tuesday outing, all of which were strikes. He was in a high-pressure situation – only ahead by two, with the tying run on second and the MLB hits leader at the plate. But he remained focused and escaped the inning without allowing anyone to score. The next day, as Joe Biagini is wont to do, he gave a silly interview where he theorized about why Gibbons left him in the game, concluding ‘I must have looked extra cute in my jersey, so he wanted to see more of me’.


Welcome to the big leagues, Danny Barnes! He was called up after the Jays used six relievers on Monday, and needed fresh arms in the bullpen. It’s not uncommon for a rookie to give up a run, or two (or seven) in their first appearance in the majors. This is why they’re often used in situations where it won’t matter. But Barnes came into a game with a one-run lead, and was calm and collected and only gave up one hit, a single. He also had his first two career strikeouts. For more on his appearance, and his reaction to it, read this John Lott article.


Where we are now:
Tied (with Baltimore) for first place in the AL East!


The bad news is, they had some trouble scoring runs without hitting home runs this series, which is a little worrisome. Especially because their next series is in Kansas City, in a park in which they rarely hit the longball.


The good news is, the pitchers were outstanding, both the starters and the bullpen (Feldman in Game 1 notwithstanding). Hopefully the deadline acquisitions will be able to help this trend continue.


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