Game 1: Friday, April 29
JAYS WIN! 6-1
Winning Pitcher: Aaron Sanchez
Pitching 6 innings with only 2 hits and one walk – plus eight strikeouts – would be a pretty good line for most people. Unless you’re Drew Smyly, and both of those hits were home runs, and your own team only managed to score one run so you get stuck with the loss. Sanchez, on the other hand, went seven scoreless innings, gave up six hits and two walks, and had six strikeouts. Drew Storen gave up the lone Tampa run, a solo shot to Brad Miller in the 8th. Also, Rays manager Kevin Cash got ejected for arguing about the strike zone, and Brandon Guyer got Thrown Out On the Basepaths Like A Nincompoop! What fun!
We can only imagine how different playing the Rays last season would have been had Michael Saunders been healthy. He homered twice in this game, meaning three of his four home runs so far this year are against Tampa Bay pitching (two off Smyly alone). Josh Donaldson mashed his eighth homer of the year, and also scored after walking in the 8th when Justin Smoak drove him and Jose Bautista in. Ryan Goins rounded out the Jays’ first 4-homer game of 2016 with an opposite-field dinger (his first this season) off Jhan Marinez in the 9th.
Have we done something to tick off the baseball gods? I’m not sure what else would explain all the close losses the Jays have suffered so far. For a while, it looked like it was going to be one of those low-scoring wins to brag about – scoring 2 runs on only 1 hit, off Chris Archer, etc. But then, as it is wont to do, the 7th inning happened.
Allow me to set the stage: Archer walked Josh Donaldson in the third in a scoreless game. Donaldson came around to score on a Jose Bautista home run, the first Jays hit of the game. In the bottom of the third, Kevin Kiermaier walked, stole 2nd, and was batted in by Logan Forsythe, making it 2-1. That’s how it stayed until the bottom of the 6th, when a solo homer from Evan Longoria tied the game. Then came a Kevin Pillar home run (his first of the year) in the 7th, off reliever Enny Romero. But that lead was short-lived, as Forsythe homered in the same inning to tie it again. In the 9th, the Rays walked it off in typically annoying Rays style, after three consecutive no-out hits off Cecil. The first hit that inning (and eventual winning run) was a flukey pinch-hit Brad Miller single to first. You read that right. He singled to first.
Now, in an alternate universe, Cecil could have backed up better, or Justin Smoak could have gotten to the bag faster. Cecil also could have turned around and gotten the next three guys out, rendering the single moot. But let’s not forget that the Jays 4- 5- and 6-hitters were combined 0-for-12 in this game. Not one of those three reached base. Pillar and Bautista were probably the most productive members of the lineup, as they had the only hits of the night: Jose with his 2-RBI homer, and KP with a walk, home run, and a double. (You will notice I listed Pillar’s walk first, as it was the most surprising – on four pitches, no less!) So, yes, Cecil had a terrible night. But Happ’s nice start is hard to overlook, and the offense didn’t give them much to work with.
Game 3: Sunday, May 1st
JAYS WIN! 5-1
Winning Pitcher: Marcus Stroman
Happy Birthday to the StroShow!! His teammates gave him the gift of a win – albeit a nail-biter. In spite of Stroman’s strong showing of 8 innings, only allowing 3 hits and one run (a solo Evan Longoria homer in the 6th), the game was tied when he ended the 8th. Donaldson had started the scoring with his own solo homer in the 4th inning, but the Jays had only managed three other baserunners through the first 8.
The Jays managed to pull ahead in the 9th, after a Darwin Barney pinch-hit double, back-to-back walks to Saunders and Donaldson that loaded the bases with no outs, and then Edwin Encarnacion grounded out, bringing Barney home. I was still a little stressed, because as has been proven time and again this season, a one-run lead in Tampa is rarely safe. Until it turned into a four-run lead when Troy Tulowitzki hammered an Alex Colome fastball deep into center field.
“There’s some insurance”, indeed. Roberto Osuna came on for the bottom of the 9th and struck out two.
Winning a series at the Trop is a huge relief, and exceedingly rare, so it’s nice to be able to enjoy that. They’ve also begun scoring more runs later in the game to pull ahead – four between the 8th and 9th on Friday, and four in the 9th inning on Sunday.
Weirdly Specific Record Alert:
- Russell Martin set a new team record by striking out in nine consecutive at-bats. Yikes. (The previous record was seven)
- Brett Cecil became the first MLB reliever ever recorded to have five losses in the month of April
My favourite player(s) this series: Stroman/Donaldson
There is one word to succinctly describe the rotation’s performance this series, and that word is WOW. But rather than having three favourite players this week, I have to give it to Stroman. He struck out a career high of nine hitters, and only walked two. Aside from Longoria’s home run, he allowed just four baserunners (two each in the 1st and 3rd) and stranded them all. He threw only five pitches in the 2nd inning, and even participated quite nicely in the defense.
Josh Donaldson proved through all of April that he could live up to his 2015 stats, and this series was no exception. He reached base twice in each game, with two home runs and four walks. He also had 2 RBI and scored three runs. Our MVP is now leading the American League in homers, and leads all of MLB in runs scored.
Where we are now:
3rd place, 3 games back of the Orioles and Red Sox
The bad news is, some of the core members of the lineup still seem to be struggling. Russell Martin in particular was visibly frustrated after going 0-for-3 in Game 3.
The good news is, they’ve reached an even 7-7 on the road, and they won’t be back at the Trop until September! Hoping to improve on their 5-7 record at home, the Jay return to Toronto this week for a 4-game series against the Texas Rangers, then a weekend series with the L.A. Dodgers. It promises to be an exciting homestand!
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