Well, if I was gloating about my projections in last week’s recap, I’ll just be in the corner eating my hat this week. I wrote with reckless certainty that the Blue Jays would have a hard time with a strong Athletics team in Oakland, and then likely cruise through their two-game set at home against a feeble Giants outfit. Colour me stunned as the inverse occurred, with the Blue Jays sweeping up Oakland in three, and then finding their way into San Francisco’s dustbin in two. After the triumph in Oakland, I was planning the thesis of this recap along the lines of “are the Blue Jays a good team???” The Giants helped to cool that jet and reset my obviously excitable expectations.
Aside from Trent Thornton and Thomas Pannone in Tuesday’s opener against the Giants, and a shaky Ryan Tepera outing on Sunday, the theme of strong pitching carried the Jays through the week. Marcus Stroman was brilliant on Friday, with the coveted complete game just out of his reach after a double to lead off the Athletics’ ninth. Matt Shoemaker was dialled in for three innings on Saturday before exiting the 2019 season altogether, the result of a torn ACL suffered in a routine rundown. Sam Gaviglio threw four perfect innings in relief, perhaps as an audition bid for the newly unoccupied fifth starter position. Aaron Sanchez battled his control slightly on Sunday, but held the Athletics to one run and two hits over four innings. Apparently, he also battled a split fingernail and was lifted before the fifth. He’s not expected to miss a start, but history has not been kind to Sanchez and his ever-recurring blisters and broken fingernails. We’ll see how his Saturday start goes, but for too long we’ve been witness to the sad and Sisyphean tragedy that is Aaron Sanchez and his damned fingers.
Ken Giles, Joe Biagini, and Daniel Hudson have all hit nice strides out of the bullpen and have contributed solid innings recently. On the backside of his recent illness, Giles has at times looked shaky, but has not yet toppled. He’s registered seventeen strikeouts over 11.1 innings with an ERA+ of 191 and a FIP of 2.59, albeit with five walks thrown into the mix. Giles isn’t a world-beater, but he’s doing an admirable job at the back of an over-performing bullpen. Joe Biagini has also pitched 11.1 innings and also has an ERA+ of 191, but his FIP is up at 4.09. This is to be expected from a pitcher who is asked to throw multiple innings in a game. Biagini has only given up three runs on six hits and three walks with twelve strikeouts, good for a sub-1.000 WHIP. Daniel Hudson has been taken deep more than anyone in the pen, but his thirteen strikeouts to three walks in 10.2 innings have him at a healthy 4.33 K/BB ratio. He’s looking much better recently, and his 95+ mph fastball plays well at the back of this pen. It’s worth mentioning that Hudson may also work nicely as an opener. With the injury to Shoemaker, and Sanchez’s finger issues popping up again, combined with a lack of major-league-ready pitching depth, the Jays may look to adopt the opener strategy sometime soon. I’ve been banging this drum for a while, and now I think circumstances may force the team’s hand.
Up until the Giants series, the offense continued its upward swing. Eric Sogard has been a pleasant surprise since his call-up, admirably playing the role of sparkplug for a lineup that, for a time, was hitting everything. Through thirty-two plate appearances, Sogard is slashing .367/.406/.533 with an OPS of .940. He’s tied with Justin Smoak for the team lead in OPS+ at 155. Not bad for a bargain-bin veteran brought in as infield depth, and who, in an ideal world, would have spent the entire season in Buffalo. Freddy Galvis has continued steadily as ever, though his recent hamstring problem and a possible trip to the IL is a bit concerning. Galvis has been the undisputed leader of the Blue Jays offense so far this year, so having him out of the lineup for any amount of time is a big blow. It would be a shame not to mention his over-the-shoulder barehanded grab in Oakland on Saturday. Off the top of my head, the only other barehanded putout on a flyball I can recall is Kevin Mitchell’s barehanded snag from 1989 in St. Louis. His was a deep fly into foul ground in left field, and probably the result of a poor route. It kind of looks like he overran the ball a bit. Galvis’s grab, on the other hand, was a desperation act, and was performed while running away from the field. I think his was cooler/better/more impressive than Mitchell’s. Also, Kevin Mitchell went on to win the NL MVP in 1989. Is it too early to call this year’s AL MVP award for Freddy Galvis?
Richard Urena rejoined the Jays, filling the roster spot vacated by Matt Shoemaker. He’s picked up a couple of hits in eight at-bats, but it’s his work with the glove that has been spectacular. As sure-handed as Galvis is at shortstop, it’s nice to know the Jays have someone equally capable to man the six-spot.
I was wrong about two other things! First, I posited that Clay Buchholz might be the only Blue Jay ever with a double H in his name. This is not so. A day after posting last week’s recap, I received a text from fellow staff writer Wesley James that simply read “Eichhorn.” Facepalm. There was also a Taylor Buchholz who pitched two innings over two appearances for the Jays in 2010. Not only did I forget about a longtime Blue Jay bullpen ace, but I also forgot about a pitcher with the same surname.
Second, I was wrong about the possible timing of the most anticipated debut in Blue Jays history. Early indications were pointing towards Tuesday night’s game against the Giants. Obviously, that did not come to pass. Tonight’s game against Oakland will be the first for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and the eyes of the baseball world will be firmly fixed on Toronto and this twenty-year-old phenom. Guerrero Jr. hasn’t yet been officially added to the 25-man roster, but I’d imagine Richard Urena will be back in Buffalo as the corresponding move. Unfortunately for Urena, he has options, and he plays positions for which the Blue Jays have a glut of players.
Unflapped by my blunderous predictions last week, I’d like to take a stab at what the lineup might look like tonight, given it’s been in debate. Mike Fiers, a righty, is on the bump for Oakland. I’m also assuming Freddy Galvis won’t be healthy enough to start. Here’s my take:
SS – Eric Sogard
3B – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
1B – Justin Smoak
RF – Randal Grichuk
DH – Rowdy Tellez
2B – Brandon Drury
LF – Billy McKinney
C – Danny Jansen
CF – Socrates Brito
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