The Jays didn’t help themselves by going 4-3 last week. At this stage of the season, they need to run off a winning streak to push themselves back into the wild card hunt. The Yankees are seven games ahead in the loss column, and the Red Sox (who hold the last wild card slot) are four games up. Toronto does not play Boston again this season, but they do have seven games left against the Yanks. Either way, Canada’s favorite baseball team has to make a move now to get into the chase for October playoff baseball.
How Springer’s Return Impacts Blue Jays Lineup
The Blue Jays lead baseball in home runs, on pace to hit more than 240 souvenir balls this season. That even though their #1 offseason acquisition, free agent star George Springer, has played only 49 games due to injuries. This week, Springer returned from the Injured List to assume his position in the lineup. How might his presence impact the last month of the season?
Despite his injury woes in his first season north of the border, Springer has shown power. The right-handed center fielder has 16 home runs in only 184 at-bats through Monday’s games. He has a .610 slugging percentage, which if it qualified, would be up there in Shohei Ohtani territory among league leaders. Now that Springer is back at the top of the Toronto lineup, his presence should filter down to his teammates, providing more scoring opportunities. Springer has worked hard since he first arrived in the league with Houston to cut down on his strikeouts, concentrating on putting the ball in play, especially with two strikes. He’s also a tough out late in games where he makes pitchers throw pitches. His patience can lead to better matchups for the batters who follow him.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. is having an MVP caliber season, and Marcus Semien (32 jacks) and Teoscar Hernandez (.295, 22 HR) are making the Blue Jay lineup deeper and more troublesome. With Springer back, more runs will go on the board in the final weeks of the season, even if Toronto doesn’t get themselves back into the wild card hunt.
Battle Of The Birds: Jays Vs. Orioles, Monday-Wednesday
This week the Jays will play two home series: the first against the woeful Orioles, and the second one a weekend three-gamer against another team on the outskirts of the playoffs, the A’s. On Monday, Toronto pounced on Baltimore in the middle innings to win going away, 7-2. In that contest, Robbie Ray won his tenth game. He won’t win the Cy Young, but Ray will get some votes for his fine season.
In the second and third games, Toronto will pitch Hyun Jin Ryu and Steven Matz. The left-handed Ryu is coming off his worst start of the season, having allowed seven earned runs in less than four innings last Thursday against the White Sox. Matz was superb in August, allowing no more than two runs in any of his five starts, with a 1.30 ERA.
The Orioles are bad. Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters bad. This means the Jays will be heavily favored at home, but these aren’t walkover wins, the Jays will need to pitch well to sweep Baltimore. They probably will.
The Pretenders Series: Jays Vs. A’s, Friday-Sunday
As I write this, the A’s are 2 1/2 games back of the final wild card spot, and Toronto site 5 1/2 back. Both teams made the expanded playoffs in 2020, but a return trip is looking more unlikely. The A’s and Jays, in addition to rhyming, share the same vibe for ’21: missed opportunities. Their three game series this weekend at Rogers Centre pits two teams facing the reality that instead of contenders they were pretenders this season. Still, there should be plenty of reason to watch.
Alek Manoah will pitch on Friday night, giving fans a chance to see one of the best rookie pitchers in the game. In his last start against Detroit, Manoah took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before he finally surrendered a hit. He struck out eight in that game against zero walks. The kid seems to gain confidence with every start, and after a performance like his last one against the Tigers, I suspect Manoah will be tough again at home against the A’s.
In some ways, José Berríos was even more impressive in his last start than Manoah. On Sunday he struck out 11 Tigers to earn his ninth win. He faced Oakland one previous time in ’21, back in April when he was with the Twins. But Berríos is in a different uniform and has a much better command of his pitches than he did then. He’s a promising strikeout pitcher who has just enough wildness to make batters squeamish.
The finale of the weekend series will pit Ray against Cole Irvin, a tall lefty who pitches to contact. That won’t work well against the hard-swinging Jays, and I expect the Toronto lineup to have a good time lining up his pitches on Sunday.