The Blue Jays had 12 hits as they scored nine runs for the first time since scoring the same total against the Baltimore Orioles on July 30, winning a battle of the Majors’ two best teams since May 31. There was a scary moment in the third when Edwin Encarnacion was hit on the hand by a fastball that Fiers delivered from a lower arm angle after setting him up with two outside breaking balls. But a one-out double two innings later and his 33rd homer of the season in the seventh suggested the hand was just fine.
The Blue Jays tacked on three more runs in the eighth on an RBI single by Melvin Upton Jr., a bases-loaded walk to Donaldson and a sacrifice fly by Encarnacion.
The Astros runs came on an infield hit by Teoscar Hernandez in the second and a solo homer by Jason Castro to lead off the seventh. Stroman was replaced by Joaquin Benoit one batter later, and it was Benoit who was rescued by Martin’s defence after giving up two singles.
Martin received a standing ovation as he jogged back to his defensive position after his play, with several of his teammates on the top step to show their appreciation. Stroman, whom Martin credited with having “good action on his fastball … when he’s sharp and everything is on he’s a really tough at bat,” was the first person to greet the catcher at the foot of the dugout when the inning ended.
Considerable leather was flashed: A brilliant, but now commonplace Tulowitzki gem in the late going, a couple of fine plays in the outfield and a timely grab by reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson to end Houston’s last real threat of the game in the top of the seventh with a pair of runners on against leading MVP candidate Jose Altuve.
Most impressively, just before the Altuve at-bat, Martin had made a spectacular play, crashing into the protective barrier and going onto his back nearly into the Astros dugout to corral a pop fly after Joaquin Benoit had given up two hard singles in a row.
This was all after Stroman, erratic early, had settled into one of his best starts of the year, the latest solid turn by a member of the starting staff.
He had lost his previous two starts heading in (though one of them was a 13-strikeout, hard luck gem) and dropped his ERA to 4.63, the lowest it has been since late-May. The eight strikeouts were tied for Stroman’s third-most this season and perhaps more importantly, he did not walk a batter for only the third time all year (though he did drill first basemen Miguel Gonzalez on the knee early on, forcing him to leave the game).
The much-improved bullpen did its job, shutting down the pesky Astros from there, sending the Jays on to Yankee Stadium for three games against the now rebuilding Yankees.
The Jays had actually played some smallball early on on Sunday, with Donaldson executing a fine sacrifice to send Devon Travis to third after Travis had laced the first Houston pitch of the game to left for a standup double. Travis later scored on a Tulowitzki single.
We had 12 hits on the day. Tulo had 3 (and 3 RBI). Travis, Edwin, Martin and Upton had 2 each. Upton also managed to get himself picked off at first base. Ceciliani had the other hit. A Travis single set up a bases loaded Donaldson walk, followed by Edwin getting a sac fly (even though Buck said it was inning over).
Edwin also took a pitch off his hand early in the game. It looked bad at the time, but he had a double, a homer and a sac fly after that, so he must be ok.
Jays of the Day: Stroman (.186 WPA), Tulo (.310) and Ceciliani (.129). I’m giving one to Edwin and Martin too.
No Suckage Jays. Smoak had the low mark at -.085.
The first place Jays are heading to New York to play the Arodless Yankees.
There was Russell Martin hitting a key home run for a second straight day, after Troy Tulowitzki broke the game open with two-run homer in the fifth, as the Jays eventually cruised to a 9-2 win Sunday at the Rogers Centre.
Martin, who had a three-run homer Saturday, also made a spectacular catch, leaning over the Astros dugout rail to snare a foul ball for a key out in the seventh, with two men on base for Houston.
There was also a timely pitching effort from Marcus Stroman, who has been somewhat overshadowed by the big three in the rotation — J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez — but who has always been a key piece to the Jays drive for the post-season.
With a personal three-game winless streak heading in, Stroman not only shut down MVP candidate Jose Altuve, he contained a very good Houston offence, giving up one earned run on five hits over 6 1/3 innings to improve to 9-5.
Stroman continued to pitch effectively until allowing a Jason Castro solo home run in the top of the 7th. He was relieved by Joaquin Benoit who allowed a couple hits before escaping the inning without further damage.
Encarnacion showed no signs of being hit on the hand, and added a solo shot of his own in the 7th inning, bringing the game to 6-2.
The Jays added another run in the bottom of the 8th on a Melvin Upton Jr RBI single, which scored Russell Martin. They eventually loaded the bases before Josh Donaldson walked with the bases loaded, and Encarnacion followed with another RBI sacrifice fly, to make it 9-2.
Brett Cecil came on in the 9th inning and gave the Jays another encouraging outing as the stretch run begins, pitching a 1-2-3 frame.
The Blue Jays extended their AL leading attendance to nearly 2.5 million thus far this season. The club has not had a season that surpassed 3 million since the 1993 season, and look to easily surpass that number in the not so distant future.
Troy Tulowitzki hit his 20th homer and drove in three runs, Edwin Encarnacion connected on his 33rd home run, and the Blue Jays crushed the Astros to take the series. Marcus Stroman struck out eight over 6.1 sharp innings of work.
With his homage to Carlton Fisk on the 13th pitch that narrowly missed the foul pole, Travis demonstrated an uncanny knack for fighting off pitches in all quadrants of the strike zone. He fouled off low pitches, high pitches, off-speed outside junk, inner busting fastballs. Each time it looked as if he might be flummoxed or overmatched, he compensated. Every time Villanueva tried to put him away, Devon refused and pushed back with a quality swing fighting off a quality pitch. It was as disciplined an exposition of plate coverage that you simply don’t see very much with this team considering more than half the lineup is on track for over 100 strikeouts individually.
I recently compared his offensive tools and center-of-gravity batting stance to a favourite player of mine during the 80’s and 90’s – a stout, doggedly defiant batsman with terrific plate discipline who challenged pitchers at every turn and went deep into every count. And while I don’t necessarily expect Travis to be half the player Kirby Puckett was, I have a sneaking suspicion that the former is well aware of the latter’s American League exploits. Kirby was a catalyst for the ages – situational hitting, sacrificing, bunting, and driving the ball while leading by example and winning championships (1987, 1991), and yet perennially underestimated for being too slow and too stocky in an era which embraced cookie cutter hitting archetypes.
One thing is certain – the future is bright and exciting for Travis. He has the adoration of teammates, the trust of management, and the growing respect of a fan base thrilled to have a real ace in the hole who might make them remember Roy Halladay for all the right reasons. Oh, and the Force is probably with him – a 2.4 WAR in 62 games which has many pundits and media outlets believing in him again as both a serious player and a respected leadoff hitter.
It’s pretty slim-pickings, but that’s what you get in August after the non-waiver deadline. Fortunately the club is pretty well set up in the depth department, and has managed to stay relatively healthy this season, all things considered.
“What you throw in the season is fine. What you have to do is be able to adjust in the winter and that’s where I screwed up. I had the same program in the winter come hell or high water and I threw the 266 [in 2003 after 239.1 in 2002] and then I threw 133. If you have a longer season you need to back yourself off. Maybe they can start [Sanchez] two or three starts back [the next year], let him work his way into the season, but I think it’s very important that you adjust him. Same in the bullpen [between starts], you throw 120 pitches out there, don’t go down and throw 60 in the bullpen. Being able to adjust is the big thing.
“And I know the trainers here are on that, but [Sanchez] can’t be on the same program everyone else is. They’re going to have to be careful, slow him down and then taper him into a season. …
“Really, it’s just listening to your body and it’s hard as a young player because you don’t really know yet what it’s going to take to be consistent for a season. My best thing would be to sit down with the trainers and develop a program based on him with the idea in mind of being careful about the extra work he did during the season.
“Instead of being ready to pitch in a nine-inning game his first start in spring training, be ready to throw a strong 45-pitch bullpen. Then take 15 down there and 30 out on the field, just back it up enough to where he’s working his way into it. But at this point of his career, he really needs to lean on the training staff. George [Poulis] knows what I went through, let them lead him in the right direction.”
If Halladay gets the call from Cooperstown down the line, he confirmed Sunday that he would join Roberto Alomar as only the second baseball Hall of Famer to go in wearing a Blue Jays cap.
“Oh, I’d go as a Blue Jay. I wanted to retire here too, this is the bulk of my career,” he said.
“I loved being here, I absolutely loved it, I’m just thankful to be back. It hasn’t been a consistent trip for me to get back, so I’m very excited to be here.”
Halladay isn’t sure if he did enough to get in (203 wins, 105 losses, a career 3.38 ERA, two Cy Young awards and two second-place finishes), but won’t be crushed if he doesn’t.
“I would have really had a hard time with it,” Halladay said. “But that’s what all the guys in the four-man said (when MLB went to five). They’re like, ‘Man, these guys are soft.’
“If you have the kind of pitchers that (the Jays) do and a strong bullpen, it’s got to be beneficial. You’re saving arms. The guys are fresher every time they go out. It seems like so many more advantages. It’s probably more of a selfish thing to be able to want to pitch on a four-day or five-day. There’s times when you have a bad start and that would be hard to sit on for five days. That, for me, would be the tough part is having a short 2-3-4 inning start and then thinking, man, I have to wait this much longer to get out there again.”
Jays manager John Gibbons laughed when told about Halladay’s reaction to being in a six-man rotation, completely understanding after managing his extreme ace for five seasons.
“I think what helped (Stroman) today, he was on six days’ rest,” Gibbons delivered, with tongue in cheek. ”I think we’ve got to look for a couple of turns anyway, before we decide what we’re going to do. To be fair, to give an honest assessment.”
So the beat goes on with the extra man in the Jays rotation through August, but I don’t believe this was what Drake was referring to when he coined “The 6ix” as a nickname for Toronto.
So, here we are the Jays are in first (not by much granted) and have 44 games to go. The race is still tight though obviously, while the Rays are out of it – though not mathematically for a while yet – both the Orioles and Red Sox are within 2 games, and at 6.5 the Yankees can’t be counted out either. Where are we going to end up at the end of the season?
It’s impossible to predict with certainty, but that has never stopped people from making projections. So, why don’t we do that today. Instead of just making a guess, I am going to use a formula developed by Bill James called the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball. In case you’re not familiar with the formula, let me give a brief overview (which I am summarizing from baseball-reference.com).
Basically the theory says that the extent to which a team outscores its opponents is a good predictor of its winning percentage. The formula is as follows (Runs Scored * Runs Scored)/[(Runs Scored * Runs Scored) + (Runs Allowed + Runs Allowed)] = winning percentage. The thinking is that while a team’s win-loss percentage may vary over the course of the season, by the end it will eventually be fairly close to matching what you can derive from the formula.
So, below is how the division looks right now (after all games ended on August 14th).—
Ducks on the pond: Martin’s three-run homer Saturday, and Tulwitzki’s two-run shot Sunday, gave the Jays something they have struggled with for over a month — home runs with runners on base.
Entering Sunday’s game, 21 of the Jays previous 23 homers had been solo shots.
JFtC: Do you feel like you were rushed through the system without any real development?
DP: You know, when I look back there’s sometimes where I wish I had’ve had a little bit more experience. Obviously 2014 was great but there was a lot of stuff in 2015 that I never saw before you know? Guys throwing me back door cutters, front door two seams, backfoot sliders with consistency, mixing their pitches – I’m not always getting a 2-0 fastball – stuff like that. Those are things I never really learned because I was in high A for half the year and guys fall behind, they just throw you a fastball you know? I can hit a fastball. It’s just about thinking with the pitcher and trying to figure out what he’s going to throw you, and sticking with your approach.
McGuire has struggled for good reason at the plate. His swing needs a lot of work. He starts from a normal hitting crouch, but then he has a notable leg kick as he strides forward, drops his hands down, and then leads his swing with his hands, with his barrel trailing behind. This leads to excellent bat control for McGuire, and it’s notable that he doesn’t strike out much at all because of this.
His hand placement does have a number of negative issues, though. He ends up struggling to get his body in alignment to truly drive a ball, and, to that point, both extra base hits that I watched were flare hits that found a hole between two outfielders, not pitches driven hard. He has his hands released before his hips get fired within his swing, which leaves his power struggling. The bat head trails the hands, and while that gives control, it also means that McGuire struggles to drive pitches.
I really wanted to see something that was going to be a quick or “easy” fix on McGuire’s swing, but I simply cannot see it here. His swing will need a whole tear down and rebuild to work at the big league level.
Finding success with that mindset hasn’t been an issue this season as DeGraaf has had more positive outings than negative ones. Currently maintaining a 1.19 WHIP and supporting a 3.94 SO/W ratio shows the kind of command that the righty brings to the ballpark every night.
DeGraaf’s excellent numbers comes from his understanding on how to utilize his skills to their fullest potential. Realizing that he’s not a power arm and that he’ll have to rely on sinking the ball low in the zone to get outs has worked out well for the 23-year old pitcher.
“I’m not a flame thrower,” explained DeGraaf. “I try to work low in the zone. There’s times that doesn’t happen. But the goal is to always get ahead in counts with my sinker to work in my other pitches. It varies at times, but the key is commanding the pitch and throwing strikes with my fastball.”
Keeping the ball low is extremely important for DeGraaf as his sinker usually sits in the 89 to 92 miles per hour range. When his sinker is clicking he can work in his slider and changeup which makes him an effective pitcher in numerous situations.
“I’m using the off-speed and fine-tuning my fastball location more in professional baseball,” explained DeGraaf. “It’s important to throw it on the outer third, on the black, at the knees. It takes a lot of practice, as it’s a big transition. With the off-speed I group it in with different strategies.”
Especially impressed with DeGraaf’s feel for the changeup. Lansing Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware believes that ability has contributed to the success the righty has found in the Midwest League all season.
Dunedin Blue Jays 4, Brevard County Manatees 3
The Brevard County Manatees didn’t make it easy on the Dunedin Blue Jays, taking them to extra innings, then scoring in the top of the 10th. Then, in the bottom of the 10th, the Blue Jays took advantage of some defensive miscues to score two runs. Josh Almonte singled on a bunt and advanced to second on an error and third on a passed ball. With one out, Dickie Joe Thon was hit by a pitch then stole second. The runners moved up one base each, scoring the tying run, on a wild pitch and then Ryan McBroom singled home the winning run with two outs in the 10th. McBroom finished the game 2/5 with a double and two RBI while L.B. Dantzler hit a solo home run and took a walk.
Luis Santos allowed two runs over the first six innings of the game, giving up six hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. Adonys Cardona pitched a clean seventh and Jose Fernandez threw the final three innings, allowing a run in the tenth and giving up two hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
Player of the Game: Ryan McBroom
Lansing Lugnuts (61-56) – 5
West Michigan Whitecaps (60-52) – 3
Another trip to extras for a Jays affiliate in Lansing as the Lugnuts won with a two-run single off the bat of Ryan Metzler in the top of the 11th. Lansing was held to just seven hits, but walked seven times with John La Prise, Juan Kelly, and Connor Panas picking up two each.
Josh DeGraaf pitched five innings, limiting eight hits and two walks to three runs against. DeGraaf struck out five and now owns a 3.30 ERA in 31 games. Tayler Saucedo was excellent in relief, pitching four and a third scoreless innings and striking out three. Jackson Lowery picked up the win (1.1 IP, K).
Need to know: New York hit five homers aganst Tampa on Saturday, including a pair by 1B Tyler Austin and RF Aaron Judge, both making their major-league debuts. The two went back-to-back in the second inning, becoming the first teammates to record their first homers in their first at-bats in the same game. Judge’s homer travelled 446 feet, the longest home run for the Yankees since Statcast began measuring homers for MLB in 2015 . . . The Yankees lineup has undergone wholesale changes since the Jays last faced them in May. The organization has undergone a youth movement, with veterans like Beltran (traded), Mark Teixeira (retiring at end of year), Alex Rodriguez (released), Andrew Miller (traded) and Aroldis Chapman (traded) gone or playing their last games.