While Dean battled Toronto’s dangerous lineup, Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano battled himself, struggling to find the strike zone throughout a laborious outing. The left-hander allowed just two hits over his five innings, but walked four, three of which came around to score.
Liriano was strong over his first two frames, allowing only a solo shot to Trevor Plouffe on a two-seamer that hung up over the plate. But he led off the third by walking Kurt Suzuki, allowing Eddie Rosario to reach on an error after an 11-pitch at-bat, and eventually loading the bases with a four-pitch walk to Robbie Grossman. Plouffe came up next and hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field to plate Minnesota’s second run.
Liriano got out of the inning, but he walked two of the first three batters he faced in the fourth and watched both runners score when Suzuki hit a two-seamer over the plate into the right-centre field gap for a double.
Liriano dug in for the fifth, striking out a pair, which gave him seven on the night. But with his pitch count up to 102 (59 for strikes), the fifth inning ended up being his last. In all, Liriano threw a first-pitch ball to 13 of the 22 batters he faced and located just 58 per cent of his pitches for strikes. It was the 12th time in 25 starts this year that Liriano has walked four or more, and the outing raised his MLB-leading BB/9 to 5.22.
“Walks are never good in this game.
Liriano was by no means efficient, or even consistent, but he was effective enough as it turned out, needing 102 pitches to get through five innings as he recorded his first win as a Blue Jay in his fourth start.
The newest member of the Jays starting rotation was in an all-or-nothing mood, either walking the Twins or striking them out for most of his evening.
The veteran left-hander gave up only a pair of hits through his five-inning ordeal, but issued four walks, three of which came around to score, keeping things close for a little while before the Jays broke it wide open in the sixth and seventh innings.
Liriano also struck out seven, but the six base-runners led to four runs, three of them earned.
The bats, which have been in a bit of a funk for the past few weeks, with a few exceptions, came alive sparked by reserves Justin Smoak and Darwin Barney.
One big run-producer for the Jays was Justin Smoak, the switch-hitter who was drawing a rare start against a left-handed pitcher. Smoak slammed a three-run homer to left-centre off Pat Dean in the second inning. He added an RBI single in the third and another in the seventh to give him a season-high five RBIs, one short of his career best.
“Your goal is to be in every day, but I feel like I know my role on this team,” shrugged Smoak, after making just his second start at first base in the last 11 days. “Whenever my name’s called upon, I do what it takes to try and help us win ballgames. That’s for everybody in this clubhouse.”
Smoak had entered the game on a hapless 0-for-29 streak with runners in scoring position, dating back to June 18, within one of the club record set by Rico Carty in 1979. Smoak was 3-for-3 with men in scoring position on Friday. He claimed not be aware of the stat.
“Really?” he said. “Well it’s not that way anymore, I guess.”
The Blue Jays’ offence exploded with Russell Martin and Justin Smoak leading the way with a home run and five RBI apiece. Josh Donaldson also homered and drove in three runs as Toronto moved one game ahead of Boston for first in the AL East.
Some of the highlights:
– Justin Smoak: 3 for 5, home run, 5 RBI. He had a 3-run home run in the 2nd inning, to get us on the scoreboard. He was hitting the ball hard all game.
– Russell Martin: 2 for 5, home run, double, 5 RBI. He had a 3-run double, in the 6th inning, just when the Twins were getting uncomfortably close again.
– Darwin Barney: 3 for 5, homer, double, single.
– Josh Donaldson: 2 for 3, homer, walk, 3 RBI.
– Jose Bautista: 2 for 4, double, walk. He was making good contact.
– Melvin Upton: 2 for 5. Glad to see him swinging the bat so well lately.
– Troy Tulowitzki: 1 for 3. 2 walks.
Toronto had another breakout inning in the 6th as they worked their way through three pitchers in the Twin’s bullpen. Andrew Albers was relieved after a solo home run by Darwin Barney. Pat Light managed to strike out Bautista; however, he lost the plate walking Ezequiel Carrera, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases. Russell Martin brought all three of those runs home with a double and it would end up being a four-run inning for the Jays.
The seventh inning was a five-run inning for Toronto which included Martin’s fourth and fifth RBIs of the game with his 2 run homer. Bautista and Barney also doubled in this inning bringing Barney within a triple of the cycle.
Francisco Liriano had a rough outing for Toronto. He walked four Twins batters and three of the four came around to score due to good base running and smart hitting by the Twins. Liriano also committed a fielding error in the third inning allowing a runner to reach base. There were only two hits against him; but, four runs scored due to those walks. Francisco did end up racking up seven strikeouts over his five innings of work.
The way this game was going, the Jays weren’t going to stand by and watch the Twins just close the gap. Darwin Barney would lead off the inning with his fourth home run of the year, adding some cushion back to the Jays lead. A loud out from Saunders and Carrera reaching on error would close the book on Albers. Pat Light would replace Albers to try to stop the bleeding.
Despite striking out Joes Bautista for the second out it didn’t look good for Light. Zeke would advance to third on a stolen base and error on the strikeout. Then a walk to Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion would load the bases with 2 out, bringing up the scorching hot Russell Martin. Martin would drill his fifteenth double to left center, clearing the bases. Light would then walk Tulo with a wild pitch allowing Martin to advance to third at the same time. That would close the book on Light, bringing in Michael Tonkin. Tonkin would do the job inducing a ground ball off of the bat of Upton to end the inning. After some great padding, the Jays would head into the last three innings up 10-5.
After Joaquin Benoit would pitch a scoreless top of 7th, the Jays would keep it floored through the bottom. A Barney double, Smoak single, Bautista double, Donaldson single, Martin HR, and Tulowitzki walk would all combine for another 5 runs for the Jays to close out the seventh. The Twins would get a couple back off of Aaron Loup in the top of the 8th on a Polanco liner, Escobar double, Suzuki sacrifice fly, and Rosario single. Loup would struggle again in the 9th, getting touched up for another run, but would close things out for the Jays.
Although Navarro hasn’t hit very well this season, he’ll provide the Blue Jays with a more proven offensive commodity at backup catcher than the knuckleball specialist Josh Thole currently does. Navarro was also a clubhouse favourite during his time with the Blue Jays, and will no doubt fit seamlessly back in with his old teammates.
“We just felt like any way we can get incrementally better, we’ll look to do so. The added experience and time he has with this team was a benefit. He’ll fit right in with the clubhouse,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. “When we made the staff aware that he would be joining us, they were extremely excited about not just what he means as a catcher but as an overall teammate.”
Dioner Navarro was Marco Estrada’s designated catcher last season. So how much did his recent struggles play into the Jays’ acquisition of Navarro? Scott MacArthur shares his thoughts and sheds light on R.A. Dickey’s future with the club.
Atkins said the acquisition goes beyond the numbers, though.
“He’ll fit right in to the clubhouse,” he said. “We made the (coaches) aware that he would be joining us and they were extremely excited about not just what he means as a catcher, but an overall teammate.”
Navarro, a switch-hitter, will also give the Jays another left-handed bat off the bench in their right-handed heavy lineup.
“Certainly an added benefit,” Atkins said. “That makes him more of the offensive player that he has been over his career and is a complement to our lineup.”
With rosters expanding on Sept. 1, Atkins said the Jays aren’t too worried about moving pieces around to make room for their new old catcher.
“He has a couple days to report, so Josh Thole will catch on Sunday — R.A. (Dickey) is pitching — and then we’ll likely activate Dioner on Monday,” he said.
Navarro, 32, was Toronto’s regular catcher in 2014, when he played in a career-high 139 games and enjoyed the best season of his 13-year career. Last year, the arrival of Russell Martin relegated him to a backup role, but he remained a favourite in the clubhouse and particularly with the pitchers, who appreciated his studious approach to the game.
“He’s someone that studies pitchers, studies the way he’s attacked (and) others are attacked, and has always (made) contributions that way,” Atkins said.
To put it politely, Navarro’s potential impact on the field is questionable, but he will certainly receive a hero’s welcome in the clubhouse.
“He’s a great human being, a great teammate. We’re all very excited,” said Marco Estrada, who enjoyed pitching to Navarro during their time as teammates last year.
“I’m excited,” said manager John Gibbons. “Dino, he’s always been one of my favourites. I had him a couple years here. Teammates love him. I’m sure he’ll be excited to come back. He really enjoyed it here.”
Navarro certainly will not steal playing time from Martin, one of the game’s best catchers. But Atkins said the Jays value Navarro as a switch-hitting depth piece whose return to a contending team might give him a personal boost.
Jays starter Russell Martin had been catching five of every six games in the month of August, ever since manager John Gibbons went to a six-man rotation. Navarro had excellent chemistry with Marco Estrada in 2015 as the Jays right-hander enjoyed a breakout season.
Navarro was batting .210 with six homers and 32 RBIs in 85 games.
“Lineup, comfort, ways that guys tend to work together is an added benefit,” Jays GM Ross Atkins said. “(Navarro) coming into this environment, this should be a boost of energy for him coming into a contender. . . . As a catcher, he’s someone that studies pitchers, the way he’s attacked, others are attacked and has always had contributions that way.”
Navarro is expected to be activated Monday, when the Jays open a big three-game series against the Orioles in Baltimore.
“I’m excited,” a beaming manager John Gibbons said of the trade which will see Navarro return to Toronto in exchange for minor-league reliever Colton Turner .
“Dino has always been one of my favourites and his teammates love him,” Gibbons said. “I think he will be terribly excited to come back because he really enjoyed his time here.”
It’s no secret Navarro and Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada developed a bond of sorts through the second half of last year when the former became the latter’s everyday catcher. Whether they become a pairing again remains to be seen.
Estrada has pitched well with Russell Martin this year. Estrada said he feels comfortable with Navarro, Martin or Josh Thole catching him.
“I have three now,” a smiling Estrada said of potential battery mates.
Welcome back Dioner.
The Blue Jays’ roster management up to September 1st will need a dash of creativity, but for the final month of the season the expanded roster will allow the club to match up catchers more comfortably. Josh Thole is still likely to stay with R.A. Dickey, but the playoff roster now becomes much more interesting.
Under the current rotation, Dickey would likely be left out of the starting rotation come playoff time. This would then deem Thole unnecessary to the 25-man roster and position Navarro for a spot as the backup catcher and bench bat.
In Turner, the Blue Jays are sending a 25-year-old left-hander who reached double-A for the first time this season. Despite owning a 5.23 ERA in his first nine outings with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Turner was nearly untouchable in his time between the Lansing Lugnuts and Dunedin Blue Jays earlier this season.
With the waiver trade deadline of August 31st now looming, the Blue Jays could also explore further left-handed enforcements to their bullpen.
This kind of asking price is exactly what the Blue Jays have been able to use this whole year to improve their major league roster. Fans should be happy about the cost of a minor league bullpen arm. One day, Turner could develop into an effective arm for a big league club, but this has to be considered an acceptable return for Navarro.
For his part, Navarro is 32 years old and will be a free agent at the end of this season. He signed for $4M with the White Sox. In 85 games, he’s slashed .210/ .267/.339, which could explain how he passed through waivers all the way to the Blue Jays. But, the Blue Jays will not be looking for him to come in and rake, especially with Russell Martin returning to form of late.
Instead, Navarro will provide a much needed upgrade on the bench and as a backup for Martin. One has to think that there will be questions about who will catch R. A. Dickey moving forward, since it would be difficult seeing the club sticking with 3 catchers. September roster expansion allows for that, but they’ll have to trim down the roster for playoffs. Of course, this also may lead to the decision of Dickey being kept off the playoff roster, should the team make it there.
Regardless, for now, the Blue Jays upgrade at a position of need. They add a switch hitting presence, which would help with their woes against left handed pitching. Though, he is hitting .232 against left handed pitching this season as a right handed batter. From the left side of the plate, he’s hitting .201. So, it isn’t as much of an upgrade as we might think.
Jays Journal senior editor Keegan Matheson joins TSN 1150’s Marshall Ferguson to discuss the Blue Jays ahead of their series with the Minnesota Twins after dropping two straight against the lowly LA Angels
Baseball Insider Steve Phillips joined Scott MacArthur on TSN 1050 Radio to talk about what it will take for the Blue Jays to win the AL East.
Path One: Six-pitcher rotation
Expanded rosters will allow Toronto to carry on with the six-pitcher rotation if they deem that to be valuable, and Sanchez would be a primary benefactor.
The Blue Jays also have the advantage of three off days in September — three of the first four Thursdays — so even if Toronto chooses to scale back to a five-pitcher rotation, some tinkering could keep Sanchez on a “six-pitcher schedule” regardless of who works around him. In doing so, Sanchez would line up with the following starts: (Blue = Home Black = Road)
Wednesday, August 31st (BAL) — Wednesday, September 7th (NYY) — Wednesday, September 14th (TBR)– Tuesday, September 20th (SEA) — Tuesday, September 27th (BAL)
If Sanchez were to pitch near his average of 6.2 innings per start in these five outings, his regular season total would land at 189.2.
“We’ll reload a little bit in September with the call-ups,” Gibbons said. “As far as who’s doing what, we’re not sure yet — but you’re not going to see Sanchez coming out of the ’pen. He’s got all those innings under his belt now. That ain’t going to happen.”
Recall that the 24-year-old Sanchez was optioned to Class-A Dunedin to not pitch, and will have served 10 days in the minors in time to return and start the series finale at Camden Yards against the Orioles next Wednesday. It’s unclear whether the Jays will then stay with a six-man rotation.
Even though Gibbons feels he can speak about October plans, there is no guarantee the idea of Sanchez skipping another start or pushing the talented youngster back a few days won’t resurface one more time after rosters expand. He won’t need to be optioned. But come crunch time down the stretch he will be starting. Remember that with built-in post-season off-days, playoff rotations are cut to four.
Gibbons explained, with the benefit of hindsight, the 2015 decision that saw Sanchez, who began the season as a starter but suffered an injury, return to his successful eighth-inning role.
Liriano, 32, was acquired by the Blue Jays right before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline to fill a role as a depth starter, a move that was expected to send Sanchez back to the bullpen. The veteran lefty has made three starts for Toronto, going 0-1 with a 3.57 ERA.
Brett Cecil, who didn’t allow an earned run in July, August or September last year, has struggled to a 4.94 ERA this year with a diminished strikeout rate and an inflated home run rate. Keri believes that Liriano could give the team flexibility as a left-handed relief option if Cecil continues to struggle in his current role.
Despite the Blue Jays’ recent trouble scoring, Keri believes the team will rebound.
“The hitting should come around. (Jose) Bautista should hit again and they should become the best team in the division,” Keri said. “If you can’t hit with runners in scoring position, that stuff is the best possible problem to have because it’ll correct itself by the virtue of regression. So I’m not really worried about that.”
Travis maintains he has no clue how the injury occurred, only that it began to hurt during Toronto’s series against New York last week, and grew progressively worse during three games in Cleveland the subsequent weekend.
“It wasn’t even something where I took a swing and I was like, ‘oh, that felt weird,’” Travis said. “I was thinking to myself, like, ‘did I punch something when I got out or got mad or something?’ But I have no idea how it even happened. I would imagine just swinging. That would be my best guess.”
The Blue Jays are certainly eager to get Travis back in the lineup, as he’s been a remarkably consistent hitter when healthy. The 25-year-old is batting .300/.332/.475 with 17 doubles and 10 homers in 69 games this season. He’s put up multi-hit efforts in 16 of his last 31 games.
Travis hasn’t played since Sunday, when he went 2-for-5 with a double while playing through the injury. He went 3-for-5 the day before, and didn’t appear hampered at all by the ailment in the field. But when the Blue Jays landed in Toronto Sunday night, Travis immediately went for the cortisone injection, and has been forced to watch his teammates play every day since.
“Yup, swung today for the first time and it actually felt pretty good,” he said. “It was encouraging for sure.”
Travis also was running the outfield on Friday afternoon before batting practice, another sign his return is imminent.
“I needed to sweat,” he said, smiling. “I was feeling like a loser. It was nice to get out there and feel like an athlete again.”
Travis admitted that he could have been in the lineup Friday night and made a half-hearted attempt to convince manager John Gibbons that would be the move to make, but Gibbons erred on the side of caution and decided to give him one more day.
Travis took it in stride.
“The whole game of baseball is your hands,” Travis said. “Thank God it’s my top hand because if it was my bottom hand it would probably be a little bit tougher time getting going again. Throwing feels fine so I will be ready to go (Saturday).”
I totally understand the “they’re still in first place” sentiment and the fact that the Blue Jays have only had all their regulars in the lineup this season for something like five games total. But that feels like a crutch and somewhat of a mask for the bigger issue at hand; on many nights, the Blue Jays still struggle to score runs.
First place in the division is great and all, but there is still a lot of baseball left to play. One shouldn’t use the “they’re still in first” line as an excuse to dismiss the poor play in these losing efforts and the considerable lack of offense.
Instead, the Blue Jays need to take an introspective look about what’s happening as of late. Yes, they’re in a playoff position; but luckily, their closest opponents are playing just as poorly. The Blue Jays can’t count on that trend to continue.
I guess my frustration lies in this; with this cast of characters, the Blue Jays should be much further out in front than they already are. With the bullpen finally finding its footing and the starting pitching sustaining itself, the Blue Jays should’ve taken off by now and started running away with the division.
It’s been exciting to watch the Jays close the gap on the Orioles and now claw and scratch with the Red Sox for the division lead. But shouldn’t the Jays have capitalized on these past two series against the Indians and Angels?
Blue Jays bats cool down
The Blue Jays scored just 12 runs in the three games against the Angels, missing chances against beatable pitching.
Jered Weaver, who strikes out just one batter for every two innings he pitches, somehow shut the Blue Jays down Thursday. Weaver’s had a great career, but, as his 5.31 ERA suggests, he’s no longer a great pitcher. That’s the kind of opponent Jays hitters have done damage against in the past.
“There’s no doubt we’ve cooled off [offensively],” Gibbons said. “That’s due to change — it always does.”
I’d rather act unfazed but it all like I’ve been here before. That is, however, a difficult position to take as someone who makes a living writing and speaking about this team. And so here we are, I guess, doing the ol’ broken record “simmer down” thing that’s only directed at a vocal minority who probably aren’t even as confused by the odd twists of a baseball season as much as they just like to hear the sound of their own voices.
I mean, as most of us understand, if this team is holding onto its division lead while not playing its best baseball, that’s honestly great. Bad baseball isn’t great, and losses to inferior teams are no fun, but bad games happen and better baseball is coming.
People have a tendency to think that a team *is* what they’ve been in their most recent handful of games. Maybe — and holy shit, I’m sorry to do this — that makes sense in sports like hockey or football (though, honestly, probably not), but baseball is different. Which isn’t to say those sports are terribly similar to each other, but they’re certainly about imposing your will on an opponent in a way that simply isn’t in the nature of baseball — to the eternal frustration of so many fans.
That’s a thought I come back to a lot when watching folks vent about games like the two losses to the Angels this week. That is, once I give myself time for reflection — because in the moment, I must admit, I can get as frustrated with them as they seem to get with the game. There are elements of chance in baseball that can’t be overcome by better execution in the way that I think is at least closer to true of other sports.
None of that means losses, especially to inferior teams, don’t hurt, but they happen a lot and to everyone.
The Dunedin Blue Jays were fifth in the first half, but are now the division leaders in the second half, 1.5 games ahead of the Daytona Tortugas and two games ahead of the Clearwater Threshers.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats have been eliminated from the Eastern League playoffs.
The Buffalo Bisons have been eliminated from International League contention.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats (62-69) – 1
Reading Fightin’ Phils (83-47) – 6
The Fisher Cats managed just five singles scattered throughout their lineup and did not produce a single base on balls. Richard Urena had the lone RBI on a sacrifice fly early in the game. Hits went to Christian Lopes, Rowdy Tellez, Reese McGuire, Derrick Loveless, and Roemon Fields.
Wilmer Font struck out seven in his five innings of work, allowing just two earned runs to move his ERA to 2.31. John Stilson found trouble, allowing three runs in his pair of innings. Chris Smith pitched the final frame, recording all three outs via the strikeout.
Flying under the radar since then, Lopes has quietly gone about his business. He has seen fellow prospects surpass him on the Blue Jays depth charts and on Top Prospect lists. Lopes seemed to fall out of the spotlight, being overshadowed by middle infielder prospects like Franklin Barreto, and Richard Urena. Despite a few bumps along the road, Christian Lopes steadily moved through Toronto’s system.
A year in Lo-A Lansing as a 20-yr-old, a year in Hi-A Dunedin as 21-yr-old, and 2 years splitting his time between Hi-A and Double-A New Hampshire. The 6’0″ right-handed bat has cemented himself as the Fisher Cats everyday 2nd baseman in 2016.
At every level Lopes manages to produce at or above league average, posting wOBA between .301 and .358 in seasons/level where he played greater than 50 games. His .259 career batting average may not cause fans to get excited or label him as the future 2nd baseman of the Blue Jays. The fact that he owns an impressive career 15.6K% and 8.7BB% which has allowed him to consistently post +.300 OBP, will also do nothing to entice other organizations to mortgage the future to acquire him.
Buffalo Bisons 4, Gwinnett Braves 6
The Buffalo Bisons struck first against the Gwinnett Braves but the Braves took control by scoring six unanswered runs on their way to a 6-4 victory over Buffalo. Andy Burns was 3/3 with a walk and a run for the Bisons and Matt Dominguez was 2/4 with a home run, a walk and two RBI. Dalton Pompey was on base twice with a walk and a single, driving in a run and scoring one while Darrell Ceciliani was 1/5 with a double and an RBI.
Scott Copeland was charged with all six runs, going five innings and allowing three walks and nine hits with four strikeouts. Bo Schultz threw two scoreless innings, walking one and Matt Dermody walked one and gave up a hit with one strikeout in the eighth.
Player of the Game: Matt Dominguez
Roster Notes: Ryan Goins was optioned to Buffalo to make room for Jose Bautista on the big club.