“Where would we be without Jason Grilli?”
The answer is unknowable but, it’s safe to say, it wouldn’t be in first place in the American League East, just as the calendar is about to flip over from August to September.
So, when Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters jumped on the first pitch he saw from Grilli in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday, sending it far over the wall in right field for a two-run, game-winning home run, it was just one small withdrawal from the enormous pot of good will that Grilli has earned over the last three months.
Grilli did not know that he had one of the longest scoreless streaks by a reliever this year, but he made it clear it mattered little to him at this point when asked if that would take some of the sting out of the loss.
“I wasn’t aware of that so, I guess, yes,” he said. “It’ll stay with me maybe tonight and then tomorrow is a new day. That’s the old cliche, isn’t it: ‘Turn the page.’ Sometimes you get them and sometimes they get you.”
“Every time we play these guys it’s like that,” said Jays manager John Gibbons. “Back and forth, back and forth.”
Fittingly for the two teams that lead the majors in home runs, all but one of Tuesday’s eight runs were scored via the long ball.
The fatal drive was delivered against setup man Jason Grilli, whose 13-inning scoreless streak was snapped by a high drive from Orioles catcher Matt Wieters that landed in the standing-room patio in front of the famed B&O Warehouse beyond the right-field wall.
Grilli, 39, said it wouldn’t take long to wipe the loss from memory.
“Tomorrow’s a new day,” he said. “That’s the old cliche, you know? Turn the page. Sometimes you get them and sometimes they get you.”
Wieters’ homer undid what was a quality start for Jays lefty J.A. Happ, who pitched into the seventh inning and held Baltimore to three runs on a pair of fifth-inning homers.
“I wasn’t at my best tonight,” Happ said. “But this is an elite team — especially at home they’re tough. I made a couple mistakes and they made me pay.”
It also rendered moot Michael Saunders’ game-tying, seventh-inning home run. For Saunders it was his 22nd home run of the season and fourth career dinger off Baltimore’s erratic righty Ubaldo Jimenez, who held the Jays to just a trio of hits through his first six innings.
The Orioles currently sit in third place and are not considered as much of a threat to the Jays as the Boston Red Sox. But despite their apparent pitching deficiencies, it would be unwise to expect Baltimore to fade from the race at this stage in the season.
J.A. Happ didn’t have a great night, but worked through it. He gave up 2 home runs, both in the 5th inning, a solo homer by Steve Pearce and a 2-run shot by Manny Machado. Happ had base runners every inning except for the 6th, where he had a nice quick 1-2-3 inning. Not a great night, but when you only give up 3 runs, with our offense against Ubaldo Jimenez, it should have been good enough.
We didn’t do near enough again Ubaldo:
– 1 run in the 2nd, Michael Saunders doubled and Kevin Pillar singled him home.
– 2 runs in the 7th (I thought Buck Showalter left Jimenez in too long) off a 2-run homer by Saunders.
We had a chance to get off to a good start. In the first inning Jose Bautista started things off with a walk and, an out later, Edwin Encarnacion walked (it looked like we were going to get a small strikezone but that changed after the 1st inning), but Russell Martin hit into a double play.
We only managed 5 hits (and 2 of those were in the 7th inning) and 2 walks in 6.2 inning against Jimenez.
And then we couldn’t score against Brad Brach and Zach Britton.
Matt Wieters crushed a two-run shot in the eighth off Jason Grilli to break the tie and put the Orioles in front. Zach Britton then closed out the ninth as the Jays fell in Baltimore.
J.A. Happ didn’t have the pinpoint control Jays fans have come to expect from him. Unable to get ground balls, he struggled; although, he only gave up two walks in the game and managed three strikeouts. Happ went 6.1 innings allowing three runs on six hits.
Joe Biagini closed out the 7th in relief of Happ without allowing a run. Jason Grilli entered the game in the 8th and allowed his second extra base hit in 14 games when Wieters bombed his 2 run homer to right field.
Happ and Jimenez would settle in after that however and roll right on through until bottom of the fifth. It was at this point when Happ would allow his first blemish. On a 1-0 91.5 mph fastball down the pipe, Steve Pearce would blast a solo shot to left. The home run would be his fifth of his career off of Happ. The inning wouldn’t stop there either. After walking Pedro Alvarez, Manny Machado would match Steve Pearce sending another ball into the left field bleachers. The Jays would get the next two outs, and head into the sixth down 3-1.
Ubaldo would continue to pitch an excellent game through six, allowing only 3 hits and walking just 2. The 7th would end up to be his undoing however. After a lead off single by Russell Martin, and a Troy Tulowitzki line out, Ubaldo would face his nemesis Michael Saunders. Saunders would continue to hit him well, this time destroying a 422 foot two run homer with an incredible exit velocity of 108 mph. After a fly out to right from Upton Jr., the Orioles would go to the pen. Jimenez would leave with a line of 6.2 IP 5 H 3 R 3 ER 2 BB and 3 SO. An incredible line from Jimenez, especially in contrast to his season to date. Brad Brach would come in to strike out Pillar to end the inning.
“You’re not always going to have your best stuff, you’ll not always be at your sharpest,” said Happ after battling into the seventh inning to leave his team tied at 3-3 in a game they would eventually lose 5-3.
“Nights like this one, you’ve just got to battle and stay in there. At least I was able to pitch fairly deep into the ball game.”
One quick flurry in the fifth inning did all the damage. He gave up a home run to Steve Pearce, a walk to Pedro Alvaraez, then another home run to Manny Machado. Three runs in about two minutes, flat.
“This is an elite team and they’re tough, especially at home,” Happ said. “We battled them all night and I gave us what I had tonight, which wasn’t a ton but it was enough to keep us in the ballgame.”
Manager John Gibbons wasn’t ready to concede that Happ had any fault at all.
“I can’t say he didn’t have his best stuff,” he said. “I thought he was pretty good. Couple of big homers but you always come to expect that when you pitch in this ballpark.”
With a chance to capture back-to-back AL MVP awards well in grasp, SportsCentre goes by the numbers to see just how dominant Josh Donaldson has been this season for the Blue Jays.
Over his last 5 games, Donaldson has 6 home runs and 11 RBI. Up until then, he hadn’t made it rain since August 13, the only one since August 6. Look at his wRC+ in each of the last 5 games: 154, 369, 266, 801, 342. These are a massive increase over his previous weeks. He has not struck out at all in his last 4 games. He’s getting on base, driving in runs and scoring them just as effectively. All of this brings his season totals to 34 HR, 92 RBI and a league leading 106 runs. His 2016 line looks much batter than last year: .294/.407/.582.
The Minnesota Twins don’t represent the most formidable of opponents, but they came to play and that showed in the overall tightness of the three-game series. It was just enough to rev the Blue Jays’ engine.
The series was unnecessarily close at times, but it never felt uncomfortably close. Saturday’s dramatic 8-7 comeback win, fueled in large part by a hat trick from Donaldson, was a surprise in terms of how the Blue Jays won, but it wasn’t a surprise that they won. You could sense the looming victory as the at-bats got a bit longer, as the Blue Jays began chipping away at the Twins’ lead, as a two-run top of the seventh for Minnesota didn’t deter Toronto from adding three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning. By the time Jason Grilli stepped on the mound in the top of the eighth, you could already see another Blue Jays win on the horizon despite the fact they were still trailing 7-6 at the time.
The team had a purpose, and they were fully committed to the purpose: winning.
Saturday’s comeback win was followed by another comeback win on Sunday, and now another comeback win last night against the Baltimore Orioles. It’s beginning to feel like, no matter what the inning and no matter what the score, the Blue Jays are there to win games. It’s beginning to feel like this team is riding a wave of momentum.
Donaldson’s first year in Toronto turned out to also be the best season of his career in the Majors. He helped the Blue Jays end the longest postseason drought in the league and was voted MVP of the American League, after posting career-highs in virtually every statistical category.
Amazingly, this year the third baseman may be playing even better. As things stand, he is on course to beat a whole host of personal records he set just last season, including hits, home runs and OPS.
This naturally leads to the question of if Donaldson can take home the AL MVP award for a second consecutive year? If he does, he will join an illustrious list, which includes the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle.
Another thing to consider is that the three-time All-Star has made the postseason every season since becoming a regular in 2012. He will be a significant factor in the Blue Jays’ quest to make the playoffs again and if they get there, you have to fancy his chances of being named AL MVP again.
OK, so that’s a bit of a simplification and, yeah, maybe a shade dramatic. Got you, right? As one Toronto Blue Jays pitcher said, it was more a matter of the manager reminding all the starting pitchers that the whole six-man rotation setup was brought into place only after all of them signed off on it.
“I think Gibby felt there was a little bitching and moaning going on,” was how it was described to me. “Nothing major, but with Aaron (Sanchez) joining the team this week, he wanted to make sure everybody was on the same page.”
Sanchez, who was sent down to single-A Dunedin to bide his time as part of an innings-management scheme that has forced the other starters to adjust their routines for extra rest, is scheduled to rejoin the Blue Jays and likely pitch Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles.
The advent of the six-man rotation hasn’t quite been the tire fire that some predicted. Marco Estrada has wobbled since then, but there’s some questions whether that’s because of a balky back or, as was the case in his last start, some good pitches being hit. As it turns out, when general manager Ross Atkins said this was uncharted territory, damn it if he wasn’t correct. Speaking of which …
“Biagini has been good all year,” said manager John Gibbons. “It’s really an amazing story. He keeps getting better and better. What he does is he gets ground balls. In a ballpark like this one where the ball flies, that gives you a pretty good feeling when you see that ball on the ground.”
“And Benoit, since he got here, has been just about perfect. I can’t say enough about he and Grilli.”
Biagini only made this team because he was a Rule 5 pick and to maintain control of him, they had to carry him on the 25-man roster. Instead of simply taking up space, Biagini has become a go-to guy, already with 48 appearances. Only closer Roberto Osuna has pitched in more games than Biagini.
He started out as a mop-up guy and quickly became an important cog. Almost half his appearances have been in high leverage situations, where he has limited opponents to a .238 batting average, a .580 OPS with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.25. Those are veteran stats, not raw rookie stats.
“He has shown people a lot of stuff,” said Gibbons. “From day one, he has never been rattled. He always looked like he belonged and now he’s confident as he could be. We want to make sure we protect him. He’s going into that final month where he’s never pitched before but he’s been so good. When we can, we’ll watch out for him.
“That’s why in September it’s important to have some guys on hand you can bring in when you’re down in the game so you don’t have to pitch all your regulars, unless they’re short on work.”
Since arriving, Benoit hasn’t allowed a single run to cross in his 13.1 innings over 14 appearances. He’s needed to dance around some base runners as his strikeout and walk numbers haven’t been where they should, but therein lies the simultaneous risk and beauty of a deadline reliever: all a team needs is 20-to-25 great innings, and anything is possible in a small sample size.
Last night in Baltimore, Benoit threw a perfect ninth inning on 20 pitches, striking out two. Eight of his appearances with the Blue Jays have come in the seventh inning, where he figures to slot in down the stretch, and the others have come even deeper in the game.
This shouldn’t come as a great surprise, even despite Benoit’s age and struggles with the Mariners earlier this season. From 2010 through to 2015, Benoit was one of baseball’s most consistent relief pitchers with a 2.35 ERA over 388 games.
His profile still doesn’t match that of Grilli, whose setup role naturally gives him the spotlight. Frankly, Grilli’s firework shows and fist pumps also help his case and naturally make him stand out from some of Toronto’s other relievers. It’s part of what Blue Jays fans love, and should love, about Grilli.
It’s the kind of performance that can go unnoticed when a team’s rolling, but for a Blue Jays team that had real trouble bridging the gap to Osuna earlier in the year, those contributions are appreciated.
“Biagini, shoot, he’s been good all year,” manager John Gibbons said. “It’s really an amazing story is what it is and he just keeps getting better and better. One thing he does is gets ground balls. In a ballpark like [Oriole Park at Camden Yards] that’s pretty good.”
In 48 games this year, Biagini has a 2.28 ERA with 48 strikeouts, 13 walks and a 53 per cent ground ball rate. That performance has earned him regular work in meaningful games instead of the mop-up assignments many Rule 5 picks get.
Benoit then followed up Biagini’s inning with two strikeouts, completing his 14th consecutive appearance without an earned run since joining the Blue jays. Walks were an issue for Benoit in Seattle, but he hasn’t issued a free pass in any of his last seven appearances.
“Benoit since he’s been here he’s been just about perfect,” Gibbons said.
The result has been welcome stability in a Blue Jays bullpen that lacked solutions for much of the year.
Veteran batters like Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Bautista all ranking over 16% with runners on base as expected, there are some outliers in the graph. Devon Travis who has typically served as a leadoff hitter, might not get the same amount of RBI opportunities as someone like Justin Smoak, who is usually inserted into the middle of the rotation. Both have almost identical PA, PA’s with runners on base, and RBI’s, but Travis is taking advantage of those run scoring opportunities as he’s hitting a little more than 8% more batters in than Smoak.
The other outlier to me was Troy Tulowitzki, who is almost always slotted into the 5-6 spot, and more people would like to see him move up in the order ahead of Russell Martin. As you can see from the chart, Tulowitzki has had almost identical the amount of PA’s as Martin, and way more with runners on base, but hasn’t performed nearly as well as some other batters. This might have been the slow start Tulowitzki had to the season, but it’s hard not to forget about the rough start Martin had as well.
RBI is a fun counting stats for fans, but the number alone can play favorites to players given the opportunity to drive in runs at the right moments. OBI gives us a better understanding of how each position in the lineup performs best no matter which team you play on. For all the talk about the Blue Jays lineup struggling to score runs in some stretches, OBI gives us a better understanding of just how balanced this 2016 Blue Jays lineup really is in clutch situations.
Who’s best suited to DH right now for the Jays – Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion? How have relievers Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit been able to turn their seasons around so drastically since being acquired by Toronto? Scott MacArthur weighs in.
The 21-year-old right-hander is so young, so talented and so taken for granted. Like most pitchers, he struggles from time to time, especially when he is asked to pitch in non-save situations. But if you took him out of his ninth-inning closing role heading down the stretch and into October, it would mean Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit, a pair of 39-year-olds, would have to trickle up into higher leverage positions.
Grilli has been a closer with the Pirates and an all-star as recently as 2013, but the depth of the Jays’ bullpen has never been its strength. It might also prompt the Jays to finally move Aaron Sanchez to the bullpen in either an eighth- or ninth-inning role. Benoit and Cecil remain question marks, while Rule 5 reliever Joe Biagini has never pitched a six-month season before, much less seven, if you add October.
Dalton Pompey: I need a good defensive replacement in outfield/pinch runner (course I would have rather have had him up at some point already).
Goins, who was pulled midway through Buffalo’s game on Tuesday, was optioned to triple-A on Thursday after Jose Bautista was activated from the disabled list.
The sure-handed second baseman has appeared in 63 games for the Blue Jays this season, batting .186 with a .231 on-base percentage, three home runs and 12 RBI. He is hitting .271/.324/.396 in 27 games with the Bisons. The 28-year-old was slated to earn consideration for promotion to the Blue Jays on Sept. 1 when major-league rosters expand from 25 to 40.
Tebow took batting practice, was clocked at about 6.65 seconds in the 60-yard dash and also showed off his outfield defence. Former Jays farmhand David Aardsma, currently a free agent, was one of the two former major-league pitchers to throw to Tebow.
The general consensus seemed to be that while he had considerable power at the plate and good foot speed, his other baseball skills were lacking.
“I thought he was okay, better than I expected, to be honest,” one major-league scout told USA Today.
“I’m sure somebody will give him a shot just because of who he is, I would think,” Jays manager John Gibbons said earlier this month. But Gibbons added he had never seen anyone capable of competing in the majors without at least playing several years in college or the minor leagues.
“The odds are stacked against him, that’s for sure,” Gibbons said. “Maybe the greatest athlete ever, Michael Jordan, tried it and it wasn’t easy for him. There’s something about baseball: you start young and you have to do it over and over and over again.”
New Hampshire Fisher Cats (64-71) – 7
Trenton Thunder (84-51) – 8
The Fisher Cats fell victim to Dante Bichette, older brother of Bo Bichette, who went 4-for-5 with two home runs. Rowdy Tellez countered with his 20th of the season, a three-run show in the fifth. Christian Lopes was 2-for-4 with two runs out of the leadoff spot while Emilio Guerrero and Derrick Loveless both had multi-hit days.
Shane Dawson found some trouble on the mound, allowing six runs on 10 hits (three HR) over six and two-thirds innings. After Alonzo Gonzalez gave New Hampshire three innings of one-run relief, Murphy Smith took the loss (1.1 IP, ER) in the top of the eleventh.
Buffalo Bisons 3, Lehigh Valley IronPigs 2
The Buffalo Bisons finally eked out a win against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, getting a strong performance from Casey Lawrence on the mound. Lawrence allowed just two runs (one earned) on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts over seven innings. Ryan Tepera got his 18th save of the season with two innings of one-hit ball, striking out two.
Jesus Montero had another two hits and a walk to push his batting average to .321 while Casey Kotchman was 3/3 with an RBI. Andy Burns was 1/3 with a walk and a solo home run while Erik Kratz was 1/3 with an RBI.
Player of the Game: Casey Lawrence
Young can continue to climb the ladder if he’s able to keep his slider around the plate and he develops his changeup more. Primarily known as a fastball and slider guy; the prospects small repertoire hasn’t held him back from putting up respectable numbers in Lansing.
Impressive as of late, Young hasn’t allowed an earned run in his 7 1/3 innings pitched in the month of August. Batters are only hitting .125 against him, while he’s maintaining a superb 0.95 WHIP this month.
The excellent four weeks has really solidified Young’s campaign. Dealing with a little bit of growing pains in June and July; the lefty’s season numbers are starting to move in the right direction at just the right time.
Obviously, the prospect would like to lower his 1.58 WHIP and .284 opponent average a little bit more before the season wraps up. But with all of the adjustments Young has made over the last few months, the lefty is definitely satisfied with his current results.
“The transition wasn’t too bad,” stated Young. “I brought into the idea right away. I just want to continue and work on getting better at it every day.”