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Morning Coffee – Tue, Sep 27

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 26: Darwin Barney #18 of the Toronto Blue Jays gets out of the way of a high and inside pitch in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the New York Yankees on September 26, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Jays drop series finale to Yankees; take 3 of 4 | Benoit injured in bench clearing brawl no news on severity | Sox don’t want the Jays early in playoffs | Bautista coming on very strong

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 26: Darwin Barney #18 of the Toronto Blue Jays gets out of the way of a high and inside pitch in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the New York Yankees on September 26, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Jason Grilli Blows 9th Inning Lead, Blue Jays Comeback Attempt Comes Up Short | Bluebird Banter

The middle innings turned into a pitcher’s duel, as both teams exchanged zeros in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and even seventh innings.  Unfortunately, Travis did not take the field for the top of the 6th due to injury, and Darwin Barney was needed to take his place.  Travis’ status is unclear at this time.

With no earned runs on his pitching line, J.A. Happ was given the opportunity to begin the 8th. After retiring Starlin Castro to begin the frame, a pair of hits from Gardner and Ellsbury ended Happ’s night, and also cut the lead down to 3-2 in the process.

With a runner in scoring position and just one out, Joe Biagini entered to face Gary Sanchez, and quickly retired him on a lineout to right. Brett Cecil soon entered to face pinch-hitter Brian McCann, and ended the inning by inducing a groundout to short. Thanks to a strong performance from the bullpen, the Jays maintained the 3-2 lead heading into the ninth.

With Roberto Osuna unavailable, Jason Grilli entered the game looking to preserve the one run lead. After retiring Headley on a groundout to first, Mark Teixeira tied things up with a one-out solo shot to right field. After Didi Gregorius followed with a single to left, Aaron Hicks crushed a no-doubter into the right field bleachers. Grilli surrendered one more double to Donovan Solano before his night came to an end. After this horrible performance, the Blue Jays were now trailing 5-3.

Danny Barnes replaced Grilli and did not fare much better. A walk, single, and sacrifice fly cashed in another two runs, and the Yankees lead extended to 7-3.

Ugly night as Jays lose; players hurt in brawl | TSN

It’s been a common occurrence this season: Some of the Jays’ best hitters frustrated at the degree to which opposing pitchers work them inside. Severino, who went on to walk two hitters in the first inning after hitting Donaldson, clearly didn’t have command of his pitches. Could it have been that, due to control issues, Severino threw a pitch too far in off the plate and hit Donaldson? It seems plausible.

Still Happ, sensing the need to take action for reasons he didn’t clearly express when asked after the game, retaliated by hitting Headley and home plate umpire Todd Tichenor issued warnings to both benches. The warning means that if at any point for the remainder of the game Tichenor, in his judgment, determined a pitcher was intentionally throwing at a hitter, the pitcher and his manager would be ejected.

Well, in the bottom half of the second, Severino threw the first pitch behind Smoak – those darned command issues, again – before successfully plunking Smoak with his second pitch.

Two questions: If Tichenor believed Happ intentionally threw at Headley (he did, hence the warnings) why not eject Happ immediately? Also, Severino’s intent with Smoak was made clear on the first pitch; why wait until he actually hit Smoak to eject him?

The mechanics of the give-and-take, retaliatory nature of these incidents lack any logic beyond the primal; it is sadly fitting, then, that the illogical would carry over to the fallout: The Blue Jays, perhaps, have lost two players to injury suffered in a pointless skirmish with a team all but out of the postseason picture.

We should learn more on Tuesday; that’s when, the Blue Jays say, they’ll confirm medical diagnoses on both Benoit and Travis.

Blue Jays go down, but not without a fight: DiManno | Toronto Star

A great big ornery scrum, ultimately signifying nothing between the lines.

When the participants were sorted out, the Jays emerged seemingly unscathed, with nobody tossed. But reliever Joaquin Benoit (calf) departed the minor mayhem limping, leaning heavily on pitching coach Pete Walker, and Devon Travis (shoulder) was replaced by Darwin Barney in the sixth, unable to swing a bat.

That’s hugely worrisome.

Four Yankees were flung into the inner circle of early showers hell: Severino, as primary provocateur, New York manager Joe Girardi (actually ejected in Fracas: Part I), pitching coach/acting manager Larry Rothschild and bench coach Rob Thomson.

It may be jingoistic and hidebound to defend the dugout-clearing. But the fact is, all sports have their tacit code of conduct and, in baseball, this is how it’s done when pitchers take liberties. Or maybe you think it’s no big deal, 96 m.p.h. heat wind-burning your head.

Further, it may not be a bad thing for the Jays — so cool, so aloof, so dispassionate, this bunch — to feel an incendiary flutter in their souls, to coalesce around embattled teammates. Perchance, even, to blow off some stress.

Beanballs, dugout clearings, a bat flip: Blue Jays drop wild one to Yankees | Toronto Sun

Things escalated in the second inning when Happ plunked leadoff man Chase Headley on his second pitch, clearing the benches for the first time.

“I wasn’t trying to hit Chase, but it happened,” Happ said. “They can say whatever they want to say. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed, but it took a minute there.

“It’s just part of baseball. Nobody’s trying to hurt anybody, but balls get away from guys. Balls get away from me, as it did tonight. That’s part of the game and people take it different ways and we saw what happened.”

“That’s just kind of the unwritten rules of baseball,” Martin added. “You hit one of our guys, our MVP guy, after that sometimes the ball slips out of the pitcher’s hand and, for some reason, it’s even. That’s kind of how the game goes.”

While no punches were thrown, it was clear Donaldson wasn’t impressed with Severino hitting him as he walked towards the Yankees dugout from his third base position, jawing the whole time until he was joined by teammates.

Home plate umpire Todd Tichenor issued a warning to both benches, and cooler heads prevailed … for the moment.

It didn’t take long for that to change.

Two pitches into Justin Smoak’s at-bat to leadoff the bottom of the second inning, Severino nailed the Jays first baseman with a 99-mph heater, and the dugouts emptied once again, this time with some meaning.

Blue Jays, Yankees get physical in wild series finale | Toronto Star

Severino, a 22-year-old having a difficult season, then raised the stakes by throwing inside at Justin Smoak to open the bottom of the second. He missed inside but hit Smoak on the leg with the second pitch. That prompted another pitch invasion and there was bad intent this time with a rolling ball of angry players moving across the infield before order was restored.

Catchers Martin and Sanchez had to be separated and Jays reliever Joaquin Benoit limped off the field.

The Jays (86-70) replaced second baseman Devon Travis with Barney in the sixth. There was no immediate word on whether the move was related to the on-field altercations.

Severino was immediately thrown out after hitting Smoak, replaced by reliever Jonathan Holder who had already been warming up. The Yankees starter threw 34 pitches, only 16 of which were strikes.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and bench coach Rob Thomson were also thrown out.

Recent form may have played a role in the bad blood. The Jays are on the rise in the push to the playoffs while the Yankees (80-76) have been sinking fast and had the worst of the first three games of the series.

Lost in the kerfuffle and late-inning collapse was a fine showing by Happ, who was bidding to become just the fourth Blue Jay to win 21 games, joining Roy Halladay (22 in 2008), Roger Clemens (21 in 1997) and Jack Morris (21 in 1992). He was also trying to surpass David Wells (20 in 2000) for most wins by a Toronto left-hander.

Blue Jays reliever Benoit injured in melee with Yankees | Toronto Sun

At the end of the night, Benoit was spotted leaving the Rogers Centre on crutches.

“Benoit, in the pile there, did something to his calf,” Jays manager John Gibbons said after the game.

“He’s getting checked out right now and we’ll find out how bad it is.”

It got worse.

At the end of five innings, second baseman Devon Travis, one of Gibbons’ most consistent hitters in the second half of the season, was lifted from the game.

Gibbons said it’s a shoulder injury the 25-year-old is dealing with.

Of course, Travis’ season got off to a late start due to off-season shoulder surgery, a problem that has plagued him throughout his career.

“I haven’t talked to Devon about exactly what happened — they went to get him checked out,” Gibbons said. “It’s a shoulder. I haven’t talked to him. He came out of the game and the trainers told me he was having trouble swinging the bat.”

No one seemed to see exactly what happened to Benoit in the melee, but there’s obvious concern surrounding the 39-year-old setup man, a key piece of Gibbons’ bullpen.

Why did Jays bother risking injury, suspensions in heated exchange? | TSN

Why did the Blue Jays bother getting heated with the Yankees when there’s so much on the line for the team down the stretch? Scott MacArthur weighs in.

Toronto Blue Jays Game Highlights and Lowlights: Jays Drop a Wild One. | Jays From the Couch

Russell Martin committed a 2 base error when attempting to field a bunt off the bat of the lead-off hitter, Brett Gardner. This allowed Gary Sanchez to drive in Gardner with a ground ball out to the short stop.

Yankees pitcher, Severino, decided that Happ wasn’t to have the last laugh in the bean ball war, and went after justin Smoak, not once, but twice. Of course, this resulted in another bench clearing meet-up near the plate, this time punches appeared to be thrown. Severino seemed to exasperate the situation by immediately throwing down his glove and running at Smoak, who hadn’t made a motion towards the mound whatsoever. All in all, the entire thing was rather unnecessary for a team in a playoff hunt.

Pillar mis-played a Jacoby Ellsbury single to left centerfield which scored Gardner. The bobble allowed Ellsbury to scamper into second as the tying run with one out. It also ended Happ’s evening.

With one out in the 9th, and a 3-2 lead, Jason Grilli, proceeded to surrendered a solo home run to Mark Teixeira, a single to Didi Gregorius, and a two-run home run to Aaron Hicks to put the Yankees ahead 5-3. He was pulled after a Torreyes double to left field, for Danny Barnes.

Barnes allowed a single of his own, but two of his inherited runners scored to make it 7-3 New York.

Red Sox might want to avoid early matchup with Jays: Griffin | Toronto Star

If they win two of three games against Baltimore, the Jays can make it very difficult on the Birds when it come to securing the No. 2 wild card. While the Orioles play three games at the Rogers Centre this week and end with three at Yankee Stadium, the Tigers host the Indians for three more games, then fly to Atlanta to finish up with the Braves, already previewing their future with the NL’s worst record.

The Jays may be in full control of their wild-card destiny, but in terms of winning the division, a much preferable outcome for any team, manager John Gibbons’ troops must just keep winning and hope the Red Sox lose their next series in the Bronx. The division is a long shot, so Gibbons is focused on the wild card.

“These guys are all in a good frame of mind,” Gibbons said. “That’s one of the real good things about this group. They don’t get too high. They don’t get too low. So when you hit a tough stretch, there’s no panic out there. The guys don’t hang their heads or shut it down. They never have. So regardless of how you get in, how you’re playing, the reality is we’ve got to be playing good to even get in.”

The playoff format presents an interesting question for Boston, a conscious decision that was hinted at by Gibbons in his pre-game session. The division winner with the best record plays the winner of the one-game wild-card battle. The division champ with the second-best record hosts the third division winner, with the extra game at home in a five-game series.

Currently, the Rangers and Red Sox are tied with identical 92-64 records. The popular, the logical thinking would be that both teams will be playing for something significant on the weekend. While the Jays could be looking to clinch the top wild-card spot at Fenway this weekend, the Red Sox should be battling hard for the best overall record. Gibbons quietly posed an alternate scenario for John Farrell’s Sox.

“Unless they don’t want to play the wild-card team,” Gibbons said.

Jose Bautista stepping forward as Blue Jays unlikely X-factor | Jays Journal

In Bautista’s last 46 plate appearances, he has gone 13-for-37 (.351) with eight walks and just six strikeouts. The 35-year-old has also hit three home runs, the biggest of which was a three-run shot to give the Blue Jays a 3-0 win on Saturday. He kicked off Sunday’s game with another solo shot in the fourth inning.

The timing is perfect for Bautista, too, as he looks to salvage some level of value entering the open market. It shouldn’t be surprising, either. Bautista is a businessman, and the next few weeks are his peak season. His Christmas rush.

Bautista’s production through much of the season was, relative to the rest of his career, rather average. If he is able to maintain this high rate of offensive production through the Blue Jays’ playoff run, it extends the heart of the order back into one of the league’s very best.

The one variable remaining with Bautista is whether he’ll play in the field come playoff time. In September, he’s split time between right field and designated hitter with 11 games each.

Toronto Blue Jays: Latest Jose Bautista Speculation Doesn’t Make Sense | Tip of the Tower

For a start, the 35-year old isn’t getting any younger. Surely playing another 12 months will only lessen the chances of a team being prepared to offer him the long-term contract he ultimately wants?

In addition, despite Bautista’s trials and tribulation this season, you know there will still be teams lining up, who have the money to offer him a big payday. Among those rumored to be interested in him include the Blue Jays’ divisional rivals, the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles.

One final factor which could influence how this situation plays out, is the Dominican Republic native’s recent return to form. In fact, he is on course for his best overall month of the campaign, which includes season highs for OBP and batting average, along with his best OPS since April.

And with three homers and eight RBIs in his last four appearances, Bautista seems to have got his swagger back at just the right time, for both him and the Blue Jays. Ultimately, as much as Cafardo’s theory makes for interesting reading, it becomes less feasible with every passing game.

Consistency has Blue Jays manager John Gibbons content | Toronto Sun

“Really, every team in baseball will have a long streak,” Gibbons said. “Maybe not more than seven, but I don’t care if you’re a real good team or a bad team, that’s just kind of the way the game works. We seem to always be waiting on one because we had two real long ones last year so, naturally, you think you’re going to have one and you’re waiting on it.”

Instead, it has been the Boston Red Sox reeling off an 11-game streak, one that the Red Sox will take into their road series against the New York Yankees on Tuesday.

That run has put the Red Sox on the brink of the AL East pennant, and left the Blue Jays chasing a wild-card spot.

While they haven’t been able to piece together a streak like last year, Gibbons has been happy with the consistency.

“I think what saved us, too, is we didn’t have any of those big dips, either,” Gibbons said. “We’ve had some of those in the past. I can’t put a finger on it. Nobody knows why.”

Over the course of a long, gruelling 162-game season, there always are moments of what could have been.

“You look back on stretches during the season where you might’ve struggled and particular games where, if you win this one, but every team in baseball can say that, ‘If we had won this one,’ ” Gibbons said. “You always reflect.

“I look back on each game every night, good or bad, you look at some things that, maybe, you do this different or that different.”

History hints at how Blue Jays would build potential wild-card roster | Sportsnet.ca

The urgency created by the winner-take-all format demands that managers operate differently than usual. To some extent these decisions depend on context — player tendencies, health and score, for instance — but some general principles apply.

Any starter this side of Clayton Kershaw should probably be pulled in the middle innings, at which point the matchup games begin. That means you want to be sure your manager has plenty of relief options.

There’s also the possibility that the game doesn’t go as planned. If your starter implodes early or takes a line drive off the shin, you need alternatives. National League teams may need to pinch-hit for their starter early in the game, creating additional scenarios where starting depth is needed. Throw in the possibility of extra innings, and there’s plenty of reason to carry at least three starters.

What it means for the Blue Jays: The Blue Jays may or may not have the luxury of lining up their preferred starter for the play-in game, but there’s a good chance Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ or Marco Estrada gets the ball. The other two could then earn consideration for bullpen roles depending on rest. Based on their skill sets, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano also look like legitimate options for the bullpen, creating the possibility that the Blue Jays go heavier on starting pitching than most.

Griffin: Blue Jays front runners for top Wild Card spot | TSN

Toronto Star Blue Jays columnist Richard Griffin joins Mike Hogan to talk about the Blue Jays momentum heading into their final two regular season series, and takes a look at the MLB playoff picture.

Wild Card Watch: The Blue Jays’ Magic Number is Down to 5 | Blue Jay Hunter

Barring a catastrophic meltdown by the Blue Jays or a huge run by the Detroit Tigers, Toronto will very likely be one of the two American League Wild Card teams.

If that’s the case, then the conversation turns to whether the Blue Jays will be the home or away Wild Card team. This is where their three-game series this week versus the Orioles becomes even more important; because winning two of three (or even sweeping) boosts the Blue Jays’ chances of being the first Wild Card even that much further.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Orioles might narrowly miss out on the Wild Card and it would be the Blue Jays playing the Tigers in the winner take-all game. While the Jays match up a little better against the O’s, at least the Jays hold the tiebreaker against the Tigers. So if for some reason the Jays and Tigers ended up with the same number of wins, the Wild Card game would be played in Toronto.

But going back to the Blue Jays’ magic number of five. That’s a very manageable number with seven games left to play. A week ago, I figured the Blue Jays would need to win at least 7 of their final 13 games to be fairly certain of securing a Wild card spot.  They’ve since won 5 of 6 games and should very easily reach that coveted 88 win threshold.

Happ or Kluber more deserving of Cy Young award? | TSN

ESPN’s Baseball Tonight goes by the numbers to debate whether J.A. Happ or Corey Kluber is more deserving of the American League Cy Young award.

Starting pitching decisions abound for Blue Jays’ Gibbons | Toronto Sun

Gibbons said if the Jays know where they’re going to finish in the standings while they’re in Boston, he would likely juggle his lineup to try to get the best starter possible in for next Tuesday’s wild card game. As it stacks up right now, J.A. Happ is tentatively scheduled to pitch on Saturday in Boston and Aaron Sanchez on Sunday, the last regular season game of the year. Gibbons won’t concede which of the five pitchers in his rotation is his No.1 guy necessarily, but it seems prudent that he would want either Sanchez or Happ starting the wild card game. So he could call in audible, perhaps even start R.A. Dickey in one of the games in Boston if the Jays lock up a wild card spot early.

“If a game or two don’t matter the last couple games (in Boston), yeah we can do what we want,” said Gibbons.

Barring an epic collapse, the Red Sox are going to win the AL East. The Jays are a game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles for the first wild card spot with six games remaining and three ahead of the Detroit Tigers for the final wild card spot.

Gibbons may need Happ and Sanchez to take their regular starts in Boston if the Jays don’t lock up a wild card spot early. But no matter what happens, the manager insists he’s comfortable with throwing in any of the rotation guys — including Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano — to start Tuesday’s wild card game. The Jays’ rotation is the most balanced in the American League, leading the AL in quality starts (95), innings pitched (950.1), ERA (3.72), opposition average (.237), opposition OPS (.694) and WHIP (1.22) and have given up the second fewest home runs in the AL (118).

Jays using small ball to play more unselfish game | TSN

Scott MacArthur discusses how the Jays used small ball to beat the Yankees on Sunday, and details his conversation with Devon Travis regarding the effectiveness of small ball.

Definition of “small ball” in eye of beholder | TSN

Statistical probabilities come into play, too. According to the run probability generator at www.gregstoll.dyndns.com, if a team has runners at first and second and nobody out, it has a 37.2-per cent chance of scoring no runs, a 22.8-per cent chance of scoring one run and a 16.2-per cent chance of scoring two runs in the inning.

If a successful sacrifice bunt, that is the intentional giving away of one out, occurs to place runners at second and third with one out, the run probabilities look like this: Zero runs, 32.9-per cent; one run, 27.5-per cent; two runs, 22.32-per cent.

Yet Travis has been the one attempting the sacrifice bunt here and there in the last couple of weeks. He was, entering Monday night’s series finale with the Yankees, the only Blue Jays regular hitting above .300. If the odds, relatively speaking, are better that he’ll get why would he give up an out? With Travis at the plate, there’s a reasonable chance that first and second, nobody out results in a bases loaded, nobody out situation or a run-scoring scenario.

“I like that, I see what you’re saying,” said Travis. “I just think the guys hitting behind me, they’re better hitters and they drive in runs for a living so if there’s a guy with second base and no outs I’m trying to hit the ball to the right side and if it squeaks through, great. But if not and I hit a ground ball to second base I feel like I just hit a homer; like, honestly, that’s the feeling I get inside when I move the runner from second to third with no outs. That’s the feeling.”

“Sometimes you’ve got to do it,” said Gibbons of the sacrifice bunt. “It depends; the key part of that for me is who are you bunting to get to? If it’s a run producer or things like that; a lot of times, too, there are times you can’t bunt depending on who’s on second base; if the guy can’t run at all.”

So much of what happened in baseball is judged on the result rather than the intent. Anyone who watches closely knows that sometimes correct intent is paired with unfortunate result; on the flip side, ill-advised moves can have successful payoffs.

Quality arms in Orioles pen | Toronto Sun

The Baltimore Orioles pose a much different problem than most. The goal is still to lay waste to their starters, but when that is accomplished, you ended up facing a seemingly endless supply of quality relief arms who can hold the fort in a close game long enough for Baltimore’s potent offence to come to the rescue.

That’s been a recipe for success the Orioles have used for years and they always have had a relief corps capable of delivering. Baltimore hit a high water mark of 18 games over .500 on July 25. From that point until late August they went 14-21 in their next 35 games.

The Baltimore bullpen hit a wall in August because of injuries and overwork, but in September, that same bullpen has once again stood tall. Overall, on the season, the Orioles relief corps is on a pace to pitch 565 innings and only a handful of teams in history have pitched more relief innings than that. Most of the time, when a bullpen is asked to do that much work, it means the team is having a horrible year.

For example, this season, the only AL team that has logged more bullpen innings than the Orioles are the Minnesota Twins who sit dead last in all of MLB.

In August, the Orioles bullpen had a bloated 6.43 ERA. In September, with mainstays like Brad Brach and the inimitable Zach Britton leading the way, they have a 1.56 ERA, having allowed just 14 earned runs in 22 games of work this month.

Toronto Blue Jays Look Ahead to Final Six Games | Tip of the Tower

If you ignore last year, the last time Toronto had 86 wins in a season was in 2008. That year saw the Jays finish with a respectable record of 86-76, but they wound up a lousy fourth place in the division.

Incidentally, it also marked the end of John Gibbons’ first tenure as Jays manager. He was replaced by Cito Gaston, who was starting his own second stint as Toronto bench boss.

The 2008 Blue Jays had a 20-game winner that season: Roy Halladay. “The Doc” won for the 20th time that remarkable season on Sept. 25, 2008, in an 8-2 victory over the Yankees. As the rotation is currently set, J.A. Happ (who has a chance to sweep that same rival Monday evening) still has one more start scheduled, Oct. 1 in Boston.

That means Happ could finish with 21 wins or — pending Monday’s result — even 22. “The Doc” won the day 22 times back in 2003, and holds the franchise lead. The last time a Toronto starter finished a season with exactly 21 wins, was Roger Clemens in 1997.

But that is where the similarities end, as the 2008 Jays wound up 11 games behind Tampa, nine behind the wildcard Red Sox and a few behind New York too. They failed to qualify for the 14th consecutive season. Between 2008 and 2014, Toronto only had one winning season. It was bleak, but hope lived on.

Lansing Lugnuts 2016 Report, Part 1: Blue Jays from Away Awards | Blue Jays from Away

Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year

Ryan Borucki

We are definitely not starved for choice in this category, as the Lugnuts, despite their poor pitching record compared the league, had several quality starters. Do we go with Jordan Romano who had a triumphant return from Tommy John surgery in a new role as a starter? Do we go with Jon Harris, last year’s first round pick, who dominated the Midwest League in 16 starts before moving up to Dunedin? Again, for me, durability and impact with the club make the biggest impressions and therefore the competition comes down to two players, Angel Perdomo and Ryan Borucki.

Both players are 22, born just 37 days apart in 1994, but there’s really only one category in which Perdomo outshone Borucki: strikeouts. Borucki found himself after a tough start with Dunedin and was able to go out and post a 2.41 ERA and 1.13 WHIP and while Perdomo struck out almost 30% of batters, Borucki wasn’t a slouch either, fanning 23.2% and walking only 5.6% while Perdomo walked 10.1% of batters. Congrats go out to Ryan Borucki, but it was not an easy decision!

Honourable mention: Angel Perdomo, Jordan Romano, Jon Harris

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