Give a power-packed lineup like the Baltimore Orioles enough opportunities to walk it off in the home half of an inning and, eventually, you pay the price.
Then for the spark to light the fuse, watch the man who led the majors in 2016 with 47 home runs come to the plate.
So when Jays reliever Jason Grilli hung a pitch over the plate to Mark Trumbo, it was a thunderous end to the season opener for the AL East rivals.
The solo homer, jacked over the short left-field wall at an orange-drenched Camden Yards, gave the Orioles a 3-2 victory and the first opening-day walk-off winner in club history.
It ended an eventful afternoon and evening for a pair of teams that had previously met in the American League wild-card game last October at the Rogers Centre.
“It’s one of those places where you never feel good when they get their last at-bat (with a chance to win),” Gibbons said. “They’re probably the top power-hitting team in the game, top to bottom. They can do that in a hurry.”
Especially a player like Trumbo, who didn’t hit a homer all spring. It was as if he was waiting for this moment.
Marco Estrada made the first opening day start of his career, and put up a vintage Marco Estrada six innings of two rum ball start. He had a bit of a rough time over the first few innings, allowing some hard contact, including a few doubles in the third inning. But after that two-run third, Estrada settled down and completely mowed through the order, getting his final nine batters out before handing the ball over to ‘pen.
We got our second run in the 6th. Steve Pearce had a 1-out single. Then with 2 outs, and a full count, Ezequiel Carrera pulled one down the 3rd base line. Since Pearce was running on the pitch, and with the help of a Jonathan Schoop bobble on the cutoff, he was able to score.
We weren’t getting the ‘timely’ hits. We had 11 hits and 6 walks, but just the 2 runs. Our 3, 4 and 5 hitters had a very bad day at the plate: Bautista (0 for 5, with a walk), Tulowitzki (0 for 5) and Morales (0 for 4 with a walk).
On the other hand, Travis (2 for 6), Donaldson (3 for 5, walk), Steve Pearce (3 for 5) and Carrera (2 for 3) enjoyed good days at the plate.
There was an interesting moment. Leading off the 10th, with lefty Zach Britton pitching, Gibby had Darwin Barney pinch hit for Ezequiel. He struck out and then stayed in the game as the left fielder. If the Jays hadn’t released Upton, that would have been a good spot for him.
And, Manny Machado made a great diving grab, up the third base line, and then an amazing throw from his knees, to get Travis in the 11th inning.
The Blue Jays had the opportunity to capitalize in the top of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, Kendrys Morales walked on a 3-2 count that would drive in their first run of the year. Troy Tulowitzki had a great battle at the plate against Gausman that ended with a groundout to third base. The Blue Jays left the bases loaded and trailed the Orioles 2-1.
The Blue Jays continued their rally from the fifth into the top of the sixth. Ezequiel Carerra ripped a double down the right field line to score Steve Pearce, who ran from first to tie it up 2-2. After running to second, it looked like Carrera rolled his right ankle but he walked it off and stayed in the game.
Estrada pitched a wonderful game for his first career Opening Day start. The 33-year old pitched six innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs, two walks, and picking up four strikeouts. Estrada also retired the last 10 batters before Joe Biagini would come into the game in the bottom of the seventh.
Mark Trumbo connected off Jason Grilli with two outs in the 11th inning to deliver the walk-off home run and give the Orioles their seventh straight opening-day victory. Josh Donaldson and Steve Pearce each had three hits for Toronto in the loss.
Kevin Pillar had good at-bats, earning an infield single in the second and working a four pitch walk (four!) in the fifth.
Despite a few doubles, some defense-aided, Estrada battled. His change up was consistently excellent all afternoon, including a devastator to strikeout Manny Machado in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Steve Pearce had a pair of hits of starter Kevin Gausman. If he continues to hit well, there’s no reason to keep Justin Smoak on this team, regardless of him standing in the left-hand batter’s box. Pearce scored later on an RBI double from Ezequiel Carrera, conveniently bobbled by the stone-gloved Jonathan Schoop.
The bullpen was solid until Jason Grilli served up a meatball to Mark Trumbo, who delivered the painful closing blow. In 4.2 IP, a combination of Joe Biagini, JP Howell, Joe Smith and Grilli held the Orioles to just four hits.
Estrada, in his six innings, pitched far better than his line would indicate. The Jones double in the first inning seemed to surprise Donaldson, who reacted late and high on the backhand. Leading off the second, a Wellington Castillo double was a high fly ball, equidistant between left and centre fields. Pillar should have taken charge, but he looked at Carrera and he gazed back as the ball nestled in the grass.
Finally, on the Smith double leading off the third, Pillar broke in, then retreated. Estrada retired the final 10 men that he faced following Trumbo’s RBI hit in the third before giving way to Joe Biagini and the bullpen. He retired the last 10.
“At some points I’d get a little out of rhythm, a little out of whack” Estrada said. “Didn’t really hit my spots as well as I wanted to, but some of those doubles were on decent pitches. That’s just the way it goes. As long as I keep making those pitches, things should go my way. It just didn’t work out that way today.”
Estrada had to work around a pair of baserunners in the first, another in the second (although that one wasn’t his fault as Kevin Pillar appeared to lose Welington Castillo’s lazy fly in the sky) and the first two batters reaching in the third, leading to the pair of runs.
As Estrada mentioned, he has at times had issues out of the gate, posting a 4.18 first inning ERA in 2015, compared to an overall mark of 3.13, and posted a 3.72 in his opening frames last year, against a total of 3.48.
“It’s physical,” Estrada says, rather than mental. “The more pitches I throw, the better I feel and the good thing is I felt great, I felt like I could have gone back out. But it’s by far the most pitches I’ve thrown since last year, basically, so they didn’t want me to go back out there for another one, which I understand.”
Estrada finished the outing at 89 pitches and in a good sign for the 33-year-old, his fastball averaged 90.3 m.p.h. and topped out at 92.1, according to data on brooksbaseball.net, an uptick from the 88.88 he averaged in 2016, when he pitched through back issues much of the year.
A year ago, Grilli had been struggling as a member of the Braves opening-day roster while still rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in 2015. He had insisted he was physically ready, even though he may not have been telling the truth. He knows he’s light years ahead of where he was 12 months ago, and won’t be dwelling on the loss on the Jays’ off day Tuesday.
“I feel great, I’ve got two feet under me to start the season, as opposed to one a year ago,” Grilli said inside a quiet Jays clubhouse. “I’m proud of where I am at 40 years old. I never want to use a number, an age, a this or a that to have any reason for doubt, or even success. I’ve worked hard, consistently, and that’s what I expect of myself is consistency.
“When you have downfalls, whether it be an injury, a bad game, the thing about this game is you get another chance if you want it.”
The Michigan native understands the game will be around long after he has left the scene. He respects that.
“This game needs no one, it doesn’t need me,” Grilli said. “I love it and I want the jersey to be ripped off of me. We all put a lot of things on hold. A lot of people sacrifice for the opportunity to be here — family, everybody. Love it. You’ve got to live it, love it, good, bad or indifferent. I think I’ve done this enough to where I can dispose of the bad and appreciate the good.”
Grilli insists he will be ready to take the ball after the off day and manager John Gibbons is confident that he will hand it to him if needed.
The heart of the Blue Jays’ order went hitless in their season opener, finishing 0-17, but despite that there were positives as Toronto had numerous opportunities with runners on base. Steve Phillips recaps Baltimore’s walk-off win and discusses Jose Bautista’s performance.
Steve Pearce, the former Oriole, in his first game with the Jays, had three hits, played first base and left field and scored a run. Pillar managed the not to be seen before. On two consecutive swings, he missed the ball pitched and sent his bat sailing into the stands along the third base line.
“I’ve never seen that before and I turned to John (bench coach John Russell) and asked ‘Ever seen that before?’
“And he said ‘I’ve never seen that before.’ ”
There was that and two terrific defensive plays by Jose Bautista, once throwing out a runner at second, once stabbing a line drive and turning into a double play later in the game, and that made Bautista look like he has found some youth in his game, even if he wound up 0-for-5 at the plate and had Orioles fans chanting ‘We don’t like you’ during some of his at-bats.
They don’t. And it added to the drama of the day turned to night. The game started in the sun and warmth of the afternoon but it was cool when Trumbo ended the game by taking Jason Grilli’s pitch over the left field wall.
“This is a rivalry now,” said Adam Jones, the Orioles centre fielder. “There’s something going on with these teams. You can feel it.”
Keegan Matheson from MLB.com joins Nielson & Fraser to recap Opening Day for the Blue Jays, a 3-2 11th inning loss in Baltimore to the Orioles.
Pearce, on the other hand, is very good. Do not let the ‘platoon player’ or ‘utility player’ stigma get in the way of his actual production.
Over the past three seasons, in a combined 1,010 plate appearances, the 33-year old has a 131 wRC+, .840 OPS, and .227 ISO. That type of offense is valuable practically anywhere on the field. His major issue is injuries, which no one can truly predict, but when he is on the field, he is productive.
That brings us to the question: why are the Jays going with this alignment? Why not put Pearce at first base and find a suitable left field option?
Let me try to make sense out of this.
One thing is for sure, general manager Ross Atkins really wanted Pearce:
“They were hard and aggressive,” Pearce said. “As a player, when you have somebody who wants you that bad and they come after you, they don’t mess around, they’re not trying to low-ball — as soon as we got to a number we got comfortable with and they got comfortable with, it was an easy sign.” – Baltimore Sun.
The Blue Jays began their season with a walk-off loss thanks to Mark Trumbo. The Reporters breakdown the game and talk about other opening day games from around the Major League.
By opting to put Osuna on the disabled list until April 10, the team hopes the minor neck/back issue that bugged Osuna since he returned from the World Baseball Classic will be resolved by the home opener at the Rogers Centre the following day.
The decision to put him on the DL was a late one, considering Osuna pitched one inning on Friday.
“After he threw (in Montreal) he was feeling general tightness,” Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. “We expected and he expected for it to improve. We felt it was in his best interest and ours to see if we could get it completely out of him.”
Biagini was fantastic last season, finishing with a 3.06 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings. The 26-year-old right-hander had an up-and-down spring, though, finishing with a 3.09 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 15 hits, 11 runs, four earned runs, four walks and 11 strikeouts over 11 2/3 innings of work.
There’s no reason to fret over Biagini’s spring and I would expect the Jays’ versatile reliever to be just fine. But when it comes to closing games, I think Grilli will get the first crack at ninth inning duties and Biagini will only be used if he struggles, or gets into trouble.
Having a veteran like Grilli to step in for Osuna is a nice luxury for the Blue Jays, but having insurance for the 40-year-old reliever is also an important asset and that’s exactly what Biagini is. Perhaps we’ll see Biagini close a game or two if Grilli pitches on back-to-back days, but in all likelihood Grilli will be the team’s closer until Osuna returns.
Many experts believe the Blue Jays will be a playoff-worthy team in 2017, but I wonder if some are underestimating the Toronto Blue Jays this year. Is there the possibility that the Blue Jays are actually underrated and underestimated entering this season?
The AL East crown was basically bestowed upon the Boston Red Sox the moment they acquired Chris Sale – but few are considering the possibility of the Red Sox not winning the division this season.
The Red Sox are already beginning to show kinks in their armour; David Price begins the season on the disabled list with a mysterious elbow injury with no timetable for his return. Tyler Thornburg, another prized offseason acquisition, suffered a shoulder impingement.
Drew Pomeranz also opens the 2017 season on the disabled list, and he’s undergone a series of injuries since being acquired by the Red Sox last summer. Those are three key pitchers on the Red Sox staff gone to injuries, two of which sound a little ominous.
The safe play is to always side with the division winner from the previous year. Heck, the AL East was the Blue Jays’ to lose last year. Instead, they just barely clawed their way into a playoff spot at the end of the 2017 campaign. But there’s a chance the Jays surprise everyone again this year.
All of this boils into a pretty good rivalry, between Bautista and the Orioles, and also the two clubs. While nobody likes to get booed, for some players it’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I would argue that’s the case here.
The 36 year old’s fiery attitude is well documented, and even he would agree that he seems to play better “mad”. That doesn’t mean that he’s walking around screaming at small children and kicking puppies, but it’s pretty easy to tell when he’s locked into that type of zone and headspace.
More often than not, it leads to positive things for the slugger, just as we saw in the video above. Whether the adrenaline gives him additional focus or whatever the case may be, when he’s scowling he usually takes it out on the baseball.
But with Bautista, we don’t quite know what to expect. In previous seasons he had been great, amassing 15.3 WAR between 2013-2015 before falling off a cliff last year and having a WAR of 1.0. With some bad injuries in the last year, we don’t know for sure if Bautista’s 100 percent ready for a corner outfield role again. This is what makes his season so intriguing. We don’t know what to expect.
And this is why he is the most important player on the Jays, and the key to their success. He is also going to, most nights, hit high in the order. For the season opener, John Gibbons has him as the number three batter. Typically that’s where the strongest hitter resides, although in recent years the second spot could hold the same recognition.
The point of batting a strong hitter in the three-hole is to have them able to drive in the top two hitters, and get on base for hitters 4-6. Bautista batting three means that Gibbons is confident in his abilities as one of the top hitters on the Jays.
While most of my simulation of the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays’ season was focused on the big leagues, I did take a look at what happened in the minor leagues with some interest. Since this blog tends to focus on that part of professional baseball, here’s how the Jays’ minor leaguers fared in our simulation using Out Of The Park Baseball 18.
Once again, I’ll note that I didn’t change how the rosters were set up in the roster pack I was using (which was the default upon the game’s launch). It would have taken me hours to actually re-set the rosters to something that would resemble how they will look when the minor league season opens on Thursday.
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