Big-picture questions still loom despite satisfying Blue Jays win

The Toronto Blue Jays have won three straight after a 7-4 victory over the Houston Astros in the series opener. Roberto Osuna recorded his 21st straight save while Russell Martin went yard for the Jays.

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays beat the best team in baseball Thursday evening, outplaying the Houston Astros in all facets of the game.

The Blue Jays out-hit Houston on a day every Toronto starter collected at least one knock. They fielded better than a sloppy Astros team that allowed two errors and a passed ball. And, led by Francisco Liriano, they out-pitched Lance McCullers Jr. & Co. on the way to a 7-4 win.

“I don’t care what the records are or what the numbers say,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of the Blue Jays Thursday afternoon. “You look up and down this lineup, the names are real and they can produce.”

Still, one lacklustre loss is nothing for the post-season-bound Astros, who didn’t check into their Toronto hotel until after 5 a.m. Thursday following a late game in Atlanta. Houston remains the class of the American League.

As for the Blue Jays? It’ll take much more than three consecutive wins to change the course of their season. At 40-45, they’re neither truly in the race nor completely out of it, but bigger questions surround the organization.

For starters, the Blue Jays are old. Their youngest starter Thursday, Kevin Pillar, would have been seventh youngest on Houston’s lineup card. Pursuing youth for its own sake won’t get you far, but it’s no coincidence that as the Blue Jays have aged, they’ve become a considerably worse defensive team. As a bonus, younger players are typically more affordable and easier to shuttle between triple-A and the majors.

Toronto isn’t as deep as it used to be, either. In a lineup reminiscent of the 2015 Blue Jays, eight of Houston’s nine starters have already reached double digits in home runs. Each of its three bench players—Josh Reddick, Evan Gattis and Nori Aoki—has legitimate offensive skills.

“You (normally) have nine everyday players,” Hinch said. “We have 10. I mean, we probably have 12.”

By way of contrast, the Blue Jays’ bench looks thin. Perhaps more problematic is the lack of players ready to step in from the upper minors. Ideally, that kind of depth would reinforce the Blue Jays month after month, so it’s not surprising to hear team president Mark Shapiro talk about the need to infuse the organization with young talent.

“What we’re working towards someday is kind of that ability to have a sustainable, contending team,” president Mark Shapiro told Prime Time Sports Thursday. “Right now we have that gap of double-A, triple-A talent from our major-league team.”

To their credit, the big-league team took care of business in the first of four against Houston. They got on the board in the fourth inning thanks to the Astros’ sloppiness and put the game out of reach with a five-run fifth that saw the Blue Jays chase McCullers from the game without a home run. Toronto’s six hits that inning included RBI doubles from Kendrys Morales and Ryan Goins and RBI singles from Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki.

“You’ll never get mad at home runs,” catcher Russell Martin said, “but when everyone’s doing their part, battling, and you get a couple of hits strung together it definitely feels good to keep the line moving that way.”

Martin added a solo home run in the sixth inning to support Liriano, who pitched into the seventh inning against one of baseball’s deepest lineups. In six-plus innings, the left-hander allowed three earned runs on nine hits while walking one and striking out four.

Ryan Tepera, Dominic Leone and Jeff Beliveau followed before Roberto Osuna entered to pitch in three straight games for the first time this season. Three batters later, the 22-year-old closer had recorded his 21st consecutive save opportunity.

“He looks as good as I’ve ever seen him,” manager John Gibbons said.

It added up to a satisfying win against one of baseball’s best teams. Still, the Blue Jays will owe it to themselves to listen to trade offers for pending free agents this summer barring a drastic change in the standings between now and July 31.

That doesn’t mean dismantling the team, but if this summer allows the Blue Jays to add some of the youth and depth found in Houston, they’ll be stronger for it as soon as next year.

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