With sports on pause as the world tries to slow the spread of COVID-19, there are still ways to fill the void created by the lack of games. In order to provide a distraction from the much more serious things going on in the world, Sportsnet’s Blue Jays radio broadcaster Mike Wilner will be simulating each scheduled Blue Jays game in what was supposed to have been the 2020 season and providing weekly updates in this space.
You can follow the games as they happen on Twitter @Wilnerness590. The simulation is being done using Dynasty League Baseball Powered By Pursue The Pennant, a cards-and-dice tabletop (and online) simulation game, with player performance based on 2019 statistics.
Things were looking up for the Toronto Blue Jays heading into last week. They had just taken two out of three against the powerhouse New York Yankees, and with the cellar-dwelling Baltimore Orioles coming to town, things looked promising for a continued climb toward the .500 mark, a place the Jays haven’t been in this simulation since they were 5-5 on the morning of April 6.
Then the games began.
Things started well, with a three-run homer by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the first inning of the opener against Baltimore. It was only Gurriel’s third home run of the simulation, a bit of a shock given that we’re almost a quarter of the way through the season. Also a bit of a shock – the lead didn’t last long.
The Orioles tied it in the third off Trent Thornton, with the big blow being a two-out, two-run double by Renato Nunez. Then they took the lead for good in the fourth on a two-out, two-run double by Dwight Smith Jr. It looked like the Blue Jays had a rally in them, as Travis Shaw and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led off the bottom of the eighth with back to back doubles to cut Baltimore’s lead to one, but the final six Jays’ hitters were retired in order by Shawn Armstrong and Mychal Givens to secure Baltimore’s series-opening 6-5 win.
A win in the middle game would give the Blue Jays a chance to still take the series, and the ace was on the mound, though Hyun-Jin Ryu’s worst start of the simulation had come in Baltimore a week and a half earlier (three innings, five runs).
This time, Ryu was roughed up again, but it didn’t start until the fourth, when old Blue Jays’ nemesis Chris Davis snuck one over the wall with a couple of men on to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead. The Jays got back within a run in the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out, knocking starter Asher Wojciechowski out of the game. Rowdy Tellez drove in a run with a sac fly and Guerrero Jr. added an RBI single.
But it was pretty much all Baltimore from that point on. Anthony Santander got to Ryu for a two-run double in the seventh and Sam Gaviglio gave up a three-run homer to Austin Hays in the eighth. That was more than enough to counter Cavan Biggio’s RBI triple and a solo shot from Bo Bichette as the Orioles secured the series with a 9-4 win.
The series finale featured Tanner Roark, who had struggled to an 8.46 ERA through seven starts, twice failing to make it out of the first inning. He gave up back-to-back homers to Nunez and Chance Sisco in the top of the second to put the Blue Jays down early, but they got those runs back and more on one swing in the bottom of the frame. Randal Grichuk blasted a grand slam to give the home side the lead — and they rolled from there.
Grichuk drove in another run with a third-inning single to give him five RBIs on the night, while Gurriel Jr. and Tellez added solo shots.
Roark didn’t give up another run in getting through five innings, turning it over to Shun Yamaguchi, who tossed two perfect frames before falling apart in the eighth and having to be bailed out by Anthony Bass. Ken Giles threw a perfect ninth for his seventh save, as the Blue Jays staved off the sweep with an 8-6 win. They finished 4-5 on the homestand, losing series to the Red Sox and Orioles around their win over the Yankees.
After a day off for travel to the west coast, the Blue Jays opened a 10-game road trip with a weekend series in Oakland. In the opener, they wasted a brilliant pitching performance by Matt Shoemaker.
In his previous outing, Shoemaker had gone eight innings of three-hit ball against the Yankees, retiring 22 of his final 23 hitters in a 5-2 win. This time, Shoemaker was even better.
He started the game by retiring 17 of the first 18 Athletics who came to the plate, the only blemish being a fourth-inning walk to Marcus Semien. While he was taking a no-hitter into the sixth, though, Oakland lefty Jesus Luzardo had a one-hitter through his first six innings (allowing only a Jonathan Davis single in the third).
Shoemaker’s no-hit bid ended with two out in the sixth when Semien took him deep, and that would be enough for Oakland, though they added on in the eighth on Sean Murphy’s two-run homer (with a hit batsman was aboard).
Reese McGuire had a pinch-hit single in the ninth off Oakland closer (and former Blue Jay) Liam Hendriks, which gave each team a grand total of two hits. A complete-game two-hitter — but a loss — for Shoemaker, as the A’s took the opener, 3-0.
The Blue Jays had many more chances to score in the next game, but couldn’t take advantage, going just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. The only hit in there was an RBI single by Teoscar Hernandez with two on and two out in the sixth – a rarity, as his batting average continues to sit below .200 in the sim, along with Rowdy Tellez – that cut Oakland’s lead to 3-1 at the time. That lead was built on a Matt Chapman RBI double and a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano.
There looked to be a rally in the top of the eighth, as the Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out on three Jake Diekman walks, but Joakim Soria came in to put out the fire.
It was a rough day for Bichette, who made two errors, struck out twice and hit into a double play. The Blue Jays fell, 5-1, and would once again go into the final game of a series looking to avoid being swept.
With Thornton on the mound against Oakland righty Frankie Montas in the Sunday afternoon finale, Bichette wasn’t in the starting lineup for the first time this season. Joe Panik – one of only two Blue Jays with an OPS over .800 in the simulation (no one is over .812) – played shortstop for the first time in his MLB career and wound up fielding the position flawlessly, having had only two balls hit his way all day.
For the first time over the weekend series, the Blue Jays had a lead! They loaded the bases with one out in the fourth and, after Hernandez struck out, McGuire delivered the big hit they’d been looking for for days, a double to right field. Two runners scored, but Travis Shaw was thrown out at the plate trying to make it three, ending the inning. Still, the Jays took a 2-0 lead and Thornton was dealing. Oakland got a Semien single to lead off the first inning, but didn’t get another hit until the sixth.
The sixth was an issue, though. Semien walked to lead it off, and after a Chapman groundout moved him over, Matt Olson tied the game with a massive home run to deep centre. Thornton then walked Khris Davis and was done for the day, with Wilmer Font taking over.
In 13 prior appearances this season, Font had been outstanding, posting a 1.53 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP over 17 2/3 innings of work. But this wasn’t a good day for him.
Mark Canha greeted the Jays’ righty with a double to drive in Khris Davis and give Oakland the lead. After a flyout, Font gave up two more singles, the second scoring Canha, before striking out Chad Pinder to end the inning.
The Blue Jays had one more gasp in them, though, as Hernandez led off the ninth with a double off Hendriks. One out later, a rare error by Chapman put the tying run on base.
With Brandon Drury scheduled to hit, the call went instead to Bichette, who came to the plate as the go-ahead run and…popped out. He still leads the team in runs scored and doubles, is tied for the lead in home runs (nine, with Tellez) and is third in OPS. Don’t get me wrong, Bichette has clearly been one of the shining lights in the simulation. He just had a rough couple of days.
The Blue Jays still had one shot left, but Hendriks struck out Biggio to end the game and complete the Oakland sweep with a 4-2 win.
It’s been a rough start to the road trip, as the Jays scored just three runs total over the three-game series in Oakland, hitting a collective .172 as a team to fall to 16-24, which is only slightly better than a 100-loss pace.
This week, the schedule takes the Blue Jays through the central time zone, with three games in Texas followed by four on the south side of Chicago.
Each game is being simulated on the day it was supposed to have been played, usually around late afternoon for scheduled night games, early afternoon for day games – follow along every day on Twitter @wilnerness590 to “watch” the simulated season until (if) the real thing gets started!