Blue Jays 2020 Simulation: Starting pitchers falter but bats come alive

Toronto Blue Jays DH Rowdy Tellez. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

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, a cards-and-dice tabletop (and online) simulation game.

The Blue Jays were supposed to have concluded one of their two three-city road trips of the season last week. It was an all AL East affair, starting in St. Petersburg and then running through Boston and Baltimore. In the simulation, the Jays hit Fenway Park after dropping two of three against the Rays, having lost five of six overall and mired in a miserable team-wide hitting slump. But they woke up.

In the opener at Fenway, the Jays faced Eduardo Rodriguez, who had shut them out back on Opening Day. This time, they got to the Red Sox’ lefty right away as Bo Bichette led off the game with a walk and quickly came around to score on a Cavan Biggio triple. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. followed with an RBI double and the Blue Jays were up 2-0.

The Sox got one back immediately, as Andrew Benintendi singled off Matt Shoemaker to start the bottom of the first. A Danny Jansen passed ball moved him to second, from whence he scored on a Rafael Devers single. But Shoemaker clamped down after that, allowing just one more hit into the sixth inning, by which time the Blue Jays had gotten that run back on a Randal Grichuk solo shot, his second of the season.

Shoemaker got two quick outs in the sixth, and then the roof fell in. Xander Bogaerts doubled and Mitch Moreland walked to put the tying runners aboard, and with the bullpen blazing away behind him, Shoemaker was left in to face Christian Vazquez. The Sox’ catcher’s two-run double tied the game.

The Blue Jays loaded the bases in the seventh but couldn’t score. Then they had runners at second and third with two out in the eighth, but Matt Barnes came in to pop up Grichuk, ending the threat.

With one out in the ninth inning, Travis Shaw pinch-hit for Derek Fisher and singled. Teoscar Hernandez came in to run for him, but all Hernandez had to do was trot as Bichette blasted his first home run of the week to put the Blue Jays up by a pair. Ken Giles made things dicey with a pair of two-out walks in the bottom of the ninth, but he struck out Devers to secure a series-opening 5-3 win.

The middle game in Boston was a terrific pitchers’ duel. At least for the first half of it. With Red Sox starter Nate Eovaldi having to come out of the game after facing just two hitters, the Boston bullpen matched zeroes with Chase Anderson into the fifth inning when, with two on and one out, Benintendi doubled to right to score Jackie Bradley, Jr. for the game’s first run. Jose Peraza was right behind him, trying to score from first, but Hernandez threw him out at the plate.

That seemed big at the time, but it wouldn’t be, as the Red Sox drove Anderson from the game with back-to-back two-out homers from Vazquez and Michael Chavis in the sixth and then scored three more against Shun Yamaguchi in the seventh, with Bogaerts going deep.

The Blue Jays had no answer, as they were shut out by half a dozen Boston pitchers. It was the fifth time in 24 games to start the season that they’d been held scoreless. And to add injury to insult, Biggio – making his season debut in centre field – collided with Hernandez on a Devers fly ball in the seventh inning and was out until the final day of the trip. With the 7-0 Red Sox win, there would be a rubber match!

In the series finale, the Blue Jays’ bats finally exploded, though they got some help. It was 0-0 going to the third inning, when Boston starter Martin Perez walked Danny Jansen to lead things off. Brandon Drury and Bichette each followed with singles and Joe Panik popped up. Gurriel was next, and he hit a ground ball to third that could have ended the inning, but Devers threw it away. A two-base error put a couple runs on the board and opened the floodgates. Three singles followed, one by Rowdy Tellez to drive in a pair, and a bases-loaded walk to Travis Shaw made it 6-0, Blue Jays.

Boston didn’t roll over, though, as Trent Thornton had a rough time handling the prosperity. The Red Sox got one back in the bottom of the inning and loaded the bases with one out before Thornton wriggled out of it. They got another back in the fourth and started the fifth with a single and a double to send the sophomore to the showers, unable to complete the five innings needed to get the win. Yamaguchi took over and, amazingly, kept the Sox from scoring by getting a couple of groundouts around a strikeout of Kevin Pillar.

The Jays added on to the lead in the top of the sixth on a two-run single by Hernandez, but Yamaguchi couldn’t answer the bell in the bottom of the inning, handing things over to Jacob Waguespack, who tossed two shutout frames. Wilmer Font did the same and the Blue Jays took the series finale, 9-2. It was just their second road series win of the season, the other coming in The Bronx.

The trip moved on to Baltimore, where the lowly Orioles were supposed to be easy pickings, especially with ace Hyun-Jin Ryu on the mound in the opener. Ryu was 1-4 to start his Blue Jays career despite having pitched brilliantly, because his team had scored a grand total of five runs over his five starts. This time, the bats were there, but the lefty wasn’t up to the task.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doubled in a run in the first inning, but Ryu gave it right back on a Hanser Alberto homer. The Blue Jays scored a pair in the second: Reese McGuire went deep and another run scored on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice grounder by Gurriel. Ryu gave those right back, too, on a two-out, two-run double by Stevie Wilkerson.

The Blue Jays didn’t score in the third, but the Orioles got two more off Ryu in their half, this time on a two-run double by Pedro Severino.

The Jays took the lead back with a three-run fourth that featured an RBI triple by Panik and run-scoring singles from Bichette and Gurriel, but Ryu was done for the night. Sam Gaviglio came on to provide three shutout innings of relief and the Blue Jays added two more in the fifth to move ahead, 8-5.

It stayed that way until the seventh, when Rafael Dolis — making just his second appearance as a Blue Jay since his spring training appendectomy — gave up a solo homer to Austin Hays. But it was still 8-6 Jays in the ninth, when Ken Giles came in to close it out.

Giles got two quick outs, then gave up a home run to Anthony Santander to move the Orioles within one. Next up was Renato Nunez, and he hit a routine fly ball to left field. Derek Fisher dropped it. Nunez got to second on the error. Severino followed with a single to left. Fisher charged it, and fielded it cleanly as Nunez got the wave home as the tying run, then threw it away. After back-to-back errors by Derek Fisher with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the game was tied.

In the tenth, Bichette led off by taking Mychal Givens deep into the Baltimore night to restore the Jays’ lead. But in the bottom of the inning, Giles came back out to try to finish it up and with two out and two walks aboard, Alberto doubled into the left field corner. Fisher’s throw home to get the trailing runner was late and the Orioles had a walk-off, 10-9 win.

After that wild one, we were owed a relatively uneventful game and we got it. Two-run homers by Bichette and Tellez helped the Blue Jays build a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning in the middle game of the series, and the only drama came in the bottom of that frame, when Tanner Roark coughed up a two-run home run to Rio Ruiz with nobody out to get Baltimore back within a run. But Wilmer Font came on to throw two innings of one-hit relief and, with Giles unavailable, Anthony Bass slammed the door shut with a perfect ninth. Roark would get his first win as a Blue Jay, and Bass his first save, in a 5-3 win.

That meant that there would not only be a rubber game to finish the series, but there would also be rubber game for the entire road trip, on which the Blue Jays were 4-4 to that point.

Shoemaker started the finale, and was treated to an early 7-0 lead as the Blue Jays pounded Tommy Milone. Tellez belted a two-run homer in the second, and had an RBI single in a three-run third on the way to a five-RBI day that included another two-run shot in the seventh inning.

Shoemaker, like Thornton and Ryu before him, couldn’t go the requisite five, though, falling apart in the fifth inning. After issuing a walk and throwing a pair of wild pitches in the fourth, he walked another in the fifth, but that was the only runner on with two out. That’s when things went sideways, as Dwight Smith Jr. singled and Shoemaker walked Santander to load the bases. He then hit Nunez with a pitch to force in a run, threw another wild pitch that scored another, then served up a three-run home run to Chance Sisco that cut the Blue Jays’ lead to just one. Waguespack came on to strike out Ruiz and end the nightmarish inning while the Jays still had the lead.

Bichette and Biggio hit back-to-back homers in the top of the sixth to restore a bit of breathing room, and the Tellez home run in the seventh gave the Jays a little more. For Bichette, it was his third home run in as many games and fourth of the week. Tellez’ two round-trippers gave him a team-leading eight. Rowdy also leads the team with 22 RBIs despite hitting only .207.

A 12-8 win in the finale gave the Blue Jays a 4-2 week, a winning road trip and a 12-16 record as they get set to wrap up the month of April by opening a nine-game homestand. The Red Sox are in first, followed by the Yankees and Baltimore.

Each game is being simulated on the day it was supposed to have been played – follow along every day on Twitter @wilnerness590 to “watch” the simulated season!

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