Blue Jays 2020 simulation: Toronto struggles to find way on road trip

Jamie Campbell, Mike Wilner, Ben Wagner and Joe Siddall discuss the current state of the Blue Jays bullpen and future of their closer, while Ken Giles explains to Hazel Mae why an extension hasn’t happened yet.

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.

Coming off a sweep at the hands of the Oakland Athletics that began a three-city road trip – a series in which they scored just three runs in three games – the Toronto Blue Jays headed southeast to the Lone Star State to take on their rival Texas Rangers at their new ballpark.

The bats that were missing out west made their way to Arlington as the Jays pounded out 14 hits (only two fewer than they’d managed while getting swept in Oakland) against Rangers’ ace Lance Lynn. Five of them were doubles, including RBI two-baggers by Cavan Biggio and Reese McGuire and a two-run double by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.

The offensive outburst backed eight strong innings by Hyun-Jin Ryu and got the lefty just his second win of the simulation as the Blue Jays snapped a three-game losing streak with a 5-3 win.

Tanner Roark got the start in the next game and was staked to an early 2-0 lead thanks to Travis Shaw’s two-run homer in the second inning off Corey Kluber. Roark, as has been the case in most of his simulated starts, ran into trouble and failed to make it out of the fourth inning, as Texas scored three in each of the third and fourth.

Robinson Chirinos, Shin-Soo Choo and (ugh) Rougned Odor all took him deep before Shun Yamaguchi took over and poured gas on the fire, hitting a batter and walking two others, one with the bases loaded. The Rangers had more than enough and would go on to a 10-4 rout, tacking on three more against A.J. Cole in the eighth. Interestingly, it seemed like the simulation was aware of the bad blood between the two teams (which, of course, isn’t possible from cards and dice), since Blue Jays’ pitchers drilled five Rangers’ hitters in the game.

Bo Bichette had a couple of doubles for the Blue Jays in the loss, and Guerrero had three hits.

A familiar refrain in the rubber match – the Jays got a phenomenal start from Matt Shoemaker. He went into the game having gone eight innings in each of his last two starts and having allowed a total of just five hits. He picked up right where he left off, taking a three-hit shutout into the eighth inning, but the lead was slim since all the Blue Jays could muster off Mike Minor was a two-run homer by Bichette in the third.

Choo had two of the three hits off Shoemaker, both doubles, and he led off the eighth with another, sending Shoemaker to the showers. Rafael Dolis came in and the Jays’ lead was gone awfully quickly. Elvis Andrus singled Choo to third, then Dolis walked Joey Gallo to load the bases for Danny Santana, who drove a triple into the gap. Dolis hit Todd Frazier with a pitch before leaving and Anthony Bass came in to clean up the mess, though one of the three outs he recorded allowed Santana to score. The Blue Jays got the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but that was it as Jose LeClerc saved a 4-2 Rangers comeback win to give Texas the series and drop the Jays to 1-5 on the trip as they headed to Chicago.

It was the Jays’ turn to come back in the opener of a four-game weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field against the Chicago White Sox.

The home side started building a little picket fence against Chase Anderson, scoring a run in the first on Jose Abreu’s RBI double. They added a Leury Garcia RBI single in the second and then Edwin Encarnacion went deep in the third.

In the fourth inning, the Blue Jays woke up. Jonathan Davis walked and was doubled home by Bichette. A Gio Gonzalez error and a walk to Guerrero loaded the bases with two out for Randal Grichuk, who cleared them on a triple and put the Jays up 4-3. Sacrifice flies by Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. in the fifth and Davis in the sixth padded the lead, as did another RBI double by Bichette. Guerrero homered and the Blue Jays took a 9-5 lead to the bottom of the ninth.

Wilmer Font was asked to close it out, but Yoan Moncada took him deep with two out and then Abreu doubled, making it a save situation. On came Ken Giles, who gave up a double to Encarnacion to bring the tying run to the plate before slamming the door shut for his ninth save, a 9-7 Blue Jays win.

In the next game, pitchers were dropping like flies. Trent Thornton took an Abreu line drive off the knee in the third and had to leave the game trailing 1-0. Gurriel tied it up in the fourth with a leadoff homer, and it was still 1-1 when White Sox starter Dylan Cease called for the trainer with two out in the fifth and left the game. His replacement, former Blue Jay Jimmy Cordero, didn’t even throw a pitch before leaving the game hurt, but the rest of the Sox bullpen was terrific, holding the Jays to just three hits over the final 4 1/3 innings.

Chicago took the lead for good on a two-out, two-run single by super-rookie Luis Robert off Font in the sixth. Four runs off Jacob Waguespack in the eighth just added insult to the injuries in a 7-1 Chicago win.

Whoever took the third game would have a chance to win the series the next day, and it was a pitchers’ duel between a pair of terrific lefties. Dallas Keuchel gave up a home run to Bichette to lead off the game and was pretty much untouchable from that point on.

Ryu was nearly every bit as good, allowing an RBI single to Abreu in the third that tied it up and keeping it that way into the seventh, when he left with one out and runners at second and third, thanks to a pair of singles and a throwing error by Gurriel.

Bass took over and walked Moncada to load the bases for Abreu, and with the infield back looking for a double play, the White Sox slugger hit a ground ball to short. Too deep to throw home, not hard enough to turn two, and the go-ahead run came across.

The Jays finally knocked Keuchel out of the game with a ninth-inning double by Gurriel, but Alex Colome finished up to save a 2-1 Sox win.

The best the Blue Jays could do was a split as they got to the ballpark on a gloomy Sunday. The simulated teams played through what was very real, steady rain in Chicago and it was very clear the home side had no interest in taking part.

There was another pitching injury, this time to Lucas Giolito, who left after recording just five outs. Rowdy Tellez greeted reliever Carson Fulmer by putting one in the seats to give the Jays the lead. It was one of four home runs Fulmer would allow in his three innings of work, as Bichette, Grichuk and Shaw took him deep as well. Even Brandon Drury got in on the action, with a two-run shot off Kelvin Herrera in the ninth.

Roark threw five innings of three-hit shutout, wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. He got his third win to tie Anderson and Yamaguchi for the club lead more than a quarter of the way through the season, but the five shutout innings only dropped his ERA to 7.57 over his ten starts. That’s still slightly better than Anderson’s 7.59.

Font, Waguespack and A.J. Cole finished up an 8-0 Blue Jays win, giving them a 3-7 road trip and a 19-28 record as they headed home for Victoria Day.

The visitors on the holiday Monday were those dirty, dirty cheaters, the Houston Astros. Having played the Sunday night game and then travelled from Texas for a day game in Toronto, Jose Altuve sat out the opener, along with George Springer, starting catcher Martin Maldonado and injured shortstop Carlos Correa.

Even short-handed, they were too much despite (allegedly) not knowing what pitches were coming.

The Astros loaded the bases against Shoemaker with two out in the first, and Josh Reddick delivered a two-run single. Biggio went deep against his pop’s old team to get one back, but the Asterisks got that back in the fifth on an Aledmys Diaz solo shot.

The first Blue Jay rally off Zack Greinke came in the bottom of the fifth. Shaw was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Tellez doubled him home with one out. Reese McGuire followed with a single and Bichette hit a slow roller to third that allowed Tellez to score the tying run.

Houston took the lead right back, as Yordan Alvarez knocked Shoemaker out of the game with an RBI double in the sixth. Sam Gaviglio came in to give up an RBI double of his own to Reddick, which doubled the ‘Stros’ lead. Dolis, Bass and Giles retired each of the last 12 Houston hitters to come to the plate, but the Jays got just two singles the rest of the way as Greinke went the route on a six-hitter, walking no one and striking out a dozen. Guerrero had half of the team’s six hits, all singles, but never advanced past first base in a 5-3 loss.

The week continues with the final two games of the series against the dirty, dirty cheaters, then the Baltimore Orioles visit for four games. At the end of this week, the 2020 season would have been one-third of the way over. Time flies when it no longer has any meaning.

Each Blue Jays game is being simulated on the day it was supposed to have been played, usually in the 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!


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