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 has been simulating each scheduled Blue Jays game in what was supposed to have been the 2020 season and providing weekly updates in this space. With Major League Baseball ramping up for what they hope will be an abbreviated 2020 season, much of our attention has shifted towards Spring Training 2.0 and all the preparations for baseball’s return, so the simulation is being suspended now, at what was supposed to be the 2020 All-Star break, by which time the Blue Jays had been scheduled to have played 97 games. Add that to the proposed 60-game schedule and we basically have an entire season. The simulation was 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.
Had the 2020 season been played as scheduled — and had this been a normal year and not one in which basically the entire world has been on fire for four months — we would now be celebrating baseball’s annual Mid-Summer Classic. Instead, we have Summer Camp, with teams preparing for an Opening Day that’s a week-and-a-half away, under the cloud of COVID-19 raging in the United States.
In our simulation, now suspended with the return of Major League Baseball, Bo Bichette would have been representing the 47-50 Blue Jays at the All-Star Game at Chavez Ravine. The 22 year-old shortstop was hitting .327/.374/.588 with a club-leading 24 home runs, 36 doubles, 75 runs scored and 67 runs batted in. That’s an astonishing 114 RBI pace from the leadoff spot!
Bichette, who earlier in the simulation won a fake American League Player of the Week award by hitting .536 with five homers and 15 RBIs, had another phenomenal run in the week that just past. At one point, the sophomore slugger had a hit in 11 out of 12 plate appearances as part of a 14-for-17 streak. For the week, he hit .545/.571/.788 with five doubles, though the week ended with him striking out in each of his last four at-bats.
Clearly, Bo has been the straw that has stirred the drink as the Blue Jays finished the simulated first half strong, going 23-12 since their 24-38 start to the season, though the winning ways have corresponded with one other move, too. Now, correlation is not causation, but since Jonathan Davis was installed as the Jays’ everyday centrefielder in an effort to both bolster the defence and take at-bats away from the struggling Teoscar Hernandez, the Blue Jays have gone 21-11. It should be noted that, at the moment, all Davis is doing is bolstering the defence – he was 0-for-23 this week (with two walks and a hit-by-pitch).
A case could be made for Ken Giles to be heading to L.A., as well. The closer has been magnificent throughout the simulation, notching 21 saves in 24 opportunities and posting a 1.59 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings. He’s allowed just 40 baserunners.
Though it was too late of a run to garner All-Star consideration, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. finished the first half absolutely on fire. He went 11-for-24 in the final week and got to the break on a 12-game hit streak, with hits in 21 of his last 24 games — and in one of those hitless games, he wound up scoring three runs! Gurriel struggled through most of the simulation and was demoted from the third spot in the batting order to the seventh following the 1-8 road trip that left the simulated Blue Jays at 24-38 back on June 3. At the time, the left fielder was batting .238/.289/.432. He’s been a new man since the shift downward in the line-up (against righties; he still hits up top when facing a southpaw). Gurriel has hit .385/.450/.622 since the move, raising his overall average up to .292, third highest on the club behind Bichette and Reese McGuire, who is hitting .299.
The final week before the All-Star break was another winning week for the Blue Jays, going 4-3 on a road trip through Boston and Minnesota.
It started with three games at Fenway, and in the opener, the Jays got all they needed just three batters into the game. Bichette and Joe Panik led off with singles off Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi, then Travis Shaw wrapped one around the Pesky Pole for a three-run homer. Boston got a couple back against Hyun-Jin Ryu in the second inning, but the lefty slammed the door shut from that point, allowing only three hits the rest of the way in going eight strong innings. It’s a good thing, too, because the Blue Jays only added one more run after the Shaw dinger. It happened in the sixth when, with the bases loaded and nobody out, Randal Grichuk hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
The second game of the series was Nate Pearson’s long-awaited simulation debut. The big righty couldn’t be held back any longer, taking Tanner Roark’s spot in the rotation after Roark managed to go just one inning in his last start, pushing his ERA to 6.72 while barely averaging four innings per start.
Big Nate, the best right-handed pitching prospect in the game, had himself a nice, comfortable lead before he even threw a pitch, thanks to a two-run single by Grichuk that was followed by a two-run double by Danny Jansen in the top of the first.
Pearson walked the first batter he faced, Andrew Benintendi, but then got Rafael Devers to bounce into a double play and struck out J.D. Martinez. The kid ran into a speed bump in the third, loading the bases with two out on two walks and a single and giving up a two-run single to Xander Bogaerts, but he got Mitch Moreland to ground out to end the inning and pretty much cruised the rest of the way through six.
The Jays got Pearson three more runs in the fourth – a two-run single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the big blow – and Pearson wrapped up his outing by striking out the last three batters he faced, handing it over to Roark, who gave up a run over two innings of relief work. Shun Yamaguchi came out for the ninth with a 9-3 lead and gave up a leadoff walk and three straight two-out singles, so Anthony Bass had to bail him out, getting Alex Verdugo to pop up to secure the 9-5 win. Nate Pearson’s first W in his first start.
The Blue Jays brought their brooms to Fenway for the series finale, but Matt Shoemaker had nothing. He gave up a solo homer to Martinez in the first inning and then walked three in a row before giving up an RBI single to Jackie Bradley Jr. The Jays tied it up with a run on a Grichuk single in the second and Bichette’s only home run of the week in the third, but the Red Sox scored seven runs in the bottom of the inning. Panik and Guerrero both made errors and Shoemaker walked another two (to give him six for the game), one with the bases loaded, and he gave way to Sam Gaviglio, who didn’t have it either.
Gaviglio hit the first batter he faced, Jose Peraza, to force in another run, then a fly out and sacrifice fly later, coughed up a three-run homer to Martinez.
Credit the Blue Jays for not giving in even though they were down 9-2. They got a three-run homer from Gurriel and a two-run shot from Grichuk around a ribbie double by Bichette (his fourth of five hits in the game) while Jordan Romano, Wilmer Font and Rafael Dolis held the fort, and closed to within two runs.
But Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman combined to strike out the final six Jays hitters and the Red Sox staved off the sweep with a 10-8 win.
The final series before the All-Star break, and the last of the simulation, was a four-gamer in Minnesota. The Twins had come to Toronto in April and swept the Blue Jays handily, winning the three games by a combined score of 26-7.
In the opener at Target Field, another Travis Shaw three-run homer put the Jays on top, but Miguel Sano went deep twice off Chase Anderson. The Twins had a 4-3 lead into the seventh, when Bichette came up huge again, driving a go-ahead two-out two-run double.
This time, though, the bullpen couldn’t handle it. In the eighth, Mitch Garver homered off of Dolis to tie it up. Romano came in to work the ninth – Giles being held back an inning or two in case the Blue Jays took the lead (but just an inning or two, we weren’t going to Showalter this thing) – and didn’t get a single hitter out. He hit the leadoff man, walked the next batter and then gave up the walk-off single to Jorge Polanco for a 6-5 Twins win.
The Blue Jays finally got their first win against the Twins the next night, building a big lead and getting spectacular work from Trent Thornton. McGuire doubled in a run in the first and Grichuk belted a three-run homer in the fourth. Later in the inning, Bichette and Shaw would hit back-to-back two-out doubles to make it 5-0 Blue Jays. All the while, Thornton was brilliant, allowing just two hits over seven innings. He faced just one batter over the minimum, except for the fourth inning (in which he walked three, hit a man and gave up a double, but we don’t have to dwell on that).
Gaviglio and Bass gave up back-to-back homers to Josh Donaldson and Garver in the eighth, but Giles closed it out in the ninth for a 6-5 Jays win.
More pitching brilliance in the third game of the series, as Ryu went eight strong again, holding an extremely potent Twins offence to just four hits. One of them was a home run by Sano, though, and through five innings the Jays had only scored a single run of their own off Jose Berrios — on back to back doubles by Guerrero and Rowdy Tellez.
Vladdy Jr. broke the tie in the sixth, belting just his 11th home run of the simulation, and the Jays added three insurance runs they wouldn’t need in the ninth, winning 5-1 with a chance to take the series with Pearson on the mound the next day.
But in the series finale, Jake Odorizzi was just too much. The righty threw seven innings of five-hit shutout, striking out 14 against just two walks. A two-run homer by Sano was more than enough for the Twins.
Pearson gave up three runs over six innings — the Sano homer as well as a two-out RBI double to Nelson Cruz in the fifth — walking one and striking out only four, and the Blue Jays bats that gave him a four-run lead in the first inning of his first game could muster nothing at all.
There was drama in the ninth as Tellez led off with a double and Gurriel was hit by a pitch to bring the tying run to the plate with nobody out, but Twins’ closer struck out Hernandez, Davis and Bichette to seal the 3-0 win and take us to the All-Star break and the end of the simulation.
Thanks to all of you who followed along with the sim over these past 97 games. Hopefully it brought you a necessary, fun distraction from what’s been (and continues to be) a very difficult time in the world. I’ll continue to run the simulation in the background just in case something happens to suspend the real MLB and we have to start this up again, but it seems as though strong safety protocols are in place and I believe we will have the 60-game baseball season that is being planned. Ben Wagner and I will be thrilled to bring you every game across the Sportsnet Radio Network!