Blue Jays simulation: Canada Day woes continue as losses pile up at home

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu throws during workouts at the team's spring training facilities Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Dunedin, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Nesius

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 will shift toward Spring Training 2.0 and all the preparations for baseball’s return. This simulation will continue through what was supposed to have been 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. You can follow the games as they happen each day 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.

Times were good for the Blue Jays going into this past week. They’d swept an entire interleague road trip and finished off their third straight 5-1 week – a run that included an eight-game win streak and culminated in an incredible 15-2 run that got the Jays all the way back to .500 after a 24-38 start to the simulated season.

This last week didn’t go as well.

It started with a visit from the Chicago White Sox, a team with which they had split four games down in the Windy City back in mid-May. In the opener, sophomore righties Dylan Cease and Trent Thornton locked horns, and carried twin two-hit shutouts into the fifth inning, when Cease blinked first.

The red-hot Billy McKinney led off the bottom of the fifth with his fifth home run in the last four games to open the scoring. Rowdy Tellez followed with a double, and walks to Jonathan Davis and Travis Shaw (around a Bo Bichette strikeout) brought Evan Marshall into the game with the bases loaded. Cavan Biggio hit a fielder’s choice grounder to score Tellez and the Jays had a 2-0 lead, which Thornton promptly gave back.

With two out and nobody on in the top of the sixth, Thornton issued his first free pass of the night to Jose Abreu, and Edwin Encarnacion (he’s going to look really weird in a White Sox uniform) belted a two-run shot to tie it. Eloy Jimenez then chased Thornton with a single and Sam Gaviglio came in and gave up a go-ahead RBI double to Yasmani Grandal.

Teoscar Hernandez dramatically tied the game with a pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the seventh, but the White Sox put together another two-out, none-on rally in the eighth. This time it was singles by Encarnacion and Jimenez followed by a two-run Grandal double to put the Sox ahead for good on the way to a 5-3 win. That game closed out June for the Blue Jays, an extremely successful month at 18-7.

Canada Day followed, and the Blue Jays have been historically pretty poor on our nation’s birthday. They’re 15-26 all-time on Canada Day, and until last year’s 11-4 win over the Kansas City Royals, they’d lost three straight July 1st affairs by a combined score of 23-4. This simulation isn’t sentient, and isn’t aware of any of that, but all those trends held true.

The Jays actually struck first in the game. With two on and two out in the third, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a weak ground ball to short that Andrew Romine (subbing for injured 2019 A.L. batting champ Tim Anderson) threw away, allowing a run to score.

But that was all the Blue Jays would get, and Hyun-Jin Ryu couldn’t make it stand up. The lefty imploded in the fourth, loading the bases on a pair of one-out singles and walk, then walking James McCann to force in the tying run. Cheslor Cuthbert reached on a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. error to cash the go-ahead run, and another scored on a sacrifice fly by Leury Garcia. The Pale Hose put up another three-spot in the sixth, the big blow a two-run single by Romine off Wilmer Font, who had come in to try to bail out Ryu.

The Jays only got one runner past first base after the third inning, falling 8-1 for another Canada Day defeat.

Any thoughts the Blue Jays had of staving off a Chicago sweep were blown out of the water early in the finale. Tanner Roark lasted just one inning, allowing four runs on three hits, including back-to-back doubles by Adam Engel and Yoan Moncada to begin the game. The defence was miserable, as Davis, Guerrero and Roark himself each made an error in that first inning – three of the five miscues the Jays would make in the game.

It got worse as the White Sox plated eight more in the third inning, including a grand slam by Romine and the first of two Encarnacion home runs in the game, to run up a 12-0 lead. The Jays got a two-run home run from Gurriel and a three-run shot from Randal Grichuk later on, but got good and pasted, losing 14-6 and being swept away by the White Sox, falling back to 42-45 overall with the New York Yankees coming to town.

Normally a visit from the Bronx Bombers isn’t good news for anyone, but the Jays had taken two of three from the Yankees in each of their first two series of the simulation, and they wouldn’t have to face Gerrit Cole in the weekend series, so there was some good news.

Big Maple, James Paxton, returned to Toronto, where he’d thrown a no-hitter for the Mariners in 2018, and squared off with the Blue Jays’ de facto ace of the simulation, Matt Shoemaker, in the opener, but it was no pitchers’ duel early on.

By the time the first four Yankees had come to the plate, the visitors had already built a 2-0 lead. D.J. LeMahieu led off the ballgame with a double and Brett Gardner singled him to third. Gleyber Torres followed with a sacrifice fly and Giancarlo Stanton singled in Gardner before Shoemaker could get out of it.

The Blue Jays got a run back in the bottom of the inning on a home run by Gurriel, then tied it in the second as Davis singled home Danny Jansen’s two-out double, but the tie was short-lived.

Gardner led off the third with a walk and a Torres single put runners on the corners. Stanton cashed Gardner with a groundout to put the Yanks back on top, but not for long. In the bottom of the inning, Grichuk took Paxton deep with a man on to give the Jays the lead for the first time in the game. It was the second straight game in which Grichuk and Gurriel had both homered.

From that point on, Shoemaker got locked in. The big righty didn’t give up another hit until the eighth inning, by which point the Blue Jays had increased their lead to 5-3 thanks to a sixth-inning RBI groundout by Bichette.

That Yankees hit was a Torres single with two out in the eighth, bringing up the dangerous slugger Stanton. Shoemaker destroyed right-handed hitters in 2019, holding them to a .148/.200/.295 mark, so he stayed in to face Stanton and struck him out to end what wound up being a terrific eight-inning performance. Ken Giles locked down the 5-3 for his 19th save, snapping the Jays’ three-game slide.

The next game was a tight one as well. Bichette and Kyle Higashioka traded solo homers early, and it was tied 1-1 into the sixth when Gaviglio took over for Chase Anderson after the starter’s strong five-and-dive in the sweltering heat. The first batter Sammy G. faced was Torres, who homered to give the Yankees the lead.

Yankees starter Jonathan Loaisiga left after five innings as well, and lefty Tyler Lyons took the reins in the sixth. The first man he faced was Gurriel, pinch-hitting for Shaw, and Gurriel doubled to put the tying run in scoring position. The double was stranded, though, and Gurriel was the last Blue Jay to reach base in the game as Lyons, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman combined to retire the last dozen Jays to come to the plate, securing a 3-1 Yankees win to tie up the series and set the stage for rubber match madness.

The series finale matched Thornton against Masahiro Tanaka, and neither starter had anything. The Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out in the first inning, but it looked like Thornton might wriggle out of it as the righty got Miguel Andujar to ground into a double play. A run scored, but Thornton was an out away from finishing the inning with minimal damage. Mike Ford and Mike Tauchman had other ideas, though, belting back-to-back home runs to put the Yankees up by four.

As poorly as Thornton did in the first inning, at least he finished it. Not only did Tanaka not make it out of the opening frame, but the Yankees’ starter didn’t even record an out.

Bichette and Shaw led off with singles and Biggio followed with a three-run homer. Then Guerrero singled and Reese McGuire went deep, and just like that the Jays had taken the lead. Gurriel followed with a double to send Tanaka to the showers and Luis Cessa came in to give up an RBI single to Tellez. Six runs scored for the home side before an out was even recorded.

The Yankees got one back on another Ford homer in the third and threatened for more with a Tauchman double that sent Thornton to the showers. Shun Yamaguchi came in with two out and Clint Frazier singled to left. Tauchman rounded third, heading home with the tying run, but Gurriel’s throw was waiting and the inning was over. The Blue Jays extended their lead in the bottom of the frame with round-trippers by Grichuk and Bichette, the latter a two-run shot, and it was 9-5 after just three innings.

But just as Tanaka and Thornton didn’t have it, neither did Yamaguchi. The Yanks opened up the top of the fourth single-single-walk, then the righty walked Stanton to force in a run. That was it for him, having faced a total of five batters with the only out recorded coming on the outfield assist by Gurriel.

Jordan Romano took over in the untenable situation of bases loaded and nobody out, and Andujar got him for a two-run single to bring the Yankees back within a run. An out later, Tauchman cashed the tying run with a base hit of his own.

The Yankees took the lead the very next inning with an unearned run off of Font. With two out and nobody on, Grichuk dropped a LeMahieu fly ball in centre for a two-base error. Former Blue Jay Gio Urshela followed with the go-ahead ribbie double. Back-to-back, two-out doubles by Chris Iannetta and Frazier made it 11-9 in the sixth, but Guerrero got the Blue Jays back within a run with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning – just his ninth of the simulation.

That was as close as they would get, though, as this time the Yanks’ bullpen combo of Adam Ottavino, Britton and Chapman put up zeroes the rest of the way to finish off a crazy 11-10 win. For the first time this simulated season, the Blue Jays lost a series to the Yankees.

The Jays followed up those three straight 5-1 weeks with a 1-5 week, and now hit the road to Boston and Minnesota with seven games to go until the all-star break.

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 the real thing gets started!


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