Blue Jays simulation: Changes to lineup spark offensive outburst

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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.

The Toronto Blue Jays started this past week by finishing what wound up being an abysmal road trip, but there were happier times ahead when they got home.

Last week’s update ended with the Jays being swept in Baltimore and falling to 24-36 on the simulated season, a point that one would hope would be the low-water mark. They scored just twelve runs in the six games the week prior, leading to some lineup changes as they headed to St. Louis to begin the road trip.

Travis Shaw, the team’s OBP leader, was moved up to the second spot in the line-up, while Joe Panik was moved down to the bottom of the order. Patience had expired with Teoscar Hernandez and his sub-.200 batting average with only four home runs and a 36% strikeout rate. Reese McGuire, one of the lone productive hitters (.287/.357/.455) was moved into the fifth spot in the batting order and a more regular role while Danny Jansen struggled at the plate.

While the changes didn’t result in immediate wins, the offence definitely picked up against the Cardinals. In the opener of the two-game mini-series in Missouri, the Blue Jays got a hit in every inning, pounding out 13 safeties in total, but they only scored in one frame. After falling behind 2-0 in the first, Hyun-Jin Ryu kept it there until the Jays’ run-scoring fifth, which featured back-to-back home runs by Travis Shaw (with a Bo Bichette single aboard) and Cavan Biggio.

The one-run lead didn’t last long at all, as the Cards pounced on Ryu in the bottom of that same frame. It all happened with two out. With a runner on first, Paul DeJong tied the game with a double. Ryu followed by walking Yadier Molina, then Burnaby, B.C.’s Tyler O’Neill scored DeJong with a single to give St. Louis the lead and Dexter Fowler followed with a two-run double.

The Blue Jays had their chances the rest of the way – putting two men on in the sixth and loading the bases in the seventh, but couldn’t break through and wound up with a 6-3 loss with one game to go on the trip.

In the series finale, the Jays’ bats continued to show renewed signs of life. This time, they jumped out to a 4-0 lead on Carlos Martinez with an RBI double by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. in the first and a three-run rally in the third that featured a solo shot from Shaw and a two-run homer by McGuire.

But Tanner Roark, who came into the game with an ERA of 6.47, couldn’t hold the lead. He gave a couple back in the bottom of the third when Matt Carpenter took him deep with a man on, and suffered a great ignominy the next inning when, with two out, he gave up a go-ahead two-run double to the opposing pitcher.

The Blue Jays wouldn’t recover from that, losing 7-5 and finishing the road trip with only one win in eight games, having lost six in a row. Rarely has a day off been needed more, and the Jays got one before welcoming the hated Texas Rangers for a four-game series.

One roster move was made before the homestand started. It was the end of the road for Derek Fisher. The much-maligned outfielder played in both games in St. Louis and went 0-for-7 with six strikeouts, dropping his totals in the simulation to .108/.256/.123 with 29 strikeouts in 65 at-bats. He was designated for assignment, replaced by Billy McKinney, who was immediately placed in the starting line-up playing right field and batting ninth.

Here’s where things get weird. This is a baseball simulation we’re running here. It’s not random at all, since the results are based fully on what players actually did on the field in 2019. Yes, it’s a roll of the dice for every plate appearance, but the results of those dice rolls, on a percentage basis, are derived from each player’s overall 2019 statistics, as opposed to what they did game by game.

Last season, McKinney rode the shuttle from Buffalo to Toronto, being optioned and recalled three times each after making the team out of spring training. Each time he came back from Triple-A, he hit a home run in his first game back. The simulation doesn’t account for this, and (as far as I know) it hasn’t yet developed sentience, and yet…

McKinney hit a home run in his first game back from Triple-A.

It was a three-run shot, and the cherry on top of a big Blue Jays rout. McKinney’s homer came in the fifth inning and made the score 9-0 at the time. He added a run-scoring double in his next trip. McGuire and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. got the blowout started with back to back two-run doubles with two out in the first inning, and Shaw later homered for the third straight game.

All this offence came with Matt Shoemaker throwing an absolute gem. The righty took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, having allowed just a single walk to that point, but the bid for virtual history ended with Danny Santana’s one-out home run in the seventh with another walk aboard. Shoemaker and Jacob Waguespack wound up combining on a two-hitter as the Blue Jays toppled Texas 11-3, scoring just one fewer run in the game as they had the entire week prior.

The next night, the Blue Jays were put in a deep hole early on as Texas put up a four-spot on Chase Anderson in the first. The Ranger rally started with two out and nobody on with a Joey Gallo double. Next up was Santana, and he hit a grounder to short that Bichette mishandled.

The error not only allowed the inning to continue, it opened the floodgates. Todd Frazier followed with an RBI single, then Anderson hit Nick Solak with a pitch and Isiah Kiner-Falefa ripped a three-run double. Texas had four – albeit all of them unearned – before a single Blue Jay grabbed a bat.

But in the bottom of the first, every Blue Jay wound up grabbing a bat. They pounced on an uncharacteristically wild Corey Kluber and knocked him out of the game quickly. Bichette led off with a double, and Kluber then walked the next three hitters, forcing in a run. Rowdy Tellez popped up for the first out of the inning, and McGuire followed with a Grand Slam to erase the deficit and put the Blue Jays on top 5-4.

From there, Anderson held the fort beautifully, allowing just two singles and getting through the requisite five innings despite the disastrous first. It was former Blue Jay Jesse Chavez who took over for Kluber and settled things down, putting up zeroes until the Jays finally knocked him out in the sixth with back-to-back doubles by Gurriel and Randal Grichuk.

In the seventh, after a Ronald Guzman error, Grichuk would blast a three-run homer to match McGuire’s four RBIs as the Jays rolled the Rangers once again, this time 10-5. The 21 runs scored over the first two games of the homestand exceeded the Blue Jays’ entire offensive output over their 1-7 road trip just completed by one run.

The big-time bats were shut down the next day, though, running into the buzzsaw that was Lance Lynn. The Rangers’ ace went the route, allowing just two runs on eight hits with 10 strikeouts against only one walk.

Again, the simulation knows nothing of the Toronto-Texas rivalry that began in the 2015 playoffs, and yet…

In the top of the second inning, Trent Thornton hit Todd Frazier with a pitch. No big deal.

In the top of the third inning, Shin-Soo Choo led off with a home run to open the scoring and, after striking out Elvis Andrus, Thornton drilled Joey Gallo with a pitch. Thornton was ejected and Gallo had to leave the game.

Shun Yamaguchi took over and got out of that inning without further damage, but gave up a two-run double to Guzman in the fourth and a two-run single to Andrus in the sixth. Texas broke the game open in the eighth as Sam Travis, who had taken over for the injured Gallo, drilled a three-run triple off of Wilmer Font. The Rangers would have a chance for a four-game split thanks to a 9-2 win.

Having run out the same starting line-up three games in a row (I mean, they scored 11 runs, then 10, so why would you change it?), the Blue Jays gave a bunch of regulars a rest in the series finale, hoping to utilize the off-day that followed to give Bichette, Biggio, Guerrero and Gurriel two days off in a row. Those four had carried a heavy load through the first 65 games of the simulation, with Bichette appearing in every game so far (though not having started them all), Gurriel in 62, Biggio 60 and Guerrero 59.

With the “B” team in, it would appear that Ryu had his work cut out for him, and the lefty held the Rangers off the board early until the Blue Jays struck in the bottom of the third. Jansen led off with a single but was taken off the bases by Brandon Drury’s fielder’s choice grounder. Jonathan Davis then hit a drive to deep centre that Santana crashed into the wall chasing. Davis wound up with a triple, scoring Drury, and Santana had to leave the game. Two batters later, Panik’s ground ball to short scored Davis to make it 2-0.

Texas got one back in the fifth on back-to-back doubles by Travis and Scott Heineman, who was called up with Gallo going on the injured list, but that was all they would get off Ryu, who went eight innings.

The Jays finally gave their ace some breathing room in the bottom of the eighth, knocking Texas starter Kyle Gibson out with a leadoff single from Panik. The Rangers went to lefty Brett Martin to face Shaw, but Bichette came off the bench and delivered a pinch-hit single. Grichuk then singled to score Panik and Tellez singled to drive in Bichette. Three batters faced for Martin, zero retired, and with a bunch of righties coming up, in came old friend Derek Law, who got Hernandez to ground into a double play, though that scored another run.

Ken Giles, having not had a save opportunity in two weeks, came out of the bullpen to finish it up despite the four-run lead and made things interesting. He issued a leadoff walk to Choo and Travis followed with a single before the Blue Jays’ closer struck out the next two hitters, but Matt Duffy singled to load the bases and bring Andrus to the plate as the tying run.

Andrus hit a fly ball to deep left field…run down by Teoscar Hernandez just in front of the warning track. The Blue Jays had a 5-1 win and took three of four from Texas over the weekend series to improve to 27-39 on the simulation so far.

This week, the homestand continues as Seattle comes to town for three games before the Blue Jays hit the virtual road once again, heading down the 401 to Detroit.

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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