With most sports still on pause as the world tries to both slow the spread of COVID-19 and begin the recovery from lockdown, there are still ways to fill the void created by the lack of games until things get started up again. 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 is 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 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.
The Toronto Blue Jays entered this past week on a high note, having taken three out of four from the Texas Rangers after a disastrous 1-8 road trip, and things got even better — but not before an early bump in the road.
The Seattle Mariners came to town to open a three-game series and knocked around Tanner Roark in the opener, putting 11 men on base against him in just four innings.
Somehow, they only scored three runs, but that was enough to build a lead that they never relinquished. Rookie Justus Sheffield – the prize return in the trade that sent Big Maple, James Paxton, to the Yankees – went six strong and left with a 4-2 lead. The Jays rallied late, with two-out singles from Reese McGuire and Bo Bichette putting the tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth, but M’s closer Matt Magill struck out Cavan Biggio to preserve a 5-3 win for the Jays’ expansion cousins.
That, however, would be the Blue Jays’ only loss of the week. And the winning would start with simulated history being made the next night.
Matt Shoemaker took the mound for the Jays in the middle game of the series, and not only continued his brilliance to this point in the simulation, but took it a mighty step forward.
In 13 starts to begin the “season,” Shoemaker had allowed just 50 hits in 87 innings of work. Last time out, he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Texas before allowing a home run to Danny Santana.
This time, Shoemaker once again took a no-hitter into the seventh, then into the eighth, and into the ninth.
It wasn’t perfect, by any means. Shoemaker walked J.P. Crawford in the first inning, the second batter he faced. Another Mariner reached in the second on a Rowdy Tellez error, but that was it for a while. The big righty set down 18 Seattle hitters in a row after that, a streak broken up by a two-out walk to Dee Gordon in the eighth.
While Shoemaker was putting up zeroes, the Blue Jays built him a 5-0 lead over the first four innings, helped out by three Seattle errors, but also an RBI double by Tellez and a single and a ground out by Joe Panik that each knocked in a run.
The drama was all on the pitching side, though. Only one no-hitter has ever been thrown in Blue Jays history, and none on home soil. That lone no-no was Dave Stieb’s on September 2, 1990 in Cleveland. It was the fourth time Stieb had had a no-hitter going with two out in the ninth inning. Since then, Roy Halladay got that close — in his second big-league start back in 1998 — and Brandon Morrow did it in 2010 against the Rays, but neither was able to seal the deal.
After the walk to Gordon, Shoemaker struck out Mallex Smith to end the eighth, and after the Blue Jays were held hitless in the bottom of the frame by Wei-Yin Chen, Shoemaker came back out to the mound to make his bid for simulated history.
He struck out Shed Long. Then he struck out Crawford. And, with one out to go, he struck out long-time Blue Jays nemesis Kyle Seager and had what would have been the second no-hitter in Blue Jays’ history. Shoemaker wound up with 10 strikeouts over his brilliant outing, and the Jays had a 5-0 win. It was sweet revenge for Seattle’s 2018 no-hitter at Rogers Centre, authored by Paxton.
It should be noted that I have been playing this particular baseball simulation game for over three decades, and I have had my teams throw only two no-hitters over that span (Francisco Oliveras, I think, in the early ‘90s and Mike Fiers a couple of years ago). This is definitely not a foreseeable outcome, or anywhere near a regular occurrence, in the simulation. It was, however, really exciting.
Chase Anderson had a tough act to follow the next day in the rubber match of the series, and there was no no-hit drama to be had at all. Gordon led off the game with an infield single on a little dribbler in front of the mound that Anderson threw away down the right field line. Gordon got greedy, though, and was thrown out trying to go all the way to third on the play.
The Blue Jays took the early lead off Nick Margevicius as Bichette led off the bottom of the first with a double and Biggio singled him home, but Seattle tied it in the second on a solo homer by Daniel Vogelbach. That was the last hit the Mariners would get off Anderson, though, and the righty took it all the way to the seventh inning before handing it off to the bullpen.
At that point, the Blue Jays had a 3-1 lead thanks to back-to-back two-out RBI doubles by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Reese McGuire in the third. A shutout inning of relief each from Sam Gaviglio, Anthony Bass and Ken Giles secured a 3-1 win and the Jays’ second-straight series victory.
It was time for the shortest road trip of the season, both in distance and time. The Jays headed down the 401 for a three-game jaunt to Detroit to take on the lowly Tigers, with five wins in their last seven games.
Trent Thornton was serving his suspension for drilling Joey Gallo in a game against Texas the week prior, so Shun Yamaguchi took the ball for his first start of the simulation. Seventy games into the season, this was the first time one of the Blue Jays’ five regular starters had missed a turn — an incredible feat for which luck gets more credit than anything else.
Yamaguchi was the recipient of some good fortune of his own – the bats handed him a four-run lead before he even threw a pitch. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. doubled in a pair off former Blue Jay Daniel Norris in the top of the first, and two batters later, Tellez went deep. His 13th home run of the simulation tied Bichette for the club lead.
Yamaguchi didn’t look out of place as a starter, allowing only single over the first three innings, and didn’t give up a run until a Jonathan Schoop double (his first of three in the game) scored a leadoff walk in the fourth.
The Blue Jays got that run back in the fifth on an RBI single by Danny Jansen, and another in the sixth when Tellez singled home a run.
The Tigers finally knocked out Yamaguchi in the bottom of the sixth after consecutive one-out singles by Miguel Cabrera and C.J. Cron. Wilmer Font entered and immediately gave up a two-run double to Schoop before getting out of the inning.
In the ninth, Giles came in with to protect the three-run lead, working for the second straight day after barely having anything to do for two weeks. He gave up a leadoff double to Schoop (who else?) and Christin Stewart singled Schoop home with one out, but a couple of fly balls later the Blue Jays had a 6-4 victory and matched their longest winning streak of the season at three games.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was got the call the next day and, like Yamaguchi before him, was staked to a lead before he ever took the mound. This time it was Biggio with an RBI double. He was later singled home by McGuire to give the Jays a 2-0 lead.
The lefty gave one back in the first, as the Tigers started the inning double-single-single, but he shut down the rally there. Jake Rogers went deep in the second, though, to tie the game.
At that point, Ryu had had enough. He followed the Rogers longball by setting down the next 11 Tigers he faced and only gave up one hit between then and the eighth inning.
While their ace was doing that, the Blue Jays were being discourteous at best to Detroit relievers. Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann had to leave the game injured in the fourth with a runner on, and Gregory Soto came in out of the bullpen. The first batter he faced, Bichette, smacked a two-run homer.
Soto lasted until the sixth, when he gave up a couple of hits and walked Biggio to load the bases. He handed things over to David McKay and the first batter the righty faced, Vladdy Jr., blasted a Grand Slam. While Bichette’s homer was his team-leading 14th of the simulation, the VladSlam was only Guerrero’s fifth home run. Better things are expected as the simulated season progresses, but this one was good enough to help the Blue Jays to their fourth straight win — they cubed the Tigers 8-2.
In the final game of the series, the Jays brought their brooms to the ballpark. It was the first time they had a chance for a sweep since April 1, the seventh game of the season, when they lost 12-2 to the Reds after winning the first two games of the series by identical 4-3 scores.
They didn’t waste this opportunity, once again scoring multiple runs in the first inning. This time it was a five-spot against former Blue Jay Matthew Boyd. It started with a Bichette single followed by a Biggio walk. An out later, Vlad Jr. singled in Bichette and Randal Grichuk followed with a two-run double. After Tellez popped up, Teoscar Hernandez powered up and belted a two-run shot to deep centre.
In three games in Detroit, the Jays scored 11 runs in the first inning. They had scored a total of two first-inning runs in their previous five games.
Roark gave a run back right away, hitting leadoff man Niko Goodrum with a pitch and giving up an RBI double to Harold Castro, but that was it and the Jays got him two more in the top of the second on a two-run homer by Gurriel.
It was 7-2 Blue Jays into the fifth when Roark gave up back-to-back two-out RBI singles to Cron and Schoop that allowed Detroit to bring the tying run to the plate, but the righty got Jeimer Candelario to snuff out the rally and escape with a five-and-dive intact.
The game never got that close again. Jansen added to the longball parade with a two-run homer in the sixth — only his second of the simulation — and Jonathan Davis cashed two more with a single in the seventh. It may not be much of a coincidence that Davis was in centre field for every game this week, providing above-average defence and speed in helping the Blue Jays build this winning streak.
After Roark left, Jacob Waguespack came on to provide three innings of one-hit shutout relief and Bass finished things up. The Blue Jays had an 11-4 win, their first sweep of the simulation and a five-game winning streak to cap a 5-1 week that lifted their record to a still-suboptimal 32-40 as the simulation approaches the halfway mark of a full season.
This week, the Blue Jays come home for a Monday off-day, then welcome the Tampa Bay Rays for three games before hitting the road again for some interleague action against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the first game against Tampa Bay, Shoemaker takes the mound to follow up his no-hitter.
The bearded righty has allowed a total of just one hit over his last two starts, totalling 16 innings.
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!