Blue Jays simulation: McKinney leads the way in season-long win streak


Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Billy McKinney, right, celebrates with teammates after a win. (Nathan Denette/CP)

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 towards 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 100 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.

The Blue Jays came into this past week riding high. They’d just swept the Pirates in Pittsburgh to run their win streak to four games and had won 10 of their last 11, having finished off a second straight 5-1 week. The juggernaut would not be slowed.

This past week began with the second leg of the interleague road trip. The Jays went to Milwaukee to face a Brewers team that built on their back-to-back post-season berths by adding friendly faces like Justin Smoak and Eric Sogard over the winter, and also familiar foe Brock Holt. The series opener pitted Toronto’s Chase Anderson against his former team — and the Blue Jays wasted no time building him a huge lead.

Bo Bichette, coming off his incredible (.536 average, 5 HR, 15 RBI) AL Simulated Player of the Week honours the week before, picked up right where he left off, opening the game with a home run, his fifth in the last four games.

The second inning started with three-straight Blue Jays hits to load the bases with nobody out, but both Jonathan Davis and Anderson followed with ground balls that resulted in force outs at the plate. Not to worry, Bichette was next, and he smacked a two-run single. Travis Shaw then did the same.

In the third, Bichette again came up with two runners on – following an RBI single by the pitcher Anderson, no less – and this time he went deep again. The three-run shot gave Bichette six RBIs in the first three innings and made it 9-0, Blue Jays.

They would go on to win in a rout, 15-5. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. added a three-run homer of his own and Bichette got the rest of the night off after his fifth-inning single made him 4-for-4. Jacob Waguespack picked up Anderson for the final four innings, notching his first save of the simulation. He has yet to record his first real-life save.

The middle game of the series was far less of a slugfest. In fact, it was the first time in six games that the Blue Jays didn’t score at least eight runs. Maybe it was because Bichette went 0-for-3.

A brilliant performance by Trent Thornton did the trick this time. The sophomore righty threw seven innings of four-hit ball, with the only damage being a two-run homer by Avisail Garcia in the bottom of the fifth. In the top of that inning, the Blue Jays had taken a 3-0 lead thanks to a two-run shot by Rowdy Tellez and a two-out Joe Panik double that was cashed by a Davis single.

Davis went deep in the sixth – just his second home run of the simulation – to provide a little insurance, and the pitching took it from there. Anthony Bass and Ken Giles each threw a perfect inning in relief of the spectacular Thornton and the Blue Jays nabbed a season-high seventh straight win, 4-2 over the Brew Crew.

In the series finale, the Jays weren’t looking to just sweep the series, but to sweep the entire road trip. It was the 81st game of the season, the official mid-way point, and a Blue Jays team that was looking pretty much done after a 1-8 road trip left them at 24-38 was now 39-41, looking to hit the halfway mark just a game under the break-even point. And they had their ace on the mound!

Hyun-Jin Ryu didn’t have it early, though, and he dug his team a big hole.

Five of the first six batters the lefty faced reached base. With two on and one out, Ryu gave up back-to-back-to-back RBI singles to Keston Hiura, ol’ Smoakey and Manny Pina. In the second inning, Christian Yelich doubled home Lorenzo Cain and the Jays were down 4-0. At that point, Ryu locked it in.

Following the Yelich double, Ryu gave up just one more hit before being pinch-hit for in the seventh, retiring 14 of the last 16 hitters he faced, giving the Jays a chance to mount a comeback. But Brandon Woodruff was spinning a gem for the home side. Woodruff allowed just three hits through seven terrific innings, striking out 10 while walking three.

He didn’t come out for the eighth, though, and with a four-run lead, the Brewers didn’t go to their regular set-up man, Brent Suter, instead bringing in righty Ray Black.

The Jays were thrilled to see the end of Woodruff, and even more thrilled when Black walked the first two batters he faced. This used to be where we would see a pitching change, with Suter coming in to bail Black out, but relievers have to face at least three batters now, so Black stayed in and served up a three-run bomb to Guerrero Jr. to shave the deficit to a single run.

That brought Suter into the game, and Reese McGuire greeted him by belting a game-tying solo shot. Suter retired the next two batters, but then walk a pair, so Milwaukee’s hard-throwing closer Josh Hader had to come in to face Bichette with two out, and got him to ground out to end the inning.

In the top of the ninth, Travis Shaw led off with a walk. Hader argued the ball four call a little too loudly and got himself thrown out of the game, so in came former Blue Jay David Phelps to try to preserve the tie. After Cavan Biggio struck out, Guerrero Jr. came to the plate and crushed a line drive to deep centre. Lorenzo Cain gave chase and crashed into the wall in pursuit, but he couldn’t come up with it and Vladdy had a triple to give the Jays the lead for the first time in the game. Another perfect inning of relief from Giles and the Blue Jays had a 5-4 win and a 6-0 road trip. At the season’s halfway point, they were 40-41, having won seven in a row and 13 of 14.

Would a day off, combined with a visit from the best player in the game, slow them down?

Mike Trout and the Angels rolled into Toronto and made an immediate impression. Tommy La Stella led off the series opener with a home run off Tanner Roark to put the Halos on top early.

In the second inning, Andrelton Simmons doubled and Jason Castro followed with a high pop-up toward the seats on the first base side. Tellez ran after it and crashed into the short retaining wall. The ball dropped foul, and Rowdy had to leave the game, replaced by Billy McKinney. That would prove quite meaningful.

David Fletcher scored Simmons with a single, and it stayed 2-0 Angels until the fifth, when the Blue Jays finally got to lefty Patrick Sandoval. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. doubled with one out and Guerrero Jr. walked behind him, bringing up McKinney, who put one in the seats to give the Jays a 3-2 lead.

Roark was having one of his best starts of the simulation, and he had retired eight batters in a row when he hit Brian Goodwin with a pitch with one out in the sixth. A Simmons groundout moved the runner into scoring position with two out, and Roark was left in to face Castro, who doubled Goodwin home to tie the game.

Sam Gaviglio came out of the Jays’ bullpen to throw a pair of shutout innings while Cam Bedrosian did the same for the Angels, and it was still tied 3-3 going to the bottom of the eighth when McKinney led off by, of course, going deep. His second home run of the game was his third of the simulation, and he wasn’t even supposed to be playing.

Working on a third day out of four, Giles wasn’t perfect, but he stranded a leadoff double, getting Trout to ground out to end what was the Blue Jays’ eighth straight win, a 4-3 nail-biter. Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani combined to go 0-for-12.

All good things must come to an end, but surprisingly it was Matt Shoemaker who got his ears pinned back to snap the winning streak. The former Angel has been the Blue Jays best starting pitcher in the simulation, throwing a no-hitter among other things, but he didn’t have it on this day.

Shoemaker gave up a four-spot in the first inning, with Ohtani doubling in a run and Goodwin singling home a pair with two out. In the second, Shoemaker gave up a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases with one out, and Shun Yamaguchi got the call from the bullpen. Unfortunately, he was no better.

Yamaguchi gave up a run-scoring ground ball to Ohtani, then served up a three-run homer to Albert Pujols to make it 8-0.

Credit the Jays for making it kind of close, though. McKinney homered in the third, giving him a round-tripper three consecutive at-bats, and a three-run homer by Gurriel Jr. in the seventh cut the Angels’ lead to 9-6, but Toronto would get no closer. Ohtani added a two-run shot off Wilmer Font in the eighth and the win streak ended at eight with an 11-8 loss.

The rubber match was another slugfest, and again McKinney was at the centre of it all. With Bichette receiving the day off – he had played in every game so far in the sim – McKinney was put in the leadoff spot and he tripled in the bottom of the first. Shaw followed by going deep for a quick 2-0 lead, which the Jays built to 7-2 through three innings with help from a Tellez homer, a Gurriel Jr. RBI double and RBI singles by Panik and, who else, McKinney.

Anderson couldn’t handle the prosperity and gave up three runs in the top of the fifth – as the first four batters of the inning reaching on a pair of singles and a pair of walks. Waguespack came in to bail him out, but the lead was down to 7-5.

Not for long, though, because McKinney struck again, drilling a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth to get the lead back up to five runs. Over three incredible games, McKinney went 7-for-12 with a triple, four home runs and 10 RBIs. In this game, both he and Shaw finished a double shy of the cycle.

The Angels would never get close, though they did get the tying run to the on-deck circle against Anthony Bass in the ninth. It was an 11-7 victory to close out the third straight 5-1 week for the Blue Jays and get them back to .500 at 42-42.

The homestand continues this week after a Monday off-day. The Blue Jays will host the White Sox for Canada Day and the Yankees for the Fourth of July. This current 15-2 run has been built almost exclusively outside the division, with only three games against the Tampa Bay Rays. Once the White Sox leave town, though, it’s the Yankees and Red Sox, followed by the big-hitting Minnesota Twins. It’ll be a good test right up to 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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