TORONTO — Boy, the Baltimore Orioles sure force you to re-contextualize what a truly awful baseball team looks like. Because as bleak as things have been for the Toronto Blue Jays in recent weeks, and they’ve had some dark, dark days, at no point did you sense the feel of utter surrender their visitors carried while suffering a four-game sweep over the weekend.
The Orioles (19-45) are on pace to lose 114 games this year — and that’s with Manny Machado’s 2.7 WAR, per FanGraphs. Just wait until he gets traded before the non-waiver deadline to see how big that sewage inferno can grow.
As for the Blue Jays (30-35), their 13-3 romp Sunday afternoon highlighted by a career-best six RBIs from Curtis Granderson and six innings of two-run ball from Marco Estrada capped a rare weekend of joy. The four straight victories — on the heels of an 8-22 stretch — match their longest winning streak of the season, and they head to Tampa Bay for a three-game series against the Rays (29-35) with a real opportunity to extend the good vibes.
After what they’ve been through of late, that’s something to latch onto.
“You pick up a win and you realize things can change quickly, like they did over the course of 24 hours, maybe less. You get a walk-off, then you get another walk-off and then you put yourself in a situation to do stuff like today,” said Granderson. “But also have an understanding that it can easily switch back.
“Going into Tampa, definitely not an easy task for this team, this organization, going in there. I know it’s not a place we’ve played very successfully over the course of the last few seasons. But go in knowing, okay, one game at a time, put ourselves in a situation where we can hopefully be successful.”
Still, big picture, sweeping baseball’s worst team doesn’t change much for the Blue Jays, although it may have, at least temporarily, eased some of the heat on manager John Gibbons. Even with Josh Donaldson working toward a return from the disabled list — Gibbons said he won’t be ready Monday, but Tuesday or Wednesday might be possible — and Marcus Stroman set to make a rehab start Wednesday, it remains difficult to imagine this team suddenly catapulting itself back toward relevancy.
After the Rays series, the Blue Jays begin a 27-game stretch during which only six outings — four with Detroit and two with the Mets — are against sub-.500 clubs. Those contests are sandwiched around 12 games versus Washington, Atlanta, the Angels and Houston, and nine contests versus the Yankees, Braves and Red Sox.
So things can get grim again real quick, which is why capitalizing on the Orioles was pivotal in keeping the Blue Jays from really getting buried.
“We played four pretty good games — some of us don’t live in the past,” quipped Gibbons. “Today was one of those games where everything worked. Marco was really, really good, the offence really came to life — we played a good series, there’s no doubt about that.
“But we were overdue, also.”
To some degree, they without doubt were, but it’s unlikely they correct enough to prevent an eventual sell-off of pending free-agent assets.
Toward that end, Saturday’s waiver claim of Preston Guilmet from St. Louis makes a little more sense. The Blue Jays have a pretty good handle on what they have at triple-A Buffalo and the right-hander — previously claimed by Toronto from Pittsburgh in December 2014 before Tampa Bay picked him up in May 2015 — could turn into the kind of depth piece needed to backfill once trades are eventually made.
Tim Mayza, the hard-throwing lefty who will be a part of the bullpen’s future, was optioned to triple-A Buffalo after throwing two innings Sunday to make room.
In the interim, the Blue Jays will watch for the players who are the beginning of the roster’s transition to keep on developing.
They’ll look for Randal Grichuk — who picked up three more singles Sunday and is 8-for-16 during a four-game hit streak — to prove that this is more indicative of the type of player he is than his slump at the beginning of the season.
“He’s more relaxed — that’s my impression watching him,” said Gibbons. “Of course that’s confidence — you get some hits, your whole game gets better. He was playing good for us, he just wasn’t hitting early on. That wears on you. He’s staying on the ball a bit better. Early on, his swing was a little too quick, in and out of the zone, cutting himself off. His bat path looks a bit better to me. He’s laying off some breaking balls in the dirt, off-speed, whatever they’re throwing him. Early on he wasn’t doing that. He’s like anybody else, you have a better chance when you’re swinging at strikes.”
For Teoscar Hernandez — who added two more hits, including his 10th homer — to keep on proving that he can be a productive regular.
And for players like Granderson — who had a two-run double in the second, a three-run homer in the fourth and a run-scoring double in the fifth — and Estrada, who struck out nine over six innings of four-run ball, to build some trade value ahead of the deadline.
Estrada has now thrown consecutive gems after being left puzzled at Fenway Park when the Red Sox roughed him up for four runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings.
“That Boston game was weird, I felt like I made some good pitches but still hadn’t felt like my changeup was there. Guys seemed to be all over it,” said Estrada. “All of a sudden, I’ve gotten on top of it a bit more, the rotation is a little bit better, the spin is better, it’s looking more like a fastball. I’m seeing the hitters out in front, even today on the home run, (Trey Mancini) was out in front. He’s a strong guy and somehow barrelled it.
“But for the most part I just feel I’m throwing better changeups, disguising it a little better, I guess. I’m throwing it more like a fastball and it’s throwing hitters off. That’s really been it.”
So yeah, the weekend was fun, but the Blue Jays still have 97 games remaining this season, and only 12 of them are against the Orioles.