Milestone chases lend intrigue as Blue Jays’ season winds down

Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman talks with media after his teams win over the Kansas City Royals and talks about his chemistry with Russell Martin, blisters, and his delivery.

TORONTO – For a Toronto Blue Jays team that began the 2017 season with high hopes, the year can safely be categorized as a disappointment.

There’s no escaping that fate as a frustrating season winds down. Even so, a few Blue Jays players are approaching significant individual milestones, lending intrigue to the last two weeks of the regular season. It’s no substitute for a pennant race, but those personal accomplishments still matter.

As manager John Gibbons said Tuesday, “If you’ve got guys out there that are close to certain things, you want to see them get it.”

Marcus Stroman’s close to reaching the 200-inning plateau for the second consecutive season, with 191.1 innings and counting. Justin Smoak’s just two home runs away from 40, and with 89 RBI on the season, the century mark’s within reach. In the bullpen, Roberto Osuna’s three saves away from 40.

A few milestones are in the books already. Thanks to a late-summer surge, Josh Donaldson has reached the 30-homer plateau for the third time in as many years with the Blue Jays. And, in the department of records you’d rather not set, Jose Bautista tied the Blue Jays’ single-season strikeout record Tuesday with his 159th whiff of 2017.

The 200-inning plateau remains a goal for Stroman, who pitched seven strong innings against the Kansas City Royals Tuesday. He now has two outings remaining, both against the Yankees. He’ll start the Blue Jays’ final home game of the season on Sunday, and is scheduled to pitch six days later in New York.

“I feel extremely strong,” Stroman said Tuesday. “I feel like I could throw another however many innings. I feel great and I’m looking forward to my next two starts.”

Last year Stroman was one of just 15 pitchers to log 200 innings. This year the 200-inning club is shaping up to be just as small. In the era of expanded bullpens, few starters are asked to pitch that much. The ones who do are typically the best starters in the game.

“I know it’s important to him,” Gibbons said. “It’s important to me too that he gets it.”

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Smoak, meanwhile, has already reached some lofty milestones, having made his first all-star team and reached the 30-homer plateau.

“I feel like 20’s big. When I hit 30, I was like, ‘Man, that’s really good,’” Smoak said. “Now, 38, it’s been a great year.”

Pushing that total to 40 would be meaningful for Smoak, who had never surpassed 20 homers in a season before 2017. Regardless, there are already many positives to take from his breakout year.

“Honestly, if the season ended today, I’d be happy with it,” Smoak said. “At the same time, you want to keep pushing forward. There have been times in the last few weeks where I’ve had the chance to get guys in from third base or second base and I haven’t done it. I think it’s more of getting out there, grinding it out and seeing what happens at the end.”

At this point that’s all anyone can do, with the possible exception of Gibbons. Two seasons ago, with Mark Buehrle six outs away from his 15th consecutive 200-inning season, Gibbons called on Buehrle on one day’s rest. The left-hander retired just two batters, and ended the year with 198.2 innings pitched.

Despite the Blue Jays’ best intentions, it was a distinctly unsatisfying way to finish an otherwise stellar regular season, and it’s not an experience anyone’s eager to repeat with Stroman.

“I would hope it doesn’t come to that,” Gibbons said.

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