As Raptors celebrate title, Blue Jays’ rotation struggles worsen

Edwin Jackson spoke with reporters post-game after the Blue Jays lost the opener against the Los Angeles Angels.

TORONTO – For the millions of Toronto sports fans who spent their afternoons watching the Raptors party their way through the city with cigars and champagne in hand, Monday night’s Blue Jays game must have felt like the morning after a bender with Marc Gasol.

One moment you’re watching Kawhi Leonard hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy next to Drake. The next you’re watching Edwin Jackson allow a home run on the first pitch he throws (it only got worse from there in a 10-5 Blue Jays loss).

The contrast reinforces just how far the Blue Jays have to go before re-joining baseball’s best. Now 26-46, they’re in the depths of a rebuild with no clear end in sight. Before they can realistically envision a parade of their own, there’s much work to be done, particularly on the pitching side.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

In the meantime, Blue Jays are fans of the Raptors like anyone else. A ‘We The North’ banner hung in centre field at Rogers Centre, and the back of the pitchers’ mound featured the Raptors’ claw logo. Players watched on TV from the home clubhouse as fans sang “We Are the Champions” at Nathan Phillips Square.

“It’s awesome,” manager Charlie Montoyo said before the game as coverage of the Raptors’ parade played in his office. “Pretty cool.”

On a truly memorable day for Toronto sports fans, Jackson had an outing to forget. After a perfect first inning from opener Derek Law, Justin Upton sent Jackson’s first pitch over the wall. The next batter, Kole Calhoun, homered too. Six of the following eight hitters reached, and five came around to score.

“My pitching’s just been horsesh*t, to be honest,” Jackson said afterwards. “Execution has been terrible.”

“I come in and pretty much single-handedly kill the team,” he continued. “It’s not very fun, but I know what I’m capable of doing. I just haven’t been doing that since I’ve been here.”

By the time Jackson left, he had thrown 38 pitches and recorded just two outs. His ERA had climbed to 12.43, but based on what Montoyo said, the Blue Jays seem likely to keep Jackson in the rotation for now.

“Because he was so good last year we want to keep giving him a chance,” Montoyo said. “He just hasn’t been able to do it.”

Take nothing away from Jackson’s distinguished 17-year career. He has pitched a no-hitter, won a World Series and played for an MLB-record 14 teams. But he’s not giving the Blue Jays enough right now. Whether it’s Jacob Waguespack, Sean Reid-Foley, Sam Gaviglio or someone else the Blue Jays should be looking hard for an alternative.

On a more positive note, Cavan Biggio continued showing an impressive plate approach with two home runs and two walks.

“My main goal is to either hit the ball hard or get on base,” he said.

Thanks to his strike zone judgment and power, the rookie utility player has done plenty of both or late, quietly posting an .895 OPS since arriving in the majors.

“From day one when he got here, he’s been having good at-bats,” Montoyo said. “He has a great approach at the plate.”

Biggio also showcased his defensive versatility, making his first start of the year in left field before moving to right when a left wrist sprain forced Teoscar Hernandez out of the game (X-rays on Hernandez were negative).

The Blue Jays did get some reinforcements Monday, as reliever David Phelps completed his return from Tommy John surgery to pitch in a big-league game for the first time since Aug. 30, 2017. He pitched a scoreless seventh inning, striking out one while topping out at 92 m.p.h. Afterwards, he made sure to grab the ball used to record the final out from Freddy Galvis.

To create roster space for Phelps, the Blue Jays moved Elvis Luciano to the 60-day injured list, indicating that the Rule 5 pick will miss at least two months. While injuries are always a cause for some concern, there’s a silver lining in this case since the Blue Jays gain Luciano’s long-term rights after just 13 more days on the active roster.

Despite Phelps’ strong debut, the Blue Jays couldn’t contain the Angels’ best hitters. Upton homered in his first at-bat back from the injured list, Ohtani went deep for the ninth time in just 35 games and Trout had four hits, including his 20th homer of the year.

Thanks to young players like Biggio, this Blue Jays team will show you flashes of brilliance even when they lose. In that sense, they’re more intriguing than they were before Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arrived. Perhaps Bo Bichette will be next.

But so much work remains before the Blue Jays earn a place among major-league baseball’s elite again. The Raptors are the standard in this country while the Blue Jays continue working toward the day they can celebrate, too.

“It’s got to inspire you,” Montoyo said. “It’s what’s going to happen if we win.”

Until then, does Gasol have any more of that rosé? This pitching’s tough to watch.

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