TORONTO – The Blue Jays had the better part of five days to prepare for their first playoff game since 2016. They’ll have less than 24 hours to prepare for their next playoff game – and this time the stakes are even higher.
Game 2 against the Rays is now a must-win for the Blue Jays, who lost the wild card series opener at Tropicana Field, 3-1, on Tuesday despite some strong pitching. There’s a reasonable debate to be had about whether Matt Shoemaker should have stayed in the game beyond the third inning, but wherever that discussion takes you, it doesn’t lessen the challenge now facing the Blue Jays. Unless they win Wednesday, their season ends.
“You’ve got to let this game go,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after Game 1. “An outstanding game. We didn’t hit today. Let’s get ready for (Tyler) Glasnow tomorrow.”
Already, we’ve seen how impactful tactical decisions can become in a short series, and from this point on the margin for error is even thinner for the Blue Jays. On and off the field, every choice will be amplified whether it works out or not. With that in mind, here are a few areas worth watching in the days ahead…
How do Blue Jays line up vs. Glasnow?
One night after facing former Cy Young winner Blake Snell, the Blue Jays will face a pitcher whose stuff is just as good. Thanks to a fastball that averages 97 m.p.h. and an effective curve, right-hander Tyler Glasnow struck out 14.28 batters per nine innings this year. That presents a tough matchup for any team, especially one that has sometimes struggled against high-velocity arms.
For Montoyo and the Blue Jays, this creates some potentially tough choices in the lineup. While Alejandro Kirk impressed in Game 1 with an opposite-field single, he might not start Wednesday. With Hyun Jin Ryu on the mound, Danny Jansen is certain to catch and the designated hitter spot may go to the left-handed hitting Rowdy Tellez, who collected a pinch-hit single in his first game in three weeks.
Not only did Tellez put together a good at-bat, he stayed in the game as a baserunner and scored, showing that his knee has healed enough to make him more than a pinch-hit option.
“He’s actually not that slow, and he ran the bases pretty good,” Montoyo said.
If Tellez starts at DH, Kirk would be available off the bench to pinch-hit. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the left-handed hitting Joe Panik start at second base against Glasnow with Cavan Biggio remaining at third.
What’s next for Shoemaker?
In a way, Shoemaker’s efficiency slows his progression back from the lat strain that sidelined him for most of September. After throwing 54 pitches in his tune-up start against the New York Yankees last week, the 35 pitches he threw in Game 1 don’t exactly build him up toward the longer outings he’d be asked to complete should the Blue Jays advance.
On the other hand, that efficiency opens up options for the Blue Jays. For example, if they force a Game 3 and find themselves short-handed, could Shoemaker become an option? From a workload standpoint, he’s recovering from a far shorter outing than usual.
“Anything goes in a Game 3 scenario,” Shoemaker said. “That’s a must-win. Whoever wins moves on, and move on from there. Hopefully we win the next two days and I move into my bullpens accordingly.”
How does the bullpen factor in from here?
If one Blue Jays starter has the leeway to pitch into the sixth or seventh inning, it’s Hyun Jin Ryu, whose start was delayed until Game 2 partly because of the hope that a little extra rest would help.
But even with Ryu on the mound, the bullpen needs to be ready. In five of the left-hander’s 12 starts this year, he went five innings or fewer, and none of those games were must-win. There’s a decent chance the Blue Jays will have to go to their bullpen for four innings, and if they do they’ll have plenty of options, including a fully rested Rafael Dolis — plus Thomas Hatch, Ryan Borucki and A.J. Cole, all of whom threw 14 pitches or fewer Tuesday.
“That’s why we wanted Shoemaker and Ray to give us six innings,” Montoyo said. “That way our bullpen would be fresh for the next two days. And we’ve got our ace tomorrow (so) hopefully we don’t need that many, but they’ll be fine for tomorrow if we need them.”
Considering how impressive Nate Pearson looked in his return from the injured list, the Blue Jays may want to use him at some point in Game 2 as well. Since Pearson was able to loosen up quickly before facing the Orioles on Friday, the Blue Jays could even call on him mid-inning. And if Pearson’s appearance is short enough, the Blue Jays are open to using him again in a potential Game 3, according to general manager Ross Atkins.
Of course they have to get there first, with no shortage of tactical decisions to make along the way.