TORONTO – For most of the afternoon, the Toronto Blue Jays’ bats were quiet. They managed seven hits against starter Charlie Morton, all singles. And when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run home run off Tim Mayza in the bottom of the sixth, an otherwise successful three-city road trip seemed likely to end with a loss.
It was Biggio who doubled home a Teoscar Hernandez walk to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. One inning later, Danny Jansen and Marcus Semien singled to put two on with none out for Bichette, who doubled the opposite way into the right-centre-field gap, scoring both runners.
“I was still trying to hit it as far as I could,” Bichette said. “That’s just how I play. When I hit it, it looks like I’m under control, and when I don’t hit it, it looks like I’m swinging too hard for my own good.”
Three batters later, Biggio would double home Bichette and the Blue Jays had further breathing room. Now they head back to Dunedin, Fla., with a record of 20-16 and playing some of their best baseball yet.
"We feel like we’re a dangerous team and we know that and we’ve showed it," starter Ross Stripling said. "We’ve showed we’re really solid one through nine as a lineup, the starters are good, starting to go deep and back healthy with Hyun-Jin (Ryu) and our bullpen’s been outstanding all season."
A 90-win pace would be encouraging at any time, but the circumstances surrounding the Blue Jays make their record more impressive. All season, they’ve battled injuries, most notably to George Springer, who ran on the field and took more swings Thursday but isn’t on the brink of returning.
They’ve played 25 road games compared to just 11 home games – though even those “home” games have taken place at a ballpark meant to house a low-A team. And while some of their American League rivals have had the chance to beat up on Baltimore or Detroit, two of the worst teams in the league, the Blue Jays have yet to play either team.
Beyond those doubles, Biggio also walked twice, raising his season on-base percentage to .333, compared to the MLB average of .311. After a slow start to the season both at the plate and in the field, the 26-year-old has lately been producing more in all facets of the game.
"He’s been a really good player in the big leagues before and it’s good to see him coming back," Bichette said. "He looks back to normal, but honestly it’s still so early. No one was really panicking over anybody struggling. We all know that we can hit. We believe in each other."
While the late offensive production stood out Thursday, it was thanks to Stripling that the Blue Jays stayed in the game early. He held Atlanta to two runs over five innings with what was easily his best pitching performance of the season.
He had lots of life on his pitches, with a slider approaching 90 m.p.h. and a fastball that topped out at 94.7 m.p.h., but that was also the case last Friday in Houston. The Astros hit him hard that day, and afterwards Stripling wondered if Houston’s hitters were picking up location from him and catcher Jansen.
Since that game, Blue Jays catchers have set up their targets later in an apparent attempt to keep opponents guessing, and it was Reese McGuire who caught Stripling against the Braves. Plus, Stripling reverted from the stretch back to his full windup to keep hitters guessing.
“More moving parts” Stripling explained. “When I’m out of the stretch, you can really focus on my glove and that’s where I’ve had issues tipping in the past. Out of the windup, that glove’s going to move with me and be more fluid, maybe harder to tip.”
Whatever the reason, the results were better with 15 swinging strikes on 84 pitches, nine strikeouts compared to one walk and only two runs allowed.
Ronald Acuña Jr., who homered against Stripling in the bottom of the first, would later have an injury scare on a close play at first. He fell to the ground and required attention from the team trainer before giving way to a defensive replacement in the top of the eighth inning. Afterwards, X-rays were negative with Acuña Jr. considered day-to-day.
After Stripling’s exit, the Blue Jays’ bullpen did their part with the only blemish coming on Swanson’s homer against Mayza. Scoreless innings from Joel Payamps, Travis Bergen and Jordan Romano helped the Blue Jays close things out, but it’s worth noting that Ryan Borucki was unavailable due to general arm soreness, according to manager Charlie Montoyo.
Now, the Blue Jays return to Dunedin for their final homestand at TD Ballpark before moving north to Buffalo, N.Y., starting in early June. And while a return home will certainly be a welcome change, the schedule isn’t about to ease up with the Phillies, Red Sox and Rays set to visit next. Still, the Blue Jays believe their best baseball may be ahead.
"I don’t think we’ve all clicked at the same time, to be honest," Bichette said. "So I think there’s still more for us."