TORONTO -- From a distance, the New York Yankees make their uniquely thorough dominance look rather easy. Each day it seems, regardless of opponent, they get a solid start from a rotation that began the season as a question, the offence pops a few balls over the wall, the bullpen is lights out and another win gets added to the tally, no big deal.
Really, though, are things actually running that smoothly?
“Well, there are always things coming up, there are things that go on behind the scenes that always present challenges,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before his hitters tore through the soft underbelly of the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen in a 12-3 romp Friday night. “But the one thing is, and I think everyone would probably pretty much speak to this, we love going through it with this group. I feel like we're of singular mind in that room of what we want to accomplish, what we're here for. We want to be champions. That's what it's about. And guys have routinely walked through those doors, I feel like, with that team mentality of, ‘What can we do to win today?’ That's the environment you want to be a part of. And I feel like we certainly have that.”
Bromides always ring truer when you’re 48-16, pounding on AL East opponents who are pounding everyone else in baseball, and need binoculars to see your nearest rivals in the standings. An eighth straight win and 15th in 16 outings moved them 11 games clear of the 37-27 Blue Jays, who are in second place and lately have had things come up.
“I'm not going to sit here and toot their horn by any means, but they almost have 50 wins here in the middle of June, so they're certainly clicking on all cylinders,” said Blue Jays starter Ross Stripling, who made it through 3.2 innings and left the game down 2-1. “They have one of the lowest ERAs in baseball and a lineup that can do damage from the first pitch, one through nine, basically. That was on full display for them tonight. We've played them a ton and we know what they like to do and we know we compete with them. We know we're better than what we showed.”
Matt Chapman, in and out of the lineup the past week with wrist soreness, underwent an MRI Thursday that revealed inflammation that is lingering but which he can play through. He returned Friday with a double and his usual defensive excellence.
Bo Bichette wasn’t as fortunate the day after fouling a ball off his foot, forced to sit the opener of a measuring-stick series with a contusion. He’s day-to-day but the uncertainty around the left side of the infield led the Blue Jays to swap out lefty Matt Gage for infielder Otto Lopez.
Then there’s the sudden rough patch for their rotation, exacerbated by the loss of Hyun Jin Ryu, who underwent surgery Friday (a club spokesman didn’t immediately know if he had Tommy John surgery or a partial revision). The Baltimore Orioles’ blitzing of Kevin Gausman on Thursday prompted the recall of Casey Lawrence to add length in the bullpen, and after he was called on for four innings of mop-up duty, all the more will be needed from Alek Manoah on Saturday and Yusei Kikuchi, looking to rebound after three clunkers, on Sunday.
Stripling, covering for Ryu and likely working under a hard cap of two turns through the order with Aaron Judge batting leadoff, made it through 3.2 innings, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks. Against lesser clubs, the Blue Jays need and Stripling has delivered more, but against the Yankees he kept the game in check while getting grinded out for 84 pitches.
Gleyber Torres alone saw a total of 20 pitches during a flyout in the second and an RBI double in the fourth.
“Really you just kind of keep fighting,” Stripling said of countering the Yankees' tenacity at the plate against him. “I wouldn't say I massively changed my arsenal or how I was attacking them. I just kept filling up the zone and trying to rely on them putting the ball in play and get some outs and trying to be more efficient. And it just didn't work out that way. ... Like Giancarlo (Stanton) spits on a slider there in the start of the second inning that was really good and he was taking it all the way. So then what do I do to make him start at least kind of trying to swing at that or taking a better rip at it? One is you've got to start throwing fastballs in that lane so that they respect the outside lane and then you can start basically expanding from that lane. And that's just one example.”
The Blue Jays had no answers during a messy fifth, in which Trent Thornton went Anthony Rizzo hit by pitch, Stanton home run, DJ LeMahieu home run, Torres double and Joey Gallo double before he was mercifully lifted.
On came Trevor Richards who proceeded to load the bases (Judge was intentionally walked) before serving up a two-out grand slam to Anthony Rizzo that made it 10-1.
For all intents and purposes, that was game over and a pretty good flex to begin what Boone described as a “big series against a really good team.”
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo did his best to avoid building up the clash beforehand, falling back on tired cliches like “we've got to take care of every game we play,” and “we need to win every game, just like every other team that's fighting to get to the playoffs.”
Though technically true, he also added that, “I don't take any bigger stock (in the series) because of who they are,” and while it’s true that each regular-season game counts equally, if you want to be the best you need to measure up against the best, too.
The Blue Jays are now 3-7 against the Yankees, which isn’t reflective of how close the games have been. Still, they had been looking forward to this weekend now that their offence has reawakened -- “we’re swinging the bats better than the last time we faced them, for sure,” said Montoyo -- but another cliche held true there, too.
“It's funny because at the end of the day, I always talk about it, it's about pitching and defence but pitching No. 1 and one of the reasons they're doing so well is because their rotation has been so good,” said Montoyo. “And of course they might have the best bullpen in baseball. And one of the reasons that we're playing well is because our pitching and defence have been very good even when we're not hitting. Now we're kind of doing almost everything.”
Well, they had been. But then there are things always coming up and right now the Blue Jays need to find ways to push through them with the same ease as the Yankees.