TORONTO – Over the past couple of weeks, an offensive onslaught from the Toronto Blue Jays has felt inevitable.
Even in games where the opposition starter has held them down — like Saturday night for example, when Keegan Akin of the Baltimore Orioles carried a no-hitter into the seventh and final inning before an 11-run outburst — a rampage felt imminent.
Few teams, however, are as adept at derailing the assured as the Tampa Bay Rays, with their exploiting-every-edge roster and relentless opportunism. And when the Blue Jays launched rockets all over the field during Drew Rasmussen’s five innings of work and had nothing to show for it, their chances of finding the runs that always seemed to come decreased as manager Kevin Cash deployed leverage arm after leverage arm to lock things down.
In that way, the Blue Jays’ 2-0 loss Tuesday night was an aberration for the surging club, but there were significant concerns, as well, after Jose Berrios left his latest gem with what the club called abdominal tightness in his left side. He was unavailable after the game while he received treatment and, notably, he wasn’t sent off for any imaging.
More will be known once he’s reassessed Wednesday, but his status is obviously the primary issue. Thomas Hatch, who made a spot start in Sunday’s doubleheader, is their rotation insurance with Ross Stripling not yet built up.
“(Berrios) was doing a great job and (was removed) just to be cautious,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “When he came in from the seventh inning, he said he felt something. The moment he says that, 'OK, you're good,' and that's why we took him out.”
Up to that point, Berrios allowed only four hits, one of them a second-inning home run to Ji-Man Choi, and, under normal circumstances for the offence, that would have been more than enough to secure a victory. Lefty Tim Mayza, as nails as anyone in the Toronto bullpen, gave up a solo shot to Brandon Lowe in the eighth that doubled the Tampa Bay advantage. Still, two runs for this offence should be no hurdle, but this time the hits didn’t fall like they had been.
“That's exactly what we said when we got into the clubhouse, like, man, we smoked so many balls, their defence was right where they needed to be,” said Blue Jays catcher Reese McGuire, who opened the sixth inning with one his team’s three hits. “Credit to them for positioning.”
Consider this sampling of hard-luck outs: George Springer’s liner to short in the first, with an expected batting average of .860; McGuire getting robbed by a sliding Manuel Margot in centre in the fourth on a ball carrying an.890 xBA; Margot also snagging a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. laser off the bat at 113.4 m.p.h., with an xBA of .780; and Teoscar Hernandez’s liner to centre, with an xBA of .410 that ended that same frame.
The rally in the fourth was the Blue Jays’ best chance to score, when Springer opened the frame with a double and Marcus Semien followed with a walk.
A couple feet in either direction and Guerrero’s drive plates two, but instead it landed in Margot’s glove too quickly for Springer to even return to second and tag to third. Bo Bichette then struck out and then Hernandez couldn’t touch green either.
McGuire’s single opened the sixth against Pete Fairbanks, but he got the next three batters, including a Guerrero pop-up on a 98.8 m.p.h. centre-cut fastball he just got under to end the frame.
“If you're going to barrel up the baseball, good things are going to happen more times than not,” said McGuire. “It is frustrating when they don't happen because you did everything you could. … If they gave us something over the middle of the plate, we were taking a hack, then at that point, we were just praying it would fall down because they kind of weren't for us tonight. But back at it tomorrow with the same approach.”
The loss ended a four-game Blue Jays win streak before a crowd of 13,103, only their second setback in the past 14 games. They were shutout for only the third time this season, first since July 23 against Tylor Megill and the New York Mets, and fell into a tie atop the wild-card standings with the New York Yankees, 7-2 winners at Baltimore.
After Fairbanks, Cash rolled out JT Chargois, David Robertson and Andrew Kittredge to lock down the win. Despite allowing eight balls in play at 98.3 m.p.h. or above in his five innings, Rasmussen gave up only two hits and a walk while striking out three.
Getting to the starter is always ideal with the Rays given how effectively they generally close out tight contests.
“That's just what they do and that's fine,” said Montoyo. “I don't think our guys feel pressure (to score early) because we think we can come back against anybody. Credit to our offence. But that's what the (Rays) have, good arms. That's one of the reasons they stopped us.”
Flushing the frustration from one night of tough BABIP luck shouldn’t be difficult for the Blue Jays, whose much more significant worry is the health of Berrios going forward.