Blue Jays carry some momentum into big series against Yankees

Jamie Campbell and Joe Siddall break down the Toronto Blue Jays' win over the Colorado Rockies, including how Jose Berrios's dominance against left-handers helped him lead the way to a series win.

TORONTO – A sentence rarely used to describe MLB starting pitchers: ‘He struggles against righties.’

The reason for that’s pretty simple. If you can’t handle right-handed hitters, you probably don’t get the chance to pitch in the big-leagues for long, let alone start. But in recent years, Kyle Freeland of the Rockies has been the exception to that rule.

Last year, for instance, right-handers combined for a .900 OPS in 529 plate appearances against Freeland. Early on this season, they have a 1.223 OPS. Literally no pitcher in baseball has a worse ERA, FIP, xFIP or home run rate against right-handers over the last two seasons.

All of which to say, the Blue Jays couldn’t have asked for a better matchup Sunday, and they started their lineup with eight consecutive right-handed hitters to take advantage of it. The results – four runs against Freeland in his five innings of work – weren’t especially loud, but thanks to three RBI hits from Justin Turner, the Blue Jays did enough damage to earn a 5-0 win that brings their season record to 8-8. 

Turner led the way offensively with three hits and three RBI against Freeland, someone he knows well from their time together in the NL West. The 39-year-old’s hitting .386 with a 1.095 OPS so far this year, and while those numbers will obviously normalize as the season progresses, his recent performance strongly suggests there’s meaningful production left in his bat as he begins big-league season No. 16. That in itself is significant.

“He’s a special guy right now,” starter Jose Berrios said of Turner after a dominant performance of his own. “What a ballplayer. He’s got the talent first, but his experience has been getting better and better year by year. He knows what he can do out there. He’s got his plan, he’s got passion, he sees the ball and does his thing.”

Otherwise, it was a relatively quiet day for the Blue Jays’ lineup, though George Springer did collect two hits with a stolen base and Alejandro Kirk walked twice and hit two singles.

[brightcove videoID=6350930264112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“We’re getting going,” Turner said. “And I still don’t think we’re even close to scratching the surface of the potential of the offence. So we’ll keep showing up and keep working.

“This game isn’t easy,” Turner continued. “You can’t just show up and have it happen. You’ve got a lot of guys working every day and grinding, and when that pendulum starts to swing the other way, it’s gonna be a fun offence for us.”

On the mound, Berrios looked like an ace, limiting the Rockies to just two hits and two walks over the course of seven scoreless innings. He struck out seven on a day his season ERA dropped to 1.05.

“He’s executing at a really, really high rate,” manager John Schneider said. “With his stuff and where he’s at confidence-wise right now, he’s in a really good spot.”

Berrios has now completed at least six innings in all four of his starts this season, without ever allowing more than two runs. Considering the instability elsewhere in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, his consistency has been invaluable.

“He lives up to his nickname of ‘La Makina,’” Schneider said. “He’s a machine. It’s hard to find that durability … but a lot of it is just him, his personality, his work ethic and the kind of professional he is.”

After Berrios exited, it was Genesis Cabrera and Nate Pearson who finished the game with a flawless inning apiece, preserving the likes of Yimi Garcia and Chad Green for this coming week against the 12-4 Yankees. Pearson topped out at 102.3 m.p.h. on his way to striking out the side.

[brightcove videoID=6350932686112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“Probably the best we’ve seen Nate in a long time,” Schneider said.

Despite the win, the Blue Jays didn’t play an entirely clean game. Kirk made a throwing error in the top of the first, Turner was caught stealing in the bottom of the inning and Ernie Clement was needlessly picked off third base in the sixth.

Against tougher competition, those mistakes can make a bigger difference, and with a three-game series against New York starting Monday the sooner the Blue Jays can tighten those elements of their game, the better.

Some reinforcements are on the way for the Blue Jays, as catcher Danny Jansen, closer Jordan Romano and setup reliever Erik Swanson could return to action as soon as Monday. Jansen seems highly likely to be active starting Monday while Romano said before Sunday’s game that he doesn’t anticipate needing any more rehab appearances.

With one of baseball’s top teams coming to Toronto, those additions will help. But the next three days will bring tougher tests for the Blue Jays – along with an opportunity to prove they’re closer to the Yankees than their records might now suggest.

As Turner said, “It’s a new day and the scoreboards are all zeroes.” 

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.