Blue Jays start critical stretch against weaker teams with blowout win

Danny Jansen had three hits and five RBI, Daulton Varsho hit a two-run homer, and Jose Berrios pitched six strong innings to help the Toronto Blue Jays top the Chicago White Sox with a 9-3 win.

TORONTO — A respite from what’s been the most challenging schedule in the big-leagues through the first 7½ weeks of the season is here for the Toronto Blue Jays. Six games versus the tearing-it-down Chicago White Sox sandwiched around a four-game set against the still-really-mid Detroit Tigers, before three games against the only-starting-to-get interesting Pittsburgh Pirates is both a soft spot and a crucial opportunity.

Ideally, they’d be looking to build on a solid start and propel themselves forward over the next couple of weeks. But just as manager John Schneider explained the recent flux in his batting order – welcome to the two-hole, Danny Jansen — by saying they “don’t live in an ideal world,” the same applies in the standings, where the Blue Jays really need a strong run here against weaker opponents to level themselves.

Now, doing the math is one thing, trying to play to the math is another, which is why during the hitters’ meeting Monday before a 9-3 thumping of the White Sox, “the message was you can’t get caught up in looking at your schedule and who you’re playing, you have to take care of what you can,” said Schneider. “So I think guys are just focused on winning today. And no matter the outcome, you think the exact same way tomorrow. Easier said than done, but when you look up over the course of a long season, if you’re winning series, it puts you in a good spot. But with where we are and how we’ve played up to this point, it’s literally we’re trying to win today.”

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They did that behind six solid-enough innings from Jose Berrios, a second-inning two-run homer from Daulton Varsho, a two-run homer, two-run single and RBI double from Jansen, plus run-scoring hits by both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, who had three doubles among his four hits.

Five of the runs and seven of their 12 hits came off Erick Fedde, one of the few bright spots so far for the White Sox, demonstrating how actions matched intent.

“It starts with all the guys in there and everybody’s got each other’s backs,” said Jansen, who has now started big-league games at all nine spots in the batting order. “We’ve gone through definitely a tough skid. But looking ahead, winning’s hard, doesn’t matter who you’re playing. We’re taking it one game at a time and are going to do everything we can to win today. No looking too far ahead. You can’t. Look at one game, one pitch. That’s our focus.”

Like everything for the Blue Jays (21-25) so far this year, nothing came easy before a crowd of 36,993, as even after Jansen’s drive in the seventh opened up a 7-3 margin, the White Sox (14-34) put two on with one out in the eighth, creating some sudden leverage.

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As Jordan Romano quickly began warming in the bullpen, Genesis Cabrera rallied to get Andrew Benintendi on a soft liner to left before Paul DeJong – who singled and scored in the second, ripped an RBI single in the fourth and homered in the seventh off Berrios – couldn’t complete his revenge game by flying out to right.

The Blue Jays proceeded to add more on in the bottom half when Jansen’s two-single with the bases loaded cashed in a pair to close out the tally, a rare outing in which all elements of their game came together.

“We have to play the game the right way,” said Berrios, who allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks with six strikeouts. “I can say the last 8-10 games, they’ve been looking better in the box. We have to continue working together, on the offensive side, defence and pitching, we have to be all together and we’ll be in a good position.”

Perhaps most buoying for the Blue Jays from this one is that they scored more than five runs for only the eighth time this season. And Fedde is the type of starter who often gives them trouble, nibbling at the edges with offerings that look hittable enough until they move just enough off the barrel. 

“Fedde is good, he’s having a good year, obviously,” said Schneider. “But I thought our plan was good and I thought we adjusted really well. He was living away, living away and we were trying to get him out over the plate a little bit more and we did that second time through – Varsh obviously first time. But as the game went on, guys were really trying to get him up in the zone a little bit because when that sweeper/cutter/sinker is off, off, off, it’s going to be weak contact. They did a good job of adjusting and fighting off some pitches and putting good swings on pitches we wanted to swing at.”

Given their ongoing search for consistent production, locking down their best swings and strong approaches right now is essential to give themselves a chance at fighting for a wild-card spot.

“It’s looking for your zone, hunting your pitch, hunting maybe a spot on the plate and getting your A swing off,” said Jansen. “This team, we definitely can fight with the best of them with two strikes but definitely picking our spots and letting it eat kind of early.”

The Blue Jays began the day 11.5 games behind the AL-East leading New York Yankees and while they were only 3.5 games back of the two teams tied for the third wild card – the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays – there were four other teams between them.

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Factor in that so far, they are 11-17 against the Yankees, Twins, Rays, Orioles, Royals and Astros — among the teams they’re chasing in the standings — and the case for why this soft spot is so important becomes apparent.

As things stand, FanGraphs’ projected standings have the Blue Jays finishing at 81-81. That would leave them four out of the third wild-card spot, which would go to either the Guardians or Twins at 85 wins, with the other winning the Central.

Between them are the Royals and Astros at 84 wins apiece, the Rangers at 82 and Red Sox 81, with the Orioles (93 wins) and Rays (86) claiming the first two wild-card spots.

Reality can, of course, play out in a number of different ways and the Blue Jays’ goal is to obviously far and away surpass those objective projections. But the numbers underline why the time is now to try to make that happen.

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