It was time for 2016 Home Opener and the city was buzzing with anticipation. The Roger Centre was filled to capacity with over 48,000 fans who filed in early to catch the opening ceremonies – which included the Jays first MVP (1987) George Bell presenting last years MVP Josh Donaldson with his plaque, video tributes to last years amazing pennant run, and long time Blue Jay President Paul Beeston throwing out the first pitch. But even with this exciting atmosphere the Jays would repeat an all too familiar pattern in this early season by getting an early lead only to have it given away late by the bullpen.
The Jays were able to once again drive the opposing starting pitcher from the game early, this time it was Joe Kelly. Besides surrendering a leadoff triple to Kevin Pillar (which scored on a sacrifice fly by Edwin Encarnacian), Kelly was very effective through the first three innings by mixing his fastball and off speed pitches. But in the fourth the Jays scored six runs before recording an out, capped off by a Josh Donaldson grand slam (the first in franchise history in a home opener). This made the score 7-2 Jays and with Marcus Stroman pitching looked to be enough.
However, in the top of the 6th Stroman gave up a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia and then walks to David Ortiz and Travis Shaw surrounding a Hanley Ramirez ground out. Gibbons elected to go to Jesse Chavez to face Brock Holt over Franklin Morales who would have inevitably faced lefty masher Chris Young (it was later revealed that Morales was unavailable to pitch as he felt weakness in his shoulder after throwing one pitch…. uh oh). A of couple pitches later Brock Hol, had hit the second grand slam of the game and it was just a one run Jays lead.
In the seventh inning, Drew Storen and Brett Cecil combined to give up four straight singles with one out to give the Red Sox an 8-7 lead that they would never relinquish.
Top Play of the Game by WPA
In the top of the seventh, after getting the first out, Drew Storen gave up back to back singles to Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts. Brett Cecil was summoned to face David Ortiz with the Jays holding a one run lead. But he fell behind 3-0 before eventually giving up a full count single to tie the game and move the runner to third. This hit increased the Red Sox chances to win by 24 percent (.240 WPA). Ortiz had a great game with two hits driving in two runs and individually generating 0.359 WPA for himself. The next batter was Hanley Ramirez and he singled to drive in the eventual winning run.
Bottom Play of the Game by WPA
In the 8th inning and the Red Sox leading 8-7, Ezequiel Carrera was standing on second base as the tying run. Both Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista had chances to tie the game with a hit, but both of them came up empty. The Donaldson groundout dropped the Jays chances of winning the game by 9.8 percent, and Jose Bautista’s comebacker reduced them by yet another 9.9 percent.
Offense Still Whiffing
The highly touted Toronto offense continues to be in a bit of an early season funk. While they did put up their first big inning of the season in the fourth – scoring six – they struggled to generate much offense for the rest of the game. And once again, a big culprit was simply failing to put the ball in play. In the end, they went 4/29 outside of the fourth and registered double digits in strikeouts (ten). An offense that was acknowledged for their patience last season has struck out 56 times in the first five games, and while it’s still early, this is a situation that will need to reverse itself quickly.
Marcus Stroman Not at his Best
After dominating the Rays by pounding the bottom of the zone, Stroman really struggled with his command against Boston. He began the game looking overpowering – striking out the first two batter and three of the first four – and had another stretch where he retired seven in a row, but he just couldn’t find any consistency. His sinker in particular was causing a lot of problems. The ball was moving just as much as last time out, but he left many of them up, and got hit hard. He also tied his career high by walking three batters. He will need to be better next time out.
Battle of the Bullpens
The main difference in the game was the performance of the two bullpens. The Jays offense could do no damage at all against a Red Sox quintet of Noe Ramirez, Matt Barnes, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel, who combined for six innings of two-hit ball. On the other hand, the Jays bullpen continues to cough up leads. Chavez, Storen, and Cecil all struggled mightily, and on the whole the bullpen allowed all five inherited runners to score. Gavin Floyd looked strong in his inning, at least.
A Successful Debut
There was one other reliever to take the bump in last night’s game, and it was Rule V pick Joe Biagini pitching in his first major league game. The rooki was summoned to work the ninth to face the heart of the Red Sox lineup – Bogaerts, Ortiz, and Ramirez – and preserve a one-run lead. Major league debuts are hard enough as it is, so facing that trio certainly can’t make things better. However, if he was nervous, he certainly didn’t show it, He used a good, hard fastball to cut through the three hitters including his first major league strikeout, courtesy of David Ortiz. Prior to the game Jays GM Ross Atkins said he was fighting for a position on the team. Let’s just say he probably opened a few eyes.
Saturday the Jays will play game two of this three game set. Rick Porcello (4.92 ERA, 1.36 WHIP in 2015) makes his first start of the season as he takes on R.A. Dickey. Dickey is looking for a little bit more consistency than last time out. Both managers will be looking for their starters to go deeper in the game to avoid overusing their bullpen for a second straight day. First pitch will be at 1:07 pm EST.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports