A massive four-run 9th inning helped the Blue Jays win two of three from Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field. The offense took its time, but ultimately did enough to help Marcus Stroman pick up a well-deserved win. Toronto did well to take the series from a division foe who usually gives them trouble and responded nicely to yesterday’s disappointing walk-off loss. The Jays won’t return to the Trop until early September.
A leadoff single and a fly ball to deep left center portended a troublesome day, but Stroman would bounce back to escape the first and needed only five pitches to get through the second. Josh Donaldson handed Stroman a lead with a solo home run in the top of the fourth, one of only two hits the Jays could generate off of Rays’ starter Jake Odorizzi. Stroman retired nine consecutive Rays before Evan Longoria’s sixth inning home run knotted the game at one. It began to feel all too familiar with excellent pitching effort going to waste thanks to a scuffling lineup.
In the top of the ninth, Darwin Barney was called upon to hit for Ryan Goins and promptly delivered a leadoff double off of lefty Xavier Cedeno. Michael Saunders took a four pitch walk while trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt and Rays Manager Kevin Cash summoned closer Alex Colome from the bullpen. Colome promptly walked Donaldson before striking out Jose Bautista. Edwin Encarnacion would hit a sharp grounder at second baseman Logan Forsythe, positioned to the left of the bag. While it initially appeared like a double play ball, some miscommunication between Tampa infielders meant the only play would be at first. Encarnacion’s 16th RBI of the season gave the Jays a 2-1 lead. Troy Tulowitzki would give them some much needed breathing room following Edwin’s at bat by delivering a three-run home run.
Stroman was once again excellent, working quickly while only allowing five baserunners all day. Stroman improved to 4-0 on the young season, with a final line of: 8.0 IP, 3 H, 1ER, 2 BB, 9K with 65 strikes on 103 pitches. Roberto Osuna would finish the game, giving up one hit while racking up two strikeouts.
Top Play of the Game by WPA
Despite the ninth inning action, today’s top play by WPA was Evan Longoria’s home run with one out in the bottom of the 6th. On a day where Stroman was rolling, Longoria’s homer drew the teams to a tie and increased Tampa’s probability of winning by 20.4% (.204 WPA).
Bottom Play of the Game by WPA
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Jose Bautista stepped to the plate looking to give the Blue Jays a late-game lead. Bautista would strike out, leaving the heroics for Encarnacion today, assuming an RBI groundout counts as heroic. The K reduced the Jays’ probability by 12.4% (-.124 WPA).
More Strong Pitching
Marcus Stroman definitely deserved a win today, going eight strong innings with only one blemish. In the 1st and 3rd he worked around multiple baserunners, but had no really stressful moments beyond that. On his 25th birthday, Stroman dropped his ERA by over half a run- from 4.37 to 3.77. While some concerns have surfaced recently about his lack of strikeouts, the young right hander notched a career-high nine K’s today. Happy birthday indeed, Marcus.
On the minor milestone side of things, Donaldson’s home run was 50th regular season homer as a Blue Jay, per Ben Nicholson-Smith. The home run, his 9th of the season, also moves him into first place in the AL in that category.
Offensive Struggles Continue
Until the 9th, it looked like the Blue Jays would once again be let down by lack of offensive production. As our own Joshua Howsam noted, the Jays struggled mightily with Tampa Bay starters in this series.
Assuming Odorizzi is done, the Jays managed 5 hits off the starting pitchers in this series. That's terrible.
— Joshua (@JoshuaHowsam) May 1, 2016
For a team with such a potent group of hitters the early difficulties are disheartening. To garner only five hits in three games is not very helpful, to put it politely. Luckily the Jays put some hurt on the Rays’ bullpen and they’ll look to take the good vibes home for the next series.
It was feeling a little bit like déjà vu in more ways than one. For the first eight innings, this looked a lot like the 2016 Blue Jays- wasting a strong pitching performance with unproductive at bats. In the 9th, the 2015 Blue Jays appeared and dropped four runs to earn themselves a win. The Jays will hope for a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario going forward, as they return home to play host to the Texas Rangers. Unfortunately the Rangers are only in Toronto for four games, so the Jays will need to work quicker than they did during the ALDS. That series kicks off at 7:07 tomorrow night.
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