The moments of frustration, times when the Blue Jays looked hapless and clueless, games that got away or games that turned in Toronto’s favour, officially mean nothing as the most important and impactful stretch of baseball officially begins.
At stake is the Jays’ post-season fate and potential wild card standing based on how the final 19 games play out beginning Monday in a highly anticipated four-game set against the visiting Texas Rangers.
Toronto’s 15-game stretch of playing against teams with records below .500 came to an end Sunday afternoon when Jose Berrios and Kansas City’s Cole Ragans were engaged in a pitchers’ duel.
Berrios pitched like a staff ace and was supported by a solo slam off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier in the home half of the seventh inning as the Jays completed their series sweep following their 5-2 win over the Royals.
Very little has come easy for the Blue Jays, even when playing bad teams. The Royals brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning with one out and Jordan Romano on the mound.
A walk would load the bases as the go-ahead run was suddenly at the plate. Romano ended any doubt with a strikeout and a game-ending fly ball.
Toronto went 10-5 during its 15-game slate against some of baseball’s lightweights. The Jays should have posted more wins, but it’s a moot point knowing what awaits.
The Royals broke the ice in the sixth inning, which began with a triple, as two runs were scored.
In the home half of the inning, the game swung in Toronto’s favour in the most unusual and totally unexpected turn of events. And to think the inning began when Ragans retired the first two batters.
It then began to unravel when walks and wild pitches would lead to two Toronto runs, setting the stage for yet another late-inning moment of truth for the Blue Jays against an inferior team.
Issuing two walks was bad enough for Ragans, but then came three wild pitches, a weird sequence triggered when the Royals pitcher slipped awkwardly on his plant foot (left) when throwing to the plate.
He couldn’t make it out of the inning as the Royals mercifully relieved Ragans, who clearly lost his confidence.
On the line Sunday was a series sweep, something the Jays had not accomplished since their early August stay in Boston when Davis Schneider had his coming-out party in helping Toronto outscore the Red Sox 25-8.
Toronto’s last home sweep came in the first series after baseball’s all-star break when Arizona visited Rogers Centre and were outscored 25-8.
No one should be looking beyond the Rangers series, but there is a sense of curiosity and anticipation knowing the end of the regular season will feature 15 games against AL East opponents in the Red Sox (3 home), New York Yankees (3 away/3 home) and the Tampa Bay Rays (3 away/3 home).
But first things first, which is Monday night’s first game against Texas.
RAGANS TO RICHES
Ragans is an emerging star who has flourished from a change of scenery following his June 30 trade from Texas and a change in roles.
Ragans entered Sunday boasting an MLB-high scoreless innings streak of 21, the longest stretch by a K.C. pitcher since Wade Davis posted a 22-innings window in 2015.
He ended the day by extending his streak to 27.2 innings and in the process Ragans established a Royals record.
In eight previous starts with the Royals before Sunday, Ragans, 25, had an ERA of 1.51. With the Rangers, Ragans was used as a reliever.
Ragans struck out George Springer and Bo Bichette to begin Sunday’s outing, his first against the Jays.
A Vladimir Guerrero Jr. fly ball to left field would end the first inning. In the second, Ragans erased a leadoff walk by inducing a double play.
A second free pass would be issued, but Ragans kept the Jays from plating a run as he officially entered the Royals’ record book.
His day ended in a crazy sixth inning. All told, Ragans gave up six walks, threw three wild pitches, struck out six and surrendered one hit in 5.2 innings.
Unless the Jays and Rangers happen to hook up in the post-season, the four-game series will be the final meeting between the two teams.
Back in mid-June, the Jays ventured to Texas following their sweep of the D-backs to play the Rangers, who took the three-game set following an 11-7 win in the series rubber match on a day when Toronto led 6-0.
In the series opener, Danny Jansen’s blast complemented a six-inning outing from starter Kevin Gausman in a 2-1 Toronto win. The Rangers took the second game 4-2.
Spencer Horwitz made his MLB debut in the series finale, recording a single in his first at-bat while drawing two walks and driving in one run.
ARMED AND READY
Some of the biggest guns will be on display in the coming days at Rogers Centre, fitting for a potential season-defining series with all kinds of post-season ramifications.
In the series opener, Chris Bassitt will take to the bump for the home side, while Dane Dunning gets the call for the visitors.
Then come a veteran duel Tuesday night pitting Hyun Jin Ryu and Max Scherzer.
On Wednesday, the probable pitchers are Yusei Kikuchi and Jordan Montgomery. In the series finale, Kevin Gausman will battle Nathan Eovaldi.
Barring something completely out of the ordinary, the Jays are expected to activate reliever Erik Swanson in the hours leading up to Monday’s first pitch.
The righty completed a rehab outing for Triple-A Buffalo Saturday and was back with the big-league club Sunday, albeit in the dugout.
Chad Green has looked good since his initial return from Tommy John surgery when he gave up three consecutive hits in the ninth inning when the Jays were in Colorado.
With Swanson on deck, the Jays will have plenty of depth in the bullpen.