This was an Alek Manoah series for the Blue Jays: They didn’t show up either.
This season of promise, if that’s what this Blue Jays season ever was, has more than suddenly become a season of dismay in Toronto.
Another baseball opportunity apparently tossed away by the Ross Atkins-Mark Shapiro team without destiny.
All the Jays had to do, really, was find a way to split their four-game series with the Texas Rangers at home to remain relevant. That wasn’t too much to ask. Play .500 at home. They didn’t have to be great to win two games against struggling Texas. They didn’t have to play terrific ball. They just had to split with the Rangers — win two, lose two — isn’t that what you do in a four-game series?
Instead the Rangers all but split them in half — winning the four by a combined score of 35-9.
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Now the standings and the schedule and the intensity of doubt accompany the final two weeks of this American League season in Toronto — so much of it working against the Jays. Just when it seemed that a spot in the wild card playoffs was all but guaranteed, a post-season place now seems like a mountain climb away.
Which apparently is nothing new for the Blue Jays in whatever form we’ve found them playing in recent seasons. Last year, they blew a two-game playoff series with Seattle that remains unexplainable to this day. The year before, on what Marcus Semien calls the best team he’s ever played on, the Jays missed the playoffs by a game. The year before that, the Jays were knocked out quickly by the Tampa Bay Rays, two straight.
This isn’t bad luck. This is just bad baseball.
This group, in whatever form, whatever dimension, whatever alterations management seemed to make — more pitching, less pitching, more hitting, less fooling around — the Jays simply seem incapable of taking the next step.
This year was supposed to be about pitching and defence and being serious. On Thursday night, Jays ace Kevin Gausman struggled through 4 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs, and in his only clean inning he left the bases loaded and needed a prime-time catch from Kevin Kiermaier in centre field to prevent his night from looking even worse in the boxscore.
The Jays have had just about the best starting pitching in the American League this season. It’s been their strength, along with a very deep bullpen. Just not this series. Not when they needed it. Chris Bassitt gave up five earned runs in just over five innings pitched in Game 1 of the series. Hyun-jin Ryu gave up three earned runs in six innings thrown in Game 2. Yusei Kikuchi, having a surprisingly fine season, lasted five innings in his start and gave up six earned runs in Game 3.
Through four starts in their ballpark, before the booing came, that’s 21 innings pitched against the best-hitting team in the AL, 18 earned runs allowed. That’s an earned-run average of 7.71 for the starters. That’s four games and four losses for the Jays against Texas. Twice in the series, the Jays led games 2-1. Once in the first inning. Once in the second inning.
And what was it?
It seems no matter how the Jays tried to play the Rangers in whatever form — with defence, with offence, with pitching — they didn’t supply any answers. This team is hard to explain and nothing explains it less or more than a lineup decision made Thursday night by manager John Schneider, assuming, of course, that he makes lineup decisions on this team that computers tend to rule.
With Gausman pitching, the Jays didn’t put their best defensive lineup on the field. They had Whit Merrifield playing left field instead of Daulton Varsho in Game 4 against Texas. In the second inning, a line drive hit by the red-hot Corey Seager was sent to left field. Merrifield tried for the catch and didn’t make it. Varsho, a superb outfielder, would have made it.
Instead of Seager being the third out, two Texas runs scored. It’s 3-2 Texas. And that was it. Game over and series over for the Jays, who seem to live in contradiction mode. Either they’re a defensive team or they’re not. Either they’re a great pitching team or they’re not. Right now, it’s pretty difficult to assess what they are.
There are 15 games to play now for Toronto and Texas is now two games ahead of the Jays. But when you factor in the tiebreaker, the Jays can’t finish with the same record as the Rangers or they get eliminated.
If the Rangers win eight of their final 16 games — that’s playing .500 ball — they’ll finish the season with 89 wins.
Houston, with 15 games to go, already has 83 wins. Seven more wins take them to 90. Six times the Astros play the Royals. It will be hard for them not to win 90.
The Jays would have to be 10-5, maybe 9-6, to even factor into the final equation against either of those teams.
And that might not be possible.
The only thing working at all in their favour are the final four days of the season — with Seattle playing Texas in a four-game series. There’s a slight chance there to make up ground. The keyword being slight. The season that seemed all but possible is basically over.