The StroShow was a no-show. Same goes for the Toronto Blue Jays’ bats. Any relief the Jays may have felt coming home to the Rogers Centre was crushed under a pile of futility.
This night was a night to make up ground in the American League wildcard race. The Detroit Tigers had been tamed by the Twins in the Minnesota jungle. King Felix Hernandez hit Xander Bogaerts and was spanked for his insolence by a three-run bomb from Boston Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Unfortunately for Toronto, Koji Uehara looked more limp on the mound than a dish rag after a cleaning, as the Mariners scored five runs to win the night.
The New York Yankees, after being four games back, won over the Chicago White Sox and moved closer to the final playoff spot. The Jays were in a similar situation going into the game against the Tampa Bay Rays; however, the result was very different.
Marcus Stroman had the start for the Jays against Drew Smyly, the Arkansas left-hander who had a 7-10 record this season. With lefty pitchers being the Blue Jays’ kryptonite, Stroman would have to have a big night to defend the fort in the home opener of the series. The trouble was that it was hard to fight back when your big gun seemed out of bullets.
Stroman’s breaking ball, which was absolutely devastating to teams earlier this season, was as flat through the air as his fastball. It is very much like an R.A. Dickey night: if his best pitch moves a lot, the Blue Jays could win. If the pitch stays straight, may the barrage commence. Some teams have been trying to lay off of his breaking pitches to get at Stroman’s fastball. He is a shorter pitcher, at 5’9″ tall, and it makes the angle of his fastball much more straight. It makes it all the more easier for teams to hit if all of his pitches are just as straight. Out of 102 pitches, Stroman threw 63 strikes, resulting in 5 earned runs, including a home run by Evan Longoria in the second inning. He struck out 6 batters and gave up 3 walks, without getting an out in the sixth inning.
Aaron Loup came in the sixth inning to relieve Stroman, giving up a run and a walk for an inning of work. Kyle Drabek made an appearance for the Jays from the bullpen in the next inning, walking two Rays and striking out two Rays to blank the frame. After Todd Redmond took the eighth inning to give up another home run to Wil Myers, Brett Cecil took the ninth inning without giving up a run or even a hit, striking out one Rays batter and finally ending the game for the Blue Jays’ defensively.
It’s not as if the Blue Jays’ batters have been helping their pitchers with any kind of consistent offence lately. Recently, they have made opposing pitchers look like Cy Young Award nominees. Smyly had no business putting up a win, much less a two-hit complete game shutout, against the Blue Jays. After a Jose Reyes lead-off single in the first inning, Toronto could not amount much of anything that resembled a hit or even a walk.
Smyly threw 105 pitches for 75 strikes, which led to 4 strikeouts, 10 groundouts, and 5 flyouts. Both pitch counts for the starters seem similar, except for the innings they pitched. Smyly was all smiles and cruising the victory highway, while Stroman kept getting hit by Tampa Bay bat traffic.
It wasn’t like the Rays amassed an impossible mountain for the Blue Jays to climb. Except for the four-run sixth inning, the runs were spread across the frames. It was the amount of hits for both teams that told the story. Tampa Bay made 14 hits; Toronto earned only 2 hits.
If your team hits in double digits and the other team can’t sniff three singles, the chances are that your team will win the game. If the Longoria home run was the only run Marcus Stroman gave up in the game, the Blue Jays still would have lost. This performance does not reflect a team that is close to the playoffs and needing a trade to get over the hump. They just lost badly to a team much further down in the division, who also lost their best pitcher at the trade deadline.
How many trades would have been needed for the Jays to make more than two hits in this game? Instead of worrying about whether the grass is greener with a different player, sometimes teams need to worry about weeding their own garden first.