Coming into the three-game series against Tampa Bay on Monday, Blue Jays fans knew they had a tall order ahead of them if they wanted to stay in the Wild Card race.
For one, the Rays lead the AL East division and are back in the postseason, following in last year’s footsteps when they made it all the way to World Series before bowing out to the Los Angeles Dodgers (although they made it via the Wild Card instead of being first place).
Secondly, the Blue Jays competition in the Wild Card standings had a relatively easy schedule these past few days, with the Boston Red Sox facing a struggling New York Mets squad while the New York Yankees are facing the Texas Rangers who boast the third-worst record across the major leagues.
What the Blue Jays didn’t expect was the drama that would unfold during Monday night’s game when Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, after getting thrown out at home plate, scooped up catcher Alejandro Kirk’s scouting report that had fallen onto the ground and the club refused to give it back to the Jays until the next day.
With the Blue Jays in a playoff hunt, the club needs to put the most recent series against the Rays and the Kevin Kiermaier incident behind them.
Follow that up with an absolute travesty of an umpire show that is Joe West and his merry band of misfits for three games and you can see why tensions were high during yesterday’s affair when the Blue Jays fell behind early.
Now, you can debate on whether or not what he did was wrong with no clear winner in the end, mostly because some will argue that “it’s just baseball” versus the unwritten rule crowd. Kiermaier did come out and said that he thought it was his scouting report on the ground, not the Blue Jays report, which you can take however you want considering the Blue Jays fanbase was not too happy with the Rays outfielder at the time and Kiermaier was not liking the unwanted attention.
With the Blue Jays down by a bundle yesterday, Ryan Borucki took matters into his owns hands and tagged Kiermaier with a pitch inside, leading to words being exchanged and dugouts emptying but with no additional fireworks. Borucki got tossed and so did pitching coach Pete Walker, who became upset after the southpaw was ejected but more likely because the umpiring crew had been terrible the entire series and he had enough. Borucki came out and said he didn’t intentionally try to hit Kiermeier, and whether or not he did is irrelevant because old-school baseball fans are going to be happy he stuck up for his team (and didn’t really cost them the game at that point).
Honestly, the Blue Jays just didn’t play that well in Tropicana Field, a stadium that has always given the club problems. The starting rotation was not as sharp as it could have been and the bullpen also struggled to find a groove, with the pitching corps surrendering 15 runs over three games while having to ride a bullpen heavy game yesterday with Hyun Jin Ryu on the IL.
The lineup had some good moments but also left quite a few men on base, especially during the Monday night game where Breyvic Valera struck out looking in the ninth with two outs and bases loaded. Considering how well the club has been playing lately, it just wasn’t their series down in Tampa and you cannot make mistakes against the Rays, hence why they lead the division.
More importantly, the Blue Jays need to shake off whatever happened down in Tampa and look ahead to the upcoming series in Minnesota, a team they faced last week back at the Rogers Centre.
They were able to take two of three games against the Twins and will need to try and win every game they can during this upcoming four-game series, especially with how close the AL Wild Card race is now. They will have to contend with a pretty taxed bullpen and face a team that did score 12 runs against them last week, meaning the pitching staff will have to be on their game and the batting order needs to put up some runs, as any close game this late in the season is a risky endeavor.
The Twins are struggling this year and this is the series to gain some ground before the Yankees come to town next week in what will surely be one of the most important series of the year before finishing the 2021 campaign against the Baltimore Orioles.
Heading into next week behind in the Wild Card race will surely do no favours for the Blue Jays, so it is time to buck up and put the Rays series behind them so the club can meet them once again in the postseason.