TORONTO — Coming into this all-important four-game series against the Texas Rangers, the Toronto Blue Jays wanted to win it. Heck, a sweep would have been great. Now, after losing their second straight, this time by a score of 6-3 on Tuesday night at the Rogers Centre, the best Toronto can do is try to salvage a split and escape this series holding onto a playoff spot.
The Blue Jays have been roundly outscored 16-7 over the past two days, with the American League’s best lineup (per OPS) so far proving to have the upper hand against the American League’s best pitching staff (per ERA). Meanwhile, the Blue Jays’ stalling offence continues to make anything more than a two-run deficit feel insurmountable at times — and that’s even with the Rangers carrying one of the worst bullpens in the majors.
Perhaps the best illustration of how these two teams have fared offensively in this series can be found when comparing the teams’ top two hitters. The Rangers’ two best hitters, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, are a combined 6-for-18 with two walks — five of those hits are from Seager — while the Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are so far hitless in two games. Asked if he was seeing anything different as to how the Rangers were approaching Bichette and Guerrero, Blue Jays manager John Schneider said, “I don’t think so.”
“When you’re looking at our team, everyone’s going to kind of target them as really good hitters. I don’t think it’s anything different. They seem to get pitched really tough. At the same time, we’re going to continue to want those guys up in big spots,” he said. “You look at two games and you look at how good they’ve both been for not only this year, but their entire time here, you keep wanting them to be up.”
Congratulations to Corey Seager on his 1,000th Career Hit!
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) September 12, 2023
Asked about how Semien and Seager have performed compared to Bichette and Guerrero, Schneider said, “It comes down to executing an approach, really. Seager’s having an unbelievable season and we know what type of player Marcus is. The last two nights, those two guys — Marcus has been OK and Seager has been outstanding So, tables can turn just as quick tomorrow.”
The Blue Jays will have to hope those tables turn, and they’ll need to get their bats going without DH Brandon Belt, who was placed on the injured list with back spasms before Tuesday’s game. The Rangers have now moved into the second wild-card spot, sitting a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays, who are holding down the third spot for now. The win also secures the season series will go in Texas’ favour, which could come into play as the tie-breaker should these two clubs finish with identical records at the end of the season. Meanwhile, with the Seattle Mariners win against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night, the Mariners and the Blue Jays are now tied for that final wild-card position.
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All of the teams in the AL wild-card mix —the Houston Astros, Rangers, Mariners and Blue Jays — seem to rise and fall more than plastic bags in the wind. The Blue Jays expect the wild-card race to go down to the wire.
“It changes every 10 minutes, it seems like,” Schneider said. “You got to move on to the next game. You don’t even really do too much scoreboard watching, you kind of wake up the next day and you go, ‘OK, this is what happened.’ It’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be a grind, for sure. We’ve got to control what we can and just try to pile up the wins.”
The Blue Jays, however, need to get piling up ASAP, lest they give a dangerous team like the Rangers the momentum they’ve been lacking for the last month when fell into a tailspin and dropped from first in the AL West to third.
Rangers starter Max Scherzer was coming off his worst start since being traded to Texas after he gave up seven runs in three innings against the Astros last week. But he was closer to his future Hall of Fame self against the Blue Jays, pitching 5 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball with three hits, a walk and two strikeouts. His night ended with one out in the sixth inning at 73 pitches because of what the Rangers termed right triceps spasms.
“We missed some pitches to hit,” Schneider said. “But he’s good and he adjusted like we thought. Threw a lot of changeups to righties and lefties. But I thought we had our pitches to hit and just didn’t get it done.”
Blue Jays’ starter Hyun Jin Ryu, meanwhile, allowed three runs on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts over six innings, his longest outing since he returned from Tommy John surgery last month.
Ryu looked sharp for the first three innings, but he gave up a two-run home run to Rangers right fielder Robbie Grossman in the fourth inning that gave Texas a lead they would never relinquish. After the game, Ryu said he missed his location on the pitch to Grossman.
Reliever Yimi García gave up a pair of runs and left the Blue Jays in a 5-0 hole in the bottom of the seventh, at which point Toronto tried to rally. First baseman Spencer Horwitz opened with a leadoff double and Cavan Biggio drove him home with an RBI single. Santiago Espinal followed with a pinch-hit double but the Blue Jays could only score one more run on a ground out from Ernie Clement. Rookie Davis Schneider hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth off Rangers closer Aroldis Chapman to make it 6-3, but that’s as close as it would get for the Blue Jays.
Davis Schneider, home run #8, September 12 pic.twitter.com/wyR5AaDIML
— Blue Jays clips (@JaysMiLBClips) September 13, 2023
There are two more games left in this series and the Blue Jays can still emerge from the series ahead of the Rangers in the standings with a pair of victories. Knowing what’s on the line, the club isn’t feeling the pressure, John Schneider said, but they do recognize the importance of winning the next two games.
“You got to try to get out of here with a split,” Schneider said. “I said it yesterday, you take it one game at a time knowing that it’s a really important series. So pressure? Absolutely not. I don’t think so. These guys, they’re looking forward to this series, this challenge. It’s a good team. We just haven’t really strung the hits in a row together so far.”
(Top photo of Guerrero: Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press via Associated Press)