TORONTO — A total disaster. A worst-case scenario. An epic failure.
Those are some of the words that come to mind when describing the Toronto Blue Jays’ four-game sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers this week, which concluded with an ugly 9-2 loss at the Rogers Centre on Thursday night.
The Blue Jays were so thoroughly beaten in every facet over four uncompetitive games — out-pitched, out-hit, out-scored and out-classed by a Rangers squad that looked like the only team playing for their playoff lives. The 37,594 fans in attendance loudly booed the Blue Jays throughout Thursday’s game, though the loudest heckles came at the end of the loss. And the fans had every right to voice their displeasure.
The Blue Jays were swept at home in the most important series of the season.
Outscored 35 to 9
And Boo’ed off the field in each of the last 2. pic.twitter.com/Gitit246gT
— Tim Micallef (@tim_micallef) September 15, 2023
It was such a startlingly deflating showing from the home team during what had been labelled the biggest series of the season that it’s fair to wonder, can the Blue Jays muster any momentum in their final 15 games to keep their now diminished postseason hopes alive or did we just witness the beginning of the end of what’s been a disappointing season?
“This series we played terrible, really in all facets,” Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman said. “Our pitching staff gave up a lot of runs and we didn’t score many runs so that combination, you’re not going to win against a good team. It was a rough series, obviously, and to get swept at home, it’s tough, but we’ve got a good team coming in tomorrow and we’re still right there.”
After the four consecutive losses, the Blue Jays are 2 1/2 games back of the Rangers for the second wild-card spot and 1 1/2 games back of the Seattle Mariners for the third spot. However, the Blue Jays do not hold the tiebreaker over those teams, so they’ll need to finish at least a full game better than either at the end of the season to overtake them.
It’s an unenviable position and the Blue Jays only have themselves to blame. They wasted a tailor-made opportunity this week to put themselves in solid position to hold onto a wild-card spot. They began this series 1 1/2 games ahead of the Rangers in the wild-card standings. In essence, in the driver’s seat of their own playoff destiny. Meanwhile, Texas arrived in Toronto as the MLB equivalent of a wounded animal, having lost 16 of its last 22 games and fallen from first place in the AL West to out of a playoff spot. It should have been a season-sinking stretch for Texas, and the Blue Jays could’ve finished the job. Instead, their listless play may have given Texas exactly the boost it needed.
If the Blue Jays don’t make the postseason — an outcome that’s becoming increasingly likely with their playoff odds down to 34.3 percent, per FanGraphs — there will be plenty of winnable games that slipped away earlier in the season to point to as the reason why they are home in October. A horrid 11-17 record in May hangs over their heads and even a lacklustre 14-13 record in August saw games left on the table, though injuries did hit the team hard during that month.
But the thumping the Blue Jays took this week will be the easiest inflection point to circle if the team is watching the playoffs from home. Much of what went wrong this series has been what’s plagued the team all season, namely, a no-show offence that hasn’t been able to hit consistently with runners in scoring position, score in bunches or climb out of multi-run deficits. As mentioned after Wednesday’s loss, the last time the Blue Jays climbed out of a three-run hole to win was July 9 against Detroit, the day before the All-Star break.
The Blue Jays went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position on Thursday and 4-for-19 in the series. Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Blue Jays’ two best hitters, took a lot of heat for their 1-for-23 performance through the first three games of the series. They hit better on Thursday, with Bichette going 2-for-3 with a walk and Guerrero hitting a two-run home run in the first inning that briefly gave Toronto a 2-1 lead. But, overall, it was a completely uninspiring performance from the offence.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) September 14, 2023
After the game, Blue Jays manager John Schneider said his lineup “just didn’t get the hits that we needed to,” which has essentially become this team’s tagline this year.
“After you do get off to a good start, you have to find a way to continue to add on one, two, or if you have a big inning, that’s ideal,” Schneider said. “Tonight, we just didn’t do that.”
The pitching staff deserves some blame here, too. The Rangers outscored the Blue Jays 35-9. Only one of the Blue Jays’ four starters in the series — Hyun Jin Ryu — had a quality start. Meanwhile, Toronto relievers gave up 17 earned runs in 15 innings pitched. It’s hard to come down too hard on a pitching staff that has been one of the majors’ best and led the way for this club for much of the season. The pitching staff has frankly kept the team afloat, but this was an unfortunate time for their performance to falter.
“That’s a good lineup. Corey Seager is probably the best hitter in baseball right now. And, Marcus (Semien) has been good for a number of years,” Schneider said. “Looking forward to who we are going to face, those lineups are good, too. You have to continue to try to execute at a higher level and I think the biggest thing is just limiting the walks.”
For the third straight game, the Blue Jays fell behind early when Seager hit a solo home run in the first inning off Gausman, who wasn’t at his sharpest, allowing four runs on six hits through 4 2/3 innings with six walks and five strikeouts. Seager finished 9-for-17 in this series and may singlehandedly drag the Rangers into the postseason.
The Blue Jays immediately answered back, though, when Bichette singled in the bottom of the inning, snapping his 0-for-16 streak, and then Guerrero hit a no-doubt home run to left-centre field.
But Toronto’s lead didn’t last long when Seager — who else? — hit a two-run double to left field in the second inning that Whit Merrifield couldn’t squeeze in his glove. Rangers catcher Jonah Heim hit a solo home run off Gausman to make it 4-2 in the third. The Blue Jays had opportunities to tie the game, including when Guerrero came up with Bichette on base again in the seventh inning, but he struck out swinging to end the threat. The Rangers blew the game open in the eighth inning when they touched up reliever Trevor Richards, who has struggled since he returned from the injured list last month, for five runs.
Asked why he went to Richards, who has now allowed 17 runs in his last 11 innings, in a two-run game, Schneider said pointedly, “I think he has 94 strikeouts in about 60 innings this year.”
Having dug themselves a hole, the Blue Jays have no choice but to put this awful performance behind them and move on to their three-game series against the Boston Red Sox, beginning Friday at the Rogers Centre. All 15 games remaining on their schedule are against American League East teams and the Blue Jays will need to essentially win all of those series — a sweep or two would help, as well — to have a chance to stay in the playoff race, their recent performance doesn’t make that seem likely. They’ll need some losses from either Texas or Seattle, too, which will happen since those teams play each other seven more times.
But the Blue Jays have made a postseason berth difficult. They only have themselves to blame for that.
“We’re as pissed as anybody, obviously,” Gausman said. “We’re mad. We’re all competitors. We don’t like what happened in this series and we have a bad taste in our mouths. But we can’t do anything right now but keep going. We got a good team coming in. A lot of good teams the rest of the way and so we got to play good baseball from here on out to have a chance.”
(Top photo of Gausman: Spencer Colby / The Canadian Press via Associated Press)