It’s pretty simple. If the once again Toronto Blue Jays want to back up the confidence of management, they will need to start making some headway against their divisional rivals.
So far Toronto has an uninspiring 21-24 record against the American League East and if you drill down deeper to eliminate Baltimore, the team with the second-fewest wins in baseball, the mark is just 15-21, including 4-7 against Boston. The Red Sox just showed off their booming bats in a pair of easy wins at Buffalo and Toronto will have to visit Fenway Park for four games following this weekend’s series at the New York Mets, with three more games to follow in a couple of weeks at Rogers Centre.
September will see a heavy dose of games against the Yankees and Rays. An optimist would point out the Jays actually have a positive run differential against both Boston and New York, along with a 6-6 record against the Yankees. A pessimist would point to Tampa’s history of success against the Jays and that five of Ross Stripling’s losses have come against the cream of the AL East crop, as have four of five of Robbie Ray’s defeats.
Manager Charlie Montoyo has consistently said the pitching needs to get better in order for some wins to be strung together and that could come both from internally and perhaps from outside, with the July 30 trade deadline fast approaching.
In any event, coming back to Toronto should be helpful. Despite the best efforts by everyone involved, the homefield advantage was limited — particularly against iconic franchises New York and Boston — in both Dunedin and Buffalo. The Jays went just 10-11 in Dunedin and 12-11 at Sahlen Field for a .500 “home record.” That’s more akin to the home mark of a mediocre-poor Blue Jays team historically. Jays teams with more quality, like this one, have excelled at Rogers Centre. The 2014 and 2016 groups each were nine games over .500 at Rogers Centre and the 2015 powerhouse was 25 games over .500 there.
With no games here since September of 2019, tickets have been moving fast for the July 30 return and beyond. So you can bet it will be a raucous environment at the Dome for the rest of the summer, assuming the Jays stay in the race for another post-season berth. Especially for the 10 remaining games hosting the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays.
“We’re definitely excited to get up to Toronto and get in front of our home crowd,” Ray said after giving up three home runs on Wednesday. “It was fine here (in Buffalo). (But) there were some days, especially in Dunedin too … Both parks we played in aren’t too forgiving (for pitchers),” Ray said.
“I’ve never been to the home clubhouse there. Interested to see what it’s like on that side of the field,” he said. Teammates like George Springer, Hyun Jin Ryu and Marcus Semien could say the same, along with many others. Even all-stars Vladimir Guerrero and Bo Bichette were just rookies the last time the Jays played in Toronto.
Yes, it’s been a long wait.
NO STRO SHOW REUNION
The Jays will be lucky to miss former Toronto hurler Marcus Stroman against the Mets. Stroman pitched eight shutout innings Wednesday, allowing only one hit. Stroman has a 2.59 ERA in 20 starts for the first-place Mets.
Stroman had gone 4-2 with a 3.77 ERA after being acquired by New York in 2019 and then opted out last season during the pandemic. He’s having quite the leadup to free agency.
Even with an off day coming up Thursday, his eight-inning effort was much needed ahead of the series with the Blue Jays, because New York had used 12 relievers over the previous two games.
Steven Matz will take on 6-foot-7, 230-pounder Tylor Megill (0-0, 2.63 ERA in five starts) on Friday, Ryu will go against former teammate Taijuan Walker (7-3, 2.99 ERA and badly missed in Toronto) on Saturday, and Stripling’s Sunday opponent is still to be determined.
AROUND THE BASES
The 11 homers the Red Sox hit this week were the most the franchise has ever managed in consecutive road games against a single opponent. In all, Boston has averaged 5.09 runs per game against Toronto so far this season. Only three teams have averaged more runs against the Jays. And Tampa isn’t far behind, averaging 4.77 runs, though New York has only averaged 3.5. On the bright side, only four teams have averaged more runs against the Red Sox than Toronto, so with better pitching would likely come better results, as Montoyo has said … Jays prospect Orelvis Martinez has had an incredible month of July, belting 11 home runs in 17 games. His splits are .400/.494/1.015. Not too shabby. And eight of the home runs have come in his past seven games for Low-A Dunedin.