It was Mark Buehrle versus Juan Nicasio to see if the Jays could push their win streak to 8 games. It’s been a good run for the Jays, but most of what I’ve read lately says ‘pshaw, come talk to me after they’ve played 10 straight against the AL East.’ Well I, for one, will take wins against anyone right now, so let’s take care of the Rockies before we worry about Adam Jones, Chris Davis and the O’s, let alone the rest of the AL East. The old sports standby applies: one game at a time.
Chasing the 1930 Phillies
Ray Benge got the call for the 1930 Phillies against Carl Hubbell. Carl Hubbell was the kind of pitcher who endangered a win streak or prolonged a losing streak, which is why he ended up in Cooperstown. Monk Sherlock and the Phillies bested him in game 71, though. Scoring-wise it was a bookend game, as the Giants scored 4 in the top of the 1st inning, only to have the Phillies counter with 3 of their own in the bottom of the inning. Both teams pitched scoreless ball until the Phillies scored a pair in the bottom of the 9th for a 5-4 win. Two straight wins isn’t a streak but the Phils took what they could get, especially against a pitcher like Hubbell. Check the boxscore here.
Mark Buehrle gave up a couple of 2-out hits and JP Arencibia had a passed ball in the top of the first but they wriggled out of the mini-jam. No damage was done.
In the bottom of the frame Jose Bautista grounded to Nolan Arenado, whose low throw wasn’t handled by Jordan Pacheco. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a sharply hit single to right field and Adam Lind hit a 3-run home run to put the Jays in the lead. The Jays are scoring a lot of first-inning runs during this streak. Conversely, the Jays’ starters haven’t allowed a 1st inning run since June 7 and have pitched 50+ innings without giving up a home run.
Buehrle left the ball up in the 2nd and the Rockies kept the hit parade going with a double and a single. A ground ball to second moved the double over to 3B and the single scored their first run. Another single put runners at 1st and 2nd for Carlos Gonzalez, who grounded to short to end the inning.
Buehrle is battling himself as well as the Rockies. His pitch location isn’t great and the Rockies are responding with base hits. He put a couple more runners on base in the top of the 3rd but again pitched just well enough to get out of another mini-jam. The danger when he elevates the ball is that he’s not a power pitcher, so it’s easier for hitters to deposit the ball over the fence. A 2-run lead doesn’t leave much margin for error when Buehrle pitches like this.
Emilio Bonifacio’s hustle in the 4th inning is going to win him a lot of fans. It’s no secret that Bonifacio struggled mightily early in the season and he’s still not hitting much, but his defense at 2B is light years ahead and his all-round play is improving. The Jays had runners on the corners when Bonifacio grounded a few feet to the shortstop side of 2B but he hustled to beat out the double play and Colby Rasmus scored from third. Then he executed a delayed steal to move into scoring position for Munenori Kawasaki. Kawasaki struck out but Bonifacio’s hustle has given Mark Buehrle and the Jays a little more breathing space.
Carlos Gonzalez, who was very quiet in the first two games, homered to lead off the 5th inning. It’s the first home run given up by the Jays in 6 games, and it comes with no one on base and just after Bonifacio and the Jays extended the lead. Wilin Rosario doubled with one out to keep the pressure on Mark Buehrle. An error by Kawasaki gave the Rockies an extra out, putting runners on the corners for Tyler Colvin with 2 down. Colvin struck out to end the inning.
Buehrle battled like a pit bull all night but his night’s over after 5 IP. He gave up 8 hits and a walk, while stranding 8 runners. John Gibbons will turn to one of the best bullpens in Major League Baseball for the remainder of the game. The Jays rank 4th in the league in bullpen ERA.
Neil Wagner relieved Buehrle and was throwing 96 mph peas. He struck out Torrealba using mostly sliders, then he and JPA started to use the #1 effectively to strike out Josh Rutledge. DJ LeMahieu battled hard (14 pitches; 8 foul balls) before popping out to Kawasaki. That at bat was darn near fangraphs.com material. The longest AB in MLB this season was 15 pitches.
A Kawasaki triple to lead off the 7th inning was cashed on a single by Melky, pushing the lead to 5-2. As usual Rajai Davis came in to pinch run for Melky and stole second with Bautista at the plate. A Bautista ground out to 3B advanced Rajai to 3B (!), and brought Edwin to the plate. The last several seasons have conditioned me to think that the run is important, but with this bullpen it might not be. Edwin was HBP, then Lind flied out on the first pitch to end the inning.
This bullpen is exactly what Alex Anthopoulos anticipated when he made all those deals for relievers. I openly questioned the wisdom of dealing everyday players for relievers as AA made a lot of deals for RP over the last couple of seasons. Esmil Rogers cost the Jays a manager, a reliever, and two quality utility players. JA Happ was originally acquired to be a long reliever, and Brandon Lyon was part of that package. Steve Delabar and Brad Lincoln cost the Jays two young outfielders. Frank Francisco cost the Jays Mike Napoli. Sergio Santos cost a low-level prospect. Then we need to consider all of the free agent RP they signed (Darren Oliver; Kevin Gregg; Francisco Cordero; Jon Rauch; Octavio Dotel; etc.). Then there were the AAAA pitchers and journeymen, such as Coello, Chavez, Korecky, Igarashi, Walters, Tallet, and Miller.
This year the ‘pen was good but, as the commentators pointed out, it was when they called up Neil Wagner and Juan Perez that things really ‘came together’. They gave the Jays a couple more power arms and have acquitted themselves very well, given their respective career trajectories to this point. Tonight’s game illustrates the point beautifully. Mark Buehrle was pulled after 5 tough innings and the ‘pen pitched 4 innings of 1-hit, 1-walk ball. They struck out 7 and threw 62 pitches, 48 of them for strikes (77.4%). Putting this into perspective: Casey Janssen was the least effective relief pitcher on the night.
The Jays swept the Rockies and in the process earned their 8th straight win. They’re now only a game below .500 after bottoming out at 10-21, and find themselves on the verge of being ‘in the mix’. The skeptics are right, but only to a point. Sure, the next 10 games are pretty big—not earth-shatteringly important or anything—and will give another look at how they’re doing. But, seriously, they’ve won 8 in a row and 25 of 40 (.625).