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Full Count – Blue Jays Split Opening Series in Tampa Bay

Well, shit. Another trip to Tampa Bay, and another disastrous series of events for the Blue Jays.

After two solid victories to open the season, Toronto has to be disappointed to leave Tropicana Field with a split of the four-game series, and the health of the American League MVP is up-in-the-air.  They pitched (for the most part) well enough to win all four games, but some timely hitting by those pesky Rays, will leave the club with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths coming north for the Dome Opener on Friday night.

Tropicana Field continues to be Toronto’s House of Horrors. It seems every year they find a new way to lose there. Tuesday night was no different. Wednesday afternoon was no different. Two blown saves, a controversial call on the field, and poor bullpen management handed the Jays their first losses of 2016. Didn’t both games feel like ones they were destined to lose?

New this year at Jays Balk, instead of individual game recaps (with the exception of special circumstances like last night–check out Asher’s take here), I’m going to introduce a segment called Full Count, where I lay out the five big points from the series as a whole.

1. The focus has shifted off the field and into the trainer’s room, and all eyes will be on the health status of Josh Donaldson after he removed himself from the game after grounding out in the seventh inning Wednesday afternoon. He’s been diagnosed with a minor calf strain, is currently listed as day-to-day, and for the moment, remains hopeful he can play in the home opener on Friday. He told reporters he started feeling discomfort a little bit in Montreal, then more so in Tampa Bay, citing the hard turf, which many players don’t enjoy playing on. Going from turn in Montreal, to turf in Tampa, and now more turf in Toronto, might be a little bit troubling. Fingers crossed it won’t be as significant an injury as Miguel Cabrera sustained last summer, when he was forced to miss six weeks with a calf injury.

jose-bautista-slide2. Umpires across the league are still terrible. I haven’t been particularly thrilled with the strike zone in any game yet this season. Between the debacle in New York on Tuesday (Yankees reliever Dellin Betances was penalized for trying NOT to hit a player has he ran down the line at first base), the weird double review of Steven Sousa’s drop in right field on Monday, and the new slide rule, it’s been a mess. As Ken Rosenthal expertly outlined, by the letter of the law, Bautista was in the wrong. But the rule should be implemented more for the sake of protecting infielders from injury, and less for penalizing a runner EVERY time he makes contact with a player trying to turn a double play. Dirk Hayhurst had some good tweets on the subject this morning. What happens if infielders start embellishing on minor contact to draw on easy double play? Nobody wants that. I like the fact you now need to slide directly into the base, but I’m not sure we need to be calling interference for such minor contact.

3. The Blue Jays young pitching is legit. Marcus Stroman pitched into the 9th on Opening Day, Aaron Sanchez struck out 8 while walking 0 over 7 on Tuesday, and Roberto Osuna is 2-for-2 in save opportunities, needing only 7 pitches on Monday night. However, Tampa Bay has one of the softest lineups in the league, so let’s see how they stack up against more powerful offences like Boston and New York on the upcoming home stand. J.A. Happ 2.0 also looked pretty effective on Wednesday, working into the 7th inning and minimizing damage. If the club can get this type of starting pitching all season, they’ll be just fine.

4. The Jays hitters struck out a LOT in the first 4 games, setting a four-game series franchise record with 48. I’m not worried about this as a season-long trend, but it was their undoing in this series. Failure to move runners over minizmied their scoring opportunities, and ultimately their runs scored. It’s a bit of an alarming number, but add a grain of salt to remember Tampa has one of the best staffs in the American League. Toronto was still able to pound out 15 runs in 4 games, but left plenty on the board as well.

5. John Gibbons’ bullpen deployment on Wednesday left many scratching their heads. Gavin Floyd pitched wonderfully in relief of Happ in the seventh and into the eighth, but was not given the opportunity to get out of a jam with two runners on and powerful Steven Souza coming up. Arnold Leon’s first appearance as a Blue Jay was a disaster, leading to a go-ahead three-run homer. I would have liked to see Floyd stay in given how he was pitching. But I also would have liked to see Drew Storen in the role he was acquired for. Reports indicate he was unavailable because he warmed up Sunday & Tuesday, with a 20-plus pitch outing in between on Monday. Are you kidding me?! It’s the first week of April! His arm should be as fresh as it’s going to be all season! And with an off day tomorrow, he’s got plenty of time to get right before the next game. Gibbons bitched last night about the umps taking a win away from him when “every game matters”, yet he comes out today and essentially throws it away by not using his best relievers? Idiotic and incompetent are the best words that come to mind, and now the “best team in the AL East” is coming home with a disappointing .500 record.

Up next is a six-game home stand against division rivals Boston and New York, starting Friday night with Marcus Stroman opposite Rick Porcello, in a juicy matchup for Toronto hitters. It’s a knuckleballer duel on Saturday with R.A. Dickey against Steven Wright, and David Price’s return to Toronto Sunday, with Marco Estrada making his season debut for the Jays. Should be a good three game set to kick off the home schedule!

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