Third time through the order. That’s when hitters are optimally primed to get to a starting pitcher.
Cleveland Indians starter Josh Tomlin – the least of their wafer-thin rotation – had just pitched five remarkable innings. But on most days, Tomlin isn’t much and Cleveland’s bullpen is its overwhelming strength.
The guts of the Blue Jays order – Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista – was due up in the sixth inning for their third shot at Tomlin.
Cleveland sent him back out anyway. He drew Donaldson into a groundout. He popped up Encarnacion (who flung his bat in disgust). He walked Bautista. The bullpen tidied up from there.
One thing is plain, despite all the ‘they’re a great team over there’ platitudes – Cleveland has gotten a nice, long look at the Toronto Blue Jays’ offence over the weekend. They have yet to be impressed.
Who could blame them? For the second day running, Toronto was theoretically in it the whole way, but never really showed up. They lost 2-1.
Dropping the opener to Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber was understandable. Losing Game 2 to Triple-A candidate Tomlin is not.
“[Tomlin]’s right up there with the top command guys in baseball,” Jays manager John Gibbons said afterward. “We faced him earlier in the year, same stuff.”
If that’s actually the case – same stuff as last time – this is even worse. The last time the Jays faced Tomlin, they put six runs by him.
Over two days here, the Jays managed one run on ten hits. The core of their order – two-through-five – went 5-for-29.
“It’s crazy!” Cleveland cult object Francisco Lindor said afterward of the Jays’ anemic hitting with such enthusiasm he ought to have held up a sign showing an exclamation mark. Then he caught himself. His voice dipped. He practically crossed his hands and bowed his head. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Yes, of course not.
One is beginning to wonder if the advance press on this series – that Cleveland stood little chance owing to their starting pitching problems – was somewhere in the Jays’ heads. Not in the sense that they took this team for granted, but that as it got deeper into Game 2 with no breakthrough that frustration began to erase patience and self-belief.
Cleveland’s bullpen, and especially Andrew Miller, clearly have this line-up psyched out. Miller has faced 12 Toronto batters. He’s struck out ten of them. Most of the third-strike swings would best be described as profound gestures of surrender.
“I know we can do better,” Saturday Jays starter J.A. Happ said. “We just have to prove that.”
Happ and his colleagues have nothing to prove. The burden is now entirely on the offence.
Down two games to none with three in a row to be played at home, it’s still possible. One might go so far as to say very possible.
Down three, it’s not. That’s miracle territory.
As a result, the Jays return to the Rogers Centre in the liminal space between ‘deep concern’ and ‘genuine panic.’ That will start hitting around the fifth inning of Game 3 if there has not yet been a shift. Because that will be getting very close to (forgive me) Miller time.
“We feel like we can score against them. I know we haven’t done much,” Donaldson said. “We still have some games left and, um, y’know, we still feel confident that we can score against Miller and whoever.”
As speeches go, it’s not exactly “once more unto the breach.”
Gibbons didn’t do much better.
“The same thing happened [in the ALCS] last year, fell down the first two games on the road, came back and forced it back to Kansas City,” he said. “Won a couple of big games at home.”
Of course, what he’s leaving out of there is that they lost the series. This seems like a rather important point when your pep talking the side – don’t use failures as instructive examples.
Here’s a factoid you already know and are about to hear more than you’d care to – only one team has ever come back down 3-0. One note: those 2004 Boston Red Sox scored 16 runs in their three initial ALCS losses to the New York Yankees. They weren’t exactly in need of waking up. They just required a knuckling down.
The Jays might try to start with stringing together three hits in an inning.
Maybe all they need is to remind themselves how this works. Or very soon, they will not be working at all.Report Typo/Error
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