SEATTLE – The Blue Jays arrived at Safeco Field for Wednesday's series finale against the Mariners knowing the importance of leaving the Pacific Northwest with a victory.
“You don't want to get swept, period, especially by a team that's ahead of you in the standings,” said Casey Janssen. “Is it a must-win? No. Is it an important game? Absolutely. Being one game back sounds a heck of a lot better than being three.”
Janssen's right. The term “must win” gets thrown around too much, anyway, but there is a sweeter smell to bolting Seattle down a game to the Mariners (and two to the Tigers, who beat the Pirates on Wednesday). Being three behind Seattle would carry with it a less appealing stench.
With less than 40 games to go, this is one of those swing games in the standings.
“I think this is a big game for us, I really do,” said manager John Gibbons. “You don't want to come in here and get swept. They shut us down pretty good the last two games. We made a little run late last night but we came up short. It's a big game for us. It's the team we came in here tied with. It's a big game for us.”
After a 15-11 July, the Blue Jays are 3-8 in August. They've scored only 30 runs, an average of 2.7 runs per game. That's not going to get it done.
Part of the club's recent struggles has to do with the quality of starting pitching it's faced. Toronto hung close when last year's Cy Young award winner, Max Scherzer, started for the Tigers on Saturday and came back to win against relievers Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain.
On Sunday, the Jays trailed 5-0 in the sixth against David Price but slowly chipped away, tying the game off of Chamberlain with two outs in the ninth and then winning in a franchise-record setting 19 innings.
Outings against Seattle's “King” Felix Hernandez on Monday and Chris Young on Tuesday were less favourable.
Baseball's daily grind is a blessing to players in this respect: there's no time to cling to the sorrow of a difficult loss the night before.
“I feel like every time this team wins a game, we could win 10 in a row and every time we lose, it stings a lot and you wonder if you're going to be able to get out of that rut the next day or not,” said Janssen. “We played a good series against Detroit and I'm sure everyone was hoping that would carry over into this series. Say what you will about 19 innings and traveling across the country, the last two games haven't gone our way. Credit those guys for their pitching performances.”
Entering Wednesday's action, the Tigers and Mariners were on pace to win 87 games. The Orioles, the AL East leader, stood to achieve 93 victories.
The Jays need to go 27-14 to win 90 games, 24-17 to win 87. The players' focus is on winning series.
“If we can take two out of three the rest of the way, we'll be in good shape,” said Janssen. “You don't want to get into breaking down the numbers because sometimes that can seem like a taller task than take the series, take the series, take the series and see where you end up at the end of the day.”
What if the Jays lose in Seattle on Wednesday? What if they get swept in front of a hometown crowd in a faraway place?
“The season's not over,” said Janssen.
No Change in Rotation
Despite off days on Thursday, Monday and next Thursday, John Gibbons won't be changing the order of his starting rotation.
There was some thought to giving the young kids, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman, some extra down time, but that won't be happening.
Stroman, Mark Buehrle and Hutchison will go as scheduled beginning on Friday when the Jays open a three-game set with the Chicago White Sox. J.A. Happ and R.A. Dickey will then start in the two-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers starting next Tuesday.