1. Shoemaker yanked early but pitching plan worked
Much was made of the Toronto Blue Jays’ decision to push ace Hyun-Jin Ryu to Game 2 and go with Matt Shoemaker as the Game 1 starter.
It was clear Shoemaker would be limited to some sort of pitch count and on a very short leash if things went awry, but the 34-year-old was brilliant across three frames, throwing 27 of 35 pitches for strikes, allowing just two hits, and keeping the baseball away from the barrel of Tampa Bay Rays hitters.
But three innings would be all Shoemaker would get before he’d be given the hook, throwing 19 fewer than he did in his return from a lat injury on Sept. 21, so it wasn’t a pitch count issue.
To lead off the fourth inning, manager Charlie Montoyo and the front office computers brought in lefty Robbie Ray to face right-handed hitter Randy Arozarena, who came in batting .400 with four home runs in just 20 at-bats against southpaws this season.
Arozarena promptly tripled and would later score on a Ray wild pitch, giving the Rays an early 1-0 lead.
After the game, Montoyo said they didn’t consider leaving Shoemaker in and the reason was Ray has been one of their best pitchers lately.
It was the only hit Ray would allow, but considering the lefty has allowed a 1.012 OPS to righties this season, bringing him in to face Arozarena when Shoemaker was dealing was a curious decision.
Shoemaker seemed to be unhappy in the dugout, and while Montoyo said that the original plan for his starter was one trip through the Rays’ batting order and two innings, the veteran right-hander expressed his competitive disappointment with the early hook, saying he thought he’d go four or five innings, but wasn’t really sure.
"It’s playoff baseball," Shoemaker said. "Physically, I felt great. I wanted to go seven, eight, nine innings. That’s just how we internally compete. Of course, I wanted to keep going, but I had an idea of the plan, somewhat, going into it."
Despite that, an overall line of six one-run innings and just three hits allowed from Shoemaker and Ray makes the decision to push Ryu to Wednesday look like a smart one in the grand scheme of things.
2. Bats go cold
While the pitching decision got all of the attention pre-game and most of it early on in-game, as well, it was far from the reason the Jays are in a one-game hole and facing elimination.
The bats, however, were a different story.
Coming into the series, the Jays had quietly put together the seventh-best offence in baseball this season, scoring 5.03 runs per game, one year after finishing 23rd in baseball.
Against Blake Snell, it took until the sixth inning to get a hit, a leadoff single off the bat of 21-year-old DH Alejandro Kirk.
They’d threaten in the eighth inning, but ended up leaving six men on base on the night and could never really solve Snell.
When the Jays’ bats were hot this year, they weren’t chasing as many pitches out of the zone, but that’s exactly what they did Tuesday.
Montoyo’s club struck out 12 times and could only muster one extra-base hit, an eighth-inning double by Cavan Biggio.
3. Snell completely dominant
The 2018 Cy Young winner ended up only going 5.2 innings, but those frames were completely dominant as he carried a no-hitter through five innings.
Coming into the game with a career 2.81 ERA across 13 starts against the Jays, everyone knew it was a tough assignment, but Snell had four pitches working and ended up getting 18 whiffs from Toronto hitters on just 82 pitches.
Snell’s curveball was swung through eight times on just 27 pitches, while the lefty’s four-seam fastball got five whiffs, the changeup got three and his slider got two more.
The 27-year-old didn’t even have his peak velocity, but he could still dial it up close to 97 mph when he needed it.
One of the clear separators between these two AL East teams is the rotation, and what a luxury it is for Rays manager Kevin Cash to be able to follow Snell with 6-foot-8 flamethrower Tyler Glasnow in Game 2 on Wednesday.
It’s not getting any easier for the Jays.
4. Ryu now needed to stave off elimination
When the Jays hatched their plan to have their ace sandwiched between two games that are expected to be heavy bullpen days, they obviously envisioned Ryu taking the mound with a chance to sweep the series in Game 2.
But that won’t be the case, so the Jays will send their $80 million southpaw to the mound to help them try to stave off elimination and force a Game 3 on Thursday at Tropicana Field.
After the season the 33-year-old just put together, the Jays are expecting — and will need — another ace-like performance from Ryu, who posted a 2.69 ERA this season, the lowest single-season mark for a qualified starting pitcher that spent a full season with the Jays since Roy Halladay’s 2.79 mark back in 2009.
Ryu was hands down the club’s MVP this season, accumulating 1.9 fWAR, the most of any player regardless of position, and the Jays went 9-3 in his 12 starts.
Without him, the Jays are not a postseason team.
And if he doesn’t perform Wednesday, the Jays won’t be a postseason team any longer.
5. Wild-card roster features handful of surprises
Through all of the injuries the Jays had to endure this season, the biggest loss in the end may be Jordan Romano’s freak finger injury in late August.
The Jays thought the 27-year-old Markham, Ont., product had a chance to make it back for the postseason, but he was left off Tuesday’s wild-card roster when it was announced.
GM Ross Atkins said Romano is closing in on a return, but the fact he hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 29 made them hesitant to throw him into the postseason fire.
If the Jays advance, Romano will likely be available, but that doesn’t help Montoyo match up with the Rays’ power bullpen in this series.
One surprise addition to the wild-card roster was first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who was able to do enough in live BP sessions over the past couple of days to convince Jays’ decision-makers he was ready, and then went out Tuesday in Game 1 and dumped a pinch-hit single into centre field.
With Alejandro Kirk giving Montoyo a DH and pinch-hit option with some pop from the right side, Tellez gives the Jays one from the left side.
One not-so-surprising omission from the roster was veteran right-hander Tanner Roark, who despite a 6.80 ERA this season is still owed $12 million in the final year of the two-year, $24-million deal the Jays gave him last winter.