Blue Jays can't keep up with O's as bullpen gets hit hard

June 5th, 2024

TORONTO -- A win is a win, but losses have layers.

Some can be dismissed, stuffed into a beige folder full of silver linings and locked in a drawer. Others, like the Blue Jays’ 10-1 loss to the Orioles on Tuesday night, just don’t fit.

The Blue Jays were outplayed in every way, but losses like this go beyond the numbers. This is about the feeling of it all, and at a time when the Blue Jays so desperately need to grab their season by its collar and shake it -- for the fans as much as their postseason hopes -- Tuesday felt like one of the bigger letdowns of the season.

“The beauty of baseball is tomorrow. I’ve said that a lot, I feel like, this year,” said manager John Schneider. “It’s one day and you move on, but yeah, you have to get some momentum going no matter who you’re playing, whether it’s a team in the division, not in the division, whatever their record is. You have to get some momentum going. It’s been a tough last couple of nights.”

The first crack to be exposed was the Blue Jays’ pitching, but you can’t hang that on . His changeup, which turned MVP-candidate Gunnar Henderson inside out to start the game, looked better than it ever has over two perfect innings to open the game. We’ve long expected that the Blue Jays would use Richards and in tandem to replace the injured Alek Manoah, but how it all fit together was still up for the game itself to decide.

After Richards burned through the top six batters in the Orioles lineup -- which is no small feat -- the Blue Jays opted to wedge in lefty before giving Francis the bulk innings. It almost worked, but instead showed how fine a line the Blue Jays need to walk -- and walk perfectly, some nights -- to execute this strategy.

After hitting a batter, Cabrera was left in to face Henderson, who’s already launched 19 home runs this year. The lefty-lefty matchup made sense, but after Henderson walked, the Blue Jays trusted Cabrera to face Adley Rutschman, who entered Tuesday batting .434 with an 1.153 OPS against lefties this season. It went how you’d expect after reading those numbers, an RBI single to open the scoring.

The bigger problem? That extended the inning for Ryan Mountcastle, who has become a threat to Canadian national security. Mountcastle launched the first of two home runs on the night and the onslaught was underway.

“It’s tough to bring in Bowden in that spot. You wanted to do it in a clean inning,” Schneider said. “It’s tough to do that in the third inning. When you’re trying to match up entry points, you’ve got to have guys getting the outs that you hope they’re going to get. It didn’t work out there in the third with Cabrera.”

This pitching strategy can work. We saw it happen with Richards and Francis several times last year when Manoah was optioned to Triple-A, but it introduces more variables than “Plan A”, which is a traditional starter. If José Berríos is sharp, for example, the Blue Jays are sharp for seven innings. Patching together a bullpen day opens you up to more risks, though. Even with Richards pitching so well, it just took one crack after him for the whole thing to open up. From there, the O’s just pounded away.

After the loss, Schneider continued to focus on his pitchers executing their pitches. It doesn’t go for everyone, of course, after what Richards did, but it’s clear he believes this can be better, and that it’s within their control.

“You have to execute your pitches. If you’re throwing [crap] in the middle of the zone and hoping for a good result, it’s probably not going to happen against Ryan Mountcastle or against me,” Schneider said. “You have to execute. We felt good about the plan going in. It’s up to the players to go out there and execute the pitches. If you don’t, that’s what happens.”

The beauty, as Schneider says, is that there is a game tomorrow. That fact may cause you to recoil from your screen after watching Tuesday’s game, but the show must go on and the Blue Jays must, by any means possible, make all the coming tomorrows look nothing like Tuesday.