Blue Jays hope to 'keep the momentum going'

Kiner-Falefa's career-best 5 RBIs help Toronto take set from A's with tough schedule looming

June 10th, 2024

OAKLAND -- How teams respond when stacking up against the best of the best can say a lot about who they are. The same can be true when facing clubs at the bottom of the standings.

After the Blue Jays battled earlier in the week to secure a split in four games against the Orioles, who are tied for the second-best record in the American League, they took two of three from the A's, who own the AL's third-worst record.

It proved to be a hard-fought series win, capped by Sunday's 6-4 victory in extra innings at the Coliseum. drove in the decisive runs in the 10th with a three-run double.

"Today was a game we needed after dropping the first one, [Chris] Bassitt's great outing," Kiner-Falefa said. "We needed today's game, so just glad we got to win the series."

The bases-clearing knock in the 10th inning capped a career-high five RBI-day for Kiner-Falefa, who also opened the scoring for Toronto in the second inning, hitting a two-run single off A's starter Mitch Spence. He was the last baserunner the Blue Jays managed against Spence, who set down 16 in a row to end his seven-inning outing.

Later on, in the eighth inning, Kiner-Falefa dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move Daulton Varsho over to second. Varsho then stole third and scored on Davis Schneider's sac fly, which tied the game at 3-3.

"I thought our at-bats were really good early, and we were hitting the ball hard," manager John Schneider said. "You give credit to Spence for shutting us down there for a bit, but I thought that we were competitive with all of our at-bats for most of the night."

Toronto (32-33) is now just one game under .500 for the first time since April 30, when it had a 15-16 record. After the three-game set against the A's, it will be a while until the Blue Jays face an opponent currently under .500.

After Sunday's games, Toronto sits in fourth place in the AL East and is two games out of a Wild Card spot. It's a little early for the Blue Jays to worry about their exact placement in the standings, but if they play themselves into contention down the stretch, these upcoming series could become relevant again due to the postseason tiebreaker system.

"Every game is important at this point," Schneider said. "You have to keep that at the front of everything you're doing every day, and at the same time, understanding that you have to be consistent and there's still a whole lot of baseball left to be played."

With the postseason field expanding to 12 teams in 2022, there is no longer a Game 163 to break any ties in the standings. Instead, the tiebreakers are determined from regular-season outcomes, starting with head-to-head records.

The Blue Jays' next stop on the road trip is Milwaukee, where they'll play three games against the first-place Brewers. After that comes a two-week span in which they will only face the Guardians and Red Sox, six games at home and six on the road. From there, they have four games against the Yankees, four against the Astros and three against the Mariners in Seattle.

Toronto will finish the first half on the road, with three games apiece in San Francisco and Arizona, two teams currently under .500 that remain on the fringes of contention.

Of all the AL teams the Blue Jays will face in that span, only the Astros (30-36) are currently under .500. The Guardians, Yankees and Mariners all lead their respective divisions, and the Red Sox are a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays in the AL East.

"The team's not, where we're at right now, where we want to be," said starter Bowden Francis, who pitched four scoreless innings on Sunday. "I think all these games are important."

It has been an uphill climb for the Blue Jays after a disappointing beginning to the season, and as they near a return to .500, these first-half games have taken on a greater significance.

"I think the urgency … of understanding where we are, you know, the hole we put ourselves into," Kiner-Falefa said. "These are games that we have to have, so being able to come through and find ways to win series, that's all that matters right now. It was a big series win, and we've got to keep the momentum going."