MINNEAPOLIS -- With the urgency of the AL Wild Card race growing greater by the hour, the Blue Jays have dropped three in a row, their latest coming with a case of cold bats on a cold Friday night at Target Field.
The 3-1 loss was the worst-case scenario for the Blue Jays, too: a loss on the night of a Yankees win. With New York jumping on Boston early, the Blue Jays now fall a full two games back of the Yankees for the second AL Wild Card spot, with just eight games remaining in their season. The Yankees are just a game back of the Red Sox for the top spot now, while the sneaky Mariners pulled even with Toronto as they held on for a win over the Angels late Friday night.
Across the board, the message was the same following the loss: it’s just a few games, and this isn’t over.
“This is the same team,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “It’s tough to win that many games and we’ve done a good job. Maybe guys are feeling a little pressure, but that’s a privilege. We have earned it, to get to this point and to still have a chance after everything we’ve overcome the whole year.”
José Berríos gave the Blue Jays every opportunity to win, too, which adds some sting to Friday’s result. The former Twins’ starter, still beloved in Minneapolis, was downright nasty at times, striking out 10 over six innings of work.
Berríos found trouble for just one brief stretch, but that was enough. Following a walk and a triple to open the third inning, Byron Buxton took Berríos deep to center field to put the Twins out in front by three. This was a flashback to the Blue Jays’ cold stretch through mid-August, when starters kept turning in quality outings with no support from the offense. Toronto’s firepower through an overall fantastic month of September suggests that Friday’s four-hit night is simply a flicker, not a sign of a larger problem, but even flickers are problematic with such little time remaining.
“We are playing so well so far this month. These two games are part of baseball,” Berríos said. “Minnesota is playing good baseball the last two nights, but tomorrow is another day and another opportunity. We know who we are. We are just trying to calm ourselves, settle a little bit on our plan and do what we have been doing this season.”
The lone offense of the day came from one of the usual suspects, Marcus Semien. His 42nd home run of the year puts him just one shy of the all-time record for home runs by a second baseman in a single season, currently held by Davey Johnson of the Braves (1973). The 439-footer was just another exclamation point on a season that should land Semien in the top five of AL MVP voting, but like Berríos’ night, it wasn’t enough.
At the top of the lineup was George Springer, who went 0-for-4, after going 0-for-5 in each of the past two losses. Springer has struggled offensively since returning from a knee sprain, and while he feels better about the swings he’s taking and the contact he’s making, he recognizes the urgency as much as anyone on this roster.
Springer has been there and done that when it comes to the postseason, but that also allows him to look at these final eight games without a sense of panic.
“It’s only been a couple of games,” Springer said. “I know it’s not the ideal time to lose three straight, but that’s the game. We have to flush it. It is what it is. We’ve got our guy going tomorrow and we’ve got to really get behind him.”
Montoyo has said dozens of times this season that “momentum is the next day’s starter,” and if that’s true, the Blue Jays have that momentum. Staff ace Robbie Ray takes the mound Saturday in game three of the series, looking to add one of the final chapters to his case for the AL Cy Young Award, and the Blue Jays need him to do the true duty of an ace by stopping a skid.
These losses are still just a couple of off games for now, but with the clock ticking, the Blue Jays will need the bounceback to come soon. With the Yankees up two games and the Mariners suddenly pulling up a fourth chair to the table, there’s no time for another misstep.