TORONTO -- Contrary to what the first 13 days of September suggested, the Blue Jays weren’t going to continue outmuscling their opponents with offense every single night.
When the bats finally piped down, José Berríos perked up with only one run and four hits allowed in seven sharp innings. It wasn’t quite enough on Tuesday night in a 2-0 loss to the Rays at Rogers Centre, but thanks to Berríos, the Blue Jays were never more than a swing or two away.
The Blue Jays began the day atop the American League Wild Card standings, holding a one-game lead over both the Yankees and the Red Sox. Now, Toronto, New York and Boston are in a three-way tie at the top with only two AL Wild Card berths up for grabs.
After Berríos threw 87 pitches through seven innings, there was reason to believe he may return for the eighth. But following his final out, he said he “felt something” in his side, which prompted Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo to go to his bullpen.
“Just to be cautious,” Montoyo said. “Right now, we’re going to call it left abdominal tightness and we’ll see how it feels tomorrow. … He’s not getting any imaging, because he thinks it feels right, but we’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
That’s a storyline to follow, but so is this: Berríos has now worked into the seventh inning in four consecutive starts, his longest such stretch of the season. The Blue Jays would lose that depth if the right-hander misses any time.
If he’s OK, Berríos’ next start could come Monday in a rematch with the Rays. He entered Tuesday night with a spotty track record against them (0-2, 7.15 ERA in four career starts), but he hadn’t faced them since 2019. And actually, Berríos has dominated Tampa Bay's current roster, having held those players to a .085/.154/.170 slash line in 52 plate appearances prior to Tuesday. The only active Rays players who had gotten a hit off him -- Kevin Kiermaier and Brett Phillips -- were held out of the lineup.
In their place, Ji-Man Choi doled out the damage, with a solo shot and a double against Berríos. Aside from that, he yielded three baserunners, and his average exit velocity among 21 balls in play was only 86 mph.
But don’t forget to give Toronto's defense its due.
The Rays had a .332 expected batting average on Tuesday, which equates to roughly 11 expected hits in their 33 at-bats. But a slew of highlight-reel plays -- including a sliding snag by Marcus Semien and a quick field-and-throw play by Bo Bichette -- helped hold the Rays to six hits.
The Blue Jays were robbed of a few hits themselves, adding to a rare frustrating night for the offense. Of Toronto’s seven balls in play with a 100-plus mph exit velocity, only two fell for hits. The Blue Jays also had three lineouts with expected batting averages of .780 or higher that turned into lineouts -- none bigger than a two-on, no-out rocket by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the fourth.
“Overall, whenever you’re lining out, it’s never fun,” said Toronto catcher Reese McGuire, who also had an unlucky lineout. “And when it’s kind of collectively happening to everyone, it’s a little frustrating. … That’s exactly what we said when we got into the clubhouse. Just like, ‘Man, we smoked so many balls tonight. Their defense was just right where they needed to be.’”
Entering Tuesday, the Blue Jays’ collective September stats looked like the result of penciling nine Guerreros into the lineup: a .331/.410/.636 slash line in 13 games, with 36 home runs and 8.8 runs per game.
As you might expect from baseball’s second-highest scoring offense, shutouts don’t happen too often. Tuesday marked the first time Toronto was blanked at home this season and the third time overall (the first since July 23 against the Mets).
When slow offensive games happen for this high-octane Blue Jays group, it’s important for the pitchers to do their part. They did on Tuesday, and more often than not, that’ll probably be enough.
“I think it was a good challenge for us to be in a close game there,” McGuire said. “Kind of realizing it’s not always going to be easy, it’s not always going to be a ton of long balls and a huge lead for our starter. So huge job by Berríos to keep us in that game, getting deep in there.”