Estrada excels as Blue Jays pad East lead
ATLANTA -- Right-hander Marco Estrada tossed eight scoreless innings while Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson and Cliff Pennington each homered in the Blue Jays' 5-0 victory over the Braves on Thursday night at Turner Field.
The win increased the Blue Jays' lead in the American League East to 3 1/2 games over the Yankees, who had the night off. Toronto's magic number to clinch the division is 14.
Estrada surpassed his career high in innings during his last start in New York, but there weren't any signs of fatigue against Atlanta. He faced just 27 batters in the outing and retired 10 in a row during a stretch that started in the fifth inning and lasted until the eighth. The veteran righty has allowed more than three earned runs in a start just twice since June 19.
"The key was Estrada, he shut them down once again," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He has been doing it all year … he has shown over and over that he can go late in the game and give up very few hits, he has done it all year."
Right-hander Matt Wisler took the loss for Atlanta despite a relatively strong start that was limited to a troublesome fourth inning. Toronto scored all four of its runs off Wisler that inning on home runs by Encarnacion and Pennington, and that was enough for Estrada to carry it the rest of the way. Wisler allowed nine hits and two walks while striking out three and throwing 69 of his 105 pitches for strikes.
Donaldson added a solo shot to right field in the top of the ninth inning to cap an impressive night all around for the Blue Jays. Toronto's All-Star third baseman is one shy of reaching the 40-homer plateau for the first time in his career as he continues to make his case for the AL MVP Award.
With their 26th loss in their past 30 games, the Braves were shutout for the 15th time this season. Each of their three hits were singles and they did not advance a runner past first base.
"It's frustrating when you haven't been playing well and you still can't get results," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "I'm not saying [Estrada] is a bad pitcher, but I didn't see anything that we shouldn't be able to score runs against. It's frustrating to not be able to produce runs."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Ed-Wing: Encarnacion continued to roll along with a homer to lead off the fourth inning. That extended his on-base streak to 44 consecutive games, which is tied with Matt Holliday for the longest in the Major Leagues this season. According to Statcast™, Encarnacion's 33rd home run of the season was projected to travel 430 feet and left his bat at 109 mph. The solo home run gave the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead and came on an 0-1 pitch from Wisler.
"He lengthens our lineup, especially in a National League park, he's very dangerous," Gibbons said of Encarnacion, who returned Wednesday following a two-game absence with a sore left middle finger.
One shaky inning: Wisler surrendered five of his nine hits and each of his four runs within a span of six plate appearances in the fourth inning. Encarnacion's leadoff shot was the first homer the Braves rookie had allowed since the Cubs tallied four against him over just 2 2/3 innings on Aug. 23. But four batters later, Pennington added his three-run shot on an 0-2 fastball. Wisler said he was not distracted by Dioner Navarro and Ryan Goins, who were set in motion just before the pitch was delivered to Pennington. More >
"That fourth inning really cost us the game, so I've got to clean that up," Wisler said. "The lefties have been my Achilles' heel and they're the ones that beat me tonight."
Surprise power: The Blue Jays aren't necessarily expecting a lot of production from Pennington's bat the rest of the way, but he gave the club a boost in the fourth with a three-run shot. Pennington had one homer all year prior to joining Toronto in the middle of August, but he has two over the last week. According to Statcast™, Pennington's shot to right was projected to travel 383 feet and left his bat at 96 mph.
"Home runs, stuff like that, is sometimes streaky," Pennington said. "I don't hit a lot of them obviously, but when you hit one a couple can kind of come. I'm definitely not trying to hit homers or anything like that, but I'll take them if they come."
Rough return: Cameron Maybin's fifth-inning single accounted for one of the three hits the Braves recorded off Estrada. But these past few days have not been pleasant for Maybin, who has struck out in six of the nine at-bats he has recorded since returning from a left cornea abrasion.
"It was actually weird. I saw him shuffling off, shuffling off, shuffling off. I almost wanted to call time and say, 'No, no, no, stop.' He got a great jump, but with two strikes on you, you can't take it, so I got thrown a strike and had to swing." -- Pennington, on Navarro joking that he had a base stolen before Pennington hit a three-run shot
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Encarnacion's solo homer in the fourth inning gave him RBI No. 100 on the season. That gave Toronto three players -- Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Encarnacion -- with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the third time in franchise history. It was previously done in 1998 (Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green) and in 2000 (Tony Batista, Brad Fullmer and Delgado).
Blue Jays: The Blue Jays will return to Rogers Centre for the start of a three-series homestand with a game against the Red Sox on Friday at 7:07 p.m. ET. Right-hander Marcus Stroman (1-0, 5.40 ERA) will make his second start of the year after missing most of the season following left knee surgery. In his debut, Stroman allowed three runs over five innings at Yankee Stadium.
Braves: Atlanta will welcome the Phillies to Turner Field for a three-game series that begins on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Williams Perez (5-6, 5.36 ERA) will take the mound for the Braves, who stand just one game ahead of the Phillies in the battle to not own Major League Baseball's worst record.
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