Blue Jays Hit a Wall, Lose Second Straight to Royals
KANSAS CITY — For most of this road trip the Blue Jays pitching staff was able to make up for what the offence could not deliver but there was no way to mask it Sunday.
After winning four out of five games early in this trip, the Jays hit a wall on the weekend, losing 4-2 Saturday before suffering a crushing defeat in the finale.
Kendrys Morales delivered a grand slam and Yordano Ventura shut down the Blue Jays offence as the Kansas City Royals rolled to a 7-1 victory and a 2-1 series win.
The loss sends the Blue Jays back home with a winning record on this road trip but the last two games left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
“Our goal is to win every series,” said Marcus Stroman, who started for Toronto on Sunday and was tagged with the loss, allowing three runs over five innings.
“Winning the Houston series was where we wanted to be. But I don’t think leaving here we’re satisfied at all. You go into every series looking to win and that’s the only mentality that we have.”
The Jays managed just six hits against Ventura and relievers Peter Moylan and Chris Young and that has been typical of what has ailed the Toronto offence recently.
In the finale, the Royals touched up Marcus Stroman for seven hits and three runs before Morales put this thing to bed with his 18th homer of the year with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. Against an aggressive Royals team, the Blue Jays and their anemic bats had no answers, especially with runners on base.
The Blue Jays had runners on base in each of the first four innings and in three of those four, had two runners on, but could not convert those opportunities into even one run.
In the first inning, Toronto left runners at first and second when Michael Saunders grounded out to end the inning. In the second, Tulowitzki’s leadoff walk was wasted by three consecutive outs. In the third, Jose Bautista tried to go first-to-third on a Josh Donaldson single and was gunned down by Lorenzo Cain. And in the fourth, consecutive one-out singles by Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton produced nothing as Josh Thole and Darwin Barney were retired in order.
The Royals got all they would need in the second inning and could have had more but for some bad base running.
Morales led off the second by working Stroman for a walk. Alex Gordon’s comebacker could have been a double-play ball but Stroman’s high throw to Tulowitzki covering second prevented a relay to first. Paul Orlando singled into right field, as Gordon moved up to second. Catcher Drew Butera followed with a single into right field, scoring Gordon and sending Orlando to third.
Raul Mondesi then laid down a perfect bunt that Stroman fielded but his throw to Travis covering first was wide left and sailed into right field. Orlando scored on the play, leaving runners at second and third with one out and the Royals leading 2-0.
Escobar then hit a sharp grounder to Encarnacion at first and he alertly stepped on the bag. Mondesi had broken for third, even though the bag was occupied by Butera and in the ensuing rundown, Butera was tagged out to end the inning.
The Royals added to their lead in the top of the fifth when Escobar drilled his second home run of the season just into the first row of seats in centre. The Jays asked for a review of the play, believing that a fan touched the ball before it left the field of play but the appeal was denied.
Stroman was gone after five innings, having thrown 95 pitches, allowing seven hits a pair of walks and three earned runs. He struck out four.
“They are a dynamic team with their speed,” said Stroman. “They don’t look to beat you with homers. They’re looking to move the ball, move players, they’re very fast and they put the ball in play. It’s one of those teams where you really have to lock in against and limit what they can do. We weren’t able to do that the last two days.”
After allowing seven Toronto baserunners through the first four innings, Ventura settled into lockdown mode, retiring the next 10 men he faced before issuing a two-out walk to Darwin Barney in the top of the seventh. When Devon Travis followed with a single into centre field, it signalled the end of Ventura’s day.
With Jose Bautista at the plate, representing the potential tying run, reliever Moylan uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Barney to score from third, one pitch before he struck out Bautista for the third out.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Royals loaded the bases against reliever Scott Feldman with consecutive singles by Mondesi, Escobar and Cuthbert. After Feldman fanned Cain for the first out, Brett Cecil was summoned to face left-handed hitter Hosmer and he struck him out, giving the Jays hope they might dodge a big bullet.
But Morales crushed that through, along with Cecil’s first-pitch fastball, sending it out at the deepest part of the park for a grand slam that put the game on ice.
“I didn’t feel bad. I battled all day and my pitch count kind of rose. They kept fouling off and fouling off good pitches I was making. They kept spoiling until they got a good pitch to hit. Just one of those days when I felt like I was battling.”
With his sinker and with fastball command, Stroman was able to get his share of ground balls, which is his bread and butter but the Royals found more holes than usual.
“My sinker is where it needs to be. Just a matter of mixing in my other pitches in certain counts. I’m happy with my fastball and that it is down in the zone.”
The Blue Jays now head home for six games, three against Tampa Bay and three against the Houston Astros.
JAYS HIT COLD FRONT
The Blue Jays offence, which led the majors in runs with 891 last season and has been on a very hot pace again this year, has hit a cold spell.
After a slow start, the Blue Jays caught fire in May and sit third in the American League in scoring with 535 runs, an average of almost five per game. But in their last 15 games, they have averaged only about 3.7 runs per game. On this seven-game road trip, they managed to score an average of just over two runs per game.
“It’s 162 games,” said pitcher Marcus Stroman. “It’s baseball and it’s hard to be hot for 162. Our guys are some of the best hitters in the league. We’re all aware of that, and the drought is not going to last. It’s just one of those spurts and I’m sure they’ll break out pretty soon.”
In the three-game series in Kansas City, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion combined to hit .167 (5-for-30) with zero RBI.
Sunday, the Jays were held to a solitary run (scored on a wild pitch) and that is just the 11th time they have scored one or less in a game in 2016. That’s the least such games by any team in the majors. Last year, they scored one or fewer runs 15 times.
“Today was a little frustrating but it’s always tough playing here,” said manager John Gibbons. “They are the world champs for a reason and they held us in check. We snuck that one out Friday night but we haven’t been swinging good since the beginning of that last home stand. We’ve been in a rut and we’re due to explode.”
On this seven-game road trip, Toronto won four times, even though they hit just .198 and scored 17 runs. The saving grace was the fine pitching performances they received along the way. In the first six games of the trip, the Jays pitching staff allowed just 11 runs over 57 innings, pitching to a 1.74 ERA.