With most sports still on pause as the world tries to both slow the spread of COVID-19 and begin the recovery from lockdown, there are still ways to fill the void created by the lack of games. In order to provide a distraction from the much more serious things going on in the world, Sportsnet’s Blue Jays radio broadcaster Mike Wilner is simulating each scheduled Blue Jays game in what was supposed to have been the 2020 season and providing weekly updates in this space. You can follow the games as they happen each day on Twitter @Wilnerness590. The simulation is being done using Dynasty League Baseball Powered By Pursue The Pennant, a cards-and-dice tabletop (and online) simulation game, with player performance based on 2019 statistics.
When last we met in this space, the Blue Jays had completed their best week of the simulation so far. They swept the Tigers in Detroit to cap a 5-1 week of work that included a no-hitter by Matt Shoemaker.
This past week, the wins just kept on coming as the Blue Jays juggernaut came home to face the Tampa Bay Rays before hitting the highway for an interleague road trip.
It started with Shoemaker back on the hill, attempting to follow-up the simulated no-no in his previous start. Only once in major-league history has a pitcher thrown back-to-back no-hitters (Johnny Vander Meer for the Reds in 1938).
The Vander Meer talk ended early in this one. Incredibly early, in fact, as Brandon Lowe led off the game with a double. He scored a couple of batters later on a fielder’s choice and the 1-0 deficit the Blue Jays faced was the first time they’d trailed at any point in the last six games. The Rays added to their lead in the second inning when Mike Zunino’s two-out RBI double made it 2-0. Lowe followed with a single and Austin Meadows walked to load the bases. It was at that point that Shoemaker started Shoemakering.
The righty got Yandy Diaz to fly out to centre to end the inning, and that was it. Shoemaker didn’t allow another Ray to reach base the rest of the way through his eight-inning outing, retiring the final 19 hitters he faced. It was the third straight start in which Shoemaker had thrown at least six consecutive no-hit innings.
While Shoemaker was shutting things down, the Blue Jays got to T-Bay starter Blake Snell. After a Willy Adames error allowed a run to score in the fourth to get the Jays on the board, Bo Bichette led off the fifth inning with a solo homer to tie the game. It was Bichette’s first hit of what would wind up being a magical week for the Jays’ sophomore shortstop. Cavan Biggio followed the Bichette shot with a single, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. doubled him home and Rowdy Tellez put one in the seats to cap a four-run frame, more than enough to lift the Blue Jays’ to a 5-2 win, their sixth in a row – a season high.
If the Jays were going to make it seven in a row, they’d have to work overtime. Chase Anderson and Charlie Morton had a nice little pitchers’ duel in the middle game of the series, with the Rays’ ace cracking first. In the bottom of the fifth, Morton gave up a one-out double to Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. An out later, he hit Jonathan Davis with a pitch. Next up was Bichette, and he doubled home both runners to put the Jays on top 2-0.
Anderson came out for the sixth having allowed just three hits to that point, but he gave up back to back singles to Meadows and Diaz, then a game-tying double to Ji-Man Choi before the bullpen could come to the rescue.
The Rays had a chance to take the lead with men on first and second and one out in the eighth, but Anthony Bass pitched out of it. The Blue Jays had men on first and second with two out in the ninth, but Randal Grichuk flied out and it was off to extras.
In the top of the 11th, the Rays got a break when, with two out and nobody on, Kevin Kiermaier hit a ground ball to third. Guerrero fielded it cleanly and made a good strong throw to first, but the ball was dropped by Biggio, who had just moved over from second base that inning, since Teoscar Hernandez had pinch-hit for Travis Shaw in the bottom of the 10th.
The Biggio error opened the floodgates. Rafael Dolis hit the next batter, then Lowe hit a gap double that scored Kiermaier and broke the tie. Jordan Romano came in for Dolis and allowed a two-run single to Meadows before getting out of the inning. The Jays couldn’t mount a rally against Rays’ closer Nick Anderson, and the win streak was snapped at six with a 5-2 loss to the Rays in 11 innings.
Often a series against Tampa Bay can be a harbinger of bad things to come for the Blue Jays, and it looked like this would remain the case as the Rays jumped out to a big lead in the rubber match. Trent Thornton was back after serving a seven-game suspension for hitting Joey Gallo of the Rangers, and he gave up a two-run homer to Adames in the second and a two-run double to Kiermaier in the fourth. In the sixth inning, a one-out solo shot by Hunter Renfroe made it 5-1 Rays and knocked the righty out of the game.
The Blue Jays managed to cut the deficit in half on a two-run homer by Vladdy, Jr., but they went into the bottom of the eighth down 6-3 against hard-throwing Rays’ righty Diego Castillo.
Nobody could even get the bat on the ball against Castillo, who throws 100, but it turns out they didn’t have to. Around a couple of strikeouts, Castillo walked one and hit two to load the bases and, with the tying runs on base, the call went to Anderson to face Bichette. Bo won the battle.
The Jays’ shortstop tied the game with a three-run double and was then ushered home by a two-run blast off the bat of Brandon Drury, who had come in for defence the inning before. Ken Giles made it stand up with a hitless ninth and the Blue Jays had a miracle comeback win, scoring five times with two out in the bottom of the eighth to take the series from the Rays with an 8-6 victory.
With seven wins in eight games under their belts, the Jays headed off for an interleague road trip that started with three games in Pittsburgh. And even with no designated hitter, the Jays had their most explosive series of the simulation.
It started with Bichette’s best day in the majors, and probably ever. He led the ballgame off with a home run, and singled in his next at-bat, but those were 2/3 of the Jays’ hits through the first five innings and they went into the sixth in a 1-1 tie.
Bichette led off the sixth with a homer as well, his second of the game, and a one-out walk and single sent Pirates’ starter Steven Brault to the showers for Michael Feliz, who walked Grichuk to load the bases, then walked Danny Jansen to force in a run. Up next was Drury who, of course, belted a Grand Slam. His second homer in as many games and his fourth of the simulation.
From there, the rout was on. Chris Stratton took over for the Pirates in the seventh, faced five hitters and allowed four doubles, one to Bichette. Bo singled in the eighth ahead of a Gurriel homer that made it 12-1 and allowed the Jays to empty the bench to give the regulars the rest of the night off. Not Bichette, though. He was due up fifth in the ninth inning, but was a triple away from hitting for the cycle and would be given the chance if the Jays could get the inning to him.
It didn’t look good, as Hector Noesi popped up the first two Blue Jay hitters. But then Jonathan Davis joined the parade and belted the Jays’ fifth home run of the game and Joe Panik followed with a double to bring Bichette to the plate.
Bo was 5-for-5 in the game, with two singles, a double and two home runs. He needed a triple to become just the fourth Blue Jay ever to hit for the cycle. He didn’t get it.
Instead, Bichette crushed his third home run of the night. Only once in real life has a Blue Jay had six hits in a game – Frank Catalanotto did it in 2004. Carlos Delgado’s four-homer game the year before established the Jays’ record of 16 total bases in a single game that still stands. Bichette, simulatedly, tied both those marks.
The Pirates got three meaningless runs off Jacob Waguespack in the bottom of the ninth that didn’t take the shine off Bichette’s big day (or Gurriel’s, for that matter – Lourdes had four hits and also missed the cycle by a triple) in a 15-4 Blue Jays win.
Second verse, same as the first, though this time the Jays didn’t wait until the sixth to start scoring. They got three hits in the first inning but came away empty-handed because Pirates’ right fielder Gregory Polanco threw out Shaw trying to score from second on a two-out single by Reese McGuire.
Pittsburgh got a run off Tanner Roark in the bottom of the first, but their top pitching prospect, Mitch Keller, fell apart in the second.
With two on and two out, the Jays’ line-up flipped back to the top and, in his second look at the Jays’ hitters, Keller didn’t retire a single one. He allowed back-to-back-to-back RBI singles to Bichette, Shaw and Biggio, then threw a wild pitch to move the runners over before giving up a two-run single to Vlad, Jr. A five-run inning put the Jays up for good, though the Bucs closed to within a run by the end of the third.
Roark tightened up from that point, retiring nine of the final 11 hitters he faced before leaving after five with a 7-4 lead, the extra two runs courtesy of a Biggio homer.
The Jays added four in the seventh — the big blows being back to back two-out doubles by Bichette (two RBIs) and Drury. Three more runs in the eighth thanks to a two-run homer by Grichuk, his fourth hit of the game, and a run-scoring double from Tellez and the Jays had another big win, this time 14-4.
Biggio joined Grichuk in the four-hit club. Bichette only had three knocks, but he also scored three times and drove in three.
The Blue Jays went into the finale looking for their second consecutive weekend sweep on the road, having turned the trick in Detroit the weekend prior. Also, they were looking for their second series sweep of the entire simulation.
They fell behind early once again, thanks to an uncharacteristically wild Shoemaker, who walked a pair in the first inning then allowed a two-out RBI single to Jose Osuna. The Blue Jays took the lead in the third on a two-run homer by – who else? – Bichette. It was his 15th (and final) hit of the week, the fifth of which was a home run. Bichette leads the club with 19 homers as we approach the halfway point of the simulated season.
In the bottom of the third, Bryan Reynolds drew a leadoff walk. He was on second when Osuna singled to left with two out. The speedy Pittsburgher rounded third and headed for home, but Gurriel’s throw beat him there. McGuire put the tag on to snuff out the tying run, and that was as close as the home side would get.
The Jays added two more in the fourth on the first of two RBI doubles for Teoscar Hernandez and two more in the seventh on a ribbie single by Hernandez and an outfield error by Osuna. Then two more in the ninth for good measure as Hernandez and Panik hit back to back RBI doubles.
Shoemaker struggled through his five innings of work, walking five against four strikeouts, but only gave up the one run and the bullpen took it from there.
The Blue Jays finished off their second straight 5-1 week with a sweep in Pittsburgh, taking the finale in cubic fashion, by a score of 8-2.
As for Bichette’s big week? He can expect some hardware as the simulated American League Player of the Week after going 15-for-28 with five doubles, five home runs, 11 runs scored and 15 RBIs. Bichette hit .536/.581/1.250 over the six games; not a bad week at the office.
The red-hot Blue Jays have won 10 of their last 11 games (and 13 of 16 since a disastrous 1-8 road trip) to climb all the way up from 24-38 to 37-41 as they start this week with the second half of their interleague road trip. They’ll face old pals Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard and David Phelps in Milwaukee, along with old nemesis Brock Holt, before coming home for a date with Mike Trout and the Angels.
The halfway point of the simulation comes at the close of the series in Milwaukee. If the Jays sweep it, they’ll be just a game under .500 for the first half. That’s a pretty tall order against a team that’s been in the playoffs the last two years, though.
Each Blue Jays game is being simulated on the day it was supposed to have been played, usually in the late afternoon for scheduled night games, early afternoon for day games. Follow along every day on Twitter @wilnerness590 to “watch” the simulated season until the real thing gets started, if it does at all.