NEW YORK — Yankee Stadium is where great postseason scripts are written, and the Blue Jays just used it as the backdrop for their own dress rehearsal.
Wednesday night’s 6-1 win over the Yankees is what October will need to look like for Toronto. This team is built to pitch well, defend well and scrape across a few more runs than the other guys, making this the best blueprint we’ve seen in weeks.
Getting to the postseason is step one, but the Blue Jays continue to help themselves with wins in the Bronx. Wednesday marked their fifth victory in a row. The Mariners, Rangers and Astros all won too, but with seven games still remaining between Seattle and Texas, the Blue Jays’ recent wins are their own version of running out the clock.
Until New York’s bullpen absolutely unraveled in the eighth and ninth innings, this game had every feature of a Kevin Gausman classic, right down to a lack of offense.
A year after Gausman was cursed with some of the worst batted-ball luck in MLB history, he’s spent 2023 cursed with low run support. Regardless of which crimes Gausman committed in a past life to bring this his way, he’s pitched through it brilliantly, building another of the most dominant seasons in Blue Jays history.
“One, it impresses me every time he does it. Two, he has the demeanor where he’s really well suited for it,” manager John Schneider said. “He doesn’t really let moments or situations get too big. I think that’s a big part of what makes him great.”
With 10 fanned batters over six scoreless innings, Gausman’s 232 strikeouts trail only Robbie Ray (248) and Roger Clemens (271, 292) for a single season in franchise history. He’s fit every definition of the word “ace,” but now that is when it matters most.
“It helps playing in meaningful games, too,” Gausman said. “You get that extra bit of adrenaline knowing that. To be honest, I’m trying to do better for my teammates than I am for myself. That’s kind of the point where we’re at. However bad you feel, everybody else feels just as bad if not worse.”
That needs to be the Blue Jays’ foundation in October. This roster ranks 13th in OPS and 14th in slugging percentage, so it isn’t exactly built to slug its way back into games like the 2015-16 teams. With this bullpen behind this rotation, they shouldn’t need to.
Chad Green looked the best he has with the Blue Jays, Jordan Hicks blew through the top of the Yankees’ order and Erik Swanson allowed the one blemish, a solo homer in the ninth. Jordan Romano or Tim Mayza will be part of these big moments come October, but this is what the script looks like.
“Everything seems to be trending in our direction,” said Whit Merrifield. “Pitching has been good, offense has been good, defense has been good, baserunning has been good. We’ve got to continue to do that against teams that are … more engaged in what the end of the season holds, if I can say that as politely as I could.”
The offense’s role? It doesn’t need to be much, but it has to be something.
Wednesday’s version was a string of early hits from Kevin Kiermaier, George Springer and finally Bo Bichette, who is starting to scorch the ball again. That held Toronto in front until New York’s bullpen fell apart, walking in two runs over a pair of ugly innings, which isn’t something the Blue Jays see as often from bullpens built for the postseason.
Come October, though, some in baseball believe that a specific style of offense is best suited for the big stage.
“People always say that contact is at a premium when you get to this point of the year and in the postseason,” Schneider said. “It’s tough to string together multiple hits against really good starters and really good relievers. People gravitate towards contact, but at the same time, you need to clip a homer with a guy or two on base. Getting them on, the first part, is probably the most important.”
The Blue Jays did plenty of that first part on Wednesday, taking six walks on top of their nine hits.
All that’s left in order to turn this script into a blockbuster is to repeat it against teams who will, as Merrifield so deftly alluded to, also be playing into October.
Christine Lake is a sports fanatic who lives and breathes athletics. With an extensive background in sports journalism, he covers everything from major league championships to grassroots sports events. When she’s not on the field or at the stadium, you’ll find Christine coaching youth sports teams.