The Toronto Blue Jays started off week 20 strong winning three out of four at home against the Tampa Bay Rays before getting swept by the defending champion Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. In what was a very up then down week for the Jays, the team at one point moved into a tie for third place in the AL East and moved up enough in the wild card race to where they were only a few games out of the second spot. However, a couple of tough losses set the Jays back in the cellar at the end of the week. Josh Donaldson had a big week for the Jays, Marco Estrada is starting to look like himself again after a rough start against Tampa, and Kevin Pillar showed that he would literally try to run through a brick wall if it would help his team win. Lets look back on week 20.
The Jays started their four game series against Tampa with Nick Tepesch on the mound. He pitched six strong innings, allowing only one run on four hits. The only bad pitched he made was in the second, when he gave up a solo home run to Wilson Ramos, which was the Rays only run of the game. Josh Donaldson homered in the bottom of the first to put the Jays up 2-0. The Ramos homer cut the deficit in half, but the Jays pitching was superb the rest of the way and Roberto Osuna closed it out for his 30th save of the year. Marco Estrada was on the mound for game two, and was roughed up a bit, going 4.1 innings and giving up six runs on 10 hits. The Jays jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a Kevin Pillar RBI double in the second, but the Rays scored the next six, with two coming on a Lucas Duda homer and another coming on a Ramos homer, and had a 6-1 lead after five. Donaldson hit his second homer in two games, a three run shot in the bottom of the fifth, but the Rays held on from there and won 6-4.
Marcus Stroman was on the mound for game three, and was spectacular, going 6.1 innings and giving up only two runs on six hits while striking out seven. The Jays opened the scoring in the third with a Jose Bautista RBI double, and added another run in the fourth on a Steve Pearce solo home run. The Rays got a run in the sixth, but Ryan Goins put the Jays back up by two in the sixth with an RBI single. The Rays got one more in the seventh, but that would be it, as Osuna came back on in the ninth and shut the door for the Jays, giving them a 3-2 win. Chris Rowley made his second career start in the finale and backed up his first start with a pretty good encore. He went five innings, giving up two runs on four hits. Donaldson opened the scoring in the first with a solo home run, his third in four games. Justin Smoak scored Darwin Barney in the third with a base hit to put the Jays up 2-0. After the Rays got a run in the fourth, Donaldson hit his second home run of the game in the fifth to put the Jays back up two. The Rays tied it up in the eighth on a Evan Longoria RBI double, but Smoak came through in the bottom half with a two run home run to put the Jays up 5-3. Osuna once again came in to shut the door, and the Jays took the finale and the series 5-3.
JA Happ opened the Jays three game set against the Cubs and pitched well, going five innings and giving up five runs on nine hits while striking out eight. The Jays scored first with a Pearce RBI single in the first, but the Cubs scored the next five and had a 5-1 lead after five. The Jays started to chip away at their lead in the eighth, getting one back with a Pillar RBI double and two more back on a Goins RBI single, but it just was not enough. The Cubs added one more in the bottom half on a Javier Baez solo home run and the Cubs took game one 7-4. Tepesch was back on the mound for game two, but only lasted 3.2 innings, giving up two runs on five hits while striking out three. Down 1-0 in the fourth, Jays newcomer Raffy Lopez singled home two to give the Jays the lead. The Cubs tied the game in the bottom half with a Ian Happ solo home run, then took the lead in the sixth and scored another run in the seventh to take a 4-2 lead. Pillar singled home Pearce in the eighth, but the Cubs shut the door in the ninth and held on 4-3.
Estrada was back on the mound for the finale, and had a much better start this time out, going six innings and giving up three runs on five hits while striking out four. The Cubs took a 3-0 lead after an Albert Almora Jr. bases clearing double in the fourth, but the Jays slowly chipped away at that lead. Bautista singled home Smoak in the fourth, Carrera scored Aoki on a ground out in the fifth, and Miguel Montero homered against his former team to tie the game up in the sixth. The score remained tied at three until the tenth, when Pillar singled home Donaldson and Nori Aoki walked to bring home Bautista to give the Jays a 5-3 lead going into the bottom half. Osuna came on to close it out and should’ve recorded all three outs if the Jays had some competent catching behind the plate. Osuna struck out Kyle Schwarber, who reached on a pitch in the dirt. He went to third on a Ben Zobrist single and scored on a wild pitch from Osuna. Anthony Rizzo grounded out to second, advancing Zobrist to third. Baez then struck out but reached first on a wild pitch and stole second, putting runners on second and third. Jason Hayward was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Alex Avila ended it with a walk off base hit, giving the Cubs the series sweep with a 6-5 win.
So what looked like a very promising week turned into a disaster for the Jays after their visit to the Windy City. The Jays are still only five games out of the second wild card with a little over a month to go. They once again have three big games against the Rays this week, followed by three games home against a Minnesota Twins team that is only half a game out of the second wild card. If the Jays can win four of six heading into the last week of August, they can remain on the fringe of the playoff discussion, and hopefully play their way into contention.