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Blue Jays 2020 simulation: Gurriel heats up as Toronto posts profitable week

With sports on pause as the world tries to slow the spread of COVID-19, 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 will be 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 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.

Had the 2020 season been played as normal, the Toronto Blue Jays would have hit the one-third mark this past week, which makes it really easy to see what numbers they would have been on pace for in our simulation – just multiply the attached counting stats by three (the rate stats would stay the same, of course).

What the heck, I’ll do some of the math for you: Bo Bichette is running the show. The sophomore shortstop is on pace to lead the team with 36 home runs, with Rowdy Tellez on pace for 30. Bichette would also top the club with 54 doubles, 102 runs scored, 102 runs batted in and, surprisingly, what would be a club-record 225 strikeouts. He’s also on pace for 201 hits, a mark that only four batters have reached in Blue Jays history.

Of the five members of the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, none of whom has yet missed a start (the simulation does factor in injuries but somehow the Jays’ pitchers have managed to avoid them), three have an ERA under 4.00 and the other two have ERAs over 6.50. So naturally, Chase Anderson (6.93) and Tanner Roark (6.70) are on pace to share the team lead with 12 wins, while Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.52) is on pace to go 6-18. Run support has been a serious issue. Ken Giles is on pace for 33 saves.

On to the games of the past week.

After their Victoria Day loss to the visiting dirty, dirty cheaters from Houston, the Blue Jays regrouped and came out swinging for the middle game of the series. It started in the second inning, when Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. led off with a double. Two outs later, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. singled him in. Gurriel is off to a rough start to the simulation, as is Teoscar Hernandez, and they were both dropped down to the bottom of the lineup. It paid off, as Hernandez belted a three-run homer later in the inning.

The Astros were hardly done, though. A two-run homer by George Springer cut the Jays’ lead in half, and they tied the game in the seventh. With two on, Guerrero threw away a slow roller by Michael Brantley to allow a run to score and Josh Reddick drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Blue Jays exploded, taking advantage of a one-out error by Reddick. Bichette cracked an RBI double and was singled in by Joe Panik, knocking out reliever Brad Peacock and bringing in our old pal Joe Biagini, who got rocked.

Biagini walked Cavan Biggio, then gave up a single to Guerrero that scored Panik. Travis Shaw followed with a two-run triple and Reese McGuire then belted a two-run homer. Just like that, a seven-run inning for the Jays. Hernandez would add his second home run of the night in the eighth and that was that in a 12-4 Jays rout.

The rubber match was all Houston, though, as Justin Verlander dominated. Kyle Tucker’s two-run double off Trent Thornton with two out in the first turned out to be all the visitors would need.

The Blue Jays didn’t get their first hit of the game until Bichette led off the fourth with a home run, and they didn’t get another baserunner until the seventh, when they actually loaded the bases with nobody out, down 5-1 at that point. But Verlander struck out Shaw, popped up Danny Jansen (who was in for the injured McGuire) and got Gurriel to ground out to escape the jam.

Verlander wound up going the distance on a four-hitter, with 11 strikeouts, in a 5-1 Astros win.

With McGuire hurt, but not necessarily badly enough to miss 10 days, the roster move to get Caleb Joseph up to the big-league club was to designate A.J. Cole for assignment. The reliever had posted an 8.99 ERA working as a mop-up man in the back of the bullpen and was very likely to get through simulated waivers and remain in the organization.

The Baltimore Orioles came to Toronto next to open up a four-game weekend set and Ryu took the mound against John Means. In two prior starts against the lowly O’s in the simulation, Ryu had allowed 10 runs on 18 hits in just 9.1 innings of work. He was much better this time.

The Blue Jays went ahead in the fourth when Randal Grichuk’s single scored a Hernandez leadoff double. Grichuk was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Jansen’s fly to centre to end the inning, though. In the fifth, Ryu finally cracked, drilling Jose Iglesias with one out and then giving up a pair of singles to load the bases for Richard Urena. The former Jay delivered a game-tying sac fly and it stayed 1-1 into the eighth, when Austin Hays took Anthony Bass deep to put the Orioles on top 2-1.

The Jays couldn’t touch Means after scoring in the fourth – the lefty retired 13 of 14 and took the ball to start the ninth, where Gurriel got him for a leadoff double. In came closer Mychal Givens, and he struck out Hernandez before Grichuk played hero, crushing a two-run walk-off homer. It was Grichuk’s sixth big fly of the season and gave the Jays a dramatic 3-2 win to take the series opener.

There was far less drama the next night, as the Jays’ pitching dominated. Roark started and, with two out in the first, walked Anthony Santander, who was then doubled home by Renato Nunez. Roark didn’t give up another hit until the sixth – a single to Santander. That would be the last Baltimore knock as Roark, Bass, Rafael Dolis and Giles combined on a two-hitter.

It was tight right until the end, though. The Blue Jays didn’t tie the game until Guerrero’s single scored a Gurriel double in the fourth. They didn’t take the lead until the sixth, on a Gurriel solo shot. A couple of eighth-inning runs finally provided some breathing room in a 4-1 Jays win.

Matt Shoemaker has been the Blue Jays’ best pitcher in the simulation, with a WHIP of 0.93, and he got the ball in the third game of the series, trying to give the Jays a chance to go for a four-game sweep the next day.

He got an early lead as the suddenly-hot Gurriel tripled home Vlad Jr. in the second and held it until the fifth, when the Orioles put together a two-out rally thanks to a pair of former Jays. Urena struck first, doubling in the tying run. After a Hays single, it was Dwight Smith Jr.’s turn to strike. He singled in Urena to put Baltimore on top.

The Jays went back ahead in the sixth as Biggio homered, then Shaw doubled home a Guerrero single, and Bichette – who got the day off as a starter – came off the bench to smack an RBI double of his own in the seventh to make it 4-2.

Shoemaker had retired seven straight going into the eighth, but he issued a couple of walks around a strikeout of Smith and gave way to Dolis, who was not good.

Nunez greeted Dolis by singling in a run and Pedro Severino followed with a hit of his own to load the bases for Chris Davis, who Dolis walked to force in the tying run.

It was Dolis’ fourth blown save in only 14 appearances, and that was it for him. Sam Gaviglio came in and got a ground ball from Rio Ruiz, but it wasn’t hard enough for the Jays to turn two and the go-ahead run came in to score.

Bichette doubled again in the ninth to put the tying run in scoring position, but there was no walk-off rally coming this time, and the Jays’ sweep dreams were dashed in a 5-4 loss.

In the series finale, the Blue Jays placed an early call to Dr. Longball.

The Jays went deep four times in their first trip through the batting order against Asher Wojciechowski. Panik, Grichuk and Jansen each hit a solo shot, while Gurriel blasted a two-run homer to make it 5-1. An inning later Gurriel – who went 7-for-16 with six extra-base hits in the series – doubled in Shaw to put the Blue Jays up 6-1.

It was cruise control from there, pretty much. Baltimore got one back in the fifth but the Jays struck for three in the sixth, the big blow a two-run single by Biggio. It was 9-4 going into the ninth when things got hairy.

Jacob Waguespack, in for a second inning of relief, gave up a two-run homer to Stevie Wilkerson with one out to get Baltimore back within three. Before Giles could get warm enough to come into the game, Jose Iglesias singled and Waguespack struck out Smith for the second out.

In came Giles to try to close it out, and he gave up a double to Santander to bring the tying run to the plate in Nunez, who clubbed a fly ball to deep right field. Biggio caught it with his back against the wall to end what became a white-knuckle 9-6 victory, giving the Blue Jays the series and a winning week at 4-3.

The Jays hit the 54-game mark with 23 wins, which is a pace for a 69-93 simulated season. Again, the simulation uses 2019 numbers, so we’re not seeing what were expected 2020 bumps in performance from players like Biggio, Guerrero, Jansen, and even Grichuk and Hernandez. There’s also been quite a bit of bad luck on the Jays’ end, with all of the aforementioned (as well as Gurriel) performing well below their 2019 stats for the sim. We’ll see if things change as we move into the middle third of the simulated season. It begins with a three-city road trip through Tampa Bay, Baltimore and St. Louis.

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 (if) the real thing gets started!

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