TORONTO – There’s a lot going on for the Toronto Blue Jays right now, which is why a trio of trend lines emerging in recent weeks are of particular consequence right now.
First is the ongoing revival of Jose Berrios, who continued to distance himself from a concern-raising outing in Anaheim with a third consecutive strong start in Wednesday night’s 7-6, 10-inning win over the Baltimore Orioles secured by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’ s walk-off single.
Next is the resurgence Matt Chapman and Teoscar Hernandez are experiencing at the plate, with Guerrero also warming up, delivering a long-awaited correction that’s bolstering the lineup.
Finally, there’s the relative lack of late-inning leverage the bullpen has faced this month, evidenced by the team not having a save this month, and Yimi Garcia’s three-run hiccup during the eighth inning registering as the club’s first blown save since May 28 .
Though separate, the developments are all interconnected, especially amid the uncertainty left by Hyun Jin Ryu’s looming season-ending surgery and Yusei Kikuchi’s recent struggles.
Berrios’ gems — seven innings of two-run ball against Minnesota, eight innings of one-run ball against Detroit and seven frames of three-run dominance against Baltimore — have each come after Kikuchi clunkers, providing the bullpen a critical opportunity to reset each time.
The wider-scale impact of those performances by Berrios can’t be understated, because back-to-back starter blips are immensely taxing on a pitching staff and often lead to draining bullpen shuffles to ensure there are enough fresh arms on the roster.
Compounding Kikuchi’s inconsistencies is that Ross Stripling is still building up after returning to the rotation from the bullpen to cover Ryu’s latest absence. All that’s made Berrios’ rebound from that Anaheim start, and a slow beginning to the season more generally, especially timely.
Now, the pressure shouldn’t be on the pitchers alone and the offense in recent weeks has definitely done more of the heavy lifting, with the remarkable Alejandro Kirk, Santiago Espinal, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and, prior to his injury, Danny Jansen all helping to lengthen the lineup.
Hernandez and Chapman, meanwhile, have started picking up steam during that time, too, but both are capable of carrying a club, and are still working toward that type of hot streak.
Hernandez, who’s fought to find his timing since returning from an oblique injury last month, seemed to find himself during the four-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim and entered Wednesday’s play batting .364/.407/.582 in the two weeks since .
Chapman, who’s been tearing the cover off the ball all season but generally not getting rewarded for it, has rebounded since his batting average fell to dropped to .182 on May 15, hitting .286/.382/.455 in the 22 outings since prior to Wednesday.
Each added to their recent stretch with a two-run homer in the third inning, opening up a 5-0 lead and seemingly locking up a win against the Orioles. After Baltimore rallied in the eighth, Hernandez opened the bottom half with a single and stole second, but Toronto couldn’t cash him in after he got to third on a sacrifice fly.
Guerrero, meanwhile, had four hits, including a homer in the fifth and the game-winning single.
The more they produce, of course, the less burden there will be on the pitchers, whose work through April and much of May steadied the club while the offense got untracked.
Their damage at the plate is why Jordan Romano doesn’t have a save this month and underlining the pressure on the relievers early, his 16 saves remain tied for the American League lead.
Still, there will be times when the bullpen must lock down tight games and Garcia, who in his eight previous outings not only didn’t give up a run but only surrendered one hit, let the Orioles off the hook in this one.
All the damage came with two outs, as Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays hit consecutive doubles before Ryan Mountcastle hit his second home run of the game to tie the game 6-6.
Tim Mayza then came on for the final out of the eighth, Romano was as nasty as ever during a no-nonsense ninth while Adam Cimber set up the victory by putting up a zero in the 10th, striking out Ryan McKenna after a Jorge Mateo sacrifice brought the go-ahead run to third before popping up Mullins to end the frame.