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Through four innings, the Rogers Centre was rocking.
The crowd of more than 48,000 people that packed into the former SkyDome to see the Blue Jays open the 2016 season at home were in full throat, cheering on their club that had just put up a six spot to chase Boston starter Joe Kelly from the ball game. Entering the bottom of the fourth down 2-1, the Jays sent 11 batters to the plate and counted six runs, with four coming on a no doubt grand slam from 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson.
Up 7-2 with four innings in the books and Marcus Stroman on the bump, everyone in the building was fully expecting to go home happy and start the home stand with a victory. That’s not what happened.
Stroman gave up a double and two walks while retiring one to leave the game with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth. Jesse Chavez replaced him and the first batter he faced, Brock Holt, stung a ball into right that just kept carrying and carrying and carried right over the fence to bring the Red Sox within one.
In the top of the seventh, newcomer Drew Storen got the first batter he faced, but yielded consecutive singles and was replaced by Brett Cecil. Two batters and two singles later, Boston had an 8-7. Over their final three at-bats, Toronto managed just a single runner and just like that, a game that looked all but over in the bottom of the fourth turned into a third consecutive loss for the Blue Jays.
The struggles on Friday night are already becoming all too familiar for a team that is expected to be World Series contenders this season.
Toronto struck out 10 more times in the home opener, including four of the six batters that faced Boston reliever Noe Rodriguez. Russell Martin whiffed three times for the second straight game and currently owns an 8:1 strikeout to hit ratio to begin the season. Troy Tulowitzki fanned twice more as well and has nine strikeouts and just two hits through his first 17 plate appearances of the season.
Along with striking out in inordinate amount of times so far this year, Toronto has largely been a one-inning offensive team, scoring a handful of runs in a single frame, but than failing to do anything else the remainder of the game. After pushing Kevin Pillar across following his lead-off triple in the first, the Jays got six in the fourth and nothing more, counting just two base runners over the final five innings.
And then there is the bullpen, which has now coughed up three straight leads.
Chavez came into a tough situation with the bases loaded, but he’s been marginal at best, while Storen’s late-season collapse in Washington appears to have carried over to this season in Toronto. While Cecil didn’t give up any runs of his own, he allowed to hits that cashed the men Storen left on base and currently sports an ERA of 9.00. The lone bright spot on the hill on Friday was Rule 5 pick-up Joe Biagini, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth and collected a strikeout in his Major League debut.
No one wants to overreact to a couple rough outings and scoring seven runs is usually enough to get a win, but Toronto has lost three straight with the same issues plaguing them each game and that is something that needs to be addressed in a hurry before this does become a bigger problem.
Player of the Game: Darwin Barney
The former Gold Glover got the start at third with Donaldson DH’ing in order to rest his strained calf and came away with a 2-for-2 performance with an RBI, a run scored and a stolen base. He’s a terrific bench player for the Blue Jays and a guy that understands his strengths and weaknesses, which he showed by carving a single to right during the six-run fourth.
On Deck: These teams are back at it in afternoon action with Boston sending Rick Porcello to the bump, while Toronto counters with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.