Daily Dose: Last-place Indians lose MVP

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After struggling through elbow pain for most of the month, Grady
Sizemore finally landed on the disabled list Sunday. Sizemore followed
up a strong April by going 24-for-114 (.211) in May and was limited to
designated hitter duties last week as the Indians tried to keep him in
the lineup despite problems throwing. Cleveland is set to get Travis
Hafner back at some point this week, so he’ll take over at DH.

Ben Francisco had been subbing for Sizemore in center field with
Mark DeRosa playing a lot of left field, but it was Trevor Crowe
playing center field Sunday with Francisco sliding over to left field.
However, once Hafner returns to soak up the DH at-bats it seems likely
that DeRosa will get most of the starts in left field with a
quasi-platoon of Crowe versus righties and Francisco versus lefties in
center.

While the preseason AL Central favorites end May in last place and
without their best player, here are some other notes from around
baseball …

* Edwin Jackson earned a spot on my preseason “busts” list because his
14 wins and 4.42 ERA didn’t match his sub par 108/77 K/BB ratio over
183.1 innings last year. However, instead of taking a step backward
he’s taken his game to a whole new level. A change of scenery and new
pitching coach Rick Knapp have worked wonders on Jackson, who shut out
the Orioles for eight innings Sunday.

Not only has Jackson sliced his walk rate by 37 percent, his
strikeout rate is also up 43 percent. He hasn’t pitched as well as the
2.30 ERA suggests, but Jackson has a 57/18 K/BB ratio in 74 innings and
has walked more than two batters twice in 11 starts after doing so in
13 of 31 starts last season. His mid-90s fastball has always been
intriguing and now Jackson is finally learning how to actually pitch.

* It turns out that Matt Wieters is actually human. Called up
Friday, baseball’s top prospect started all three weekend games for the
Orioles and went 2-for-11 with zero walks and three strikeouts. The
good news is that both of his hits went for extra bases and after
catching back-to-back games he was used at designated hitter Sunday, so
the Orioles will get Wieters as many at-bats as possible.

* Matt Gamel has gone just 6-for-28 (.214) while starting only half
of Milwaukee’s games since being called up from Triple-A two weeks ago,
but general manager Doug Melvin said Sunday that he’ll stick with the
team through at least the end of interleague play on June 25. Rickie
Weeks’ season-ending wrist injury has given Gamel more starts of late
and he may be in the majors for good by then.

* Carl Pavano has been one of the rare bright spots for the Indians
and turned in another solid outing Sunday, holding his ex-Yankees
teammates to three runs in 7.1 innings. Pavano got stuck with a
no-decision despite leaving up 4-2 and his ERA remains ugly at 5.29,
but since allowing nine runs in his Cleveland debut he has a 4.07 ERA
and 49/10 K/BB ratio in 62 innings spread over 10 starts.

AL Quick Hits: Kevin Youkilis homered twice Sunday and leads the
league with a 1.150 OPS … Zack Greinke allowed more than two runs
Sunday for the first time this year, taking a no-decision for seven
innings of four-run ball … Ervin Santana struggled again Sunday and has
now allowed 19 runs in 18 innings since coming off the disabled list …
Ichiro Suzuki went 4-for-5 with a homer Sunday to finish with a .377
batting average for May … Andrew Bailey blew what would’ve been a
five-out save Sunday, but ended up with a win instead … Mark Teixeira
homered and drove in four runs Sunday, finishing May at .330-13-34 …
Jon Lester broke out of his slump by racking up a dozen strikeouts in
six innings Sunday … Adam Kennedy went deep twice Sunday, and is
batting .390 with four homers and five steals in 21 games since signing
with Oakland … Josh Hamilton (groin) pinch-hit Sunday, but is still
scheduled to undergo an MRI exam.

NL Quick Hits: Adrian Gonzalez became the first big leaguer to
20 homers when he smacked a three-run blast Sunday … Brad Lidge appears
to be back on track after saving games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
… Ian Stewart went hitless Sunday, finishing May just 9-for-64 (.141) …
John Maine left Sunday’s start after six scoreless innings with the
same stomach virus that kept Carlos Beltran out of the lineup … Edwin
Encarnacion (wrist) is reportedly several weeks from coming off the
disabled list, but Edinson Volquez (back) is expected to be activated
for Monday’s start against St. Louis … Jamie Moyer came into Sunday
with a 7.42 ERA, but held the Nationals to one run over six innings …
Casey Kotchman left Sunday’s game after being hit on the shin by a
pitch … Chad Gaudin struck out nine and walked none over 6.1 innings of
two-run ball Sunday at Coors Field.

Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Barred from playing in their own ballpark this year because of COVID-19, the vagabond Toronto Blue Jays have found a home in the playoffs.

The slumping New York Yankees, meanwhile, look likely to play on the road in the postseason, where they’ve struggled all year.

Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round series.

New York lost for the fourth time in five games following a 10-game winning stretch and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.

“We’ve got to get it rolling again, obviously, if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m confident we can do it.

New York went 21-7 at home this season but was 11-18 on the road. Boone said he’s not concerned about that split even as a potential road playoff series looms next week.

“We’ve got to get ourselves in order and start playing really good baseball if we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” Boone said.

Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason. The Blue Jays had endured three losing campaigns since their previous playoff trip, going 67-95 last season.

“I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” second-year manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Canada’s federal government refused to allow games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre this season, citing the closed Canada-U.S. border and the travel risk associated with the pandemic. Stuck on the road to start the season, the Blue Jays eventually ended up at their Triple-A ballpark, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, but didn’t gripe about their fate.

“They never complained,” Montoyo said. “They had their mind set on getting to this moment right now.”

Blue Jays players embraced after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it, donning blue T-shirts that said “Respect Toronto.”

“This is something we want to make an every year thing,” infielder Cavan Biggio said. “For us, we’re happy, we’re excited we’re able to put ourselves in this position, but this is only the start of hopefully something special for a long time.”

The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo this weekend while the Yankees host the Marlins.

New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.

“I’m concerned with the way we’ve played recently,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Any time you’re not playing your best baseball and the postseason is right around the corner, something needs to be corrected rather quickly.”

New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.

“It’s good to see him get a really good swing off in a big spot,” Boone said of Sanchez. “Just unfortunately, that short.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto, his eighth.

Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out, and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.

“He’s an ace and he did what an ace does,” Montoyo said.

The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.

Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.

Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second.

The Blue Jays extended their lead when Biggio and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.

Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.

Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.

Yankees: Aaron Judge came on as a pinch-hitter but is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, Boone said.

SHARED DUTY

Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.

SEVEN UP

Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh. It had been an MLB-record 88 games since RHP Jacob Waguespack pitched into the seventh at Dodger Stadium last year.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.

Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.