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Blue Jays’ ability to grind at-bats crucial to ALDS sweep over the Rangers

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During the regular season, no team saw more pitches per plate appearance than the Blue Jays at 4.03. The major league average was 3.87. Over a full season, about 6,200 plate appearances, the difference between the Blue Jays and the league average amounts to nearly 1,000 pitches. As a result, not only did the Blue Jays lead the American League in walks (632) and rank third in on-base percentage, (.330), the Jays’ pitch selection helped them blast the third-most homers (221).

Blue Jays batters’ ability to grind at-bats was crucial to their 3-0 series sweep over the Rangers in the ALDS. Let’s start with Game 1.

Against starter Cole Hamels, who ended up lasting only 4 1/3 innings, Jays batters saw six or more pitches in an at-bat four times, raising Hamels’ total pitch count to 82 before he departed. Those four plate appearances resulted in a walk, a strikeout, an RBI single, and a three-run triple. They weren’t able to work the count much against Alex Claudio, who relieved Hamels, so the lefty wound up working 3 2/3 scoreless innings as a result. But Jose Bautista‘s three-run homer against lefty reliever Jake Diekman in the ninth that put the game away? That was the result of a six-pitch at-bat.

Let’s go to Game 2. Bautista worked a six-pitch at-bat against starter Yu Darvish that ultimately yielded a leadoff walk. He’d score shortly thereafter on a Troy Tulowitzki home run. Darvish would only last five innings, throwing a total of 84. That’s an average of 17 pitches per inning. Not exactly efficient. Darvish threw 23 pitches in the fateful fifth inning that bolstered the Jays’ lead from 2-1 to 5-1.

In Game 3, Ezequiel Carrera led things off by working a single on the sixth pitch he saw against starter Colby Lewis. Carrera would end up scoring and the Jays would force 23 pitches out of Lewis in the first frame. In the third, Carrera took five more pitches from Lewis and worked another single. Josh Donaldson followed up with a ground-rule double, chasing Lewis and forcing manager Jeff Banister to bring in reliever Tony Barnette. Edwin Encarnacion saw five pitches with the fifth pitch resulting in an RBI single.

Let’s flash forward to the bottom of the 10th inning, with the Jays and Rangers tied up at six apiece. Matt Bush was still on the mound for his third inning of relief. Donaldson ripped a double to right-center on the second pitch. Bush then intentionally walked Encarnacion to set up a double play. Bautista stepped to the plate and fell behind 1-2. In a 1-2 count against a pitcher who throws in the high 90’s like Bush does, it would be hard to fault a hitter for cheating by starting his swing early. Bautista, though, did not, taking two consecutive balls to work the count full. He’d ultimately strike out on the sixth pitch, Bush’s 34th of his stint. Bush threw 30-plus pitches only twice during the regular season: 33 against the Astros on August 7, and 31 against the Mariners on August 30.

Martin, in what would become the final at-bat of the game, saw eight pitches from Bush. Like Bautista, he fell behind 1-2, then took two fastballs to work the count full. He fouled off two more fastballs before putting the eighth pitch in play. It should have been an inning-ending double play, but Rougned Odor made a throw wide of first base, allowing Donaldson to score on a heads-up base running play.

Let’s count it up: Jays batters saw 156 pitches in Game 1, 130 in Game 2, and 151 in Game 3. That’s a lot of pitches! Beyond extending an at-bat, allowing more opportunities for the pitcher to make a mistake, racking up the opposing starters pitch count can force him out of the game early. As a result, more strain is placed on the bullpen. Racking up the relievers’ pitch counts can mean they’re unavailable the next day or at the very least can’t be used for very long.

While the Blue Jays’ offense isn’t as good as it was last year, they still may be among the most frustrating for opposing teams to face. If you’re going to get them out, you’re going to break a sweat doing it. The Indians or Red Sox can’t be thrilled at the prospect of having to face them in the ALCS.

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. LOUIS — Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.