Blue Jays Lose Game 1 in Critical Series vs Orioles

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When mapping out any Blue Jays season since 2017, it’s commonplace to scan the schedule for games versus the Orioles and chalk them up as victories.

From 2017-2021, Baltimore lugged its miserable roster to a 178-368 (.326) record. No team in the majors was worse during that stretch. With such a low standard in mind, it’s been a rude awakening that the Orioles have come on strong in the second half of 2022 and are now chomping at the third AL wild-card spot.

After Monday’s 7-3 loss, the Blue Jays have 12 games remaining versus the O’s this season, with seven of those contests at Camden Yards. The Blue Jays’ record sits at 61-53, which is now tied atop the wild-card standings, despite the club’s inability to contend with teams above .500 (30-41).

Whenever the Orioles come to town and Ryan Mountcastle steps to the plate, fans in the left field bleachers need to keep their heads on a swivel. Before Monday, the 25-year-old had crushed Blue Jays’ pitching to a .730 slugging percentage in his career, and he only added to that with a towering two-run blast off Yusei Kikuchi in the third. Mountcastle now has five home runs and 12 RBIs versus Toronto this season.

The Jay-killer’s homer initiated yet another Kikuchi misstep. The lefty seemed to be working okay, but hamstrung himself with untimely walks and a misfire on a pick-off attempt in the fourth. 

“To be honest, today I think I felt pretty good out there for the most part,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “It was more of the hitters, the opponent taking advantage of pitches that caught too much plate.”

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That fourth frame wound up burying Kikuchi, as Bo Bichette’s throwing error let the speedy Jorge Mateo reach base, and Baltimore pounded in three runs afterward.

“The work is good and the prep is good,” Jays manager John Schneider said. “I think it’s two not ideal games defensively back-to-back, which gets highlighted a little bit. But overall the defense has been great [this season].”

Blue Jays fans peppered Kikuchi with boos as he walked off the mound following his tough 3.2 innings, where he allowed six runs (three earned) on just four hits.

There were shreds of hope in this flat Blue Jays effort—Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his 24th homer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had two hits and two RBIs—but, overall, the offense felt punchless against Kyle Bradish and his 6.42 ERA. 

Toronto has now lost seven of its last nine. The skid is real right now, and Sunday’s effort didn’t indicate any of the Jays’ troubles were on track to be alleviated. 

Alek Manoah should give the club a good chance Tuesday, but the Blue Jays are at a bit of a breaking point in their season. Can they rally and stop the bleeding? Or do these past two weeks build into an avalanche that tanks their playoff chances?

“I think playing in sync is important,” Schneider said. “And right now we’re not doing that. So that’s gotta change going forward, too.”

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