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Jays Lose in Frustrating Fashion, Kikuchi Struggles Continue

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

That was pretty painful all around. Yusei Kikuchi didn’t have it from the jump, and the offence was back to its irritating ‘unable to string hits together’ mode from early in the season. The Jays are going to have to take advantage of playing more than a quarter of their last 54 games against the Orioles to hold onto their wildcard position, so starting this series with a loss puts them in a tough spot.

The offence struggled early. Jordan Lyles wasn’t fooling anyone, but a lot of mediocre quality contact lead to quick outs. The first base runner came with two out in the second on a Matt Chapman walk, and the first hit followed with a Raimel Tapia line single. Danny Jansen popped out to prevent either from scoring.

They got on the board in the third when Cavan Biggio just snuck a ball over the centre field wall for a leadoff home run. Whit Merrifield and Teoscar Hernandez would each add a single, but three deep fly outs prevented them from cutting father into Baltimore’s lead.

The fourth and fifth were uneventful, with three ground ball singles (by Tapia, Vladimir Guerrero jr, and Alejandro Kirk) but no runs scoring. Chapman got things moving again in the sixth with a bomb that Camden’s lame new gimmick left field couldn’t contain, getting Toronto within 3. Jansen followed that with a walk to knock Lyles out of the game, but Cionel Perez froze Biggio for the inning ending strikeout.

In the seventh, Dillon Tate paved over the top of the lineup, striking out Guerrero and Merrifield and getting Kirk to ground to second. He stayed in for the eighth, and that was the point where the Blue Jays offence finally strung some hits together. After Hernandez struck out to lead off, Bo Bichette and Chapman lined balls hard back up the middle, putting two men on and knocking him out of the game. Tapia, facing Joey Krehbiel, ripped a hard ground ball single into right, knocking Bichette home and the tieing run to the plate. A Jansen sac fly brought Chapman home to make it 6-4. Krehbiel appeared a little rattled at this point, throwing away a pickoff attempt and allowing Tapia to advance to second and then walking Biggio on four pitches. That was all Orioles manager Brandon Hyde needed to see. He went to his closer, Felix Bautista, for the four out save. He got a ground out from Merrifield to end the inning.

In the ninth, Guerrero reached on an error by shortstop Mateo and Kirk lined a single to right to once again bring the tieing run to the plate. Again, they weren’t able to capitalize. Hernandez struck out and Bichette grounded into a game-ending double play.

Yusei Kikuchi got off to an ugly start, walking two of the first three batters he faced and then giving up a home run to Ramon Urias that gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead out of the gate. He righted the ship in the second, with the help of a beautiful throw by Danny Jansen to gun down Jorge Mateo attempting to steal second after reaching on an infield hit.

The struggles returned in the with a fly ball single to left, and after fly outs from Vladimir Guerrero jr. and Alejandro Kirk (the latter of which required a terrific running catch, though. A Ryan McKenna single was erased in a double play, but then Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle blasted back to back solo shots to make it 5-1.

The fourth was easier, with only an Austin Hays single reaching base. In the fifth, Kikuchi achieved what scientists had previously only theorized, a 1-2-3 inning. He wasn’t able to repeat the trick in the sixth, unfortunately, walking leadoff man Mountcastle and forcing Schneider to lift him in favour of Trent Thornton.

It was, any way you look at it, a bad start. He got squared up too often (3 home runs), walked too many (3) and didn’t strike enough guys out (4). I don’t know what else the Jays could really have expected at this point, though. His gamescore, a quick and dirty statistic Bill James developed to give a snapshot of a starter’s overall performance, was 23 tonight. 50 is about average, 40 is about replacement level. Kikuchi has now been under 30 six times in 10 starts. He’s terrible more often than he’s competent, and the trend over the course of the season isn’t towards improvement.

In mop-up duty, Thornton induced a double play to wipe out the walk but then promptly gave up a homer to Austin Hays to put the Jays down 6-2. He struck out Mateo to stop the bleeding there, and followed with a clean 7th inning.

With the game somewhat close in the bottom of the eighth, Schneider went to Trevor Richards. He wasn’t up to the task, walking leadoff man Adley Rutschman and then giving up back to back singles to Santander and Mountcastle to push the Orioles’ lead back to 3. He was able to stop it there, getting a double play ground ball and a pop up to get out of the inning.

Jays of the Day: Tapia (0.107)

Suckage: Kikuchi (-0.307), Hernandez (-0.158), Bichette (-0.143)

Alek Manoah will toe the rubber for Toronto in what feels close to being a must win game two, while rookie Kyle Bradish will do the same for Baltimore. First pitch ins 7:05ET.