Jays lose in frustrating fashion, Kikuchi’s struggles continue

That was pretty painful all around. Yusei Kikuchi didn’t have it early on, and the offense was back in its annoying ‘unable to chain hits together’ mode from earlier in the season. The Blue Jays will have to take advantage of playing more than a quarter of their last 54 games against the Orioles to maintain their wild card position, so starting this series with a loss puts them in a tough spot.

The offense struggled early. Jordan Lyles wasn’t kidding anyone, but a lot of mediocre-quality contact led to quick outs. The runner from first base came with two outs in the second on a walk by Matt Chapman, and the first hit followed by a line drive single by Raimel Tapia. Danny Jansen jumped to prevent either of them from scoring.

They got on the board in the third when Cavan Biggio simply slammed a ball over the center-field wall for a leadoff home run. Whit Merrifield and Teoscar Hernandez would each add a single, but three deep fly balls prevented them from cutting Baltimore’s lead.

The fourth and fifth were uneventful, with three singles (by Tapia, Vladimir Guerrero jr and Alejandro Kirk) but no runs scored. Chapman got things moving again in the sixth with a bombshell that Camden’s lame new left-field trick couldn’t contain, putting Toronto within 3. Jansen followed up with a walk to put Lyles out of the game, but Cionel Pérez froze Biggio at the entrance. final strikeout.

In the seventh, Dillon Tate paved over the top of the lineup, striking out Guerrero and Merrifield and driving Kirk to second. He stayed in the eighth, and that was the point at which the Blue Jays offense finally put together some hits. After Hernandez struck out to lead off, Bo Bichette and Chapman threw balls hard back up the middle, setting up two men and putting him out of the game. Tapia, off Joey Krehbiel, hit a hard grounded single to right field, driving Bichette home and the tying run home. A sacrifice fly by Jansen brought Chapman home to make it 6-4. Krehbiel seemed a little nervous at this point, blowing an interception 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 groundout from Merrifield to end the inning.

In the ninth, Guerrero reached on an error by shortstop Mateo and Kirk singled to right field to once again bring the tying run home. Once again, they were unable to capitalize. Hernandez struck out and Bichette rolled for a game-ending double play.

Yusei Kikuchi got off to a poor 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, aided by a beautiful throw from Danny Jansen to shoot down Jorge Mateo who was attempting to steal second after reaching for an infield hit.

The struggles returned with a single fly to left field, and after fly outs by Vladimir Guerrero jr. and Alejandro Kirk (the latter of which required an excellent running catch, however. A Ryan McKenna single was erased on a double play, but then Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle hit back-to-back solo shots to make it 5-1.

The fourth was easier, with only a single by Austin Hays reaching base. In the fifth, Kikuchi pulled off what scientists had only previously theorized, a 1-2-3 tackle. Unfortunately, he couldn’t repeat the trick in the sixth, walking leadoff hitter Mountcastle and forcing Schneider to pick him up for Trent Thornton.

It was, whichever way you look at it, a bad start. He squared off too often (3 homers), walked too many (3) and didn’t strike out enough guys (4). I don’t know what else the Blue Jays could have expected at this point, though. His game score, a quick and dirty stat 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 toward improvement.

On cleanup duty, Thornton induced a double play to end the walk, but then gave up a home run to Austin Hays to put the Blue Jays down 6-2. He struck out Mateo to stop the bleeding there, and followed that up with a clean seventh inning.

With the game somewhat close in the bottom of the eighth, Schneider passed to Trevor Richards. He wasn’t up to the task, he walked leadoff hitter Adley Rutschman and then gave up back-to-back singles to Santander and Mountcastle to push the Orioles’ lead to 3. He was able to stop it there, getting a double-play groundout. and a pop up to exit the entrance.

Jays of the day: Wall (0.107)

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

Alek Manoah will take over for Toronto in what feels close to a must-win Game 2, while rookie Kyle Bradish will do the same for Baltimore. First pitch at 7:05 ET.

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