3 takeaways from Blue Jays split against Orioles: Bo Bichette gets hot, Yimi García stays hot

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The Toronto Blue Jays were oh-so-close to celebrating a two-game series sweep over the Baltimore Orioles, clinging to a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning on Wednesday. But Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman hit a two-run walk-off home run off Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano to steal the 3-2 win and the clubs split the series instead.

It might seem like hyperbole to state that a mid-May series is a significant one, but given the trials and tribulations of the Blue Jays’ season thus far, and the club’s recent history against the Orioles, a series at Camden Yards this week felt meaningful for Toronto.

The Blue Jays defeated the Orioles 3-2 in extra innings on Monday before losing heartbreakingly on Wednesday. (Tuesday’s game was rained out and will be made up with a doubleheader on July 29.)

It seems manager John Schneider felt the importance of the series too, using some choice expletives to express just how big it was to win in Baltimore against a very good Orioles club on Monday night — but the club will no doubt feel disappointed they couldn’t take two.

Let’s look at three takeaways from the Blue Jays’ first series against the Orioles this week.

Have to be better against Baltimore

Last year, the Blue Jays first played Baltimore in mid-May — a similar schedule to this year — and were swept in that three-game series at the Rogers Centre. It took until Aug. 2 for the Blue Jays to earn two wins against the Orioles and they didn’t win a single series against their rivals last season while being outscored 75-40.

With Wednesday afternoon’s loss, the Blue Jays remain without a series win against Baltimore since October 2022.

After years of woefully bad, losing baseball in Baltimore, the Orioles’ young core has seemingly leapfrogged over the Blue Jays, who are also in their contention window. The Blue Jays have qualified for the postseason three times since 2020 compared to Baltimore’s one. But the Blue Jays have only qualified as a wild-card team in all three years, whereas Baltimore won the division last year with 101 wins cand looks like it will contend for another division title this season.

As Bichette got off to an uncharacteristically slow start to his season, there was little concern about him from the Blue Jays brass, including from Schneider, who routinely expressed his confidence that his shortstop would eventually figure it out.

Indeed, Bichette has always been able to hit for average and it seemed like a matter of time until he would emerge from his slump and begin to look more like himself.

Finally, over the last week, we’re seeing Bichette swing the bat better and look far more like the hitter he’s been throughout his career. In his last six games, Bichette has gone 10-for-23 (.435) with two walks and a home run.

Perhaps returning to Camden Yards might’ve helped spur Bichette’s bat. The 26-year-old shortstop has historically hit exceptionally well in Baltimore, slashing .371/.411/.629 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs in 31 games before Wednesday. (It helped that for a few of those years, the Orioles had one of the league’s worst pitching staffs.)

If the Blue Jays can turn their season around, they’ll need Bichette to hit more like he did over the last six games than how he did over his first 33 games.

Yimi García pitching his way to All-Star status

García continues to be a saviour out of the bullpen.

In two games against Baltimore, García pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing a hit and notching four strikeouts, each at a critical juncture in the games. The outings lowered his season ERA to 0.53 with 21 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched.

García is pitching the best he ever has over his 10-year career. MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson noted that the 33-year-old right-hander looks like an All-Star on the mound, and no one would dispute that notion at the moment.

No Blue Jays pitcher has been better than García this season, who entered Wednesday leading the team with a 37.7 percent strikeout rate. (Starters Yusei Kikuchi and José Berríos are each making strong cases to be All-Star selections, as well.)

Given García’s dominance, it is reasonable to wonder whether he could pitch his way into the team’s closer role should Romano falter. In the immediate aftermath of Romano’s first blown save of the season on Wednesday, it feels unfair to be asking such a question. Recency bias will be unkind to Romano, who only two days ago pitched two shutout innings against Baltimore in the extra-innings win. Not to mention, it takes a certain poise to handle the pressure of the ninth inning. Romano has the personality for the job and while García has experience as a closer, it’s been a while since he’s had the job full-time.

Manager Schneider has repeatedly signalled his faith in Romano, whose 78 saves since 2022 are second in MLB behind only Cleveland Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase (98), and there is no indication the Blue Jays are eyeing a change to the ninth-inning role. But given how García is pitching, the Blue Jays look like they at least have an alternate option if they are forced to contemplate a change.

(Photo of Bichette: Greg Fiume / Getty Images)

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