Blue Jays lead tightens after another poor Berrios outing

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Comforted by the cushion that there is an additional wildcard spot to ease postseason qualifying standards, the magnitude of a Blue Jays four-game streak here this weekend is diminished. .

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But that’s not to say the matchup against a team the Jays could face in the playoffs is inconsequential.

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The Jays are well aware of the benefits of securing the No. 1 seed and a best-of-three first round played entirely at Rogers Center. And as we were reminded once again in a gruesome 10-5 loss to the Rays, they certainly want nothing to do with a return visit to Tropicana Field.

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But with defeats in three of their previous four, a path to that top spot among non-division winners isn’t as clear cut as it was, adding some bite to their remaining 12 games.

Concerns, while not epic due to the new playoff format, are mounting for a Jays team that has been plagued with inconsistencies for much of the 2022 season. With that in mind, the Thursday’s loss was triggered by another disastrous outing from starter Jose Berrios, who is still looking for a hint of reliable form game after game.

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Allowing at least five earned runs for the eighth time this season, Berrios lasted just two innings, allowing six earned runs on seven hits.

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It wasn’t his worst start to the season, but it was up there.

And it was a poor start to what, in some ways, is still a critical streak for the Jays, who still cling to the top pick spot they took in this streak.

With their victory, the Rays moved within a game of their division rival in the race for wild cards, while the Seattle Mariners (holders of an incredibly soft schedule the rest of the way, are 1.5 behind Toronto.)

The injection of increased importance to the other three games in this series, tThe Rays are 9-7 against the Jays this season, giving them the edge in early tiebreaker criteria.

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The Jays got here looking to make an impact in the four-game series — in the standings, putting out a credible effort against a tough opponent and establishing more reliable form.

“The goal of every series is to win it,” Jays manager John Schneider said. “It seems like everything is amplified with who we play and where we are in the standings.

“Hopefully we can put some separation there.”

This objective will be difficult without a more sustained effort than what the team has delivered in its last two years. While certainly tired of what was essentially an overnight flight from Philadelphia, the Jays didn’t have much of a fight against the Rays after the second inning of a game played before a modest crowd of 8,799 at the Trop .

And Schneider was not complimentary in his pregame assertion that with the AL East title nearly out of reach, securing the WC’s top spot is the primary motivation for the remaining 13 games.

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“The home pitch would be great,” Schneider said. “There would be nothing better than playing in front of our fans in the playoffs after the last two years we haven’t been there or what the world and the country has been through.”

Although the pressure for a place is minimal, there is still a lot to play for.

The Jays certainly want to play more regularly.

As well as playing in front of local audiences, there’s an added appeal in terms of the rigorous itinerary looming. If the Jays finish second, they’ll end the regular season with three games in Baltimore, then head to Seattle or Tampa (the two most likely destinations.) If they win best-of-three, it would be Houston. for the divisional round.

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It was a struggle from the start for Berrios, who has just two guaranteed starts left to prepare for post-season form. He needed 31 pitches to pass the first and added 43 in the second… In fact, Berrios, Trevor Richards and Zach Pop combined to throw 120 pitches in the first four… The Jays were actually tied at 3 -3 heading into the bottom half of the second, helped by second-inning solo homers from Teoscar Hernandez and Whit Merrifield, who added a two-run shot in the ninth. It was Merrifield’s third career multi-home run game and first since 2019… The Jays have given up 10 or more runs in three of their last seven games.

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