The Blue Jays are sweeping the Pirates and now it’s getting real


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PITTSBURGH — It was a feel-good weekend at one of America’s great ball parks, one in which Blue Jays fans vastly outnumbered supporters of the home nine.

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A sweep was a bonus, three-way capped by a too-close-for-comfort 4-3 victory over the Pirates here at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon. The results certainly provided an accelerated start to the 10-game road trip, even though the sweep was against the miserable Bucs 49-84.

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But now it’s about to get real, starting with a four-game, three-day series against the stubborn Orioles in Baltimore, starting with a double dip on Monday.

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The biggest series of the year? For now, anyway, let’s go with that.

“We know every game is going to be like a playoff game and how valuable and important they are going to be, especially the next four against Baltimore,” Jays reliever Anthony Bass said Sunday. “The Baltimore series is really going to set the tone for the rest of the way, especially because they’ve been playing so well lately.

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“They are right behind us and we have to bury them behind us. We have to win these games.

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They’re not really games to be won, of course, but they will certainly feel it when the Jays enter the final 30 games of the campaign.

Ideally, the Jays would be at the top of the wildcard race at worst, rather than holding on to third place and just 1.5 games clear of the O’s heading into Sunday’s action.

The incitement runs deep, starting with Bass’ specific assertion that they must take care of the brave O’s first and foremost. Ideally, returning to Maryland for a season-ending series in Baltimore in early October won’t be burdened with the pressure of securing a spot in the postseason dance.

“We know we’re going to be up against some really good teams in our division, so we know every game will be like a playoff game,” said Bass, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning Sunday. “We try not to look too far ahead, but obviously we’ll be writing our own destiny here in the next week or two.”

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Of the 30 games remaining on the Jays’ schedule, 19 are against the Orioles (10) and Rays (9), a pair of teams that could play a big role in the Jays’ playoff draw.

Despite their sometimes uneven play, the Jays have won 12 of their last 17 games and, by completing their sixth sweep of the season and with a 73-59 record, they are now the best 14 games of the season above .500 .

The challenge is that others in the AL wildcard race haven’t backed down either. Going into Sunday’s game, the Mariners had won eight of their previous nine and the Rays had won 11 of 13.

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Caretaker manager John Schneider’s approach is for his players to take advantage of the opportunity that comes their way and play freely.

“Enjoying those moments and accepting that that’s why you play…that’s the most important thing,” Schneider said. “They’ve been together for quite a long time, for a few years and the guys who came in, I think they all understand that. It’s a fun atmosphere.

“The longer you can be in these places…it’s still a relatively young core…the better it is for them going forward.”

It’s clear that Schneider and his team recognize the importance of the Baltimore series and have manipulated the rotation accordingly. Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios are set to start Monday’s double-header at Camden Yards, followed by Mitch White and then Alek Manoah in Wednesday’s final.

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“Right now they realize they were in the playoffs last year where they finished one less game,” said Schneider, whose team has now won nine of its last 10 on the road. “They know what we need to do to improve a bit and now we have the opportunity to write our own face with the schedule we have ahead.”

They’ll bet they’ll be working on jotting down that story early Monday afternoon for what the Jays hope will be their own take on a Labor Day classic.

GAME ON

The Jays got another solid outing from Sunday starter Ross Stripling, who allowed two hits and three runs in six innings. The right-hander struck out eight while walking three… The Jays looked to be heading early, building a 3-0 lead from four, the biggest hit being a Cavan Biggio solo homer. But the Pirates got back at it with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning, then tied it with a solo homer from Oneil Cruz in the fourth… The Jays had a golden opportunity to take a big lead in sixth with the bases loaded and an exit. But a soft ground ball into a double play from Whit Merrifield ended that threat… The eighth also started with some promise, with singles from Danny Jansen and Matt Chapman before Vlad Guerrero Jr. launched into a double play. But when Teoscar Hernandez slapped a holeshot single in the infield, the Jays took a 4-3 lead … The Jays had to dodge a ball in the ninth when closer Jordan Romano allowed the first two batters to reach before retiring the next three. batters to record his 30th save.

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AROUND THE BASES

Sunday was a rest day for George Springer and Schneider went with Matt Chapman at No. 1… He still has some way to go to get back to the big leagues, but Nate Pearson’s rehab took a big step forward on Sunday in Florida where he pitched a scoreless inning. for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Pearson’s fastball was going 99 miles per hour… It appears second baseman Santiago Espinal survived the fastball he picked up in his left hand on Friday. Espinal was not in the lineup on Sunday, but reported he had the full move in his hand… The traveling Jays fan road show was well represented for the team’s first visit to the sporting major city since 2014.

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