Whit Merrifield leads in four runs, Blue Jays sweep Pirates

PITTSBURGH — The 2023 Blue Jays live their lives to the extreme.

Three days after appearing lost to the Red Sox, Toronto wrapped up a dominating Pirates sweep with a 10-1 win on Sunday. The consistency isn’t there yet, but the highs are almost thrilling enough to make you forget about it.

“It’s a credit to the guys,” said manager John Schneider. “There is no panic. That’s what it’s like in Boston, and then you move on and try to win the next series. It’s always hard to take all three, but we finally got back to what we used to do.

After an hour and 35 minute delay in the rain, the visitors slammed the gates for Pittsburgh in the final, starting with a three-point outburst from Whit Merrifield in the third. Daulton Varsho became the first Blue Jay and the 46th player in PNC Park history to hit a ball into the Allegheny River, then Kevin Kiermaier took his turn on the home run train. Toronto fans who made the five-hour drive for one of baseball’s best views received the royal treatment.

This team has layers, and after a crazy week with a well-deserved day off on Monday, here’s how they turned things around in the blink of an eye:

Up and down entrances

This part is not complicated. The Blue Jays’ rotation was downright lousy in Boston.

In four games, Toronto’s starters allowed 23 runs (20 earned) on 38 hits in just 18 innings. That’s an even 10.00 ERA, and with the bullpen having a few shaky moments behind the starters, the Blue Jays were burying themselves every night.

Then came Pittsburgh. Chris Bassitt was excellent, José Berríos was solid, and Yusei Kikuchi continued to be one of the best stories of the season for the Blue Jays. Kikuchi went 6 1/3 scoreless innings, giving Blue Jays starters a 0.92 ERA in 19 2/3 innings over the weekend. Not bad No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 starters in the rotation.

“I was disappointed last year, but I’m using that disappointment as fuel this year,” Kikuchi said through a club interpreter. “I learned everything from last year and brought it to this year.”

The Blue Jays knew the Pirates’ baserunning would be a problem, and there was a heightened sense of awareness given what had happened against the Red Sox. Boston stole nine bases in four games, including one game with five steals, and many weren’t close.

“In Boston, I think that’s the worst thing we’ve done in the whole series,” said Bassitt, who started on Friday. “How many stolen bases do we have in Boston. A lot of them weren’t on the catchers, they were on the pitcher. To control the racing game, you have to be very proud of it. »

Pittsburgh was aggressive in Game 1 of this series, but it was only 1-2 that night, running into multiple outs on base against a Blue Jays team looking for him. The Pirates still lead MLB in steals with 46 — well above the Blue Jays’ 26 — but Toronto managed to even things up in this series, including Merrifield’s three steals in Game 1.

Merrifield did more than run. Frankly, he might still be the most underrated player on this team.

Sunday’s three-point homer was Merrifield’s first of the season, but he did everything else in the first 35 games, posting a .291 average, .750 OPS, seven interceptions and a strong glove at second and second base. left field. Prior to his homer, Merrifield had already driven in the first inning of the game with an RBI single in the first.

Brandon Belt also had a great weekend in Pittsburgh. He might not even want to leave.

Belt came in averaging .161 and .509 OPS, but he went 6-for-9 combined with three doubles and three walks in the set. He suddenly shoots the ball, which we haven’t seen much of in April, and it’s remarkable how quickly this formation can take on a whole new identity when their bottom half kicks off.

“That’s what this range is capable of,” said Schneider. “You see Brandon coming back. (Danny) Jansen has great shots and Whit has great shots. Kiermaier had a few knocks today.

“It lengthens it and you don’t have to rely on the top of the order so much.”

Any formation with George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette is going to produce numbers, but good formations become great with depth. When it all comes together, you see why Schneider says the Blue Jays’ Game A is better than anyone else’s Game A.

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