The Yankees and Blue Jays face off in the Crucial early series

As he stepped onto the board to lead Monday’s game against the Yankees, center-right Toronto Blue Jays player George Springer was greeted by a downpour of whistles from the crowd at Yankee Stadium. He immediately singled it out.

When he came back to fire in the third inning, another whistle followed. The result this time was no better for Yankees fans: two home run races that proved crucial in Toronto’s 3-0 victory.

While Springer was mostly ridiculed for his role in the Houston Astros 2017, the team that toppled the Yankees on their way to a World Series title that has since been tainted by a character theft scandal, the feeling between the parties isn’t exactly like that. friendly this season.

Rivals – along with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays – will fight all season in the popular division in which the three teams reached the playoffs last year. The Yankees with 92 wins won the last place of the wild card in the American League, which is why the Blue Jays with 91 wins watched baseball in October from home.

The chances of placing in the playoffs have improved this year. The post-season Major League Baseball field has been expanded to 12 teams from 10 under a new contract. But the 19 clashes between Yankees and Blue Jays, the trendy pre-season World Series pick, are expected to be tense, competitive and exciting.

“Such is life in the American League East,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, whose team is playing its first series of the season against the Yankees this week, a four-game set. “All the teams are good. It will be a battle all year long. They just played with Boston and they will play with us, and we will play with them, and then with Boston. “

Monday, the first meeting of the teams this season, offered an overview of what could come. The result was close. The stars shone. The audience and teams understood the stakes.

“They have talent, just like us,” said Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., runner-up for the American League Most Valuable Player award last season. But it is obvious that you have to go out on the field and do your best. “

“They’re a great ball club,” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said, adding later, “They have guys who hit for power, have good speed up and down, and then a great throwing stick. It will be difficult all year round, but we are looking forward to it. “

The Blue Jays can really guess. Any lineup led by Bo Bichette, right-back Teoscar Hernández, Springer and Guerrero should have little trouble scoring. Even without prominent third baseman Matt Chapman, who was added in the off-season exchange, the Blue Jays led the top leagues in the home runs (262) and on base plus the percentage of relegation (.797) last season.

Knowing that, the Toronto coaching staff emphasized another aspect of the team’s game, the one that was sometimes a weakness last season: defense. To bring the points, the Blue Jays made a largely symbolic change in the traditional order of pre-game exercises, stating that players first take the balls for the ground and then work on their shots.

“My message was that from the start: throwing and defense will win games in this league. It’s hard to guess every day, “Montoyo said, adding later,” And you can’t give that team, or any team in the American League, any chance – or any other chance. “

The Blue Jays were one of the teams with the most wins in the second half of last season, in part because of Bichette’s improvement in defense, Montoyo said. Bichette, who led all MLB short rates with 24 errors last season, is credited with assisting Blue Jays coaching staff as well as retired shortstop Troy Tulowitz. In the off-season, Bichette spent time in Texas further sharpening his game with Tulowitzki, a two-time Golden Glove winner.

“He just made it easy for me,” Bichette said. “It’s as simple as catching the ball and throwing it. Play for free. Be aggressive. It helped me a lot to allow myself to be mentally free. ”

The effort showed against the Yankees on Monday. Starting pitcher Alec Manoah kept the Yankees in check with seven strikeouts in six innings with no results. (His fast balls were just faster than usual, often reaching 96 miles per hour. “It’s just New York adrenaline,” he said.) But when Manoah got into trouble with a jam full of bases in the third inning, Bichette made a stellar play: He reached far to the right to catch Giancarlo Stanton a broken bat, then jumped and threw himself over his body for the third out.

“Last year we learned a lot that if we want to win the World Series and be a champion team, we have to be nails on all sides of the ball,” said Bishet, who hit .298 with 29 home runs and 102 shots. last season. “So throwing, defending, hitting, won’t be perfect every day, but the work we put in and the commitment to it is definitely worth it.”

In the seventh inning, when Manoah was out of the game, Bichette teamed up with another base player Santiago Espinal to reverse a smooth double play at the end of the inning with two players at base. When the defense shifted to the left against Josh Donaldson, Espinal stopped the ground ball from his left and turned to throw Bichette, who took advantage of a 360-degree turn after touching second base to shoot the ball into the first. Guerrero clenched his fist and shouted as he fled the field.

“I feel like we’re just a bunch of kids going there and doing their best,” Bichette said, adding later about Yankee Stadium, “Honestly, we feel comfortable wherever we are. I love playing with these guys. It’s a lot of fun. “

The rise of the Blue Jays over the past two years coincides with the development of young stars like Guerrero, 23; Bichette 24; and Hernández, 29. Bichette said the Blue Jays have always been confident in their potential, so “the world is probably a little behind what we thought.” And although August was largely intact during the winter and the Blue Jays lost Robbie Ray, winner of the 2021 AL Cy Young award, and second player Marcus Semien in the free agency, Guerrero said the team was better this year because of existing and new talent .

The Yankees feel the same about themselves. Starting pitchers Jameson Taillon, who allowed two runs in five innings on Monday, and Luis Severino are now healthier than last year. The lineup is more balanced and diverse in terms of skills than it was at the start of last season due to the addition of short player Isiah Kiner-Falef, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Donaldson.

After 29-19 against the Blue Jays from 2018 to 2020, the Yankees had less luck last year. They had an 8-11 against their rivals, but still managed to beat Toronto for the final AL spot.

“Every game is huge,” Springer said after Monday’s win. “Last year we learned that every game is important. It’s a good start, but it has a long way to go. “

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