Blue Jays Takeaways: Morales’ bat wakes up in a big way

Toronto Blue Jays' Kendrys Morales, right, pats teammate Kevin Pillar after scoring on Miguel Montero's double. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Toronto Blue Jays closed out a very disappointing month of August by plating 11 runs and snapping the Baltimore Orioles’ win streak at seven games.

The Jays wound up 13-15 in August (after starting the month 10-5), and saved themselves from hitting what would have been their low-water mark of the season at 12 games under .500.

Here’s what stood out to me about the big win in B-More:

KENDRYS KRUSHES THREE

Blue Jays’ DH Kendrys Morales sandwiched a fifth-inning RBI single around a pair of home runs – a two-run shot off Jeremy Hellickson in the third and a three-run jack off Mychal Givens in the sixth. Just for good measure, he took Givens deep again in the eighth, tying his career high with three home runs and becoming the 17th Blue Jay to notch the Home Run Hat Trick. Seven RBI established a career high for the slugger – he had previously driven in six runs in one game five times, never as a Blue Jay.

Morales has had a disappointing season, and not just because he’s been attempting to fill the shoes of one of the best hitters in franchise history. The switch-hitter had only had one month this season in which he’s posted an OPS above .736 going into Thursday. He had a brutal 3-for-36 run from Aug. 5-22, with 11 strikeouts and only one RBI, but has come out of that with one of his hottest streaks of the season. After his big night, Morales is 14 for his last 35, hitting .400/.417/.800.

Three of Morales’ four hits in the win over the Orioles came with runners in scoring position, an area in which his production has been notoriously lacking this year. With the Kansas City Royals last season, Morales hit .311/.389/.576 in that situation. The year before, he hit .335/.416/.596. Morales’ big night brought his 2017 RISP numbers up to only .198/.284/.378.

The slugger did salvage his entire month in just one game, though. He carried an OPS of .658 for August into the opener in Baltimore – it would have been his worst month of the season. He left the game with an August OPS of .811 – it turned out to be his second-best month so far. It would be great to see Morales finish the season showing the power and pitch recognition that made the Blue Jays see him as a suitable replacement for the departed Edwin Encarnacion.

IN THE BIG INNING

The Blue Jays’ bats exploded with two out in the fifth inning, with five straight hitters reaching base in what became a five-run frame.

Ryan Goins doubled with one away, extending his hit streak to 10 games, and after Steve Pearce struck out behind him, the fun got started.

Josh Donaldson worked a walk, then Morales kept the ball in the yard, steering a ground ball through the open left side of the infield for an RBI single, scoring Goins. Jose Bautista, riding a personal 0-for-13, drew a walk to load the bases for Miguel Montero, who ambushed a first-pitch cutter from Hellickson and drilled it into the right-field corner for a game-tying double. Kevin Pillar was next, and he smacked a double of his own down the left-field line to cash another two runs and send Hellickson to the showers.

Lefty Richard Bleier came on to get Ezequiel Carrera to ground out, ending the frame, but the five-run outburst was just one run shy of the Blue Jays’ entire offensive production in their just-completed home sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. It was only the second time since Aug. 13 that they’d scored more than three runs in an inning.

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KICKING IT AROUND

The defence that has let the Blue Jays down so often lately reared its ugly head again Thursday, and almost cost them a game in which they scored 11 runs.

Montero has struggled mightily with the running game all season, since well before he became a Blue Jay, and he was front and centre for a couple of the issues. In the first inning, Manny Machado took off to steal second and Montero’s throw was well wide of the bag, kicking off Darwin Barney on a hop and ricocheting into centre field.

Montero’s glove was the problem in the eighth, his miscue coming after one by Bautista in the same frame.

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Blue Jays Talk
Blue Jays Talk -August 31- Thursday
Originally aired August 31 2017

The Blue Jays had a five-run lead going into the penultimate inning when, with Mark Trumbo on second and two out, Tim Beckham lined a soft single to right. Bautista charged it, looking to either hold Trumbo at third or throw him out at the plate, but the ball kicked off the heel of his glove, allowing Trumbo to score. The next batter, Jonathan Schoop, hit a ground ball into the hole on the right side. Barney came over to try to get it with a dive, but it bounced off his body, allowing Beckham to score from second.

That ended Ryan Tepera’s night, and Roberto Osuna came on to nail down the four-out save. But Montero whiffed on Osuna’s first pitch – a fastball up and in to Adam Jones. The ball hit home plate umpire Gerry Davis and stayed right there, but both Oriole runners moved up on the passed ball. Osuna got Jones to ground out on the next pitch, preventing further damage, then retired the side in order in the ninth to close it out.

BAUTISTA’S STRUGGLES CONTINUE

Jose Bautista has had a wonderful career as a Toronto Blue Jay. He’s a franchise icon, one of the best hitters ever to suit up for them. But his great career appears to be limping to the finish line.

Bautista drew a key walk in the Jays’ five-run fifth inning to keep the rally going, but went 0-for-4 on the night with a pair of groundouts to first base, a pop-up to second and a strikeout.

Bautista is hitless in his last 15 at-bats and, not only that, he hasn’t hit a single ball to the pull side of the field in any one of those trips. There have been eight strikeouts over that span, two ground balls to first and one back to the mound, the pop to second and three fly balls – one to centre, one to right-centre and one to right.

The last hit Bautista got was a double in the first inning against the Red Sox on Monday – hit to right field.

In fact, other than a bloop single that fell in behind the shortstop in shallow left-centre, Bautista hasn’t put a single ball in play to the pull side in his last seven games.

It wasn’t very long ago at all that Bautista was one of the most feared fastball hitters in the game, but it seems the heater is now a weapon that can be used against him to great effect. It’s gone away and come back before; we shall see if it can come back one more time for what looks to be his final month as a Blue Jay.