TORONTO – The New York Yankees have an unofficial offensive mantra of sorts, clearly articulated by manager Aaron Boone and often executed by his players: create traffic, slug mistakes. It works in the regular season and it’ll work in the playoffs. The thing is, it’s not easy to do.
In Saturday’s 13-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Brett Gardner was the one crushing mistakes. He went deep twice on the afternoon and the second of his two homers followed the Yankees’ playbook perfectly.
First, they put two runners on via walk and hit by pitch. Then Brock Stewart threw a centre-cut 91 m.p.h. fastball, missing Danny Jansen’s target atop the zone. And finally, Gardner crushed it.
That sequence reinforced an important contrast between the Blue Jays and Yankees. The Blue Jays don’t compare to the Yankees when it comes to hitting homers (no team in baseball history has ever hit more than New York’s total of 285 and counting) but they do hit their share. The Blue Jays’ team total of 221 homers ranked 11th in baseball entering play Saturday, right behind the Red Sox (226).
The Yankees aren’t simply one-dimensional sluggers, though. They also began the day with the third-best on-base percentage in baseball at .340. As for the Blue Jays? Third-worst at .303. Considering how many regulars have OBPs under .300, that’s hardly surprising. Brandon Drury, Rowdy Tellez, Danny Jansen, Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez all reach base less than 30 per cent of the time.
Eventually, the Blue Jays will have to raise their collective OBP, either by developing the plate discipline of existing players or acquiring new ones. In the meantime, they often struggle to reach and that was certainly the case against James Paxton, who limited the Blue Jays to one run on three hits and two walks over five innings.
The Blue Jays did get some offence back Saturday, as Lourdes Gurriel Jr. delivered two hits in his return from the quad strain that sidelined him for more than a month. Montoyo said the Blue Jays will watch Gurriel Jr.’s workload carefully over the final two weeks of the season to avoid re-aggravating the strain.
Aside from Gurriel Jr., the Blue Jays’ bats were quiet, but the struggles of the pitching staff were far more evident on a day the Yankees homered five times. Starter Jacob Waguespack allowed three runs without escaping the fourth inning, and Stewart had more trouble still, allowing six runs, including three homers, in just two innings.
“When you’re facing these lineups top to bottom everybody’s good,” Waguespack said.
“I think they’re just capitalizing on mistakes.”
No one said pitching in the AL East would be easy.
“It’s the toughest division in baseball,” Waguespack continued. “But you’ve got to go out and pitch and play and make plays. Were major-leaguers just like them.”
Making matters worse, a pair of Blue Jays relievers are dealing with injuries. Jordan Romano needed help leaving the field after spraining his right ankle fielding a comebacker in the eighth inning. A few hours earlier, the Blue Jays revealed that Tim Mayza needs Tommy John surgery, an operation that will repair the UCL in his pitching arm and likely sideline him for the entire 2020 season.
Mayza was grimacing in pain when he left the mound Friday night, and an MRI later confirmed the Blue Jays’ fears. Within Toronto’s clubhouse, the left-hander’s teammates felt for him.
“Everybody loves Timmy,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He doesn’t complain. He pitches every day, and he’s got a smile every day.”
A long rehab process now awaits Mayza, who had a 4.91 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 51.1 innings this year. If all goes well, he should be ready to return by 2021.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays now have a clear need for left-handed relief. Thomas Pannone could be one solution for the bullpen if the Blue Jays are willing to commit to him as a reliever and on paper, it’s an intriguing option. Pannone has struggled as a starter but his relief numbers (3.63 ERA in 52 innings, 51 strikeouts, 20 walks) are far better.
Either way, lefty relief now looks like an off-season need for the front office. In theory, that’s a relatively easy hole to plug. Finding on-base percentage looks like a far greater challenge, but one worth facing if the Blue Jays are going to take their offence to the next level.