Maybe this is all Curtis Granderson’s fault.
The managerial watch, the overall abject lack of interest at important times, the sloppiness and dead-ass attitude.
After all, no less a baseball sage than Felipe Alou used to moan that when the first play of a game isn’t made, well, might as well leave and come back the next day. Five pitches into the 2018 Major League season, Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees sent a routine line drive to left field. The Rogers Centre roof was closed. No wind, no sun, no nothing. And Granderson pooched it. E7 on the first play of the season.
And look where we are: a series-to-series managerial watch accompanied, it seems, by a shocking indifference to manager John Gibbons’ status on the part of the players, and lots of really bad, inattentive baseball. Envying the Tampa Bay Rays because of the energy and verve displayed by the first wave of a farm system that is very much the match of the Toronto Blue Jays‘ own much-ballyhooed system.
“They always play a nice brand of baseball,” Gibbons said Saturday after the Rays dropped the ham-handed Blue Jays 3-1 in front of a crowd of 38,797 on a day set aside to celebrate the back to back 1992-93 World Series champion Jays teams.
It sounded plaintive. Resigned. The Rays and their $76,388,930 payroll are 7-1 against the Blue Jays with 10 games remaining between the teams and can sweep this three-game series with a win on Sunday.
They’ll run out Tyler Glasnow, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Chris Archer trade, against Marcus Stroman in a series that has seen them shut out the Blue Jays 7-0 on Friday starting an infield entirely comprised of rookies — the first team to do so without an expanded roster since the Los Angeles Angels in August 2012 — and limit the Blue Jays to five hits Saturday in a game started by reliever Ryne Stanek.
Yep, it was another of ‘those’ Rays things, a shortage of starting pitching having forced them to develop the ‘opener’ concept — use a pitcher with closer quality stuff to start the game and then back-fill. Borne of necessity, the Rays are 26-26 in those games.
This was ugly. The Rays scored their first run when the first batter of the game, Mallex Smith, chopped a ball over the head of starter Sam Gaviglio (2-5), and between Devon Travis and Aledmys Diaz, who both ran in without bothering to get the ball.
First play of the game, not made.
The quicksilver Smith hustled into second and Joey Wendle’s double brought him home. The Rays scored again when Kevin Pillar misplayed a single by Kevin Kiermaier, who took second, stole third and scored on Willy Adames’ grounder.
Adames, the Rays’ blazingly brilliant shortstop, scored the third run with some savvy base-running. Noticing that a shallow-playing Pillar broke back before coming in on Jesus Sucre’s bloop single, Adames made a quick decision, got the green light from his third base coach, and scored the insurance run. Sucre was thrown out huffing and puffing into second.
Hey, against this Blue Jays team, why wouldn’t you try it?
“That first ball was bad communication,” Gibbons said of Smith’s bouncer. “I’d rather see them (Travis and Diaz) collide. That bobbled ball gave them a second run.”
But then, the Jays have looked scared for most of this homestand — when they’ve exhibited anything, that is. Down 2-1, catcher Russell Martin was caught stealing after leading off the seventh with a single. Pillar reached on a one-out walk, then was picked off by reliever Hunter Wood to end the inning. Video review looked inconclusive, but if I was in the New York office I would have said, ‘Do something like that, you deserve to be out.’
The Blue Jays will need to bring up another body Sunday morning due to a suspected oblique injury suffered by Yangervis Solarte.
“And it won’t be Josh Donaldson,” Gibbons said before anybody could ask.
With two on and none out in the second, Solarte hurt himself swinging wildly — naturally — and Richard Urena came in to replace him for the final strike of the at-bat (the strikeout went to Solarte). Urena hit into a double play when the spot came up the next time around, after Kendrys Morales singled to open the fourth, because that’s the way the Blue Jays have rolled in 2018.
Solarte had hit into a Major League-leading 21 double plays coming into the day (he had hit into more double plays than doubles, never a good thing) so why shouldn’t his replacement follow suit? It’s like predestination or something. Morales hit into a double play of his own after Teoscar Hernandez walked to lead off the sixth.
Diaz’s 15th homer off of Jaime Schultz opened the fifth.
But let’s not leave this on a down note. Yeah, the sharks continue to circle Gibbons — one long-time baseball man remarked to me this weekend that he felt for general manager Ross Atkins, who is finding out how difficult it is to fire your first manager when he’s hugely personable and likable, even if you didn’t hire him. Gibbons is on his second go-round with the Blue Jays and the man who replaced him when he was fired on June 20, 2008, Cito Gaston, was in the ballpark along with 20-odd members of those back-to-back championship teams.
He asked me how things have gone this year. I said, you know how it is: when you’re winning, everything you do as a manager is inspired; when your team loses (especially the way this group loses), you’re not hands-on enough or, worse, yesterday’s man. He rolled his eyes and nodded.
But here’s the thing. Look at the Rays. Look what they’ve done. A team with nothing even remotely resembling an established star — or, apparently, enough starters to put together a freaking rotation — is three games over .500 in the toughest division in baseball. They’re tapping into one of the game’s best minor league systems not in dribs and drabs but in waves.
What has happened in Tampa Bay this season has been wholly organic, and there’s no reason the Blue Jays can’t copy that in 2019 with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Danny Jansen and some others.
Maybe the Blue Jays can put a little something together after all, even if Guerrero Jr. automatically becomes their best player the minute he is promoted. It won’t be enough for a division title, but it might keep alive a wild-card shot at least until Labour Day.
Right now, though? Like you, I’d just settle for seeing a team play nice baseball, because there are nights when 2015-16 seems longer ago than 1992-93.