Blue Jays win shows it’s not fair to judge a team in a rough stretch

Randal Grichuk and Freddy Galvis homered off Masahiro Tanaka in the fifth inning to get the Blue Jays a 4-3 win over the visiting Yankees.

TORONTO – A common maxim in baseball is that definitive conclusions about teams shouldn’t be drawn when they’re at their worst, nor while at their best. Every club will have a spurt when it plays especially well, and a period when it’s particularly putrid, over the course of 162 games, and it’s the middle ground that tips the scales.

Since the Toronto Blue Jays stood at 14-14 on April 28 after a three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics, they certainly seem to have entered the nadir portion of their campaign, enduring a 7-24 run that’s put them on pace for an 104-loss season. For context, that’s quite bad. Unless of course you’re angling for a top-five pick in the 2020 draft, in which case, it’s good, except for the living-through-it part.

Still, keep in mind that judging the Blue Jays through their worst stretch probably isn’t fair. They’re not going to bat .219/.285/.377 all season, you would think. There should be some progression to the mean there. The 4.46 team ERA is in line with its FIP of 4.63, so perhaps the pitching is what it is pending trade-deadline subtractions, but either way, playing at a .226 clip the way they have over the past month simply can’t last over the remaining two-thirds of the year.

What’s worrying, though, is that of the 102 games they have remaining after Tuesday night’s 4-3 win over the New York Yankees, 53 of them are against the Bronx Bombers (18), Boston Red Sox (13), Tampa Bay Rays (13), Houston Astros (6) and Los Angeles Dodgers (3). That’s a meat-grinder chunk of scheduling that makes the Blue Jays’ first 100-loss season since the expansion days of 1977-79 a real possibility, although 16 meetings with the Baltimore Orioles and seven with the Kansas City Royals should offer a little bit of an off-set.

What might prevent a historically bad season for the now 22-38 club?

Well, more outings like Tuesday night’s effort against the Yankees, who lost consecutive games for the first time since April 30-May 1, would be a good place to start. A solid 4.2 innings from Clayton Richard along with homers from Randal Grichuk and Freddy Galvis – who sat frustrated in the visitor’s dugout Sunday after a loss to the Colorado Rockies capped an 0-6 road trip – eased the tension that built up during the team’s longest losing streak of the season.

“That was one of those days when you feel like if you did one thing more you can win more games and it doesn’t happen in the moment and it’s hard to stay focused and stay positive,” Galvis said of Sunday. “For me, (sitting in the dugout) was more a moment of relief, tried to breathe, tried to think and say to myself, keep going, we have to keep going, try to think how to help young guys, how to help the team stay together. Because in the rough times, that’s when we have to stay together. After that day, we had a lot of conversations like we have to play like a team, we have to stay together, there are going to be rough times but we’ve got to keep going.”

And the response?

“That was a really nice win for us,” he replied.

To help make it happen, the Blue Jays actually scored runs, and not of the too-late-to-matter variety, either.

Down 2-0 on a Clint Frazier home run off Richard in the fourth, Grichuk opened the fifth with a solo shot off Masahiro Tanaka. Cavan Biggio then walked, stole second and scored when Galvis ripped a two-run homer to right-centre. Then, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., capped the four-run outburst with a single that cashed in an Eric Sogard double.

The offence ran dry after that but Daniel Hudson, Joe Biagini and Ken Giles, with four outs apiece, made it stand up. Giles threw more than an inning for only the third time this season en route to his 11th save.

“Anytime you get a chance to beat a good team, you’ve got to use your A game and Giles was my A game to get four outs,” explained manager Charlie Montoyo. “Just like Biagini did and Hudson did. We were thinking about that the whole time.”

Underlying the attention to detail needed to win was a double play pulled off by Galvis and Sogard to end the seventh that left their teammates in awe. Galvis had noticed that D.J. LeMahieu, aboard on a leadoff double, was taking long leads at second and told Sogard that if the ball was hit to him, he’d be coming to second to try and get the runner returning to the bag.

Gary Sanchez promptly hit the ball to short, and rather than taking the sure out at first, Galvis relayed to second where Sogard tagged LeMahieu for the lead out and then threw to first to finish off a rarely seen double play.

“That’s two guys thinking ahead of the game,” said Richard. “That’s pretty special.”

Said Galvis: “I think you have to take risks if you want to win. That’s the way it is. It’s the same way if you’re running the bases or try to hit the first pitch. You have to do it, man. We take the risks and make the plays.”

Such savvy from veterans like Galvis, Sogard and Richard has been needed to help ease the ongoing frustration of so many recent losses, as well.

To that end, Montoyo and the coaching staff told players that even after a loss, they should play music in the clubhouse after a period of contemplation. The message is not that losing is OK, but that there’s no need to carry it for extended periods, either.

The last month has given the Blue Jays ample opportunity to do that, and baseball is difficult enough when players are feeling good about themselves. A win against the Yankees should do wonders in that regard, as should watching the way Richard deftly handled a lineup that’s menacing even without Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius.

“We won,” Richard said grinning when asked what he liked about his start. “It’s a lot better when we win. It’s a lot more fun. We get to listen to music and have a lot of fun together. Any time you go out and leave your team in a close game, the team in position to win, it’s a better feeling.”

The veteran lefty allowed two runs on four hits and three walks over 4.2 innings, striking out four, in his third start since returning from the injured list. He threw 87 pitches, continuing to rebuild his physical base after a rehab rushed by immediate big-league need.

Timely hitting and a decent start are often a recipe for victory, ingredients the Blue Jays have lacked a lot lately, ones they put to good use against one of the hottest teams going right now.

“You have to stay positive, and that’s one of the most difficult things in baseball because it’s a game of failure,” said Richard. “It’s easy to get sucked into that trap of negativity, where things aren’t going my way, I’m going to pout, not be a good teammate. The more we stay together, the more we stay positive together, we’re going to be able to have games (like this) and string together wins over the course of time and get this thing turned around.”

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