It’s been clear for a while now that Boston’s the far superior team. A glance at the standings, where the Blue Jays now sit 35.5 games out of first place, confirms as much.
But if you zoom out a little, the Blue Jays’ 4-3 loss was telling on a couple of fronts, namely pitching and defence.
Sam Gaviglio got the ball for the Blue Jays Thursday and pitched reasonably well, avoiding trouble despite six hits allowed in 3.1 innings pitched. He allowed two earned runs, but left having given the Blue Jays a chance to win, as he has done on many other occasions.
At the plate, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was the biggest offensive contributor for the Blue Jays. The shortstop singled and scored in the third inning and hit a solo home run high over the Green Monster in the eighth.
The Blue Jays added another run after Gurriel Jr. homered thanks to a wild Joe Kelly, who plunked Randal Grichuk to load the bases and hit Kevin Pillar to tie the game 3-3. However, a Yangervis Solarte error allowed the Red Sox to re-take the lead in the bottom of the eighth.
With the infield in and a runner on third, Blake Swihart hit a pop up a few steps onto the outfield grass behind second base. But Solarte dropped what should have been a routine out, allowing the Red Sox to score.
“You’ve got to make that play,” said manager John Gibbons. “You make that nine out of 10 (times) and that was just the 10th one.”
At the risk of reading too much into one play, this is the kind of miscue that makes it harder to see the 31-year-old Solarte as a contributor on the Blue Jays’ next contending team. Given the Blue Jays’ crowded infield mix, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team explore winter trades involving Solarte, whose contract has an affordable $5.5 million option for 2019.
The results from this one game aren’t truly the point, though. In Gibbons’ view, the Blue Jays haven’t played well enough on defence for much of the season.
“I do know one thing,” Gibbons said. “Anybody out there that thinks you can win not playing defence is crazy. And there’s a lot of people that do. You look at all the teams that win in this league, and they play defence. We’ve had a tough time this year.”
“The teams that struggle, they don’t (play good defence) enough,” he added. “And we haven’t done it enough.”
Equally telling is the fact that Gaviglio now ranks second on the Blue Jays in games started with 21.
That certainly wasn’t the plan going into the season, when the Blue Jays hoped their starting rotation would be a team strength. Gaviglio wasn’t even acquired until March 21, when the Blue Jays sent a player to be named later to the Kansas City Royals in a minor trade.
At that point, he appeared to be minor-league depth. As of Thursday, he has passed J.A. Happ and now has more starts than anyone on the Blue Jays but Marco Estrada.
“I tip my hat to him,” Gibbons said. “He’s done a nice job. He’s proved he can pitch. He’s pretty good at spotting the ball (even if) when he’s off a bit, he’s a little bit vulnerable. But I can’t say enough good things about what he’s done this year really coming out of nowhere, so good for him.”
To Gaviglio’s credit, he has taken the ball when asked. Even if his 5.25 ERA doesn’t dazzle, his contributions have been slightly better than replacement level, according to FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.
“It’s been a big learning experience in my second season,” Gaviglio said. “Last year I just kind of got a taste. This year it’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s been hard to be consistent. I need to figure out how I can be more consistent going forward.”
At the same time, the fact that the Blue Jays have turned to Gaviglio so often reflects a frustrating season for the starting rotation. As a group, Blue Jays starters had a 5.21 ERA entering play Thursday. That ranks 28th in baseball ahead of just the Rangers and Orioles.
Even though the Blue Jays don’t expect to contend in 2019, starting pitching depth looks like a major off-season need for this team, especially as Estrada nears free agency.
Because of their respective finger issues, Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman have both missed extended stretches this year, and while rookies such as Ryan Borucki and Sean Reid-Foley have shown the ability to shut down major-league lineups, one or both might benefit from being optioned for stretches in 2019.
The Blue Jays won’t be shopping for frontline arms this winter, when they’re expected to take a pass on top free agents. Still, there are other avenues for acquiring starting pitching, and those will be important for a Blue Jays team that needs better run prevention.