Sloppy defence shows up again in latest Blue Jays loss

The Houston Astros reached 100 wins by beating the Toronto Blue Jays 4-1 behind Alex Bregman's two-run homer.

TORONTO – The ball bounced twice before reaching Yangervis Solarte, who charged from third base to field it. The batter, Yulieski Gurriel, was running hard down the line, but at 34 years old he’s no burner. Even so, the Blue Jays could not complete this routine play. Solarte threw wide to first base and Gurriel advanced to second.

Five innings later, Josh Reddick threw his bat down in frustration, certain that he had just made an easy out. Instead, centre fielder Jonathan Davis ran into right fielder Billy McKinney, the ball ricocheted to the ground and the Astros loaded the bases.

Three batters after that it was George Springer’s turn to reach with an assist from the opposition. A catcher’s interference call on Danny Jansen allowed Springer to take first base on the Blue Jays’ third error of the game.

With defence like that, it’s hardly surprising that the Astros won 4-1. The defending World Series champions are now 100-57 and on the brink of another AL West title pending the result of Tuesday’s Athletics-Mariners game. If Seattle wins, Alex Bregman will be ready to celebrate.

“Honestly, I’m probably going to head to the hotel, grab some Oakley goggles out of my bag, put them on probably as soon as I get to the hotel, and as the Birdman song goes, start with straight shots and then pop bottles,” Bregman said.

As for the Blue Jays, those three errors don’t make or break a season. It’s too late for that now. But they are a reminder of how poorly the Blue Jays have played on defence and how much it has cost them.

“We only scored one run, I don’t know if it would have mattered anyways,” manager John Gibbons said of his team’s defence. “But it does matter. It’ll matter next year.”

By most objective measures, this year’s Blue Jays rank among the worst defensive teams in baseball.

 

Stat

2018 Blue Jays

MLB rank

Unearned runs

58

25

Defensive Runs Saved

-93

28

UZR

-35.6

28

Defensive Efficiency

69.4%

27

Fielding percentage

0.983

T-23

Caught stealing rate

23.2%

23

 

Often those misplays lead to errors like the three committed Tuesday. But just as frustrating for Gibbons are the mistakes that never show up on a scorecard–throwing to the wrong base, failing to back up or allowing runners to take overly comfortable leads. One way or another, the Blue Jays need to play better defence in 2019.

So how can that happen?

“Everybody can improve,” Gibbons said. “We talk to all of these guys here at the end (and identify) what they need to work on. Some guys are just naturally good defenders, and some guys struggle with it.”

On one end of the spectrum, Teoscar Hernandez has struggled in left field. On the other, Kevin Pillar’s best known for his centre field defence. Yet neither outfielder’s completely satisfied with this year’s defensive work, reinforcing that team improvement will require work from many players. Hernandez describes his year in the field as “pretty tough,” and even Pillar says it’s “just been an OK year” with the glove.

Certainly there’s plenty of room for improvement in Hernandez’s case, as he cost the Blue Jays 16 runs as measured by defensive runs saved. With a strong throwing arm and above-average speed, the tools are there. Plus, this was his first full season in the big-leagues.

In other cases, it’s harder to forecast meaningful improvement. Take Solarte, for example. The Blue Jays clearly don’t evaluate him as a big-league shortstop, and the 31-year-old sometimes has trouble handling second and third.

“There are some guys who have been around a while who struggle with certain things and they’re probably going to continue to struggle,” Gibbons said. “Sometimes guys are what they are. Sometimes it comes down to personnel, you know. Sometimes at certain spots you need a change in personnel if you want to get better at certain things. That’s just the reality of baseball.”

Though Gibbons was speaking in general terms, it’s tempting to apply that logic to Solarte, especially given the Blue Jays’ infield depth in the majors and upper-minors. The switch-hitter’s $5.5 million option for 2019 doesn’t look nearly as appealing as it once did, so his spot on next year’s team should no longer be assumed.

Granted, some misplays are inevitable as younger players adjust to the major-leagues. In a way those struggles are a luxury that a contending team couldn’t afford. Still, that patience has limits, and as young pitchers such as Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley and Thomas Pannone transition to the major-leagues there’s something to be said for respectable defence.

The Blue Jays haven’t had enough of it this year–add it to the ever-expanding shopping list for 2019.

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