TORONTO – Playoff-bound teams simply don’t have days like the one the Toronto Blue Jays had Saturday.
Saturday’s loss, 9-8 to Cleveland on Star Wars Day at Rogers Centre, featured plenty of legitimately encouraging developments from young players who likely wouldn’t have this opportunity if wins were the only priority. But at other times the downside of that youth showed itself, as the Blue Jays repeatedly got in their own way.
We’ll start with the positives, which came mostly from the Blue Jays’ hitters, and where else to begin than with Rowdy Tellez, whose power has been on full display since arriving in the majors less than a week ago. The first baseman homered to centre field, giving him seven extra-base hits through his first four games — more than any MLB player since 1913.
“It felt pretty unreal,” Tellez said. “Another one of those surreal moments that you just dream about growing up. It was pretty cool to do it here in front of the home fans. Hopefully I’ve got more in the tank.”
For manager John Gibbons, the opposite-field single Tellez later hit against veteran left-hander Oliver Perez was nearly as impressive.
“He just hung in there,” Gibbons said. “He’s a big, strong guy who will hit his share of home runs, but he’s a hitter, too. He’s not afraid to slap the ball the other way.”
Randal Grichuk added two homers of his own to bring his season total to 21. After a slow start to the season, the right fielder has rebounded and he now has an above-average .794 OPS (114 wRC+).
Plus, he’s a valuable defensive player as he showed in the second inning when Yonder Alonso tried to stretch a single into a double. Grichuk bare-handed the ball off the wall and threw accurately to second, where Alonso was out by 25 feet.
While Tellez and Grichuk were the offensive stars, others contributed more quietly on a day the Blue Jays combined for 18 hits. From atop the order Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Billy McKinney built on strong rookie seasons with two hits apiece.
Aledmys Diaz had an impressive four-hit, three-double game that overshadowed a mental error made at third base in the sixth inning. With runners on first and second, Edwin Encarnacion hit a ground ball along the third base line. Diaz fielded it, but hesitated before throwing to first, apparently believing it to be foul. Encarnacion reached on the error, and Cleveland would score later in the inning.
Still, that mental lapse wasn’t nearly as costly as the nine walks Blue Jays pitchers issued in the loss. Last weekend in Miami Sean Reid-Foley showed how effective he can be when throwing strikes, but he wasn’t around the zone as much Saturday and walked five in 4.2 innings. Four of those walks eventually scored, contributing to the six earned runs Reid-Foley allowed.
Gibbons generally liked what he saw from Reid-Foley, but said he started over-throwing when Cleveland rallied in the fifth inning.
“What happens, especially with young kids is sometimes when they get in trouble they reach back and (throw harder) when really in baseball it’s just the opposite,” Gibbons said. “You’re better to back down. He’ll remember those things. It’s a great experience for him right now. He’s got a very aggressive mentality and that’s good, but sometimes that can work against you.”
Afterwards, Reid-Foley said he was pleased with some of the breaking balls he threw while behind in the count but was disappointed that his focus lapsed against certain hitters.
“Obviously you want good results, too, but if I have to trip on a couple of curbs and learn from it, I’ve still got to keep my head up and have fun,” Reid-Foley said. “It’s good to be here.”
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, some of their relievers had just as much trouble commanding the ball. Justin Shafer replaced Reid-Foley midway through the fifth inning only to throw ten consecutive balls and walk the first two hitters he faced. Later, Mark Leiter Jr. would walk two more hitters to cap off a difficult day for Blue Jays pitchers.
All things considered, the Blue Jays haven’t had all that many days like this in recent years. They were legitimately good for a couple of seasons, and even as their core players aged, they aspired to be contenders. Now that there’s no pretense of maximizing present-day wins, the possibilities both positive and negative are opening up again.