TORONTO — It’s June and the games have ceased being meaningful in the standings, unless you can be bothered doing the mathematics on a 100-loss season (eminently achievable) or worse yet comparing the schedule of the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles to see at which point…
Not going there. Just… no.
It’s June and I’m already starting to feel a bit for manager Charlie Montoyo, whose team plays 16 consecutive games after Monday’s off-day, starting with three on the road against the Orioles on Tuesday and including nine other games away from home against the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Not even the best-laid smallish plans are going according to Hoyle at this point: Clayton Richards’ inability to get out of the third inning in Sunday’s 8-2 loss necessitated Thomas Pannone coming on in relief, which torched plans for him to make a spot start and re-opened the door for Edwin Jackson to start the second game against the Orioles.
"Well, we were saving Pannone, but needed him the last two days," Montoyo said, after the Blue Jays lost for the 14th time in 17 games and are a season-high 19 games under .500. "Edwin is stretched out. We don’t have anybody else."
That final statement is key. They have nobody else and, as has been widely-reported, are in fact looking to trade pitching assets such as Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
The Diamondbacks scored all eight runs in the third inning and swept all three games this weekend after the Blue Jays won two of three from the Yankees.
Sunday’s result was in some ways predictable: The Blue Jays ran out left-handed starter Richard and the Diamondbacks feast on left-handed pitching. Arizona entered the game with the second-best team average against southpaws (.289, behind only the Minnesota Twins’ .300) and Eduardo Escobar (.361) and Nick Ahmed (.357) have the second and fourth-highest averages against lefties in the Majors. Escobar doubled and singled off Richard and is now hitting .374 against lefties; Ahmed singled then left the game in the third with left leg soreness.
Ketel Marte’s solo home run, which started the third-inning onslaught, was his Majors-leading ninth against left-handed pitching. It was a three-run triple down the third-base line by Tim Locastro (a 13th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2013 who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Chase de Jong for international bonus money and is now on his fourth different organization) that ended the day for Richard. Pannone came in… and promptly gave up a first-pitch, two-run shot to Carson Kelly.
Offensively, there wasn’t much going on for the Blue Jays in this one either. They were held to five hits by Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray (5-3) who recorded his 19th game of 10-plus strikeouts.
Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. homered on Rays’ ninth pitch of the game to give the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead while Danny Jansen, finally starting to see some results for all the balls he’s hit on the screws that have found an opposing defender, drove in the other run with his sixth double.
"The one thing we know is when we play our ‘A’ game and play well, we can beat the best teams in baseball. Like the Yankees," said Montoyo. "When we don’t play our ‘A’ game, we can lose to anybody and I don’t mean the Diamondbacks are anybody because they are a good team. But we need to play our ‘A’ game every day. We are not just going to show up with our ‘B’ or ‘C’ game. That won’t work."
The problem is that on most days the Jays’ ‘A’ lineup is the worst on the field — or, at least, the most callow. So, that’s why Montoyo spends much of his time looking for silver linings. This game’s? The work behind the plate of Jansen, who had his first multi-hit game since May 19.
"I’m very pleased and I’m really happy for that kid," said Montoyo. "Because, he’s going to be part of our future. He’s hit balls hard and it was tough for me to watch and see his average at .160 when I knew he was having good at bats. He’s finally getting some hits now. Good for him. His approach at the plate is a lot better."
The Blue Jays were without Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., who had a miserable game Saturday that included misreading a ball off the top of the outfield wall — thinking it was a home run instead of a double, he slipped into his trot and was then forced to pull up at first base — and being too slow to the ball on a grounder, allowing Locastro to beat the throw. True, it was in the ninth inning of a game that was already over, but that play stuck in the craw of Montoyo and his staff.
Montoyo spoke to Guerrero after the game. It was suggested to one of the Blue Jays coaches that it was a rare example of Guerrero under-estimating the pace of the game at the Major League level. He wasn’t buying it. The issue, as the coach saw it, was that in the minors every baserunner hustles to first base on every play; in the Majors, effort can be sometimes more measured. But Guerrero can’t get caught trying to figure out who’s hustling and who isn’t. Not yet. Even in a lop-sided game.
"He’s going to upset some umpires, because he makes some plays close that don’t need to be," the coach said.
So perhaps this will be a timely lesson. Guerrero, Jr. was not protected from this reality in the minor leagues: his Triple-A manager, Bobby Meacham, told him he was not just another employee. He had to get used to standing out and being expected to carry a larger than usual load not just as a player but as a role model.
And Montoyo spoke Saturday of the need for the Blue Jays’ younger core players — including Jansen — to begin to take leadership roles in the clubhouse. This is what happened last season with the Tampa Bay Rays when Montoyo was a coach on Kevin Cash’s staff; young players started making their imprint as veterans such as Kevin Kiermaier gracefully gave them space. Montoyo hasn’t managed the young core before this season but John Schneider, his Major League coach, has had them through their minor-league careers and he’s talked often of how Jansen, Cavan Biggio and Guerrero can lead.
"It was a good message," said Jansen. "He told us be believes in us, that he doesn’t care about numbers and just to be yourself and be the leaders you are. We have personalities that can transcend into leaders. It was awesome… gave us a good sense of calmness."
Leadership for Jansen means preparation.
"I’ve always thought I was a good leader and that I can do it here by setting an example with my preparation," he said. "My biggest fear is not being prepared for every game and every pitch. I mean, I’m not a rah-rah guy. Preparing for what you need to do on the field is the best way to show you are a leader."
Montoyo was asked what else he could do to right this ship and alleviate the pressure on the kids. He shrugged.
"Just start hitting," he said. "They start hitting, and it will relieve the pressure on everybody else."