Thoughts from the booth: Time for Blue Jays to play better baseball

Kevin Barker explains on Baseball Central why it is time to move Vladimir Guerrero Jr. up in the batting order.

Every Friday, Blue Jays Talk host Scott MacArthur will weigh in with his observations on the Blue Jays from the past week.

Thursday was a badly needed off-day for the Toronto Blue Jays because, since the club’s last off-day on April 29, the team has played nine games and most of them were ugly.

We’ve spent considerable time discussing the inconsistent offence, and we’ll do so again later in this piece, but as guilty a party as any in this regrettable last week and a half has been the starting pitching.

From April 30 to now, Toronto’s starters have offered up 39.1 innings over the last nine games (an average of about 13 outs per start or 4.1 innings pitched) and have allowed 38 earned runs for a staff ERA of 8.69.

Here it is, broken down, in all its glory:

• April 30 at Anaheim, Clay Buchholz: 5 innings, 3 earned runs
• May 1 at Anaheim, Marcus Stroman: 3.1 innings, 4 earned runs
• May 2 at Anaheim, Aaron Sanchez: 4 innings, 4 earned runs
• May 3 at Texas, Trent Thornton: 7 innings, 0 earned runs
• May 4 at Texas, Thomas Pannone: 2.1 innings, 7 earned runs
• May 5 at Texas, Clay Buchholz: 4 innings, 7 earned runs
• May 6 vs. Minnesota, Marcus Stroman: 4.2 innings, 5 earned runs
• May 7 vs. Minnesota, Aaron Sanchez: 7 innings, 3 earned runs
• May 8 vs. Minnesota, Trent Thornton: 2 innings, 5 earned runs

Matt Shoemaker is down for the season with a torn ACL, Ryan Borucki is still out with an elbow problem, and now, complicating matters further, is the news broken by Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell and Hazel Mae that Clay Buchholz (shoulder) will not be available for Friday’s game against the Chicago White Sox.

This is worrying because Buchholz shut himself down late last summer, following a nice 16-start run with the Arizona Diamondbacks, with forearm trouble and after signing in March with the Blue Jays the club and the player were deliberate in building him up toward a mid-April debut.

This is worrying, Part 2: If Buchholz is down for any length of time, to whom do the Blue Jays turn? There’s an off-day on Monday but, effective Tuesday with the start of a two-game series in San Francisco, the team begins a run of 16 consecutive days with a game. Who do you see in the Buffalo rotation as a viable option? Let me know, I’m all ears. You could do an opener-Sam Gaviglio experiment for a game, I suppose, but the Jays need another option too. Daniel Hudson, in fact, is opening as Buchholz’s replacement on Friday night and with Thomas Pannone on option to triple-A Buffalo thanks to a roster move made on Thursday, Gaviglio is the logical choice to pick up for Hudson. Does this happen again on Wednesday in San Francisco?

This team has three full-time starters right now, including one – Trent Thornton – who in an ideal world would be honing his craft in Buffalo.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Now, the offence. Talk to skipper Charlie Montoyo or the man he replaced, John Gibbons, or any other manager and they’ll tell you a baseball team never looks more lifeless than when it’s not hitting. Given the simple truth of the Blue Jays lineup, there just aren’t a lot of guys who work the count and draw walks, if the team goes into a swinging slump it’s going to go into an on-base slump.

To wit (times on base-total plate appearances):

• April 30 at Anaheim, 8-for-34
• May 1 at Anaheim, 7-for-37
• May 2 at Anaheim, 9-for-35
• May 3 at Texas, 15-for-47
• May 4 at Texas, 14-for-38
• May 5 at Texas, 9-for-33
• May 6 vs. Minnesota, 5-for-31
• May 7 vs. Minnesota, 6-for-33
• May 8 vs. Minnesota, 4-for-31

In the last nine games, Blue Jays hitters have reached base 77 times in 319 plate appearances for a .241 on-base percentage. Combine this rate with only five home runs hit in this span and you’ve got a bad recipe for scoring runs.

So they haven’t been hitting, they haven’t been pitching and there have been enough errors and miscues in the field that, if anything, it’s surprising Montoyo only used one “f-bomb” in his Wednesday post-game media conference.

People, I think, can accept a rebuild. A lack of focus is problematic and needs to be nipped in the bud. Yes, it would help if there were fewer three-ball counts and 25-pitch innings which result in the fielders standing around, but everyone surely is aware of the focus issue and are therefore positioned to address it.

Bottom line is this: It’s time for the Blue Jays to start playing better baseball.

This doesn’t necessarily mean winning more than they’re losing. It means appearing to be consistently engaged in the game.

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