Blue Jays continue to make things difficult on themselves with loose play on margins

Franmil Reyes had a solo home run and Nico Hoerner drove in two runs with a double as the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep against the Toronto Blue Jays with a 7-5 win.

TORONTO — The Chicago Cubs had men on the corners with two out in the second inning and Zach McKinstry was down 0-2 in the count when Toronto Blue Jays starter Mitch White wound up and Alfonso Rivas broke for second.

Here’s where everyone stood at delivery.

White’s fastball sailed in high for a ball, Alejandro Kirk popped up and fired to second without hesitation and as he did Yan Gomes, already a third of the way up the line with Matt Chapman playing off the bag, broke for home.

By the time the ball got to Bo Bichette at second base, Gomes was already more than halfway home and there was no chance to get an out at the plate, as you can see here.

Wisely, Bichette held the ball, chased Rivas, who pulled up when Kirk threw to second, and relayed to Cavan Biggio who applied the tag to end the frame. Still, Gomes touched home well before the third out, stealing the Cubs a run that opened up a 2-0 lead.

Not great, certainly, but by no means insurmountable. In isolation, not necessarily a big deal, either, because baseball happens and the other team is trying, too. Still, within the context of the current Blue Jays season, the play was emblematic of the small margins in which they’ve sometimes been too loose, making life more difficult if not costing themselves games.

In what ended as a 7-5 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday night, Gomes' run wasn't decisive on its own. But along with Ian Happ's RBI single in the first on a 102.7 m.p.h. liner that faded just enough on Whit Merrifield, it made for "a couple of runs you can look back and replay in your mind a little bit," said interim manager John Schneider.

When White surrendered a three-run third that opened up a 5-0 Cubs advantage, the clever dash by Gomes loomed even larger.

"The play, designed in a perfect world, is yeah, we're throwing to second with the option to redirect and come back home," Schneider said. "The catcher needs to look at third there and if you see Gomes down that far, that kind of supersedes you throwing to second, and it gives Chappy a little bit of time to get to the bag. For any catcher, although we're throwing to second, you've got to check the runner and if he's wandering like he was, you've got to make an adjustment."

There wasn't one this time and though the Blue Jays (70-59) made it interesting — getting a two-run homer from Biggio in the third and, after a Franmil Reyes solo drive in the fifth made it 6-2, and a three-run shot from Kirk in the sixth — they never got level again.

Chapman nearly tied it during the sixth when he lined a ball off the left-field wall, but after a Teoscar Hernandez walk, Biggio grounded out to end the frame.

A McKinstry RBI single in the seventh made it 7-5 and Rowan Wick of North Vancouver, B.C., the last of seven Cubs pitchers, closed the game out in the ninth before a frustrated crowd of 28,572.

The loss capped a disappointing 2-4 homestand that followed a 6-1 swing through the Bronx and Beantown and sent the Blue Jays into an off-day on a down note. At the same time, in spite of a 13-14 August, they’ll begin September in possession of the third and final wild-card spot.

"We feel pretty good," said Biggio. "Obviously the series against Anaheim was a pretty tough one. But if you look at that road trip, kind of saw everything coming together, starting pitching, timely hitting, bullpen's been nails. That was exciting to see. The Anaheim series and maybe today a little bit is the result of just the dog days of August. We've got a bunch of guys that are grinding right now and at the end of the day, that's baseball."

A 10-game road trip that begins Friday in Pittsburgh against the lowly Pirates looms large, as a crucial four-game set featuring a Monday doubleheader against the Orioles, two games back in the wild-card race, follows.

The Blue Jays were considering ways to reset their rotation to be at their best for that series, and three games at Texas follow, the last soft spot in a meat-grinder September schedule.

"To be in every game that matters for a playoff stretch down the last month, that's great," said Schneider. "With that, if you want to call it pressure, that's awesome, that's earned and we've definitely earned that. A lot of teams have earned that to this point. The group of guys that are in there are embracing the fact that every game is going to be important. It's great for some of the young guys that we have that are doing this again like we did last year. And it's great that we have veteran leadership on both sides of the ball. So we're looking forward to the challenge."

This time around the Blue Jays, of course, will be looking for a different outcome than the one they suffered through last year when they fell one game short of the playoffs. To that end, they'll need to get White back on track as after allowing a career-high seven runs in his last start, he surrendered six more against the Cubs, despite getting 14 whiffs in 4.2 innings.

That's an indicator that his fastball and slider can be effective, but that perhaps there are ways to better leverage them with tweaks around usage, along with the rest of his repertoire.

"These last two obviously been a little rough, so we've been looking into those kind of things," said White. "Whether it's pitch selection, pitch execution, that's kind of where we break it down with Pete (Walker) on the video and then if there's anything mechanical. We're working on some small things in the 'pen, but at this point in the season, it's not like we're making any big old changes mechanically."

Then, of course, there’s playing tighter, as mistakes can at times be overcome against teams like the Cubs, but are even more troublesome against the tougher competition looming later this month.

"That's a tricky play," Biggio said of Gomes' run in the second. "The first and third play that we put on was throw through, but if you see him break and you have a chance at home, try to turn it around and throw it home. But left-handed hitter was up, Chappy was a little bit off third, which allowed the baserunner to get a little bit bigger of a lead, so as soon as he threw the ball, he got a huge jump and there was no chance we were going to get him. Just a good baseball play by them executed pretty well."

The kind of small play that can make a big difference.

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