ST. LOUIS – Despite the way this one ended, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff gave them plenty of chances to win on Monday night.
Jose Berrios was sharp into the seventh inning and the relievers who followed kept the game close until Paul Goldschmidt hit a walk-off grand slam off Ryan Borucki in the bottom of the tenth on the way to a 7-3 Cardinals win.
All season, though, the Blue Jays have struggled to hit with runners in scoring position, batting an MLB-low .186 in those situations through 41 games. In their series opener against the Cardinals Monday, the Blue Jays found a temporary solution of sorts: driving in two runs with walks. In the seventh inning, leadoff hitter George Springer and new No. 2 hitter Santiago Espinal drew consecutive bases-loaded walks against Andre Pallante to break a 1-1 tie and give the Blue Jays their first lead of the game.
But the Blue Jays couldn’t add on any further, and they were unable to take advantage of the ghost runner placed on second base to open the top of the tenth. Goldschmidt’s seventh career grand slam meant they didn’t get another chance to end their weeks-long slump at the plate.
“Honestly, I’ve been around the game a long time,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I’ve never seen a bunch of good hitters struggling (like this) with men in scoring position.”
Those struggles continued Monday, as the Blue Jays combined to go hitless in ten at-bats with runners in scoring position. And whether or not runners are on, the middle of the Blue Jays’ lineup isn’t doing enough right now. The trio of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero and Teoscar Hernandez combined to go hitless in 13 at-bats against the Cardinals.
“The pitching did what they do. They kept us in the game,” Montoyo added. “But it’s going to turn because these guys are a lot better than what they’re doing right now. And they will. I believe in that and it’s coming. I don’t know when it’s coming, but it will come.”
Of course, the season is long, and the Blue Jays remain in playoff position despite their recent struggles, but bigger picture questions surround this underperforming Blue Jays offence. Their hitters are experienced enough to be trusted, young enough to be at their physical peak and healthy. But one year after leading the American League in home runs and OPS, they’re struggling – especially lately.
“It’s tough when we lose, but that’s part of the game,” Berrios said. “We know we can play better.”
In the meantime, the club continues through its toughest stretch of the season. Consider that the Blue Jays have scored more than 10 runs just once this year, all the way back on opening day. More often than not, they’re playing with little room for error, scoring three or fewer runs in 24 of their 42 games including Monday.
Yes, offence is down around baseball, but the Blue Jays have been five percent worse than average with a 95 wRC+ to start their road trip. And while their season numbers are middling, the Blue Jays’ struggles are more pronounced when you look at their May totals.
• Entering play Monday, the Blue Jays ranked 28th among the 30 teams with a 78 wRC+ in May.
• Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was hitting just .235/.342/.309 in May with one home run for a .651 OPS.
• Perhaps most telling of all, Aaron Judge has 11 home runs this month compared to the Blue Jays’ 12
Springer hit the most recent of those Monday, pulling a ball into the left field seats at Busch Stadium for his eighth of the season. But aside from Springer, most Blue Jays hitters are underperforming which led to a new-look lineup in which Espinal batted second for the first time this year.
“That kid’s a great player,” Montoyo said. “I’m glad people are noticing him. He’s leading second basemen in WAR and he has two years now of having good seasons. He’s a good player.”
On the mound, Berrios delivered a strong outing, pitching 6.1 innings and allowing three runs, two of which scored on a single Adam Cimber allowed. Berrios struck out seven without walking a batter while throwing a season-high 102 pitches.
“I’ve been working so hard to get to where I am,” the right-hander said. “Baseball is hard, but I love this sport. We’re obviously going to keep working, trying to grind and keep pushing.”
Afterwards, Cimber, Trevor Richards, Julian Merryweather all pitched scoreless outings before St. Louis native David Phelps entered in the bottom of the tenth. Phelps struck out two, including Cardinals legend Albert Pujols, before giving way to Borucki, who entered because the Blue Jays wanted the platoon advantage over Nolan Gorman, a left-handed hitter.
But the Cardinals pinch-hit with the right-handed hitting Edmundo Sosa, who walked to load the bases for Goldschmidt. By then, the Blue Jays were in trouble since there was no place to put Goldschmidt, who began the day 14/27 with two home runs against lefties.
It led to a painful loss, but then aren’t they all painful when you can’t score? Until the Blue Jays hit to their potential, anything else that goes wrong will continue to be amplified.
“It’s a long year,” Montoyo said. “The one thing I like right now is we’re pitching and we’re catching the ball.”
“Hopefully one guy gets hot and it spreads.”