Blue Jays' offensive dry spell, defensive gaffe wastes Matz's solid start

The Toronto Blue Jays struggle to find their offence in a low-scoring 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

TORONTO — The newest addition to the Toronto Blue Jays mix is Jarrod Dyson, the veteran outfielder claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals who can still play a little defence and run the bases crisply. At his best he didn’t hit very much, and he hits even less now.

So, Charlie Montoyo, he fits how?

“He’s going to give us another option to play centre field and another option off the bench, he can steal bases,” explained the manager. “It’s another weapon for us to have.”

Used in specific spots, the incremental gains the 37-year-old offers make some sense, especially since George Springer isn’t likely to play centre field regularly upon his looming return. The star leadoff hitter did some outfield work and took BP on Friday, and his activation from the injured list is a “day-to-day deal right now,” said Montoyo, “which is good news.”

Bad news came hours later in the form of a 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers that highlighted the need for the stability Dyson offers, as rookie Josh Palacios’ ill-advised attempt at a diving catch turned a Victor Reyes base hit into a go-ahead, inside-the-park homer in the eighth inning.

The latest staggering loss turned the club’s decision to start Palacios over slumping Randal Grichuk and Kevin Smith in place of Santiago Espinal or Breyvic Valera into a major talking point, and the lineup is certainly worth examining.

But at the root of things is the Blue Jays’ ongoing inability to win with its greatest strength: an offence built to bludgeon opponents. Time and again they created innings but went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s RBI double in the third inning provided a brief lead, and are now 2-for-39 with RISP while going 1-3 against the Tigers in the last week.

That’s an unfathomable .051 average.

“I think it’s more our offence than what the other teams are doing,” said Montoyo. “We're just not swinging the bats right now. Everybody is struggling at the same time. And, of course, we didn't see that coming with our offence. But we've got 35 games left. Hopefully, it starts by one guy getting hot. Vladimir had some good at-bats today, maybe that's a start.”

Montoyo had similar hopes after Thursday’s seven-run outburst, and until the offence wakes up, every mistake the team makes and every lineup decision or in-game call that goes wrong will continue to be magnified, especially as the Blue Jays try to claw back into a post-season hunt increasingly out of reach.

Against rookie Matt Manning, the Blue Jays opted for the platoon advantage Palacios offered over Grichuk — a likely preview of how Dyson fits the puzzle — and Smith’s offensive upside to Espinal or Valera.

That proved costly in the eighth when Palacios charged Reyes’ fading liner to centre, dove and tried to pick the ball on a hop only to miss and watch it skip to the wall. That broke a 1-1 tie before Lourdes Gurriel Jr., hit a rocket to the wall in left tracked down by Robbie Grossman to open the ninth, Espinal struck out and fellow pinch-hitter Grichuk grounded out to end it.

“That's a young guy trying to do the best that he could,” said Montoyo. “But he knows that wasn't the right play. Even more in a ballpark like this, that's 420 (feet to centre field), anything that goes by you, the guy's going to score. I'll talk to him (Saturday), this isn't the time. He knows it.”

Grichuk, or Dyson for that matter, not needing to make an impression to remain in the big leagues, would have known to avoid the high-risk play and ensure the ball remains in front of them. Palacios’ heart was in the right place — trying to make a hustle play to steal a hit — but that was a bad, bad time for a rookie mistake.

That meant Steven Matz’s six innings of one-run ball — Jeimer Candelario doubled and Miguel Cabrera singled him home to tie the game 1-1 in the fourth right after a Jonathan Schoop comebacker caught him on the right ankle but still led to an out — went to waste.

Riding improved fastball command, Matz closed out a solid August with a 1.30 ERA across five starts, two of them to the Tigers that both ended in losses.

"It's been tough lately," said Matz. "There've been some close games, that indicates we're playing good baseball and we just got to keep doing that, eventually they'll start going our way. Everybody's just got to continue to do their part and the tides will turn.”

Not if a team built to outslug opponents doesn’t start doing just that soon.

The desperation for offence in Springer’s absence is behind some of the lineup decisions and with Grichuk batting .206/.256/.364 in 246 plate appearances over his previous 67 games, you can see why the Blue Jays might roll the dice on Palacios in the hope the 26-year-old became a catalyst.

Dyson is next up and with Springer likely to do a lot of DHing once activated, he’s got a chance to get some reps. Grichuk could cut that off by getting on the type of hot streak he was on at the beginning of the season, but like so many others, he’s off at the plate right now.

Hence a Blue Jays lineup desperate for hits is looking for ways to get some.

“It’s a great time for (Dyson) to get here, help the young kids,” said Montoyo. “Hopefully it’s a spark for us.”

An all too familiar refrain about a team still unable to emerge from the dark.

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