TORONTO – Remember last season when New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone told umpire Brennan Miller, PG paraphrasing here, that his guys are savages in the batter’s box?
Well, yeah, they still are, overcoming the absences of Aaron Judge along with the just-activated Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela to rank as the second most productive lineup in the American League, even with slumping soft spots Brett Gardner and Gary Sanchez in the bottom third of their order.
The Toronto Blue Jays got a full demonstration Tuesday night when a pair of Derek Fisher miscues in right field fuelled a seven-run second inning that opened the floodgates to an ugly 20-6 bludgeoning, one that leapfrogged the Yankees past them into second in the AL East.
Much like in last week’s 18-1 beatdown from the New York Mets, when Danny Jansen dropped a relay at home plate to propel a big rally, it was Fisher’s failure to make a routine catch on a Clint Frazier fly ball, followed by an inability to snare a tough but catchable Gardner drive, that led things to unravel.
At best, Taijuan Walker could have been out of the second inning unscathed on those two balls to Fisher after Urshela’s one-out double. Even if only the Frazier fly ball had been caught, the inning would have ended on the Sanchez strikeout that followed Gardner’s drive, which was scored an RBI single.
Instead, the Yankees kept going, and the Blue Jays simply couldn’t stop them.
“I feel like good teams feed off that, too,” said Walker, who couldn’t escape the second inning. “They just kept piecing together good hits. I feel like I was still attacking, being aggressive, wasn’t walking anybody, but I just couldn’t put them away when I had two strikes on them. That’s what good teams are able to do.”
After the Sanchez strikeout, Tyler Wade and DJ LeMahieu delivered two-strike RBI singles before Luke Voit clubbed a three-run homer that really opened things up. Once Aaron Hicks went deep as well, that was it for the right-hander, who was charged with seven runs — only one earned — despite allowing six hits in 1.2 innings.
“Errors are going to happen. It’s just part of the game. I’ve got to find a way to pick up my teammate there,” said Walker. “I had opportunities to with Wade and DJ, had them with two strikes and just couldn’t put them away. They got those base hits there and it really unfolded after that.”
It was tough to watch and things only devolved further from there, as Shun Yamaguchi, who opened a five-run third by walking the first three batters and hitting the next two, was the first of four relievers that also got knocked around.
Things got so bad that shortstop Santiago Espinal, who pitched the ninth in the pummelling from the Mets, was back out on the mound for the second time in five days. And despite carrying a 10-man bullpen after an off-day, the Blue Jays were discussing adding an arm for Wednesday.
“You can see (the game unravelling), and you start thinking how much pitching we’re going to need, hoping the guy gets out of it,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “That was that kind of game.”
Given that second place in the AL East is at stake over the final two weeks of the season, it was certainly an inauspicious start to the second of three series between the clubs, with a four-gamer next week in Buffalo remaining. With Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka starting the next two games for the Yankees, the Blue Jays certainly have their work cut out for them.
Still, the Blue Jays have a relatively firm hold on a playoff spot, as they’d really need to fall off a cliff to not, at minimum, clinch a wild card. Despite that, as Major League Baseball officially unveiled plans for its post-season bubble after the opening round, it’s worth wondering why a pair of games could spin out of control the way have in such close proximity.
Montoyo noted that after the Mets thrashing, “we came back and won the next two. That counts as one game. When you face good lineups, and you don’t throw strikes and you pitch behind in the count, that’s going to happen too, games like this. That’s how we see it.”
Fisher started for the first time since Sept. 9, when he hit a two-run homer off Deivi Garcia in a 7-2 loss. Garcia was back on the mound Tuesday, and save for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who homered in the second, singled in the fourth and doubled in the sixth, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who also homered and singled, he cruised through seven solid frames.
Fisher went 0-for-4 with an RBI this time and the Blue Jays will have an interesting decision to make in the coming days if Teoscar Hernandez, scheduled to face Matt Shoemaker in a live batting practice Wednesday, is ready for activation afterwards.
Jonathan Davis, another extra outfielder, has options remaining but offers the Blue Jays both plus baserunning and strong defence. Fisher can’t be sent down without being put through waivers first, and while his strong minor-league performance and elite batted ball data suggest premium upside if he ever puts his game together, at this very moment he doesn’t offer the roster enough to justify a spot over Davis.
Rightly, Montoyo refused to pile on Fisher, calling Frazier’s drive “a catchable ball, and he dropped it, there’s nothing more you can say about it, really.” He also differentiated it from some of the bad decisions other Blue Jays have made over the course of the season, saying, “I don’t get on people for making physical errors. That’s just part of the game. Nobody wants to make an error. Mental errors are a different story. But the ones today were physical.”
Maybe, but they came at an inopportune time against an opponent positioned well to capitalize.
Urshela, whom the Blue Jays had for three months in 2018 before he was sold to the Yankees, is a recent example of a talented player needing opportunity to figure things out. Billy McKinney, whom the Blue Jays lost on waivers to Milwaukee on Monday but had drawn interest from at least one other playoff contending club, could become another.
One way or another, the Blue Jays will be tweaking their roster in the coming days. Maintaining depth is crucial, so that’s one consideration, but if Fisher isn’t going to survive the winter on the 40-man roster, far from a guarantee, then carrying the best 28 guys at the moment must take priority over asset management.
The cost of Fisher’s errors isn’t only in Tuesday’s loss, but also in the impact on the bullpen for days to come. Such consequences didn’t matter during the rebuilding of 2018-19, but in the midst of a post-season race now, they’re running out of runway for project players trying to figure things out.