Blue Jays end homestand on sour note after frustrating defensive effort vs. Twins

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman (26), left, tags out Minnesota Twins Jose Miranda (64) who attempted too advance on a single by teammate Gilberto Celestino in the first inning of American League baseball action. (Jon Blacker/CP)

TORONTO – Generally speaking, there’s little to complain about after a 4-2 homestand against two quality opponents. Do that on a consistent enough basis and a team can expect a post-season berth in October, and that type of macro perspective is easily lost when a team leaves town on a sour note.

And to be sure, the Toronto Blue Jays hit the road for a series in Kansas City and Detroit on a sour note after a frustrating 8-6 setback to the Minnesota Twins on Sunday that wasn’t as close as the score made it seem. What made the result especially hard to stomach, even after a spirited rally in the ninth, was not that they got beat, but how in so many ways they beat themselves, from Teoscar Hernandez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. losing balls in the sky because they didn’t wear sunglasses in the first inning, to blown coverage and miscommunication in the field.

Everyone has bad days of course and physical errors happen. But the Blue Jays gifted the Twins three runs thanks to Hernandez and Guerrero dropping routine outs, the errors doubled the toll on Kevin Gausman, whom the Twins had a curiously strong read on, the shortened outing led to a dig deep into the bullpen and the offence was left to chase a game that had barely started.

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“We’ve been playing well and games like this are going to happen,” said Bo Bichette, who had a defensive miscommunication with Guerrero in the seventh inning. “We’ve just got to make sure we nip it in the bud. We were a little sloppy, for sure.”

The Twins were far from clean, too, running into three careless outs on the bases, one of them after a terrific George Springer catch on a Gary Sanchez drive to centre field that ended with Guerrero doubling off Nick Gordon at second. But the Blue Jays dug themselves in such a hole, they really weren’t able to capitalize.

All of which made speculation about whether Gausman was tipping pitches — he and the Blue Jays plan to look at it — and the absurd chatter about cursed red jerseys largely beside the point.

If the Blue Jays don’t give Luis Arraez half the field to shoot the ball through in the first inning, or if Hernandez catches the Jorge Polanco fly ball in right field that led to the game’s first run, or if Guerrero nabs the Jose Miranda foul popper that dropped to extend the at-bat and led to an RBI single, perhaps there’s a different outcome.

Both Guerrero and Hernandez came out for the second inning in sunglasses.

“It was cloudy and then all of a sudden the sun came out,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “I’m not defending my players, but that’s not the first time people drop fly balls in baseball. It’s happened for 100 years but it sucks when it happens to you and it costs two runs like it did in the first inning. That turned out to be a big part of the game.”

Things began on the wrong foot for the Blue Jays with the defensive alignment on Arraez to open the game. A spray hitter who can take advantage of big gaps, he did just that when given the entire left side, shooting a ball past Matt Chapman at third base.

Sanchez also followed by hitting a ball against the shift but looping a single to right meant he was probably touching green regardless of alignment.

Then came Polanco’s fly to Hernandez, who was camped under the ball before seemingly losing it in a partly cloudy sky.

That led to a run and men at second and third, which became extra costly when Gio Urshela followed with a groundball to short that led to an out at first and a second run. Had Hernandez caught the ball, it’s probably a double play, and Gausman is out of the inning with no damage.

Regardless, after Trevor Larnach struck out, up came Miranda, who at 0-2 hit this popper that Guerrero lost in the sky.

A third run scored there and the damage might have been worse as Gilberto Celestino followed with another single but Miranda was thrown out trying to go first-to-third to end the inning.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating,” Gausman said. “These guys do everything they can before the game, take fly balls, put a lot of work in defensively. Sometimes you just can’t see the ball. It’s unfortunate and obviously and it started off the game on a bad note, but what are you going to do?”

The Blue Jays looked like they might rally in the bottom half when George Springer hit his seventh leadoff homer of the season, a new club record, and Bichette and Guerrero followed with walks against Devin Smeltzer. But Hernandez popped out and Alejandro Kirk followed with a smash to short cleverly gobbled up by Jermaine Palacios, who started an unlikely 6-4-3 double play.

They didn’t meaningfully threaten again, although the messy play continued, even if it wasn’t as costly.

In the sixth, after Gordon was hit by a pitch, Palacios laid down a bunt quickly pounced on by Trevor Richards, who had a chance at a double play but Santiago Espinal, responsible for the bag at second, broke to first initially and the righty had no one to relay to. Richards took the out at first instead.

In the seventh, Polano popped up to the right side and Guerrero ended up making the catch, but only after he and Bichette bumped into one another. The two had a lengthy conversation on the field afterwards, seemingly about who had priority on the play.

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Their chat continued in the dugout after, Bichette putting his arm around Guerrero as they spoke.

“Just miscommunication,” Bichette said of the play. “There’s not really much more I have to say.”

The Twins, meanwhile, kept adding on runs, so even as the Blue Jays chipped away, they never gained ground.

Kirk’s solo shot in the fourth came right after Hernandez’s double-play ball erased a Guerrero leadoff single. Chapman’s solo shot in the seventh came after Larnach went deep in the top half. Gary Sanchez’s two-run shot in the eighth limited the impact of Espinal’s three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth, which ate into an 8-3 deficit.

Bichette eventually grounded out with two men on to end it.

Gausman threw 87 pitches in 3.2 innings and “was flabbergasted” at some of the splitters the Twins spat on. They offered at only six of the 19 he threw and he nearly abandoned the pitch, throwing only three in the second, none in the third and three in the fourth he didn’t escape.

He intends to watch video to see if he can identify any tells, but noted how “every team against me is going to go into the game with some type of plan against the split.”

“Really it’s trying to figure out what their plan is, whether they’re trying to be really aggressive with it and hope they get one up in the zone or are they just flat out don’t swing at it. It’s a lot easier said than done though,” Gausman continued. “I’m going to take a look at some things and see what I can find. We made an adjustment in the third inning and we were pretty good after that. But the damage was already done.”

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Five relievers followed Gausman, and three of them gave up a run. With no off-day until Thursday and a still building-up Ross Stripling coming out of the bullpen to start in place of the injured Hyun Jin Ryu in the opener against the Royals, that isn’t ideal.

The bigger picture though: It’s not the sloppy plays Sunday the Blue Jays need to ensure were an aberration, but also the lack of attention to detail that caused them.

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