Blue Jays Notebook: Donaldson believes 2024 team still searching for identity

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider reflects on the loss to the Boston Red Sox that led to his team being swept for the first time this season.

TORONTO — Back in May of 2015 the Toronto Blue Jays were a middling team spinning their wheels. The losses were piling up and frustration was growing within the clubhouse, leading Josh Donaldson to utter that famous quote:

“This isn’t the try league, this is the get-it-done league. Eventually, they’re going to find people who are going to get it done.”

You know how the rest of that season unfolded. Donaldson backed his words up by delivering an MVP campaign and the Blue Jays, aided by several impact trades, eventually got right and steamrolled their way to within two wins of a World Series berth.

The 2024 Blue Jays also find themselves in a frustrating position. Acknowledging that the 2015 and ’24 iterations of the club are vastly different, it’s still worth asking Donaldson for his thoughts on the current team, though. Now retired, the 38-year-old former slugger tunes into Blue Jays games whenever he can, in between enjoying family time and indulging in his passion for golf.

So, Josh, what do you see from the team?

“I think they’re trying to find their identity right now,” responds Donaldson, who was in town for the recent Joe Carter Classic golf tournament. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they go on a nice run because they got good starting pitching and they honestly have guys in the lineup that can perform at a high level. It’s just getting everybody to do it at the same time and starting to roll on all cylinders.

“I don’t think their season’s over by any stretch,” he added. “It’s a long, long season and anything can still happen. But they’ve put themselves in a tough seat and they’re going to have to work themselves out.”

How does a team go about searching for that identity?

“That’s just where the communication comes in, and not just with the coaches,” said Donaldson. “[It falls on] the players — when you go on the plane rides, when you’re [sitting] after the game reminiscing and thinking about the game, asking, ‘What do we think that we could have done better or what did we do right and how do we build off that?’ It’s about having those thoughts and then the communication between the guys in that locker room, because that’s ultimately who decides the game.”

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Blue Jays manager John Schneider has heard the discourse from fans and pundits about George Springer. The outfielder’s offensive production is among the very worst in the sport and there are widespread calls for Schneider to bench him.

While the manager did drop Springer from the leadoff spot in mid-May, he refuses to sit the veteran for an extended period and that won’t change anytime soon.

“At the end of the day, I’m not nearly at the point to say, ‘You’re going to play three days a week,’” Schneider said on Wednesday. “George is George and we have confidence he’s going to get it going.”

The manager acknowledged that some publically available advanced stats suggest players such as Springer, Kevin Kiermaier and Justin Turner are “on the downswing,” but also noted the Blue Jays have internal metrics that paint the opposite picture of the three.

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Nonetheless, while Springer has provided strong defence in right field, the 34-year-old has regressed offensively over the past two-plus seasons and entered Wednesday with a .576 OPS that registered as the second lowest among any qualified hitter in the big leagues.

The calls to bench Springer are understandable given that the 35-39 Blue Jays desperately need more offensive production. The club is near the bottom of MLB in runs scored and plated just nine runs while suffering a three-game sweep to the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre this week.

Turner opened the campaign on a tear, and after a horrid second month, he’s rebounded with a strong June. Schneider stuck with Turner as the designated hitter, rode those waves and the Blue Jays eventually benefited. He’s hoping the same happens with Springer.

“You have to trust these guys and that’s where we’re at right now,” said Schneider. “George understands where he’s at and understands that he isn’t performing up to his standards. He’s not quitting. He’s doing the work. He’s out there hitting early. He’s doing the right things. And, at the end of the day, it’s George Springer and he’s going to have to be counted on to be productive.

“George in particular needs to be a big part of what we’re doing,” added Schneider. “And I think me having the confidence in him, the staff having confidence in him, he’s probably a couple games away from getting hot. That’s just how good he is.”

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Ernie Clement has looked much more comfortable at the plate and with the glove of late and he attributes that to a change in philosophy. Clement has adopted a quality-over-quantity approach during practice reps that he learned from fellow Blue Jays infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

“He’s just a true professional. It’s starting to rub off on a lot of us,” Clement said. “I just love to watch him work because it’s so game-like. He never takes a rep off, even in practice … His consistency, every single day, is very admirable. That’s how I want to be as a player, so I look up to him in that regard.”

Clement, who’s mostly played third base this season, has been taking ground balls with Kiner-Falefa during BP and the two have been challenging each other to be better. They’ll treat every scoop and throw as if they’re in a game situation and “that just helps the game slow down. It becomes a little bit easier once the actual game starts,” Clement said, adding that he’s appreciated Kiner-Falefa’s style of communication.

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“He’s the kind of teammate that will shoot it to you straight,” said Clement. “And if you need to be doing something differently, he’ll let you know, but it’s constructive criticism. That’s the kind of teammate you want. If you’re doing something right, he’ll let you know as well.”

The 28-year-old Clement has also adopted his new approach during pre-game hitting work and says it’s helped back his recent torrid stretch at the plate that’s seen him collect 10 hits over his past 17 at-bats (.588).

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