TORONTO – This is a time for the Toronto Blue Jays to get greedy and to do that, first they’re going to have to continue the process of getting themselves right.
Settling for two of three against the similarly wayward Seattle Mariners after Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss isn’t ideal, but the dreadful Cincinnati Reds are due for a visit beginning Friday, so the opportunity to bank some wins on the current homestand is still at hand.
Capitalizing on that, of course, is easier said than done and the Blue Jays offence is still scattershot enough that nothing can be taken for granted. No one is doing consistent damage and while general manager Ross Atkins before the game went to great lengths to cap-tip the calibre of pitching his team has faced, this lineup was supposed to give even elite arm fits.
Find-a-way nights like Tuesday’s 3-0 win against the BB-throwing Logan Gilbert need to be a more regular occurrence, and against crafty left-hander Marco Gonzales on Wednesday, all they eked out was a measly Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bases-loaded walk.
Now, that walk was good process, part of Guerrero not expanding the zone, taking what’s on offer and being willing to pass the baton to cleanup man Teoscar Hernandez, who is still working to regain his timing at the plate and grounded out. But when runs are hard to come by, every little missed opportunity becomes more glaring and that’s what happened in the sixth when Gonzales alertly picked off Hernandez at second base after a one-out double.
The score was still 2-1 at the time, the Mariners opened the game up from there and the Blue Jays didn’t threaten again before a crowd of 20,472.
“This is an offence that usually we swing the bats and everybody’s fine and you can come back in a 4-1, 5-1 game. But it seems like now somebody scores four runs and it seems like 10 and that happens when your offence is struggling,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “When (plays like Hernandez getting picked off) happen, it’s magnified. Just like when a reliever comes in and gives up a run or something, it’s like oh my God. But the guys have been pitching good, it’s a close game every game.”
Gonzales largely leaned on a sinker-changeup mix, mixing in his cutter and curveball just enough to plant the options in the minds of Blue Jays hitters, en route to six innings of one-run ball. But he was also helped by 12 chase swings along with several rips at borderline pitches.
That fits a pattern Atkins acknowledged when he conceded that, “yes, we’ve chased more than we like.”
“But it’s been really good pitching and don’t want to lose sight of that,” he quickly added. “At the same time, when we are good, we’re executing our game-plan exceptionally well.”
Clearly, that’s not happening right now and it’s continuing to cause the Blue Jays to squander good starts, this time another from Kevin Gausman. While not nearly as dominant as he’s been to this point – he got only seven swinging strikes in his five innings of work – he cleverly limited damage while often getting BABIP’d.
“To be honest, a lot of those first inning hits are just good hitting on their part,” said Gausman. “I made my pitch and none of them were hit that hard, but just kind of found their holes. I just knew if I stayed there that I wasn’t going to have another inning like that. I just felt confident.”
The first inning might have been pivotal, as he escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam by allowing only a Jesse Winker sacrifice fly and he remained unscathed until Cal Raleigh took him deep to open the fifth inning and put the Mariners up 2-1.
Hernandez’s pick off was the Blue Jays’ sixth of the season, pushing them to second most in the majors, and then Trevor Richards, extended into a second inning of work, gave up a two-out single to Adam Frazier and then a two-run homer to Ty France that effectively pushed the game out of reach.
The bullpen, still down Jordan Romano who’s day-to-day with gastrointestinal infection and Tim Mayza, on the injured list getting a second opinion to confirm that his left forearm inflammation is indeed just that, continues to face relentless pressure every night.
According to one of Baseball Reference’s leverage indexes, the Blue Jays began the day tied with Arizona for the most high-leverage relief appearances at 55. Expecting them to be perfect is unfair and too often the offence has forced them into precisely that spot.
Nonetheless, they’ll still go into the off-day at 20-18 after winning a series for the first time this month. Gausman’s performance Wednesday extended what’s been the club’s one steady strength this season, starting pitching, and that’s really been the pillar for the Blue Jays to this point.
“I feel like we have a beast-calibre guy going any given day,” said Gausman. “More than that, we have a lot of different looks that are coming at teams. From the left side (Yuseii) Kikuchi throws 97 with a split and then you got (Hyun Jin) Ryu from the left side, too, and it’s a completely different pitcher. Then there’s Jose (Berrios) and obviously (Alek) Manoah, all those guys are completely different. So I think we match up really well against a lot of lineups because of it.”
That’s an excellent starting point and it has them sixth in the American League as they approach the quarter-mark of the season. The Blue Jays will need their offence to come around to be better than that.