Staying course no longer an option for struggling Blue Jays offence

Michael Massey hit a three-run homer and Seth Lugo gave up one earned run over seven innings of work to lead the Kansas City Royals to a 6-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

TORONTO — A common refrain surrounding last year’s Toronto Blue Jays team went something like this: The pieces are all here, we just need to start clicking at the same time. In the end, it wasn’t a group that ever reached its full potential, but the feeling of possibility lingered deep into the season.

A year later, it’s clear the pitching staff can still be elite, and a stellar start from Chris Bassitt in the series finale against the Royals reinforced as much Wednesday. But after a 6-1 loss in which the Blue Jays combined for just four hits, the Blue Jays’ lineup is struggling badly — and staying the course no longer seems certain to yield the required results. 

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After the game, though, manager John Schneider said he’s confident better things are coming for the Blue Jays and their fans.

“They’re going to get bored of me saying the same thing,” Schneider said. “It’s going to come. It will. It’s May 1. It will come. We will be better. That’s what I can say to them and I would hope that our fans trust the fact that we have really good players (who) understand they’re not performing up to their expectations. And I hope they know that we will be better.”

Entering play Wednesday, just two teams were scoring fewer runs per game than the Blue Jays: the Athletics and the White Sox. After their latest loss, the 15-17 Blue Jays are now averaging just 3.47 runs per game, and they’ve scored three runs or fewer in 18 of their 32 games.

“We’ve played a really hard schedule, and haven’t played our best and yet we’re close to .500,” Bassitt said. “I think a lot can turn really fast. It’s just, I think a lot of guys are frustrated with where we’re at right now.”

As good as their pitching staff can be, it’s simply not enough offence to compete, and while more substantive changes aren’t easy to execute mid-season, some smaller adjustments are worth considering as the Blue Jays leave for a road trip against the Nationals and Phillies.

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For instance, is it time to bump George Springer from the leadoff spot for someone like Justin Turner after an opening stretch where Springer has batted just .212 with a .617 OPS? Springer’s average and max exit velocities are down this year, and he doesn’t yet have any extra-base hits against four-seam fastballs, so there’s a case to be made for switching things up while he works out of this slump.

Or maybe Davis Schneider needs to keep playing every day regardless of matchups. And could it be time to give Spencer Horwitz a look at the MLB level given that the 26-year-old has a .942 OPS at triple-A? 

Now granted, the Blue Jays should start to score more once their numbers with runners in scoring position normalize (remember that storyline from last year? They’re dead last in 2024). By wRC+, though, the Blue Jays are below average offensively rather than abysmal, so some improvement should be coming, just as it did late last year.

Regardless, the results to date count, and they’re underwhelming at best, with a Danny Jansen solo home run the lone highlight in this one.

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Because of the Blue Jays’ offensive struggles, some strong work from their pitchers has been overshadowed. Bassitt, for instance, delivered a quality start Wednesday, holding Kansas City to three runs over six after beginning the day with five no-hit innings. But the Royals still won easily, beating the Blue Jays for the fifth time in their seven matchups since last week.

Afterwards, Bassitt said he was pleased with how he executed with the exception of one bad pitch to Vinnie Pasquantino, who doubled in the sixth inning. But the loss was still a tough one, leaving Bassitt “beyond frustrated about what the hell’s going on.” 

“I mean, I’ve got a (5.45) ERA and I feel like I’ve had one bad game,” he elaborated. “Yeah, I’m just pissed.”

With Bassitt, Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi atop their rotation plus the likes of Yimi García and Jordan Romano in the bullpen, the Blue Jays legitimately do have enough pitching to win playoff series. At this point, though, their hitters are lagging so far behind that standard that even climbing above .500 has proven to be a challenge. Reaching the playoffs is far from a guarantee.

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This weekend the Blue Jays may get further pitching in D.C., as Alek Manoah struck out 12 in an encouraging triple-A start Tuesday and remains under consideration for a weekend assignment at the MLB level.

“Very encouraging,” Schneider said. “When we’re talking about ‘what do we want to see from Alek,’ it was that. It’s just being effective and efficient. His stuff is in a good spot.”

That decision will likely be finalized in the next 24 hours and announced Friday once the Blue Jays begin their series against the Nationals. But finding answers to what ails the Blue Jays’ offence is proving to be far more problematic.

“We’re not anywhere near where we can be,” Schneider said. “We know we need to be better. We will be better in all aspects. When it does click, you’re going to see a complete brand of baseball. Right now it hasn’t worked consistently. But again, it will be better.”

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