Schneider sounds alarm on Blue Jays offence after another low-scoring loss

Kerry Carpenter clubbed a two-run homer and Reese Olson did not allow an earned run over six-plus innings for his first win of the season as the Detroit Tigers defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1.

DETROIT – With two outs in the fifth inning Saturday afternoon, the Blue Jays loaded the bases for their No. 2 hitter.

Down two against the Tigers, this looked like an ideal spot for Justin Turner to hit a ball into a gap and get the Blue Jays back into the game. Instead, Detroit starter Reese Olson got Turner to offer at a change-up well below the zone, ending the rally and preventing the Blue Jays from generating any early offence.

Two innings later, the Blue Jays were threatening again, and Turner came up with runners on second and third and two out. After falling behind 0-2, he worked his way back into the at-bat only to bounce out to shortstop. Threat extinguished once again.

Unable to capitalize on the few chances they did have, the Blue Jays lost 2-1 at Comerica Park, falling to 23-28 on the season. On yet another frustrating day for their offence, they lost for the second day in a row despite some strong defence and a stellar start from Jose Berrios, who allowed just two runs in seven innings.

“It’s got to turn and it’s got to turn quickly,” said manager John Schneider. “The guys understand that, and the season gets shorter every single day. So, yeah, it’s frustrating. But it’s not for a lack of effort. It’s not for lack of preparation. You just have to go out and execute.”

“This is not me pointing fingers at players,” Schneider continued. “This is what they get paid to do. Our job is to get them ready. Their job is to go do it. The last couple days, we’re just not getting the hits we need to.”

With 111 games remaining, the Blue Jays do have time remaining, but this stretch against the White Sox, Tigers and Pirates was supposed to be a valuable chance to gain ground in the standings. Instead, the Blue Jays are 3-3 this week, still last in the American League East.

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“The time is now,” Berrios said. “We need to turn around the team. But no it’s not too late. We we still have the chance, we still have the opportunity. We feel healthy and strong. Now it’s on us to keep working.”

While Berrios expressed confidence in the Blue Jays’ offence, Toronto’s hitters have come up short too often, costing the team ground in the standings.

After posting an .887 OPS through the season’s opening month, Turner entered play Saturday with only six hits in May for a .113 batting average and .308 OPS. Then on Saturday, he went hitless in four at-bats as his numbers dropped off further.

The 39-year-old’s struggles might simply be explained by age-related decline if he hadn’t opened the season with a vintage month of April. 

“He missed his pitches,” Schneider said. “You trust a veteran guy. His approach is still there. He’s not getting hits right now as he was in April, but this is the kind of guy you want up in those spots. We didn’t get it done today. We had a lot of chances – not just JT – to score more runs than we did.”

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But while Turner’s struggles have been pronounced of late, he’s not the only veteran hitter producing far below his career norms. There’s also George Springer, whose season OPS fell to .537 after grounding out four times Saturday afternoon. 

While reduced playing time is a possibility for the likes of Turner, Springer and Kevin Kiermaier, it’s far from ideal to even be considering those measures for players who seemed essential to the team’s success when the season began. For now, team decision-makers continue expressing optimism about the lineup, which ranks among MLB’s least productive despite scoring nine runs on three different occasions this past week.

And while most Blue Jays hitters are underperforming, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. deserves some credit even if the shape of his production has been a little different than expected, with more singles than all but eight big-leaguers and a career-high 12.7 per cent walk rate.

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But with a season wRC+ of 133, he’s right next to Jose Ramirez and Adley Rutschman. 

“His at-bats have been very productive,” Schneider said. “(Yet) almost unfairly when he comes up, we’re wanting him to hit a home run. Those are going to come for him. When other guys are doing what they’re supposed to be doing as well, a walk or a single from Vlad is just as good if you get everybody behind him rolling. You don’t want him and Bo (Bichette) to put pressure on themselves to always be the ones to come through. There needs to be contributions from everybody. And sooner or later (Guerrero Jr.’s) hits are going to become doubles and home runs.”

At this point, Guerrero Jr. is the least of the Blue Jays’ worries. If Turner and Springer can’t turn things around offensively, this lineup will continue costing the Blue Jays winnable games like this one, and a serious push for the playoffs will become even less realistic. Late May or not, the pressure’s building.

“We’ve got to get hits,” Schneider said. “No matter who it is, no matter what part of the order you’re at, you’ve got to come through and get those hits. And right now we’re not doing that.”

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