The Blue Jays entered a recent 10-game homestand knowing they would be tested. They responded brilliantly to the mid-term setback and the result has made the road ahead much more uncertain.
The Jays opened the homestand with a three-game sweep over the first-place Atlanta Braves. Things were going great until the New York Yankees rolled into town. Three losses to the Bronx Bombers were followed by three more against the Baltimore Orioles and just like that the Jays went from favorite to last place team in the AL East.
There’s still more than two-thirds of the season to go, and the Jays aren’t about to concede anything just yet, but the club’s performance through most of this month raises questions about its ability to compete. A woeful record against the AL East has also created plenty of angst among fans, leaving the tone of this week’s mailbag understandably negative.
Here are some recent queries that caught my attention. As a friendly reminder, you can participate in future mailbags by sending an email to [email protected] or contacting me on Twitter. @GregorChisholm.
The following questions have been edited for length and grammar.
How do the Jays climb out of the hole they dug for themselves if they can’t win within their division?
If JSAL continues to play like this against East, their shot at the division title is over. It really is that simple. The Jays entered Tuesday’s game with just five wins in 18 games against their divisional rivals this season. They have losing records against the Red Sox (0-4), Orioles (0-3) and Yankees (3-4) while they were 2-2 against the Rays.
Compare that to last year when JS went 43-33 against East. That record was boosted by a 16-3 record against Boston, but they also finished one game above .500 against the Orioles and just one game under against the Yankees. It was a good enough performance and still not good enough as all the Jays got out of it was a second place finish. This year has been very bad.
One positive is that a more balanced schedule means the Jays can make the playoffs despite their struggles in the East. They are currently just 3 1/2 games out of the final wild card and at least two of those three spots must be filled by baseball’s toughest division. Still, the Jays’ expectations for this season were much higher, with Goal finishing first while earning a first-round bye. With a 9-1/2 game deficit and four teams ahead of the Jays, that may not be possible considering the competition.
My question is about the home run jacket. I know it’s probably hard to predict any battle, but in my mind, with some personnel changes and a serious attitude, the team’s play seems to be getting tougher lately.
I was wondering who made the decision to get rid of the jacket, and is the overall tone of the team significantly different? I think if the players are too focused and too locked in, they will continue to feel pressured internally and will continue to make stupid mistakes. Is there a leadership council-type group or a group of doctors that guides the tone?
– Harry, Columbus, Ohio
Jay’s “toughness” over the past month is undeniable. Too many players are trying to be the hero and that has led to too many desperate at-bats and too many mistakes on the basepaths. The Jays have been pressing for a while now, and when that happens in baseball, it has terrible results.
That said, I’m not sure JK’s culture reset has anything to do with it. The leadership at the top is relatively the same with George Springer as the veteran vet — and the one most likely to only speak or call player meetings — while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bechette, the face of the franchise, continued. in the same role. Ditto for Kevin Gassman and starters.
There’s more of a veteran presence this year, but the guys who were brought in — Brandon Belt, Chris Bassett and Kevin Karmaier — aren’t the dominant figures to command a room. All three are somewhat reserved and look to others for advice rather than the other way around.
I don’t think the new guys were a problem, but I don’t think the old guys were a problem either. Lourdes Gurrel Jr. was highly regarded for the guidance he provided to the younger players and last year’s Jays were as committed to their pregame work as any team I’ve covered. The offseason changes were about improving the defense and adding balance to the lineup, not getting rid of a guy.
As for the jacket, I don’t have a good answer. The team took an internal vote, and the majority felt the home run jacket had run its course. I never got any indication that this came at the request of a specific individual, or a small group of players.
Why was it so important for the Jays to move George Springer out of CF? Do you foresee a similar situation arising in the coming years with management making a serious effort to move Bo from SS to 2B?
– Justin, Toronto
The Jays have consistently denied that moving Springer away from center was “necessary,” saying instead that it was one of several possibilities to consider when trying to upgrade the outfield defense. is considered. The actions of GM Ross Atkins, however, tell a different story. The Jays signed Kiermaier early in free agency and traded for Daulton Varsho several months later. Within one offseason, Springer went from first to third on the depth chart at center and seemed to only return in emergency situations.
To me it all comes down to health. Springer appeared in just 78 games during his first season with the Jays. Last year, he missed 29. The top priority was keeping Springer’s bat in the lineup, and the general perception was that he would have less wear and tear on his body from the right side. Springer’s eventual shift to the right was inevitable, but it happened a few years earlier than most of us predicted.
Springer’s situation with Bichette doesn’t change anything. The 25-year-old has remained steadfast in his desire to play shortstop and will remain there until the end of the 2025 season. He will then be eligible for free agency and, like Marcus Sieman in 2021, will have to open his mind to teams that want him to play second.
At what point do the Jays move on from Cavan Biggio and how would you rate his trade value?
– Curtis, Regina, Sask.
That time is coming, and soon. Even if Biggio somehow finds a way to stick on the big league roster, or the Jays minor league system, for the rest of the season, he’s as good as he got at the end of the year. With a $2.8-million (US) salary, it’s almost a lock that the Jays will decline to take him through arbitration next year and instead non-tender his contract.
At this point, Biggio’s trade value is non-existent. The Jays may be able to get cash or low-level lottery tickets in return and that’s it. No team is going to give up anything of value for a guy with a .429 on-base plus slugging percentage, but at least one or two might be interested in a waiver claim.
Biggio won’t be able to turn his career around without increasing playing time, and it’s hard to see that happening in Toronto. It looks like Biggio would benefit from a fresh start elsewhere, and it’s going to happen soon. If not this summer, then later in the year.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was not pitching well before his injury, and has obviously been sidelined from pitching in MLB games for a long time. That said, all signs point to him recovering from a surgery that has a good track record of getting pitchers back competitively. What are your thoughts on Ryu’s chances of rejoining the Jays and contributing in some meaningful way?
– Bruce, Mississauga
The Jays seem a lot more optimistic about Rio’s chances of returning this season than I am. Starting pitchers often make it back to the mound about a year after Tommy John surgery, but it often takes another season before their effectiveness fully returns.
In an ideal world, Ryu would return in early August and spend the next two months shaking off the rust, proving to teams that he still has something to offer before free agency. The problem is that the Jays are expected to compete for a spot in the postseason at this point and won’t have much patience for trial and error.
Since Ryu’s style isn’t conducive to pitching out of the bullpen, his only shot at contributing in a meaningful way is as a starter. If the Jays fall out of the race, it will almost certainly be given another test run. If Jay lives in, they better make sure he’s willing to contribute. Overall, keep my expectations low here.
You said in a recent mailbag that defenders are allowed to use PitchCom receivers. Could the defenders move a step left or right after hearing the pitch coming, a tip-off and part of the reason some of Jay’s starters had bad starts? Can the team watching the batters pass it to the hitter if the receiver is wearing a batting helmet underneath? Hate to sound crazy but after the recent scandals…
— Bob, Port Hope, Ont.
While middle infield defenders can certainly tell opposing hitters, this fact has been around for years. Before the PitchCom era, middle infielders often took signals from their catcher and adjusted accordingly, but positioning has always been more about counts and hitters than pitches.
Scouts have commented before that Alejandro Kirk sometimes gets set up too early, giving away the location of the next offer ahead of time. In theory the same could happen to the infielders and it’s up to them to make sure they don’t have obvious tellers. Additionally, players are only allowed to wear receivers on defense and each team has its own equipment with unique codes.
Love your articles. Love Alec Manoha but wondering if he needs Roy Halladay (no pun intended). If he’s healthy, that might do the trick for tweaking the mechanics in the minors.
– Joel, Manhattan
Sending Manwah down is a luxury Jay can’t afford. Even when he struggles, Manwah is much better than whoever is next in line. Mitch White, still rehabbing after a terrible run last year, doesn’t show much promise, Zach Thompson has a 6.75 ERA in Buffalo and top prospect Ricky Tiedmann needs more time to develop.
Whether Manwah will benefit from the relegation doesn’t matter because it’s not realistic. Even if it was, I still don’t believe it would be necessary. I wrote this before, but Manoha’s third season reminds me of Marcus Stroman. There was similar talk of needing to send Stroman down in 2016 when his ERA peaked at 5.33 in June, but he stuck around and posted a 3.42 ERA the rest of the way.
Manoha isn’t out of the woods, but his last start against the Orioles was at least a step in the right direction and he’ll continue to work through his issues at the big league level. He has to, because Jay has no other option.
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