BALTIMORE – The Blue Jays entered play Sunday with a team batting average of .209, a team on-base percentage of .283 and a team on-base plus slugging percentage of .643.
Make what you will of a small sample size, the market will surely correct itself, but slugger Jose Bautista acknowledges that change must come soon and he identifies one stat in particular: the team's .157 batting average with runners in scoring position, entering Sunday's game.
"I think, obviously, you can not necessarily get on base a whole lot and not out-hit the other team but if you get the timely hits when you need them, you're still going to win as long as you're getting good pitching and defence, which we have been getting," Bautista told TSN.ca on Sunday morning.
Bautista points the finger at himself. Through a dozen games, he's been up nine times with runners in scoring position. He has one hit, a home run, two RBI, has walked three times and struck out on three occasions.
"I've gotten my fair chances of driving in runs in different situations and I haven't been able to come through so I've got to focus a little bit better, I think, and just figure out a way to execute no matter what the circumstances are," he said.
While Bautista is willing to first look at himself, which is admirable, it's difficult to point the finger at him. While his batting average was only .200 entering Sunday, his on-base percentage of .451 (attributable to his major league-leading 16 walks) and slugging percentage of .571 (four of his seven hits have been home runs) constitutes significant production in a dry lineup.
The problem is Bautista's getting on base and nobody's taking advantage of it. He's scored only six times so far on plays that aren't a result of his home runs. The main culprit is Edwin Encarnacion, who entered Sunday with a .174/.240/.261 slash line, no home runs and he was still looking for his first RBI.
The consensus on Encarnacion is that it's merely a timing issue. He's not been a slow starter in either 2012 or 2013, his two breakout years, hitting eight and nine home runs, respectively, in the opening month of those seasons.
"I don't know if he feels that way but it certainly seems that way from my perspective where he just hasn't found his rhythm yet," said Bautista of Encarnacion. "That being coupled with the way they pitch to us, being so different and so difficult, it's easy to kind of get back into rhythm when you see a 2-0 fastball and you can place your bet on that but he doesn't see that very often."
Bautista wonders if, maybe, there's something about the way Encarnacion is being pitched. Encarnacion, with two straight big seasons, now is an established superstar. It's similar to what Bautista went through a couple of years ago.
"I saw a huge difference after 2011," said Bautista. "Not so much after 2012 but after 2011 it was just a night and day difference on how people were pitching to me. The amount of breaking balls in hitter's counts and I've seen pitches in hitter's counts, first pitches, even in 3-0 counts, I was seeing some stuff that I'm like, I'm not even swinging and I'm getting sliders and changeups."
The great hitters learn to be patient. They have to be.
"Can you lay off of those borderline and bad pitches consistently?" said Bautista of the question that plagues the game's elite hitters.
Toronto entered Sunday's play with a 3.88 starting staff ERA, on track for a great improvement over 2013, and a .993 team fielding percentage, which tied the club for second in baseball.
"We're more concerned about more consistently putting a good effort forward and we've done that with every aspect of the game except for the offence," said Bautista. "We're obviously working to get better at that."