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MacArthur: Reasons for optimism as Blue Jays slump

Scott MacArthur
6/19/2014 9:31:03 PM
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NEW YORK – The Blue Jays entered Thursday's series finale at Yankee Stadium losers of eight of their last 11 games. They'd dropped 15 in a row in the Bronx dating back to 2012 and had seen their lead over their pinstriped rivals in the American League East dwindle to two and a half games.

This is a slump. It's lasted for about two weeks. The downturn comes on the heels of a terrific May, when Toronto won 21 of 30 games and Edwin Encarnacion captured the imagination of fans with his 16-home run month.

This is not is the end of the world, nor does this slump suggest a long-term trend.

This is on the offence and that's a good thing because there's too much talent in the Blue Jays' lineup for the widespread malaise to continue.

To wit: The starting pitching has been fine. You could say it's been good and you wouldn't be wrong. In the last 11 games, Jays' starters have allowed four or more earned runs only twice and have pitched to a staff ERA of 3.71. The starting pitching was supposed to be the weakness. So far it has held up.

The Jays have hit only four home runs in their last 11 games. Not surprisingly, three of the home runs came in two of the three victories. Toronto continues to lead baseball with 93 team home runs, which is crucial to the club's attack. Of the 338 runs the Jays have scored this season, 147 (43.4 per cent) have come via the long ball.

Jose Bautista hasn't hit a home run in 11 games, his longest power drought of the season. He's still hitting for a respectable average, .275 with five of his 11 hits going for doubles, but the Jays miss his power bat as the club struggles, having scored three or fewer runs eight times in the span.

This is a phase, both for the individual and for the ballclub, Bautista said, that was bound to happen.

"If you can execute every single day for 162, you'd probably win 140 games," said Bautista. "We don't expect to execute every single day. But we do have to pick it up. It's one thing, we're running into some St. Louis good pitching, some other pitching staffs. I don't want to speak badly or worse about the Yankees or the Orioles but it's not the same. We faced much better pitching at home during the last homestand than we have on this road trip, except for Tanaka, who did a tremendous job. So we should've won some of these games that we lost."

It hasn't helped, either, that Edwin Encarnacion has hit only one home run in the last 11 games.

"We've lacked some timely hitting," said Bautista. "Our pitching has been there enough, I think, that we should've won some of these games that we've lost. We just need to keep going on offence. We got really hot at one point and kind of hitting a little cold spurt now. We've just got to overcome it and not get 10 hits a day but get them when you get the baserunners on."

Bautista has repeatedly acknowledged he's bought in to hitting coach Kevin Seitzer's philosophy of using all fields. The slugger has become a better all round hitter. His 1,000th career big league hit, achieved in the eighth inning of Wednesday night's loss, was a double to right field. That alone would have been a story last season. This year it's commonplace.

"I think I'm more aware of some situations where people are going to keep challenging me inside, especially when I'm behind in the count or there's the right situation when there's a defensive shift," said Bautista. "Why not try to go over there and it ended up working out again? But the previous at bat I tried going that way and I hit into a force out, when Melky got forced out at second. So it works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't."

It's difficult to watch a team go into a funk, especially when it had become customary for fans to watch Toronto out-slug and, often, out-pitch opponents.

Despite the recent struggles, the Jays' offence remains top 10 in important statistical categories:

Home runs – 93 (1st)
On-base percentage - .329 (5th)
On-base plus slugging percentage - .760 (2nd)
Walks – 243 (9th)

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