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Enigmatic Blue Jays continue to baffle

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  Blue Jays Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - The Canadian Press

Will the real Toronto Blue Jays please stand up? 

They lost the first two games of their four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles this week 7-2 and 10-1. Things felt dire. Things felt desperate.

But on Wednesday, led by Jose Berrios and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, they beat the Orioles 3-2. Then a three-run homer by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. got the Jays started Thursday afternoon on their way to a 6-5 win. Yusei Kikuchi was fantastic for six innings, allowing just a solo home run to O’s star  Adley Rutschman. That is the story of this Blue Jays team. They look done, and then there is a blip of life, a jolt of hope.

The 2024 Blue Jays are an enigma. At times, they can stand toe to toe with some of the best teams in the game and show flashes of the playoff team that they have been three of the past four years. But they are also very inconsistent and play down to the level of their competition far too often.

As much as I think that the Jays need a 10-game winning streak to be a legitimate playoff contender and end the conversation about trading Guerrero and Bo Bichette, that won’t be all they need. Long winning streaks are often be followed by losing streaks. The Jays need consistency. They need to find a rhythm that stays with them, whether they win or lose a game.

Consistency will only come with a full team effort. This season is like a snowball rolling down a mountain. The further it falls the more momentum and size it gains. Somehow, the Jays have to stop its descent and push it back up the mountain. On a given day an individual or two can slow it down, but it will take all 26 players and the entire coaching staff and front office to truly reverse its course. It has been done before. The 2019 Washington Nationals started the season 19-31 and turned things around, winning the World Series.

It is going to take every component of the Blue Jays’ game improving. The starting pitching needs to get a bit better. The bullpen needs more than just Yimi Garcia managing high-leverage innings successfully. The offence needs Guerrero and Bichette to take big steps forward with power and production, and then every other hitter to improve as well.

Obviously, that is asking a lot, and it’s unlikely all of it can happen. Since everyone can’t improve, timing starts to matter. Good teams find ways to win all types of games. They score runs when the starting pitching struggles on a certain day. They play great defence and get good bullpen work when the offence isn’t rolling. Playoff-calibre teams find ways to make plays and provide what’s needed based on the flow of each game.

It will take a Herculean effort to turn the season around. Manager John Schneider will need to create an environment in which the players believe it can be done. The players need to dwell on what they can do, not what they haven’t done. Mentally, they have to look for ways they can win a game, instead of what the cause will be for a loss. Good fortune and timing will have to be part of a more consistent run as well. The universe will have to take care of that part. 

Unfortunately, the schedule won’t aid the Jays in their turnaround. Yes, they play the Oakland A’s ( 25-39) this weekend, but after that they play the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers (three games), the AL Central-leading Cleveland Guardians (six games), the AL East-leading New York Yankees (four games) and AL East rival Boston Red Sox (six games) for the remainder of the month.

It won’t be easy.


Spitting Seeds

- What a matchup! Pirates rookie phenom starting pitcher Paul Skenes faced the Dodgers on Tuesday evening. The Skenes-Shohei Ohtani showdown was amazing. It was power versus power. Skenes struck out Ohtani on three 100-plus mph pitches in the first inning, but Ohtani turned around a mega-fastball for a home run in his next at bat. Skenes is for real. He’s going to be one of the best pitchers in the game for years to come. Ohtani is one of the best ever. I can’t wait for the next time they face each other.

- The Yankees are playing amazing baseball and look like the team to beat in the AL. Sluggers Juan Soto, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton all have 15 or more home runs. It’s the fastest three Yankees have ever done that in a season. Second-year shortstop Anthony Volpe is dramatically improved and has reached base in 32 straight games. Lefty starter Carlos Rodon is pitching like they guy the Yankees hoped they had signed to the six -year $162 million contract. Luis Gil has emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball, and Gerrit Cole will be back in the rotation by the end of June. 

- The Philadelphia Phillies have emerged as the best team in the NL so far. Like the Yankees, they are getting great pitching and have a very deep offence. Those teams have the two best starting rotations: Phillies (32-10, 2.64 ERA) and Yankees (31-12, 2.74 ERA). They also are 1-2 in runs per game and first-inning runs. I would give the Phillies the slight edge as the best team overall, but Cole’s return may change that by the All-Star break. They meet July 29-31 in Philadelphia. That is a series to mark on your calendar, especially with the trade deadline set for July 30.