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Alongside sky-high expectations, Montoyo's approach had run its course

Charlie Montoyo Toronto Blue Jays Charlie Montoyo - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — When expectations change, sometimes the approach to leadership needs to change along with it.

That, in essence, is why Charlie Montoyo is unemployed and John Schneider is at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays for at least the remainder of the 2022 season.

At the beginning, in the fall of 2018, Montoyo was hired for his communicative ways and an approach to development that was deemed right for a rebuilding ball club.

It worked.

The Jays lost 95 games in Montoyo’s first season, improved in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign to make an expanded playoffs, and then once again made another jump to 91 wins in 2021.

But the tone around those teams was much, much different.

Wins were unexpected and fun as a young team that had been augmented by a handful of expensive veterans was growing into a powerhouse.

Coming into this season, expectations were sky high.

That powerhouse wasn’t now just a pipe dream, it was expected.

The Jays were trendy World Series picks and the talent from top to bottom was obvious.

But with those expectations came a different mood in the clubhouse when things weren’t sailing smoothly, and that was becoming apparent with each and every loss as the season started to take shape, eventually coming to a head with a 3-9 start to July.

On June 15, the Jays were a season-high 12 games over .500.

Since then, they’ve played their worst baseball in over a year and suddenly they were plummeting towards .500.

In the end, Montoyo’s approach — the same one that drew the Jays to him almost four years ago — didn’t seem to be resonating anymore.

“No,” one Blue Jays veteran said when asked if he was surprised by the firing on Wednesday. “That’s all I’ll say.”

Saying Montoyo lost the clubhouse is too strong, and it’s a subjective phrase to begin with.

On the record, players said all the right things, but there were definitely key voices who were starting to believe his approach wasn’t what they need at a time of such high expectations both internally and externally.

They loved Montoyo, the man.

That didn’t mean all of them felt the same about Montoyo, the manager.

GM Ross Atkins didn’t get into the specifics of why Montoyo was let go, simply saying he believes this club is better than it has played.

“I’m extremely disappointed with where we are,” Atkins said inside Rogers Centre on Wednesday as he talked through the managerial change at a podium on the lower-level concourse. "I think we are better than how we’ve played. There’s been a lot of good individual things happen but, I think, we could be playing better as a team. Having said that, this is a collective setback, and ultimately that starts with me.”

Atkins should absolutely be shouldering some of the blame, as this wasn’t just a Montoyo issue and there’s definitely a “let’s just shake things up” feeling to the move as the team currently still occupies a playoff spot.

Handed a contract extension in the off-season that didn’t exactly provide a whole lot of job security considering it was only through next season, Montoyo always seemed to be one extended losing streak away from being on the hot seat heading into this pressure-packed season.

Montoyo’s tenure, after a win Tuesday in his final game, comes to a close at an even 236 wins and 236 losses.

“In professional sports, environment matters,” Atkins said. “The level of energy and positivity, all of that matters. Execution matters. Deployment matters. It’s not one thing.”

This is what happens when there are huge expectations.

“As players, we know that things could be better and have to be better,” George Springer said while sitting in the dugout Wednesday. “We understand what we all can do. It hasn’t really shown yet, and I think that’s the frustrating part.”

With a huge chunk of the roster underperforming up to this point and Atkins essentially admitting there are lots of holes in the roster he put together, Schneider is now thrown into the managerial spotlight.

"Over the course of a season, there's ups and downs, and I think this has been a weird time of the season," Schneider said Wednesday. “You can say certain guys are underperforming. You can say certain coaches are underperforming.

"There are things we can all do better.”

In going from 56-year-old Montoyo to 42-year-old Schneider, it’s a fairly night and day transition in terms of personality.

Schneider was never averse to a fiery ejection during his very successful minor-league journey up through the Jays system, a run that included championships in 2011, 2017 and 2018 at three different levels, the most notable being his ’18 title in Double-A with many of the key names on this Blue Jays roster now.

Most thought Schneider would get a chance to lead a club eventually, and some around the game thought he could even get some managerial interest this winter when openings inevitably come up.

Instead, Schneider, who was already a key strategist as bench coach and someone the organization leaned over very heavily on the game-planning side, inherits an ultra-talented team that knows it has lots of time to right the ship.

Sometimes these midseason changes work, sometimes they don’t.

There are 12 weeks of baseball left to find out if this one will.