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Early returns show Blue Jays' offence a work in progress


One game or series doesn’t always tell the true story of a team. The group can be different from one week to the next, and from one month to another. It’s fair to say we won’t have a good read on this edition of the Toronto Blue Jays until at least Memorial Day.

But the early signs are far from promising for an offence that struggled mightily last season.

Ronel Blanco is a 30-year-old journeyman pitcher for the Houston Astros. He threw a no-hitter against the Blue Jays on Monday night in what was only his eighth start of his major-league career.

Blanco didn’t sign out of the Dominican Republic, where most baseball prospects are found by 16 or 17 years old, until the age of 22. He had tried out for several different teams before that, being rejected each time. He was working in a car wash when he finally was signed by the Astros for $5,000 in April of 2016. He didn’t reach the majors until the age of 28. He wouldn’t even be on the Astros’ staff now, if not for injuries to Justin Verlander and Jose Urquidy.

Monday was a bad night for the Blue Jays. After all of the spring training spin about internal improvement and refined processes, the Jays failed to make the necessary adjustments during the course of the game.

They were baffled by Blanco’s changeup, which kept the Jays off-balance the entire game. Ten of his 20 swings-and-misses came off of the changeup, eight came from the slider, and two on his fastball. He tossed four curveballs, 31 fastballs, 34 sliders and 36 changeups in total. It was a good mix of pitches, and the Jays hit very few balls hard. The major-league average exit velocity for balls put in play is about 92 mph. The Jays’ average was 85.4mph on Monday.

On Tuesday, it was mostly the same story. The Blue Jays failed to score a run until two out in the ninth inning before Davis Schneider hit a miraculous two-run homer off Josh Hader and the Jays got some help from Astros base running gaffes to steal the win.

The games were symptomatic of what the Jays offence suffered from last season. They had too many non-competitive at bats. They made no adjustments to what Blanco was doing to attack them in the strike zone. They couldn’t lay off the pitches out of the strike zone, nor could they figure out his sequencing, leaving them guessing all night long. All seven of their strikeouts came on changeups.

The Jays were short-handed on Monday without Bo Bichette in the lineup, but that is part of the bigger problem. Bichette can’t play every day and he won’t hit every day. The Jays are at least one great hitter short in their lineup.

It wouldn’t have likely made a difference on Monday. The Jays got trounced 10-0 and would have lost anyway, but it’s a reality that needs to be acknowledged. There are no quality hitters available on the market right now, so they will have to make do with what they have.

Again, Monday was only a single game. The Jays don’t have to score a lot, they just need to score enough. But in order to do that, they will need more consistency than what they have shown so far this season.

They scored eight, nine and two runs in their wins and zero, one and two runs in their losses this year. When offences are not high-powered, the timing of when they score becomes important. Winning low-scoring games becomes critical, so the bullpen has to do its job. When the Jays have a lead, they need to hold it.  

The Jays are currently slashing .196/.285/.333. Their .618 OPS is ninth worst in all of baseball. They are better than this even when they are short-handed.  It will get better. There will be days that they score runs in bunches, and there will be days they get shut down. Consistency will be the key to their success.

The Jays can still be a playoff team, but the road to get there is as narrow as it has been in the past 10 years. They don’t have much margin for error. That means they need to pitch well and keep games close. They can’t give extra outs, extra bases, or extra baserunners while their own run production is compromised.


Guerrero, Bichette must carry the load

Bo Bichette Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Toronto Blue Jays

The most important hitter for the Blue Jays is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He has the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat, and he makes those around him better when he is at his best. Bichette is as consistent as any hitter in the game when he is healthy. Guerrero and Bichette at their best is a good start for the Jays’ offence. They are aircraft carriers.

All of the other Toronto hitters are complimentary. They are blenders. On any given day, the Jays will need two or three of them around Guerrero and Bichette to do their thing for the Jays to score enough.

George Springer and Justin Turner are the next-most-predictable bats in the lineup. They have proven over long, successful careers that they get on base and can hit the ball out of the ballpark. But both are veterans who will need to be rested frequently to maintain their strength and focus.

Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider and Alejandro Kirk are the next tier of hitters. Biggio has some pop in his bat and walks his fair share. Kirk is a good contact hitter with the ability to drive the ball. Schneider has a good feel for hitting, but his defensive limitations might restrict his playing time.

The third tier of hitters – Daniel Vogelbach, Kevin Kiermaier, Dalton Varsho, Ernie Clement and Isiah Kiner-Falefa – are all limited in their offensive impact. They have some strengths, but are more one-dimensional.

If the Jays have any chance of reaching the playoffs, the starting rotation will need to be as good this year as they were last season. The bullpen will have to be excellent at holding leads and keeping deficits tight so the team can win the games they are leading and come back in the games they are not. Guerrero and Bichette need to be MVP candidates, while the blenders need to be as productive as possible at the right times. Plus, this team needs to be better defensively on a daily basis.

There is a pathway to success, but it is narrow.