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So much for the soft part of the Blue Jays' schedule

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This was supposed to be the soft part of the Blue Jays’ schedule. 

The White Sox and Tigers are both sub-.500 teams. They aren’t exactly the Phillies, Orioles or Yankees. These are games that the Blue Jays were supposed to win and make up ground in their playoff chase. This is where they were supposed to gain momentum and confidence.

Instead, the Jays are 4-4 in their past eight games, including losing three of four over the weekend in Detroit.

The game on Sunday against the Tigers told the story of the misfortune that is the 2024 season for the Jays. They fell behind 5-0, but battled back to take an 11-9 lead, only to let the Tigers tie it in the eighth and then walk them off in the ninth with a Matt Vierling three-run homer against closer Jordan Romano

We have been complaining all season long about the lack of offence for the Jays, and then, of course, on a day the offence shows up, they don’t get quality starting pitching and their normally reliable closer blows the save.

Good teams win all different types of games and bad teams lose all different types of games. The Jays are looking like a bad team. 

I have been reluctant to write the Jays off this season. I see a pathway for them to recover and get on track. Although the pitching hasn’t been as good this year as last, it would be better if the offence came to life and provided more margin for error. Scoring more early in the game would allow Toronto’s pitchers to be less tentative and more aggressive in the zone, like they were last season. The problem is the Jays have scored the fourth fewest (19) first-inning runs in baseball. 

I have written how critical Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are to Toronto’s offence, and if they don’t hit, the Jays have no chance. Both guys are starting to come around. Bichette is hitting .356/.397/.576 in his past 15 games and Guerrero is hitting .393/.474/.524 in the month of May. But the Jays are 9-14 this month and 6-9 in the past 15 games. Two players do not make a team.

Bichette and Guerrero hitting at this level is the baseline for the offence. They won’t win because of those two. They will win if the hitters around them, like Justin Turner, George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, Cavan Biggio, and Kevin Kiermaier, start to hit. Daulton Varsho hasn’t hit for average (.205/.299/.452), but he leads the team in home runs (10), runs scored (31) and RBI (30).

Just about a third of the way through the season, the Jays are 24-29 and are five games out of the third wild-card spot. They are in last place in the AL East.

In 2019, the Washington Nationals were 22-31 after their first 53 games and were 7.5 games out of a wild-card spot. The Nats came alive to win 93 games in the season, made the playoffs as a wild-card team and won the World Series. So, it is possible to not only come back from where the Jays are, but to go all the way.

It sure doesn’t feel like it will happen for the Jays. It feels like the season is slipping away, but I am sure it felt that way for the Nationals too.

 

Preparing for what comes next

Ross Atkins

There are multiple conversations happening right now in the Jays front office.

Some are about trying to salvage the season: Should there be coaching and/or a managerial change? Are there trades that can be made to spark the team? Can they call up a prospect or two to energize the club?

Some conversations are about what to do if things don’t turn around: Who should be traded and who should be kept? Are there changes that need to be made in the front office?

The Jays have to prepare now for whatever happens in the next 53 games. There will be conversations internally and externally with other clubs about buying and selling. General manager Ross Atkins will have scouts out evaluating major-league players to help the team get to the playoffs, while also sending scouts out to check on minor leaguers in organizations who have interest in his available players, should they sell.

The question that team president Mark Shapiro has to answer is whether Atkins will be the one to make those trades if the Jays are sellers. 

I was fired on June 12, 2003. We were 29-35 when Mets ownership decided I wouldn’t be the one to reconstruct the team, so I shouldn’t be the one to deconstruct the team at the trade deadline. It made sense and was not a surprise.

To be fair, Atkins has built teams that have made the playoffs in four of the eight seasons he has been the general manager, including three of the past four and each of the past two seasons. They have not won a playoff game since 2016, however.

The Jays put all their eggs in the Shohei Ohtani basket last off-season, and he chose the Dodgers. Then they were in on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but he also went to the Dodgers. They passed on Shota Imanaga, who is dominating with the Cubs and instead signed less-heralded Yariel Rodriguez, who is hurt.

They were interested in Cody Bellinger but heard a price point beyond their interest, so they settled on brining Kevin Kiermaier back for another season. They settled on Isiah Kiner-Falefa instead of bringing back Whit Merrifield and Matt Chapman. They signed Justin Turner over Brandon Belt, and although I like Turner better, his signing, coupled with Kiner-Falefa and the use of Davis Schneider and Ernie Clement as utility men, changed the left-right balance of the lineup. If that was a choice they were making in the infield, they needed to find a legitimate lefty bat to play elsewhere (someone more versatile than Daniel Vogelbach).

There are no perfect teams, and this team is better than they are playing. They are more talented than the Cleveland Guardians (36-18) but play with less urgency and maturity. The Guardians make plays to win, while the Jays don’t. It feels like, despite the talent level, there is something missing on this team.

The next two weeks are critical for the short-term future for a number of individuals and the franchise as a whole. Stay tuned.

 

Spitting Seeds

Angel Hernandez

- On Monday, it was confirmed that long-time umpire Angel Hernandez is retiring.  He has been much-maligned during his career for being the worst umpire at calling balls and strikes and numerous bad calls on the bases. He twice sued Major League Baseball claiming racial discrimination as a reason why he did not receive World Series and crew chief assignments. The suits were dismissed. Players, managers, fans and the media all took their shots at him. I did as well as a general manager and then in the media. 

Recently, I’ve heard the venom spewed at John Schneider, Atkins, Shapiro, and Angel Hernandez, and it brought back memories of how I was lambasted in New York at the end of my tenure. I even had a writer print, “Mets fans want Phillips’ head on a pike on the Triborough Bridge.” Way over the line, I thought, especially because I had death threats and stalkers at the time. 

Remember that no matter how bad of a job you think someone is doing, they are a human being. They are people who have feelings, and they have family members (spouses, kids, grandchildren) who are often far more affected by the venom being spewed than the actual target.

Plus, many times in sports we get fired despite how much we care and how hard we worked. None of us would want the things said about us that we have said about people on the teams we root for. I lived it, and one’s skin can only be so thick. Some of it seeps through, no matter how tough you are.