BLUE JAYS’ OFFENCE ALMOST NON-EXISTENT
And it doesn’t figure to get any better with Nats coming to town, writes Rob Longley.
It was never really going to be a fair fight, but the more the Toronto Blue Jays struggle at the plate this season, the more it’s clear how ill-equipped they are to compete in the slugger-happy American League East.
It’s been evident at various points this season and the team is struggling in multiple areas now. But the lack of production at the plate is high on the list.
With third baseman Josh Donaldson still hurt, the designated hitter position a dead zone, and Kevin Pillar significantly cooled from his sizzling early start, just to name three variables, the offence is non-existent on too many nights.
Take away the outlier of the four-game series sweep against the Baltimore Orioles last week at the Rogers Centre and the lack of production is glaring. In the five most recent games not including the Os, the Jays have scored just seven runs including being shut out twice and held to a single run on another occasion.
“It’s the American League East, man. You’ve got to score runs if you want to win games,” said 2017 all-star first baseman Justin Smoak, one of the team’s scuffling, frustrated hitters. “That’s the name of the game here.
“I feel like we’re not getting it done, honestly. We’re hitting into a lot of double plays and making quick, easy innings.”
While batting average isn’t the only measure of offence given the preponderance of walks in today’s game, it’s still an indicator of trouble. And the Jays’ team average of .232 is ranked 13th in the AL with only Texas and Baltimore lower.
The Jays’ run differential sits at minus-27, glaring in comparison with the Red Sox (plus-103) and Yankees (plus91). While those teams continue to go bombs away, the Jays bats are getting quieter and quieter, the most recent example being Wednesday’s 1-0 walk off loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in which Toronto starter J.A. Happ pitched a one-hitter over five shutout innings.
In the just completed threegame brooming at the hands of the Rays, the Jays scored four runs and one run to go along with the shutout extra-inning loss. The Jays didn’t have an extra-base hit in their last two games, the first time they’ve done that since 2011.
With a day off to ponder those woes, it’s not about to get any easier facing a very good Washington Nationals team for three games at the Rogers Centre.
First up for the Nats is left hander Gio Gonzalez, who will take his 6-2 record and 2.65 ERA against a Jays team that has dropped its past 11 starts against lefties. On Saturday, former Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (10-2, 2.00) gets the ball.
Smoak knows he’s one of the players that has to pick it up. With just one hit in his past 25 at-bats and only nine homers after his breakthrough campaign of 38, he’s symptomatic of the Jays’ hitting woes.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” said Smoak. “We just have to keep going out and keep showing up and try to get better.”
TOP PICK READY TO ROLL
As a high-school player, Jordan Groshans is well aware the journey to big-league baseball is just starting.
That said, the 18-year-old high schooler from Texas feels confidence will be key to his development. Toronto’s first-round pick (12th overall) in this month’s draft signed with the team this week and has already reported to Dunedin, where he will play in the Gulf Coast League.
“I’m really excited to be a Blue Jay and get back out on the field,” Groshans said during a conference call Thursday. “I’m here to make sure I’m getting 10 times better every day.
“I’m a positive kid. I believe that to be successful in baseball and you want to make it to the next level you have to be confident and you have to work hard.”
Though drafted as a shortstop, Groshans said he’s comfortable moving around the infield. And he has already had time to talk to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who is recovering from surgery, and Donaldson.
“I talked to them about baseball stuff, whether it’s fielding ground balls or mechanics of my swing,” Groshans said. “They’ve played a big part so far.”
Marcus Stroman’s recovery from shoulder fatigue took a big step forward Wednesday in his first official outing since being put on the disabled list May 11.
Stroman was strong in his 4.1 innings of work for the Dunedin Blue Jays facing the minimum in the first two innings and not allowing a hit until a two-run homer in the fifth.
Stroman is expected to have at least one more rehab start before rejoining the Jays.
As he continues to recover from his latest injury, a strain of his left calf, Donaldson is attempting to keep frustration out of the equation.
“I’m ready to go and ready to get going,” said Donaldson. “I know I can help this team but I can’t think about (rushing back). I’ve got to do what I can to get better and feel better.”
The hitting malaise affecting Toronto Blue Jays players of late includes Justin Smoak, who has just one hit in his last 25 at-bats and just nine homers overall after hitting 38 last season. The Jays host the Washington Nationals in a three-game series starting Friday.