If ever there was a team in need of a breakout first inning with balls flying out of the stadium like jets from O’Hare, it would be the Blue Jays tonight as they take on the White Sox at the Rogers’ Centre. One might hazard a guess the adjectives in play could be “largely empty” Rogers Centre. Because even in a season when hopes for anything much were dashed by management before the team set foot on Canadian soil this spring, the patience (and worse for management, interest) of fans is quickly dissipating. Not so surprising after their team got swept, at home, by Minnesota, making it 7 losses in the last 8 games for Toronto. Worse, in the three-game series against the surprising Twins, Toronto managed to eke out all of one run. Texas fans must’ve been surprised to see their cast-off Martin Perez pitching like Steve Carlton, circa-1977 vintage against Toronto.
Thus far, Toronto has led the league in only one real significant stat… drop off in attendance. Only two years ago they outpaced all the competition in getting fans into the stands. That dropped off by about a third last year. So far this season, it’s down by another third. Announced attendance against Minny was around 14 000 per game, but cameras panning the big dome suggested far fewer actually bothered to show up, even with the allure of cheap hot dogs and discounted beer. If things don’t turn around, and quickly, this is going to get ugly. And if people go back and start to look at where the team went from going slowly to running straight off the highway, chances are they’ll look to the third inning of Tuesday’s game…one which Minnesota would win 3-0.
Brandon Drury had lined a solid single out to left field, bringing up Teoscar Hernandez, the iron-gloved but hard-hitting right fielder. Nobody out, one on, Twins up by one at the point. At which point the free-swinging outfielder, who hit a respectable 22 homers and had a .468 slugging percentage last year as a platoon player… tried to bunt and failed, popping out weakly to second base. Fans were not amused. As a Brian Nicholson said within minutes on Twitter “I get that there’s a place for small ball but it makes more sense to let your 26 year-old corner outfielder try to hit a two run homer” in a situation like that. To say the least. Or at least line another ringing ball into the corner to keep the train-a-movin’.
If you doubt that, consider the fact that Baseball-Reference website details how before that game Teoscar had laid down precisely, umm –zero sacrifice bunts in his career, which began back in 2016 with Houston. After the game Tuesday, he had – yep -zero career bunts.
Like Nicholson said, there can be a place for “small ball”. Ninth inning, noboby out, playing a team with bad infielders, weak-hitting middle infielder with good bat control at the plate, runner on second… good bunt situation. Team that’s struggling to get anyone on base, playing a solid defensive team, power hitting outfielder who simply can’t bunt at plate…not good time for him to try and learn!
Now one can argue that Hernandez, as a 26 year-old major leaguer should be able to put down a clean bunt if asked, but that’s beside the point. Obviously he can’t, and he’s not alone in that these days. In the past, there were complaints former Jays manager John gibbons was complacent and liked to just sit around and wait for his guys to hit a home run, which worked well when the lineup had a still-productive Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, healthy Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak in it, not so well last year with only Smoak from that list. Fair, perhaps, but at least he played to his team’s strengths. Something new guy Charlie Montoyo has yet to demonstrate he can do. To be fair, he’s handled the bullpen quite well and Jays’ pitching has been decent despite having a number of injuries and redoubtable arms. But when your team scores one run over three games, following 8 runs in the previous 3 gamer against a “bad” pitching team, even Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer aren’t going to get you a lot of wins. At this point, Toronto is 14th in AL batting average (.221), 13th in homers, tied for last in stolen bases (with Minnesota, surprisingly) with 8 – so much for the make things happen, small ball theory – and where it counts, runs scored, 13th and falling. they somehow are ahead of Cleveland and Detroit but those central teams are warming up a little with their weather.
I don’t worry much about Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s struggles at the plate through his first 10 games. As I pointed out before, even the greats seldom come out of the gate looking like Babe Ruth. I still expect that come October, he’ll have had a decent season and posted numbers better than Mike Trout did in his first year in the big leagues. I do worry that he’ll spend the year in an environment where swinging endlessly at bad pitches is seen as the norm, where managers ask players to do things they haven’t been trained to do and, perhaps worst, where near-empty stadiums represent the fan base.
Bring on that first inning…. and let’s wait on a good Covey pitch and launch it into the fifth deck.