Kirk continues to come around as .500 mark eludes Blue Jays

June 11th, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- The carrot continues to dangle in front of the Blue Jays.

They reached out to bite it Monday night, but .500 still eludes the Blue Jays after a 3-1 loss to the Brewers to open their series in Milwaukee.

The Blue Jays haven’t sat at .500 since April 29, when they were 15-15. There were points in May when it felt like that mark would only drift further away in a fading season, but the Blue Jays used a recent soft spot in their schedule to chip away. This team isn’t exactly speeding down the highway, but they’ve swerved away from the ditch for now.

A .500 record isn’t the goal -- and no one involved wanted to be chasing such a low bar on June 10 -- but they have to live within the realities of the season they’ve created. Getting back to .500 is step one. Step two is getting to a position before the Trade Deadline that convinces this front office to keep pushing forward instead of pivoting the direction of this franchise. Step three, a million miles down the road from here, is competing for the postseason. Baby steps.

“It feels a lot better, albeit not where we want to be and not where we’re hoping to go,” manager John Schneider said prior to the loss. “You can say two weeks ago that you’re confident in the things you’re doing to get better, then you slowly start to see that on the field. There’s good progress being made. I know people talk about the part of the schedule we played or will play, but every game is going to be tough. Guys are focusing on one game at a time and how they can help their team win a game that night.”

’s solo home run was the lone bright spot for the Blue Jays, and while they’re not in the market for silver linings at this point, these signs of life from Kirk have some legitimate, long-term value as they try to turn this season around.

Kirk came to the big leagues with a reputation for being a contact machine, but power has rarely been his identity, which made the sound off his bat so jarring. Kirk turned on a Colin Rea cutter and launched it 405 feet to left field, a no-doubter. This was Kirk’s first home run since April 28.

It’s not just one swing, though. Kirk came into play batting .279 with a .347 on-base percentage over his last 15 games -- closer to the player we’ve seen before -- and he feels lighter at the plate.

“For these last couple of weeks, I’ve just put it in my mind to go out there and have fun,” Kirk said through a club interpreter. “I’m not trying to do too much. I’m just doing what I’m capable of doing, not too much. I’m just having fun out there. That’s my key for the past couple of weeks and that’s the key for me moving forward.”

Having this version of Kirk doesn’t just strengthen the lineup on days he starts, it also puts Kirk back into the conversation as a contact bat off the bench late in games when the time is right, like a runner on third with less than two outs. It’s a start.

Other than Kirk, though, the Blue Jays managed just three hits behind José Berríos, who allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings. Two solo home runs got to Berríos, but he’s been a rock for the Blue Jays all season long.

“Right now we are playing well, we’re feeling better overall as a team,” Berríos said. “Our confidence is getting up. It’s up to us to keep coming to the park, keep trying and keep doing our job.”

Now 32-34, the Blue Jays need to win both remaining games against the Brewers to return home a .500 ball club. It’s an arbitrary number, but they need to start somewhere and the sense of momentum is palpable, even if it’s taken a while. The moment one game ends, Schneider wants his team looking to tomorrow.

“That’s all you have to think about,” Schneider said. “It’s not about what has happened or what you’ve done, how many runs you’ve given up or how many strikeouts you have. What are you going to do right now? That’s what our focus is.”

On to tomorrow they go, and while the Blue Jays feel closer to that carrot, it’s still dangling a few inches in front of them.