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Four signs the Blue Jays' best is yet to come

@Sportsgal25
September 8, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays ran out of steam on Sunday, scoring two in the second but falling silent afterward during an 8-3 defeat in the series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field. The loss pushed Toronto’s losing streak to a season-long seven games, a number it hasn’t

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Blue Jays ran out of steam on Sunday, scoring two in the second but falling silent afterward during an 8-3 defeat in the series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

The loss pushed Toronto’s losing streak to a season-long seven games, a number it hasn’t hit since April 7-14, 2017. That's not great, but gritty performances against tough teams down the stretch hint that the Blue Jays’ organization will be a lot more seasoned next year than their many sophomore statuses will suggest.

Box score

“I’m enjoying this group we’ve got right here,” manager Charlie Montoyo said ahead of the game. “I’m a player-development guy, and I love these kids -- how they play hard and how they’re playing, and the culture that’s going on in the clubhouse. It’s great.”

Losses aside, many intangibles continue to pop up this season, a trend that extended during Toronto's weekend sweep at the hands of playoff-pushing Tampa Bay.

Let’s take a look at a few:

They’re plucky
In the series opener on Thursday, Bo Bichette battled Austin Pruitt for 13 pitches before earning a leadoff home run in the first inning. Bichette went deep again in the seventh to tie the game in the second multi-homer game of his young career.

Early leads are great, but scratching back late shows mettle -- the Blue Jays rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take the lead after a three-run sixth on Saturday, and scored a trio across the sixth and seventh innings on Thursday to tie the game.

Though neither surge ultimately led to a win, both showed Toronto is willing to keep pushing, a trait that’s especially valuable during the 162-game season.

“We’ve been in most games, and somebody coming up big on the mound or [getting] a hit could swing the game,” said rookie Jacob Waguespack, who took the loss Sunday. “It’s exciting to see us going out there and competing, but it’s also frustrating that we’re not stringing them together as a club, so you just go back to the drawing board, try to figure it out and keep competing.”

They’re productive
Randal Grichuk
-- who signed a five-year contract at the start of the season -- also got the Blue Jays going early on Sunday with a mammoth two-run homer that traveled a Statcast-estimated 451 feet and caromed off the batter’s eye in center field.

The six-year veteran admitted the season has had its ups and downs, but pointed toward the steady progress forward as a key to keeping the clubhouse light and the players ready to fight each day.

“We’ve got a lot of guys still getting their feet wet … and we faced a good team,” Grichuk said. “Understanding that [losses are] going to happen and just going out there and playing hard -- that’s all we can ask for anybody on this team.

“Play hard, be excited for the future and obviously going into each game with the mindset of, 'Hey, if you mess up in whatever aspect of the game, learn from it, try to be better and just keep going.'”

As they’ve been doing for much of the season, the rookies continued to rake over the four-game set in St. Petersburg. Toronto used seven rooks on Thursday who combined for seven of the team’s eight hits and all four RBIs. Ten rookies saw game action Saturday, and they combined for five of the team’s six hits and 5 2/3 innings pitched.

And those 5 2/3 innings? They came courtesy of Anthony Kay, the organization’s No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline. Kay fanned eight in his Major League debut, tied with teammate Trent Thornton for most by a Blue Jays’ starter in his debut.

They’re flashy
Cavan Biggio
had a pair of smooth sliding stops on Thursday, adding to his already impressive defensive portfolio. The second baseman skidded on one knee to backhand a Joey Wendle grounder in the first inning, then ranged glove side in the fifth with the bases loaded to snap up a Kevin Kiermaier knock to end the inning.

In the sixth inning of Sunday’s finale, Bichette leapt to snag a high liner at short, and in the same smooth motion, fired a laser to first to double Daniel Robertson off first base for the inning-ending double play.

The other guys see it, too
While the Blue Jays’ young talent is pretty undeniable, it never hurts to get a nod from an opposing team’s veteran star. Rays ace Charlie Morton has seen a lot of hitters during a 12-year MLB career that includes a World Series title with the Astros in 2017, but he wasn’t shy about sharing the impression the visitors made on him over the four-game set.

“Just younger players in general coming up seem to have a pretty good bearing on what they're trying to get done,” said Morton, who earned a no-decision Saturday. “That group over there, what they have in the younger guys, their dads were really good and so there's that element -- it's a pretty neat thing to see, that part of it. But then also you look at what they do with the bat, in the field. … It’s pretty impressive.”

Bichette earned a specific nod from the guy who entered play Sunday leading the American League in several pitching categories. The 21-year-old shortstop has been a Major Leaguer all of 37 games, but he already has made an impression around the league with his bat.

Although Bichette finished 0-for-3 against Morton on Saturday, it didn’t stop the latter from acknowledging a battle hard fought.

“He's giving you tough at-bats. He's waiting for a pitch to drive,” Morton said. “It's pretty impressive how he drives the ball the other way, too.

“It’s good for baseball when young guys come up and exciting players come up that actually make an impact in the league. A lot of time it's a lot of hype. It's good for baseball when they succeed.”

Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.