Atkins maintains optimism, but acknowledges Blue Jays' sense of urgency

May 18th, 2024

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have sprung a leak in the middle of the ocean.

As they scramble to patch the hull and bail the water that’s pouring through the seams, the Blue Jays realize that it’s time to sink or swim. In 2022 and ‘23, perhaps they were close enough to the shore to turn back for repairs, but the Blue Jays have sailed too far now and need to make this work with what they have.

Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Rays, dropping the Blue Jays to 19-25, only compounds their problems.

We’ve heard from the players, frustrations slowly building as we saw in Chris Bassitt following Friday's 4-3 loss. We’ve heard from the captain of this ship in manager John Schneider -- twice a day, in fact, as he fields the same questions about his offense, over and over -- but Saturday, it was time to hear from the architect, general manager Ross Atkins.

The Blue Jays ranked second-to-last in baseball with 155 runs scored heading into Saturday, better than only the White Sox. They had hit 36 home runs, better than only the Nationals and White Sox. After an offseason and spring spent heaping optimism upon the idea of internal improvements and a new offensive coaching structure, Atkins and the organization are still trying to figure out why that work isn’t translating to wins … to real, on-field production.

“It’s not something that I’ve been able to pinpoint, or [bench coach Don Mattingly] or Schneider, or anyone has been able to pinpoint,” Atkins said. “We just see it as something we need to correct. You don’t just tell someone to swing harder or swing in certain counts more aggressively. It’s not as simple as that. Hitting is the most dynamic and challenging challenge in professional sport. The things we’re working to change, we do believe in.”

Atkins kept coming back to that optimism. Yes, he continued to acknowledge that there needs to be urgency and time needs to be now, not tomorrow, but there’s still a baseline of optimism.

At this point, there’s no need to tangle the situation. If the Blue Jays start hitting, they have the pitching and defense to make a run at one of the final Wild Card spots, which is where they’ve landed each of the past two seasons. If they don’t start hitting, then this organization will soon face some incredibly difficult decisions about its future.

Power has to be part of this. As Schneider said on Friday, modern MLB pitching has gotten so good that stringing four hits together isn’t exactly the best game plan. It’s a great point. You need to steal a few along the way. You need to land the odd knockout punch.

“Doing damage is definitely going to be part of the equation,” Atkins said. “We don’t have to hit 15-to-30 home runs per the six guys at the top of our lineup, but we do have to be driving the ball harder. We do have the exit velocity. We’re seeing guys hitting balls hard. They’re not going over the fence and there are not enough. We are working very hard to correct that.”

In the big picture, the urgency Atkins referenced is being felt throughout the organization. When jobs and long-term opportunities are on the line, everyone perks up.

No one expected the Blue Jays to be 19-25 at this point, already sitting 11 1/2 games behind the Yankees atop the AL East. Sure, there was a reasonable suspicion that some players could regress, but most of that attention was set on the pitching, which was absolutely remarkable a year ago. Offensively, the Blue Jays were betting on improvements, but it’s gone the other way.

This can still turn around -- particularly if there’s some power behind it -- but decision time looms.

“There’s not a hard date,” Atkins said. “We’re at the quarter pole. Once you get to the halfway mark, there’s not much you can do if the hole remains the same.”

Each game feels big now. It’s so unexpected on May 18, but then again, all of this has been unexpected.

“We are not where we would like to be,” Atkins said. “We’ve seen some encouraging things as of late that have not resulted in wins. We have seen some encouraging things in our offense that we feel, with time and the talent on this team, we can certainly see righting this ship. However, that needs to start pretty soon.”

No one wants to ready the lifeboats, but the Blue Jays can only bail water for so much longer.