Blue Jays 'need to regroup' after sloppy loss

May 15th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- Depending on the night, the American League East can be a chess match or a brawl. 

The Blue Jays have gone toe to toe with the Yankees already this season, taking more punches than they’ve thrown, but the Rays represent a different challenge altogether. With a 3-0 loss Sunday to drop the weekend series at Tropicana Field, Toronto got another look at the distance between where it stands and where it needs to be.

• Box score

The script of this loss is one you’ve read a dozen times recently. The Blue Jays didn’t hit and didn’t support starter , who did everything in his power to drag his team to a win.

“I know exactly who’s in that locker room. I think they just need to regroup,” Manoah said after the loss, standing firmly behind his team. “There’s a lot of outside noise right now. Just stay within themselves. These guys can bang. Last year, we got shut out maybe once? It’s all good. We’re just going through a little phase right now, and this clubhouse is going to stay together.”

Tampa Bay is the perfect team to exploit Toronto's "little phase." The Rays can make the big play, but much of their success lies in their ability to avoid the crucial mistake. They play clean and tight, which allows them to outlast opponents who often stumble first. And stumble the Blue Jays did.

After Manoah breezed through five scoreless innings, trouble came in the sixth, when the Rays put runners on first and second with one out on a pair of softly hit singles. Manoah did exactly what he needed to do, though, forcing Harold Ramirez to hit a weak ground ball to the left side that was fielded by a defender with two Platinum Gloves.

That’s when things unraveled.

Matt Chapman cut in front of Bo Bichette to field the chopper, but he yanked his short throw to second base across his body and missed Santiago Espinal altogether. What should have been a fielder’s choice leaving runners on the corners with two outs turned into the first run of the game. Two more came around that inning, and while only one was charged to Manoah as an earned run, it was largely avoidable.

“Chapman’s head should be very high,” Manoah said. “He’s got every award that you can think of. He’s allowed to have a bad day. It’s all OK. We lost a ballgame, and we’re going to see them plenty more times. We’re going to be better the next time we do.”

It was a waiting game, and the Blue Jays blinked first.

No team has ever won a game with a zero in the run column, but manager Charlie Montoyo keeps pointing to his one core concept.

“This goes back to what I said in Spring Training,” Montoyo said. “You have to play defense and you have to pitch to win games in this league. I didn’t expect our offense was going to struggle like they have, of course, but that was an example today. We didn’t really hit, but we didn’t play a clean game.”

Nailing the two phases of pitching and defense is what has allowed the Rays to be such a consistent team in recent years. Toronto went only 8-11 against Tampa Bay last year, and these games will continue to be learning experiences for a club that wants to be where the Rays are each and every October: still playing.

It’s a dangerous game to keep wasting starts like this one from Manoah, though. The 24-year-old owns a 1.71 ERA after seven starts, and he is in the middle of a transition from hotshot rookie to a legitimate cornerstone.

Manoah was well aware of the “sophomore slump” talk entering his second season, but he has always viewed it differently. He's always the aggressor, and he believes that the advantage is his because he gathers information on hitters along the way. It has certainly looked that way through the first six weeks of the season.

The same fate befell Kevin Gausman earlier in this series, when he gave the Blue Jays seven strong innings but still took the 5-2 loss. Eventually, this lineup will burst open and break off a 15-2 win, but Toronto has been waiting on “eventually” for a while.

Now, the Blue Jays have seen how it looks to lose the Yankees’ way and lose the Rays’ way. Like Manoah says, they plan on being better the next time around, and the sky-high bar of the AL East makes that necessary.