3 keys from Sox series: Basics, 'pen & Vladdy

August 9th, 2020

The Blue Jays played a cleaner brand of baseball in Sunday’s finale against the Red Sox, but fell late on a walk-off home run from Mitch Moreland.

Matt Shoemaker gave the Blue Jays six innings for the second time this season, and is still the only Toronto starter to pitch that deep into a game. Shoemaker looked sharper this time out, allowing three runs on a pair of solo homers and a fielding error of his own while striking out six.

With Shoemaker out, Ryan Borucki followed by striking out the side in the seventh and Thomas Hatch did the same in the eighth, as Toronto’s young starters currently working in bullpen roles continue to surprise. A slider from Hatch caught too much of the plate against Moreland in the bottom of the ninth, though, which sealed the game.

Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette launched home runs, but both were solo shots, which has been a theme this season as the Blue Jays seem to do all of their hitting with the bases empty. Toronto’s lineup combined to strike out 15 times with just one walk.

“We’re this close,” said manager Charlie Montoyo after the loss, holding two fingers an inch apart. “We’re competing every day. Now, the toughest thing as a team is that next jump, the little things.”

Here are three takeaways from Toronto’s series against the Red Sox as they finally head “home” to Buffalo, where they’ll enjoy a day off on Monday, before facing the Marlins on Tuesday:

Forgettable fundamentals
If the Blue Jays are going anywhere in 2020, they’ll need to clean up the basics first. This weekend’s series in Boston was riddled with errors in the field and on the bases that won’t fly at any level of baseball, especially in the Majors.

On Friday, it was baserunning errors, as an overly aggressive approach led to the Blue Jays running into several unnecessary outs. Saturday brought more of the same, with some defensive blunders thrown in on makeable plays. Sunday’s finale saw Shoemaker make two throwing errors in one inning, which brought home Boston’s second run of the game after his throw to second base sailed into the outfield.

The Blue Jays believe they’re better than public expectations suggest, but these games didn’t help their case. If they plan on taking an outside run at a playoff spot in September, they can’t afford to give away winnable games with avoidable errors.

One of baseball’s most underrated bullpens
There were early bumps in the road for the bullpen, but those mostly came down to usage patterns or poor outings from arms like Sam Gaviglio or Shun Yamaguchi. The core of this bullpen, though, has been simply fantastic, and should finally get some of the credit they deserve as they’re handed more leads to protect.

Anthony Kay was the star of Saturday’s win with 3 1/3 shutout innings, and that group of young starters in bullpen roles -- including Kay, Hatch and Borucki -- gives Montoyo a unique weapon in the middle of the bullpen. Jordan Romano might just be the story of the season with seven hitless innings to open the year, and new closer Anthony Bass has filled in admirably for the injured Ken Giles. These aren’t household names across baseball, but the numbers don’t lie.

Signs of life from Vladdy
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s slow start and inability to lift the ball have been worrisome, but the 21-year-old is slowly starting to string together some stronger plate appearances.

Guerrero had four hits in Boston and has doubled four times in six games since the start of August. As hard ground balls turn into line drives, the hope is that those line drives will eventually turn into home run power. Guerrero is still unbalanced at the plate at times and has made plenty of contact off the end of his bat, but he’s too talented to stay quiet much longer.

“I feel a lot better lately. I’ve been working very, very hard in the cage with [hitting coach] Guillermo Martinez,” Guerrero said. “I definitely feel really good right now.”