As WC race tightens, power remains Blue Jays' missing ingredient

September 28th, 2023

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays’ season continues to follow the flight path of a paper airplane, soaring then dipping, climbing then teasing.

Just days after their most impressive series win of the season, when they beat the Rays at their own game at Tropicana Field, the Blue Jays have been shut out in back-to-back games by a Yankees team that already has tee times booked for Monday.

The past two days at Rogers Centre have put the spotlight back on an offense with a habit for going cold against elite pitching, which tends to be a little more common in October. Wednesday night’s 6-0 loss shifted the attention back to one of Toronto’s biggest weaknesses.

  • Games remaining (4): vs. NYY (1), vs. TB (3)
  • Standings update: Toronto (87-71) sits second in the American League Wild Card race, a half-game up on Houston (87-72) and two games up on Seattle (85-73).
  • Tiebreakers: Win vs. Houston; lose vs. Seattle; lose vs. Texas

In a game of pitching and defense, the club built a behemoth, but this lineup hasn’t chased down many deficits when it’s fallen behind.

“You understand that you’re facing two really good pitchers in the last two nights -- as good as you’re going to see,” manager John Schneider said. “You have Chris Bassitt on the mound tomorrow and you go try to win. That’s it. You’re taking it one day at a time, really. They know that.”

The loss still leaves the Blue Jays with a clear, smooth path to the postseason, but they’ve left the door cracked open an inch wider for other clubs, including the Astros and Mariners.

Facing Gerrit Cole, who should have been handed the AL Cy Young Award as he walked off the field with a shutout, the Blue Jays managed just two hits on Wednesday, both from Brandon Belt.

This comes on the heels of a three-hit performance in Tuesday’s opener against a dominant Michael King, and while it’s important to give credit to the opposing pitchers for two exceptional performances, winning in the postseason requires finding a way.

“It’s tough. You have to be ready for a pitch that you can handle,” Schneider said. “Because usually, with those types of guys, whether it’s Michael King or Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, they’re going to give you something to hit early. They’ll be in the zone early and try to expand the zone a little later. It’s a combination of being ready to hit, but at the same time, you’ve got to do damage.”

There’s that word, damage.

The Blue Jays rank 18th in MLB in home runs. They ranked seventh in 2022 and led the Majors the year prior. This is the missing piece to their ability to mount big comebacks. Their more methodical style of offense has its place, and it can be very effective, which is what we saw in St. Petersburg, but power gives a playoff team instant offense without all the steps in between.

“Against guys like that tonight, that’s usually the formula,” Schneider said. “Getting back-to-back-to-back hits is pretty tough. It just wasn’t there tonight.”

We’ve seen Toronto’s offense pounce, breaking away from tight games late, but there are no soft opponents in the postseason.

The Blue Jays have won two games this season in which they were trailing by four or more runs at any point. That’s tied for the third-fewest in the Majors, better than only the Mets and Phillies with one apiece.

The last time Toronto pulled it off? On June 11, against the Twins.

Just as the Blue Jays will eventually need to conquer great pitching, they’ll also need to pull off a come-from-behind win. Without that, they’re putting a great deal of pressure on their own rotation.

“Whenever you’re playing at this time of year or into the postseason, you’re facing really good pitching,” Schneider said. “There’s ways to take advantage of that, whether it be getting on base and using the running game like we did in Tampa, stringing some hits together or trying to do some damage.”

Less than 24 hours from now, you could be watching a completely different team, coasting to the doorstep of a postseason spot with a 10-run performance. Such is the nature of the 2023 Blue Jays, who have been difficult to corner and predict.

There are still some habits that need breaking before the big dance.