Shaw, Jansen hit key homers in G1 win

September 5th, 2020

The Blue Jays will need contributions from some unexpected corners of their roster if they hope to make a legitimate playoff push in October, and that’s exactly what they got on Friday afternoon in Boston.

launched his fourth home run of the season and missed his fifth by an inch, which is a welcome sign for the Blue Jays after Shaw has struggled at the plate in 2020. Shaw entered Friday’s doubleheader at Fenway Park hitting just .208 with a .623 OPS, but his 3-for-4 day helped power the 8-7 win.

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It’s been a curious season for Shaw when you dig a bit deeper into his numbers because, when he’s made contact, he’s hitting the ball harder than he ever has. Shaw’s average exit velocity of 92.9 mph and hard-hit percentage of 49.2% entering play Friday are both career highs by a comfortable margin and his launch angle is back where he wants it after a difficult 2019 season, but the results haven’t always followed.

“It was nice and helped me take a deep breath,” Shaw said. “The last week and a half hasn’t been great. That can get magnified in a short season with not a lot of at-bats like this. So, if you have a bad week, your numbers suffer pretty drastically and I kind of struggled over the last 10 days or so. I finally got some stuff to fall and hit a couple of balls on the barrel.”

That’s a challenge many hitters are facing in 2020. It’s easy enough to catch yourself “pressing” at the plate over 162 games, but over 60 with the playoff race already in full swing? The mental side of hitting might be more important than ever.

“It’s a sprint,” Shaw said. “If you have a bad week to two weeks, you put yourself behind the 8-ball pretty good. That’s what I’ve done the last two weeks, so I’m trying to crawl out of it. Any way to help the team win, getting on base, anything. Today was a good start.”

Shaw has been missing hittable pitches over the heart of the plate this season, so the fix isn’t complicated and the power is obviously there when he’s making contact. Even with Bo Bichette’s pending return, it’s not yet clear how Shaw’s reps will be impacted by either Jonathan Villar or Cavan Biggio at third base, so the Blue Jays would love to see more days like Friday. Shaw wasn’t the only Blue Jays batter to hit a home run they truly needed, either, as cleared the Green Monster with a two-run shot in that same inning.

Jansen’s numbers have been down in 2020 and, along with Reese McGuire’s offensive struggles, the catching position has contributed very little value at the plate. The Blue Jays don’t need anyone to be Yogi Berra, but the odd power contribution or timely piece of hitting will go a long way and prevent opposing pitchers from having a resting spot at the bottom of the lineup.

The rest of the lineup played their part, too, but not in the way we’ve come to expect from the boom-or-bust Blue Jays. They managed to string hits together at times, which has been an issue all season, but no sequence was more refreshing than Biggio’s in the top of the fifth.

After Biggio reached on a bloop single with a swing that looked like a backhand drop shot in tennis, he advanced to second on a ball in the dirt and moved to third on a sacrifice fly. Rowdy Tellez then showed a feel for the situation by shortening up his swing and sending an RBI sac fly to left field, bringing home a run without much hard contact at all. Given how many runs the Blue Jays have given away on the bases in 2020, this sequence was a breath of fresh air and it’s no surprise that Biggio was at the center of it.

On the mound, it was another uneven start from right-hander Tanner Roark, who keeps showing flashes of being back to his peak form. On Friday, he opened by striking out the first four batters he faced, but then lasted just 4 1/3 innings with four runs on seven hits and one walk to increase his ERA to 5.74.

The Blue Jays clearly aren’t trying to push their starters deep into games unnecessarily, which is difficult when Roark’s primary value lies in his label as a reliable innings-eater, so Toronto will need some quality work from him soon.