NEW YORK -- When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. snapped his bat over his left knee following a fifth-inning strikeout on Wednesday in the Bronx, it looked like he could have snapped the entire tree.
A week’s worth of frustration splintered out of that lumber. With the 5-3 loss, the Blue Jays dropped their fourth game in a row, missing that extra hit or extra “something” that they always seemed to find in April.
Toronto has been losing the same games for the same reasons, and that’s where this frustration comes from. The offense hasn’t played to its potential, especially with runners in scoring position, which was exactly what happened with Guerrero as Bo Bichette was left stranded on second base in the fifth.
Vladdy wasn’t alone by any means. The Blue Jays stranded nine runners and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on Wednesday. Their .181 average in those situations still ranks last in baseball and manager Charlie Montoyo sees a lineup that’s “pressing” to break through.
“At this point in the year, we just have to slow some things down and not try to do too much,” Springer said. “Don’t try to hit the five-run homer if there’s nobody on base. Slow down, stay within ourselves -- because there’s a long way to go and a lot of time to right the ship.”
Looking for a lineup shuffle? Keep waiting.
A year ago, Montoyo might have made that change. That was before the Blue Jays had success with this new-look roster in 2021, though. Montoyo believes it’s Toronto’s turn to be the aggressor, so reacting to a small sample of results over a couple of series losses would be a “panic move.” Those are moves for other teams to make.
“The lineup changes all the time at the bottom,” Montoyo explained Tuesday. “I’ve got my best hitters at the top, so there’s no reason to move people around. I’ve got the best leadoff hitter in baseball leading off. Bo had a great year last year hitting second. The guy hitting third was almost the MVP, and the guy hitting cleanup was the Silver Slugger.”
There was internal talk of moving Springer into the cleanup spot when Teoscar Hernández went down with an oblique injury. The same goes for Guerrero, who could have moved from third to second in the order. The two stars like hitting where they are, though, which Montoyo not only supports, but wants to see.
“If you play this game and you’re not comfortable, you already have that excuse built in,” Montoyo said. “It’s all about people being comfortable where they are.”
Even at 17-15, a record that’s nowhere near disastrous for May 11, each game is high-stress and each inning is high-leverage. The Blue Jays have trudged through a stretch of games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros. The Guardians, who appeared on paper to represent a soft spot in the schedule, took three of four from them. It’s unusual for the “tough” part of a schedule to come so early, but Toronto hasn’t been able to catch its breath.
“I think what gets lost on a lot of people is that we just had a long stretch and played some very, very good teams,” Springer said. “We had some close games, had a lot of mentally draining games and physically draining games. This is not an excuse for why we’re not doing what we expect to do as a team, but it happens. We’ve played 30 out of 31 days to start the year against really good teams. It’s hard to do.”
The good news? There are 130 games left.
Springer is preaching patience, and he’s right, but even he adds that there needs to be “a little bit of urgency.” After missing the postseason by just one pesky game in 2021, that will be on the minds of fans all season long when the Blue Jays drop close games, whether that’s fair or not.
Nothing changes until Toronto’s numbers with runners in scoring position improve, though.
Until then, the Blue Jays will continue to search for answers and hope that one or two timely swings change it all. Montoyo is the ultimate believer that hitting is contagious, and the club hopes that’s right, both for the sake of their May record and Guerrero’s bat collection.