When the power isn’t there, all great teams find a way to get on the board. Manufacturing runs has been a gaping hole for the Blue Jays this season. The old adage “Live by the sword, die by the sword” comes to mind when describing our offense. Big hits aren’t always going to happen, and when they don’t, it’s important to make it happen in other ways.
The Jays are built for power. Any given day, the prospect for a blowout win via the long-ball is real. This is not a subject any manager would complain about. However, when the big bats are not connecting, it can make an opposing pitcher look like a wizard and our home team look really bad. The problem with Toronto is that there is really no one who you can sacrifice and take out of the lineup in exchange for speed, bunting ability and taking walks.
It’s a rare sight lately as a Jays fan to see a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner. This is partially due to having such a power-filled roster that you’re not going to take an at-bat away from a guy like Donaldson or Encarnation by asking them to bunt. You’ve got the whole lineup filled with guys who you don’t want to take an at-bat away from. So what is the plan when you’ve got an opposing ace throwing unhittable strikes at your big guns?
When I think of manufacturing runs, I think of the Boston Red Sox. I despise this team as much as any self-respecting Blue Jays fan because they always find a way to cash in a runner, get on the board and take close games away from you. They are always in the game. The perennial pest Dustin Pedroia is the guy the team has depended on and turned to in close games for the past 10 seasons. Always finding a way to get on base, steal one, distract the pitcher with lead-offs and score during close games. Boston has many more guys like that in their lineup: Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Speed, quick bats, fundamentals and high baseball IQ; these are the components to small ball.
Although the Blue Jays have tonnes of power, they lack that one piece to get on base, move up and get across the plate. Ezequiel Carrera is the closest to fitting the description that we have in our regular lineup at the moment. In past situations, Kevin Pillar has done a good job in this department, but his OBP numbers are down (.290 from .314 in 2015), and his stolen bases have also taken a dive from last season. Devon Travis brought some hope when returning from injury earlier this year that the Jays would have some more singles and stolen bases. He, as well, has been struggling to get on base and run.
In their recent series with the Mariners, Toronto had difficulty (with a few exceptions) hitting and scoring runs. Sunday’s game could have been lost if not for J.A. Happ pitching an amazing game and the bullpen coming through. The first inning saw huge swings from Donaldson and Encarnation, which led to long fly ball outs instead of base hits. The only scoring plays for the Blue Jays came on a solo shot from Edwin in the fourth and some surprising and luck-filled base running from unlikely source Josh Thole. Close games like Sunday’s finale against Seattle are times when small ball is missed, and the Jays are exposed for their weaknesses despite pulling out a win.
Jose Bautista’s return will be a welcome one; not just for his power, but for his patience at the plate. Season after season, Jose is consistently near the top of the league for bases on balls. He understands the importance of recognising when pitchers are not giving you anything to hit, you must take the walk. Far from being a terrible runner, he can also provide first to third speed or score from second on a single, although he is not going to be stealing many bases. His absence during injury has shown the significance he brings as a batter, not to mention his above-average arm in the outfield.
Don’t get me wrong, I like hearing the crack of the bat and watching the baseball soar 400 feet as much as anyone else. Too many times, it seems, I am watching our batters taking massive swings at pitches that they could just as easily hack at and find a hole in the infield with. If the Jays are to lose any of their power hitters at the end of the season, looking for an all-round player with speed and grit should be at the top of their list for replacements. In high-pressure situations, sometimes you have to manufacture a run and take what you’re given. Something the Jays need to look towards in the future, but for now, keep swinging for the fences.