TORONTO – Amid the ongoing controversy over the faltering Toronto Blue Jays attack, it’s worth bearing in mind that the little details really matter too.
One of the main reasons for starting the 15-8 season is that they played hard in the early weeks, winning games on the sidelines even when runs weren’t plentiful. When the bats stayed cool, some sloshing was due, but with leverage remaining the norm during the last slither, small mistakes – on the field, on the bases, on the hill – exacerbated the problems on the board.
That’s why the attention to detail they showed in Monday night’s 6-2 win over the Seattle Mariners is in some ways as important as the six rounds of Yusei Kikuchi, the solo homers of Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman, and Alejandro Kirk’s breathing room, one run.
Rather than just waiting for the bats to race against the opponent, the Blue Jays did little things to keep the pressure on the Mariners and make sure their visitors got nothing they didn’t earn ahead of Rogers’ center crowd of 28,207.
“Probably the most important thing is to come home, and have our fans around,” Beechette said. “When things don’t go well, you get energy on your side, and it’s easy for the momentum to change. Everyone fought today, he has good plans. Everyone just showed up with a lot of energy.”
This was reflected in the intensity of their playing. for example:
• Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took what was there and hit the ball into the right field against a turn in the third to form first and third with two, an approach that Teoscar Hernandez tried to emulate in a pop-up to finish the game.
• Guerrero runs in front of Eugenio Suarez pop-ups in a foul area in fifth and then immediately spins and shoots into third to prevent Jesse Winker from marking and moving up to third.
• Hernandez aggressively charges Adam Frazier’s single and throws well into the house to prevent the Mariners from sending a second run home, giving Yemi Garcia a chance to work from the crowd unscathed, which he did.
• Bichette fed a weak Ty France chopper with rules loaded later in the inning and paused his throw when referee Ryan Willis, positioned on the field as the crew was dropping a man, got into his lane, regrouped and then made a powerful throw for the third out. “That was a huge part of the game,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “He didn’t panic and made the play, which was huge.”
• Bichette and Guerrero advanced on a wild ground in the bottom half, establishing Kirk’s single that opened a 5-1 advantage.
Things like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Punch a ball to the right field against turning in the third to make up a first and a third with two, an approach that Teoscar Hernandez tried to emulate in a pop-up to finish the inning.
As Guerrero runs into a pop-up Eugenio Suarez in a foul area in fifth and then immediately spins and shoots into third to prevent Jesse Winker from marking and advancing to third.
As Hernandez supercharges Adam Frazier’s single and makes a good home throw to prevent the Mariners from sending a second run home, giving Yemi Garcia the chance to work from a jam unharmed, which he did.
Like Bichette entering a weak Ty France chopper with rules loaded later in the inning and pausing his throw when referee Ryan Willis, positioned on the field because the crew was dropping a man, got into his lane, regrouped and then made a solid throw for third.
And like Bichette and Guerrero’s lead on a wild ground in the bottom half, they set up Kirk’s single that opened up a 5-1 advantage.
In these more subtle ways, the Blue Jays backed both Kikuchi’s impressive last step forward and their life-show offense.
Now, all this does not mean that colleagues do not play. They do, and for the Blue Jays to truly find their directions, they’ll have to do their share of batting.
But as their recent 2-7 run has shown, particularly the games against the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays, playing against the top teams is getting tighter and often one blink that makes the difference.
“We’re going to play offensive matches like this,” Bechett said. “Come ready to play every day. It just won’t happen. We will look forward to continuing to have that mindset every day.”
Kikuchi got the Blue Jays right off the foot, keeping the Mariners poised with a quick four-stitch ball seated at 94.9 mph, and his revamped slide that made four puffs and seven changes across 90 pitches.
Mariners coach Scott Serveis noted before the game that they took note of the modified ammo and would be on hand for it, but that didn’t make a difference, as they only managed a one-stroke against Kikuchi along with three six-stroke walking runs.
“I didn’t necessarily change the grip, it was the thought process behind that pitch,” Kikuchi said of his slider through translator Kevin Ando. “Pete (Walker, my throw coach) mentioned trying to throw a gallbladder, which was basically a bigger cutter and throwing it with that intent was a great feeling after one or two throws. And so I stuck with that. I have a little bit of knowledge behind that, like rate of spin, direction of spin and all that.” This made it easier for me to create that bitter pitch.”
Walker used Robbie Ray’s slider—a reigning AL Cy Young award winner who did not accompany the Mariners to visit his former team—as an example, and in combination with his growing use of four tiers and streamlined delivery, the process bears fruit.
During his last three starts, Kikuchi allowed three runs with six strokes and seven walks in 17.1 runs with 20 strikes.
Meanwhile, Bichette put Blue Jays on the board with a solo shot at the start, Chapman doubled the advantage with his lead in the second while RBI’s Rimmel Tapia soloed in sixth to make it 3-0.
Suarez’s seventh-inning solo shot from Trevor Richards ate at that edge, but the Blue Jays didn’t stop adding after Kirk’s single, Bichette extending the advantage with an RBI song in eighth making it 6-1.
This was only the second time in the last 15 games they had scored more than five runs, which is certainly not the level expected of production. They entered their ninth day in the MLS with an average of 3.71 rounds per game, surrounded by constant conversations about how to run their rackets.
“Really what we’re focused on is routine and work, and that sounds really good,” GM Ross Atkins said. “I know Dave Hudgens, Guillermo Martinez and Hunter Menes are working tirelessly on potential adjustments. But we do it when we score a number of goals as well. There are always some opportunities to improve or improve. I feel good and very confident about the process that these guys have to prepare for. And I feel very confident that they will end up with strong offensive years.”
And if bats aren’t coming soon, then what?
“Look at the process and work and then, are there opportunities to modify, have we posted things the wrong way, are there ways we can modify the process and work?” Atkins replied. “Because adjusting results isn’t something we want to focus on. You can’t.”
The best thing is to focus on the little things that fill in the gaps around the bigger plays.