SEATTLE – There are some parallels for the Toronto Blue Jays in the players-only meeting they held back in May, after a seventh loss in nine games, and the one called Friday, before they suffered a seventh setback in eight outings.
Then, timely hitting was the main issue, the club often finding itself a knock short in games of constant leverage. Now, injuries and inconsistencies in the rotation have triggered a vicious cycle of early deficits, leading to poor approaches at the plate. In both cases, the club’s leadership group felt it was necessary to talk things out among themselves.
“They resemble each other but moments in a season are all different,” Springer said Saturday. “We’re further along in the season. It’s a lot easier for people to look at the standings and say, you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that, as opposed to early in the year, you can say, I’ve still got time. I just said, ‘We all understand what our job is or what the task at hand is. We can’t be concerned about other teams and standings and all that stuff. We’ve just got to go play, control ourselves and see what happens at the end of the day.’”
The discussion didn’t pay immediate dividends, although the Blue Jays did play much better in dropping a second straight game to the Seattle Mariners, 5-2 in 11 innings, Friday night in what’s become a road trip of misery.
They are, without doubt, in perhaps their most gruelling physical test of the season, closing out a run of 31 games in 30 days within a larger stretch of 42 games in 41 days before the all-star break.
Hyun-Jin Ryu’s season-ending Tommy John surgery thinned out the rotation before Yusei Kikuchi’s struggles and the liner that struck Kevin Gausman’s right ankle compounded matters. And hovering in the shadows is the enduring grievance for first base coach Mark Budzinski, who is away from the club after the death of his daughter.
That’s a lot, frustration is building and a once comfortable lead atop the wild card standings is now down to the third spot, two games up on Seattle heading into Saturday’s action. So, not a bad time for the players to talk among themselves and try to change the vibe.
“It’s one of those times in the year where things don’t necessarily go the way you want them to and everybody is trying to find out why instead of just going out there and playing,” said Springer. “We lost a tough game (Friday) night, it is what it is, that’s the game. We all understand that there are going to be ups and downs in a season and this is one of those moments. But we also understand that we all have to go out and be better as a whole, try to get back to doing the little things better, and we’ll see what happens.”
Shifting thought processes from why losses are mounting to how to win under trying circumstances is no small matter, especially when there’s so much external noise about how the Blue Jays are being let down by their pitching floating around.
That they’re off to a 45-40 start despite not really syncing up their hitting and pitching outside of an eight-game win streak May 24-June 2 is both a reason for pause, and cause to believe better times are ahead.
That the club’s leadership group took the initiative to meet is “what you want,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “I think when a manager comes and talks, they think he’s panicking. It’s good when the leadership has the meeting. I think that’s awesome.”
Still, the immediate challenge is in unlocking the upside and making the roster function to its potential, an ongoing issue all season long.
“It’s never good when you’re trying to press, whether that’s the pitching staff or the offense. It just feels like we’re not clicking on both cylinders right now,” Ross Stripling said after throwing five gutty innings in Friday’s loss. “When we pitch well, we don’t necessarily score a bunch of runs and we score a bunch of runs, we don’t pitch as well, or whatever. We’re over halfway and we just haven’t totally started clicking on all cylinders yet. So, we’re our pressing. No one’s panicking in there. But we know that roster is too talented not to get going and it feels like it could happen any minute.”
Trust in process over results is a part of that.
The Blue Jays made enough solid contact during losses Monday and Tuesday in Oakland to have deserved more than four runs but that went for naught. They built several innings of opportunity Friday, but didn’t fulfill them.
With a few breaks, they could be 4-1 on this road trip instead of 1-4, which is both part of the problem and part of the solution.
“That’s baseball,” said Springer. “You’ve got to keep fighting, keep swinging and hopefully we’ll all be on the better side of a good day. …But you can’t do too much. You can’t try to be somebody you’re not. You can’t try to do things that you don’t know how to do or that you’re just not physically able to do. You’ve got to go be yourself. The mentality of this team is go out there and play hard, don’t quit and fight until the last out. Nobody’s ever trying to fail. We understand that as a team and we’ll see what happens.”