There are a litany of issues that have contributed to the Blue Jays uninspiring 8-12 start.
More elemental than any other is an inability to put the bat on the ball. Coming into Thursday’s action against the Minnesota Twins, the Blue Jays led the league with a strikeout rate of 28.1 per cent - an inflated total even in the golden age of the K.
That’s part of the reason this club has been so frustrating to watch at times. They haven’t just been unable to get on base, just getting out of the batting box has been a struggle.
For the first time in a long time, strikeouts weren’t an issue as the Blue Jays locked in a series win at Target Field on Thursday. Not only did the team go down on strikes just six times compared to a season average of 10.2, they saw the benefits of putting the ball in play directly.
Five of the 7 runs the team scored came in the fourth inning, which began on this innocuous blooper off the bat of Randal Grichuk:
As far as “put the ball in play and something good might happen” hits, that’s way up there. Statcast’s Expected Batting Average on the play was just .160 and that almost feels generous. That didn’t matter because the next batter up was Justin Smoak who spanked a no doubter at 106.2 mph to tie the game.
Just a couple of batters later, it was Rowdy Tellez who had a hit fall in with the blessing of Lady Luck:
A walk and a single later, the Blue Jays had the bases loaded. Danny Jansen flew out, but it was the newly-arrived Eric Sogard who played hero with a two-out double making it 6-3. It was the sort of sequence that Michael Pineda and the Twins probably felt a bit hard done by about. The vast majority of the time, at least one of those pop-ups is caught and the game doesn’t get broken open.
There’s no disputing that fortune favoured the Blue Jays in that decisive inning, but, once in a while you do get more than your fair share of luck if you put the ball in play. One of the reasons Toronto hasn’t caught many breaks this season is they haven’t put themselves in position to.
It feels appropriate that Eric Sogard was the hero here, because the veteran utility man is one of the best contact hitters in the game. Sogard has a single strikeout as a Blue Jay so far (looking) and has swung and missed at exactly one pitch. His career contact rate is over 90 per cent.
This club has guys like Grichuk, Tellez, and Teoscar Hernandez that are going to swing and miss a lot. That’s the price of doing business to unlock their Statcast-busting power. The 2019 Blue Jays are not the 2015 Kansas City Royals and they need to play to their strengths.
At the same time, wins like this one can serve as a reminder that, once in a while, it pays to but the bat on the ball and leave your fate in the hands of the baseball gods. This is not going to be a team of Eric Sogards, but some of these guys could benefit from channelling their inner Sogard from time-to-time.
If Sogard himself remains the offensive force that he’s been so far, that’d certainly go a long way too.
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