Blue Jays emerge from the darkness by putting on a clinic of modern baseball

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The Toronto Blue Jays played a game unusual to their season, but true to their identity on Friday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
The Toronto Blue Jays played a game unusual to their season, but true to their identity on Friday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Between the second and the third pitch of Friday’s game between the Blue Jays and White Sox, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. got a light jog in.

It was an odd sight as the 250-pound third baseman got on his horse and made his way from his position playing in down the third base line and went all the way to a spot deep on the infield right up the middle.

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The reason for the move was that the count had reached 0-2. Because the Blue Jays figured leadoff man Leury Garcia wouldn’t bunt with two strikes, the rookie defender was free to take a spot in the club’s exaggerated shift.

Making major defensive realignments mid-count would have been unthinkable not long ago, but it’s just another routine maneuver in modern baseball.

Garcia saw Guerrero Jr. abandoning his original post as an opportunity. The outfielder turned up his nose at the Blue Jays’ by-the-numbers approach and bunted for the open pastures to his left.

He failed about as definitively as humanly possible.

Via MLB.tv
Via MLB.tv

The sequence didn’t play into the outcome of the game, but it wound up dripping with symbolism. On Friday night, the Blue Jays were the Platonic ideal of baseball in 2019, and despite their best efforts, the White Sox couldn’t resist them on the way to a 4-3 loss.

Virtually every trend of the modern game was put on display by the Blue Jays. They used an opener in Daniel Hudson. They hit more home runs than singles and every run they put on the board could be attributed to the Three True Outcomes — with their signature hit being a Randal Grichuk homer in the wake of two walks.

They walked seven times, including a single-game career high of four from Justin Smoak — a feat he didn’t feel particularly attached to.

“Grich was saying to me ‘man, four walks, I’d love that,” Smoak recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah I’d love a three-run home run.’ I don’t know if it’s an accomplishment. It’s where I feel like we’re in this game now. You get to certain counts, people want the strikeout and they’re going to throw you their best pitch. The majority of the time that’s a borderline pitch and tonight I was able to lay off a few.”

The club only got three hits that didn’t clear the wall — and one of them definitely should have been ruled an error. The only thing the Blue Jays didn’t do was strikeout an unreasonable number of times.

More or less every complaint that you could make about the direction of baseball was a valid issue to take with Friday’s game. It dragged on, reaching its three-hour mark as the top of the eighth got underway. Even the Eric Sogards of the world were seen swinging for the fences. And video review played a role, granting Tim Anderson an infield hit in the seventh that ultimately resulted in a run.

Perhaps most gratingly, there were 10 pitching changes between the two clubs.

“That’s the thing about using the opener, there’s a lot of managing involved,” Charlie Montoyo said. “It goes from the first pitch on.”

The White Sox incorporated a couple of small ball elements with Yoan Moncada swiping a pair of bases and Ryan Cordell dropping down a sac bunt to try and spark a seventh-inning comeback, but it was not a game for purists.

None of that matters a lick to the Blue Jays of course. Coming off an abysmal stretch they are very much in the “a win’s a win” mindset. Aesthetics aren’t the focus for them right now. They never were.

The reason the club has been far higher on the bunting leaderboards than the home run rankings isn’t a matter of design or commitment to a different kind of baseball. It’s the result of their power hitters not hitting for enough power.

Guys in the Blue Jays lineup like Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, and Rowdy Tellez are there to hit home runs. That is the primary expression of their value. If you were drawing up an alternate timeline where the Blue Jays have an above-average offence, nights where Hernandez and Grichuk both go deep wouldn’t be so rare.

On the pitching side, it was always reasonable to expect we’d see an opener at some point considering Montoyo’s Rays pedigree — especially with so many holes in the rotation.

“It makes sense once you sit down and get explained why we’re doing it this way,” Hudson said. “Unfortunately we had Clay go down. It was kind of an emergency, it wasn’t really a long-term plan. I’m good to go whenever. First or the ninth I’m good to go.”

The game the Blue Jays played on Friday night is very atypical of what they’ve been this season, but it looks quite a bit like what they’re supposed to be — a modern baseball team.

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