Blue Jays long on time but short on answers

Nick Ashbourne
Kevin Pillar is among a large group of Toronto Blue Jays unable to find their groove at the plate. (Frank Gunn/CP)

If you are a fan of short, efficiently-pitched baseball games, the contest at Rogers Centre on Wednesday was right up your alley. If you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, it certainly wasn’t.

Once again, the Blue Jays bats remained in a near-cryogenic slumber as the team ground into almost as many double plays (3) as it had hits (4) in a 2-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. None of those hits came with runners in scoring position and the game felt scarily familiar to a club in the midst of a gruesome 1-7 start to their season.

Bad defence is easily identifiable with the naked eye, as is a pitching staff serving up meatballs, but a failure to string hits to together is a trickier phenomenon to pin down. So far, the Blue Jays don’t have a good explanation for what’s ailing them.

Manager John Gibbons maintains the faith is a passing malady, one that could find a cure as soon as Thursday’s matchup with the Baltimore Orioles.

“We’re just not getting any hits right now,” he said. “But I still believe if it’s not tonight it’ll be tomorrow night, and if it’s not tomorrow night then it’s going to happen. These guys will hang together, it’s that kind of group.”

Marcus Stroman – the game’s starter – also shared his manager’s unfailing optimism about his team’s ability to put runs on the board.

“I believe this is the best offence in baseball,” he said. “I know it is, it’s just a matter of them struggling a bit right now. I know once these guys get going it’s going to be scary.”

Josh Donaldson – who returned to the lineup as a designated hitter after sitting out Tuesday – conceded that frustration has creeped into the Blue Jays clubhouse as a result of the lingering cold streak.

“Definitely people are frustrated,” Donaldson said. “These are professionals and they take a lot of pride in what they do and how they go about it. At the same time I feel like a lot of guys are doing the right things and it’s not showing up right now.”

As far as explaining the cause of the problem, the third baseman sees a team struggling to find the right balance between selectivity and aggression – a problem that he himself experienced on Wednesday.

“There are times when we get to be too passive. Like today I walked in my second at-bat, then he threw me a ball the first pitch and I have a check swing on a ball that’s out of the zone – now I’m being too aggressive,” he explained. “Then he throws me a pitch down the plate and I take it – and that’s too passive. It’s a fine line.”

As elegant as Donaldson’s explanation is, it doesn’t offer a concrete way forward nor does it explain how the Blue Jays managed just three runs off back-end starters Wily Peralta and Chase Anderson – a duo that combined for 279.1 innings of 4.61 ERA ball last year – in the last two games.

Everyone seems to agree that the runs will come, put the when and the how seem like sticking points, and there was no better time for a breakout than against this Brewers team on the return home. It’s still early – incredibly early in fact – but it’s not getting earlier.

For those looking to squeeze positives out of a dire contest for the Blue Jays, they were not non-existent. Stroman gave the team an exceptional complete-game outing and Kendrys Morales showed off some surprisingly adept glovework in spot duty at first.

The right-hander gave the team nine good innings while striking out four, walking just one and letting the bullpen enjoy some well-needed rest. He allowed some hard contact late in the game, but gave the team exactly the kind of start it needed from him. In a game with plenty of blame to go around, he deserved none.

Taking to the field to keep Donaldson’s bat in the lineup, Morales looked surprisingly solid. He won multiple footraces to the bag, and handled two errant throws from Darwin Barney in the sixth with aplomb – one with a big scoop and another utilizing a baseline tag. The idea of throwing him out there with regularity while Donaldson heals seems more palatable today than it did yesterday.

Morales may have done his best to answer one question the Blue Jays were facing entering Thursday, but far more remain unanswered.