Blue Jays' makeup forces Gibbons to stay the course

Nick Ashbourne

Watching the Toronto Blue Jays offence right now isn’t fun – and no one has a better seat to observe a lineup stuck in neutral than manager John Gibbons.

It seems that each day he expresses his faith that this thing will get going in the right direction soon enough, he watches his offence come out flat.

For some, that’s an indictment of the laid-back Blue Jays manager, who is praised for being steady during the good times and criticized for passivity during the tough stretches. However, before questioning Gibbons, it’s worth asking what you’d have him do differently.

How about calling for a few stolen bases?

“A lot of times that’s what you do [when you’re struggling],” he said Wednesday, a day before the club lost for the eighth time in nine games this season. “But you also have to have the personnel to do it.”

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Therein lies the rub for Toronto. Ezequiel Carrera and Kevin Pillar can take the odd base, but this team is built to slug, not run. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, there’s no sign for three-run bomb that Gibbons can call from the dugout.

The nine-man lineup Gibbons used in Wednesday’s game doesn’t have a steal between them this year and managed 39 in 2016 – four fewer than former Blue Jay Rajai Davis.

When it comes to nabbing bags this year, the Blue Jays can pick their spots against specific pitchers, but that’s about it.

“When it comes to stealing bases, there are not many guys we’ve got who can do that so you don’t necessarily want to run into an out,” said Gibbons. “There are some guys you can take advantage of, but we haven’t run into any of them yet.”

The hit-and-run is another tool available to the Blue Jays, as it could open holes on the infield for even poorly-hit balls to sneak through.

“We’ve tried to hit-and-run a couple times,” Gibbons said. “We tried it that one time last night – but you still gotta get some guys on base.”

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to getting his lineup on track. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Getting guys on base is certainly an issue, as is the fact that a number of Blue Jays are swinging at too much air lately to make the risk worthwhile.

“There are certain guys you don’t want to do it with,” Gibbons said.

Right now that list includes – but is not necessarily limited to – Russell Martin, Justin Smoak, Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales and Devon Travis as all five are no stranger to the swing-and-miss.

Pillar is a good hit-and-run candidate, although he couldn’t convert on the play Wednesday and wound up hitting into a double play. Darwin Barney is another possibility, but the options are sparse.

Another option for kickstarting offence is the bunting game, but for the Blue Jays, Carrera is a one-man-band in that area. Even so, Gibbons threw him at the top of the order on Wednesday to see if it might make an impact.

“Simple move,” he said. “Zeke’s been known to spark us the last couple years.”

None of this is a value judgment on the way the Blue Jays offence is built. Putting together a lineup that makes their money parking baseballs behind walls is a perfectly valid offensive strategy. It’s one that’s working out for the Baltimore Orioles nicely.

Even so, it is a method that can make a passenger of a club’s manager at times. Gibbons isn’t doing much to change the Blue Jays offensive fortunes, because micro-managing a lineup of sluggers is counterproductive.

Small ball can’t save the Blue Jays lineup. Home runs can – and they probably will sooner or later. Just ask Gibbons.

“We’re due. We’re overdue.”