In Flight: Blue Jays crash out of postseason with a whimper

In Flight: Blue Jays crash out of postseason with a whimper

In the blink of an eye, it’s over.

The Minnesota Twins swept the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card series. The Blue Jays have now dropped seven consecutive postseason games, tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for MLB’s longest active playoff losing streak.

A lot of issues led to another early October exit, but Toronto’s continued inability to score runs was the biggest culprit. After prioritizing defense and being more fundamentally sound in the offseason, it looks like the Blue Jays course corrected too far. They finished the regular season a middling 14th in the league in runs scored and 18th in home runs.

Adam Bettcher / Getty Images Sport / Getty

You quickly received a cold dose of reality if you had hoped the season-long offensive doldrums would disappear under the postseason microscope. The Blue Jays scored just one run in two games against the Twins, mustering one extra-base hit and failing to record a home run. Home runs are the great equalizer in October, and Toronto couldn’t deliver those big swings. The team has just four home runs over its past six playoff games. It’s extremely difficult to win in the postseason trying to string together three or four singles. Despite the Blue Jays getting more hits, the Twins pulled out Game 1 of the series thanks to rookie sensation Royce Lewis’ two home runs off Kevin Gausman.

For all the talk about executing better and “doing the little things,” Toronto continually shot itself in the foot, particularly on the bases. With two runners on and two outs, the self-inflicted mistakes emerged again in arguably the season’s biggest moment when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was picked off at second base with Bo Bichette at the plate in the fifth inning of Game 2. It’s the first time in franchise history that a runner was picked off at second base in a postseason game.

Sonny Gray picks off Guerrero Jr to end the inning. 😲

Catch all of the action on Sportsnet and Sportsnet+! pic.twitter.com/Wvftp1l4Z4

— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 4, 2023

At the end of the day, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff was the only consistent thing about the team. Toronto’s hurlers did their job against the Twins, allowing just five total runs over two games. The bullpen was particularly sharp, giving up one run over 11 innings. Unfortunately, as was often the case during the regular season, the lineup didn’t provide the pitching staff with the necessary support.

Baseball fans often differ in opinion on how much a manager can impact wins and losses over a season and into the postseason. Both sides have valid arguments, but ultimately, the manager must make the right calls based on feel and understanding specific situations in the playoffs. Blue Jays manager John Schneider failed to do that for the second straight year.

Cole Burston / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Schneider took Gausman out amid a gem in Game 2 against the Seattle Mariners in 2022, only to see the bullpen implode in a devastating collapse. The manager raised eyebrows again with his decision to remove José Berríos after three innings in favor of Yusei Kikuchi in Game 2 versus the Twins. Berríos looked at his best Wednesday, striking out six while allowing just three hits and one walk. It was a curious move to pull the pitcher when he was absolutely dealing, especially considering the club inked Berríos to a seven-year, $131-million contract to pitch in these exact situations. Kikuchi was also put in a difficult spot. He hadn’t made a relief appearance in 2023 and is known as a very structured pitcher in his routine and preparation before his starts. Schneider’s decision backfired as Kikuchi allowed an RBI single to Carlos Correa, which held up as the winning run.

The pitching change caused an uproar among the fan base on social media, and several players admitted they didn’t expect the move.

“I hated it, frankly,” Blue Jays infielder Whit Merrifield said, according to Sports Illustrated’s Mitch Bannon. “It’s not what cost us the game, but it’s the kind of baseball decisions that are taking away from managers and baseball at this stage of the game.”

“Everybody was surprised,” Guerrero added, per TSN’s Scott Mitchell.

After another deflating end to a season, it’s shaping up to be an uncertain offseason for the Blue Jays. There will certainly be questions about Schneider’s job security. There might also be questions surrounding general manager Ross Atkins’ status for the first time. Atkins helped rebuild the team after the 2015 and 2016 postseason runs, but he hasn’t built a roster that can win in October. With former Houston Astros World Series-winning general manager James Click already in the fold as vice president of baseball strategy, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll emerge as a candidate should president Mark Shapiro make a change.

One thing that’s all but assured is the roster will look different when spring training opens in February. Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, Matt Chapman, Jordan Hicks, and Merrifield are all impending free agents. The Blue Jays could bring one or more back. But it’s equally possible, if not more likely, that the club lets all of them walk and looks elsewhere to improve after the way this campaign ended. Toronto will also likely look at the trade market to add an infusion of talent.

With Guerrero and Bichette only under team control for another two seasons, the sense of urgency needs to be at an all-time high for Atkins or whoever is making the decisions to put this team in a position to be more competitive in 2024.

“Everybody needs to reflect and see what we can do better,” Bichette said, according to MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson.

Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.


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