Kevin Pillar made a terrible read on a ball in the four-run bottom of the first inning of Tuesday night’s Blue Jays game against the Rangers in Texas.
Kevin Pillar had a truly awful at-bat in a key spot later on, with the bases loaded in the seventh, flailing away like his 2015 self, looking a shell of the man who spawned glowing thinkpieces about perseverance and Z-Swing% just a few weeks ago.
Kevin Pillar has been bad lately, and Kevin Pillar’s name should no longer be automatically written at the top of John Gibbons’ lineup card every night.
On this, I think, we can all agree.
Judging by the Twitter reaction to Pillar’s night, however, and the club’s as a whole, that’s about all we’re going to agree on about this situation. Beyond that point the views of the clear-eyed among us and those bare-legged, on all fours, pissing shit out of their eyeballs, seem to diverge.
Granted, Twitter is a strange and despairing place, even at the best of times — which, strangely e-fucking-nough, much of Tuesday probably should have been for the Blue Jays and their fans. We woke up Tuesday morning with the club sitting (along with several other teams) just a game behind the two clubs tied for the second American League Wild Card spot, and with a .500 record once again in their sights. Compared to literally every moment in the season thus far, Tuesday morning was practically like some grand, sun-dappled fuck dream. Jon Morosi noted later in the day that the Jays had put together the AL’s best record since April 27th — an arbitrary sort of feat, but an impressive and spirit-lifting one nonetheless.
It’s maybe a little bit strange, then, that I’ve found that the mood among many fans lately has seemed downright pissy.
I can’t say I don’t somewhat understand why. Wins haven’t been easy to come by lately, and the losses have been ugly. Morales is slow and Tulo can’t hit. The parade to the disabled list has continued unabated. And the wounds of an April that almost sunk the season practically before it started have yet to heal. Shit, the wounds of the 2015 ALCS probably aren’t healed either. People just aren’t ready to believe in these Blue Jays. A lot of people, I’d wager, won’t truly believe until they see what they saw, and feel what they felt, when the team suddenly became a juggernaut in the second half of that season. And maybe not even then, given how that all turned out.
Which — holy shit! — isn’t to say that anybody should truly believe in this team right now. What I’m actually driving at is just that there seem to be a whole lot of people missing out on the fun bits, and whose perspectives have gone absolutely sideways.
Because, my god, the fucking Kevin Pillar thing. So many armchair batters (which, seriously, don’t). So much righteous anger! Outrage that, when it comes down to it, is mostly about one big-spot at-bat that was pretty feeble (boo hoo — it happens; no need to be a total I wouldn’t have swung at that 2-0 pitch dipshit about it) and John Gibbons taking a liiiiittle bit longer than we have to get on board with the notion that Pillar should be dropped in the lineup.
Pillar has been awful for a month, but that’s something we’d do well to remember can only be seen from here. Two weeks ago, John Gibbons didn’t know Pillar’s next two weeks were going to look like this. And with the way Pillar absolutely carried this team offensively for much of April and early May, and legitimately looked the part of a lead-off hitter, he earned a whole lot of trust from his manager.
To the chagrin of what seemed to be half of my Twitter feed last night, this means that the question we need to be asking isn’t so much, “HOW DOES THE MANAGER NOT SEE THAT PILLAR LEADING OFF IS KILLING THEM??!?” — don’t be dumb, he absolutely sees it — the more reasonable question should be, “At what point did it become clear that Gibbons needs to stop giving Pillar the benefit of the doubt?”
If we’re being honest, the answer to that is, “Not all that long ago.” And Gibbons’, or any manager’s, answer to that is naturally going to be different from ours. We don’t have to face Pillar in the clubhouse every day. We didn’t see up close the work he put in or how badly he wanted to be the lead-off man. We don’t have to try to maintain a positive relationship with him and make sure he knows we have his back.
While these sorts of concerns are absolutely terrible reasons to let a bad player continue to take more at-bats than anybody else on the team, they are concerns. And the key word there is “continue,” because this obviously won’t for much longer — not like this.
Maybe I’m wrong and the grumbling about this this has been going on for weeks, but to me it feels like fans reaching the tipping point on their tolerance for the Pillar-at-lead-off idea have flipped straight into outrage mode — not accounting for the fact that John Gibbons may not be a whole lot farther behind the curve than they are on this one, or for the fact that, whatever distance there is between his ultimate action and popular opinion, there are surely reasons for that. Fairly bloody obvious ones!
I’ve used a phrase a few times this season about the Jays’ decision to go with Ezequiel Carrera as their primary left fielder: “it’s not a problem until it becomes a problem.” Well, Pillar at lead-off has become a problem. Pillar at the plate has become a problem.
They’re not going to stop playing him, because his glove (despite some noticeable miscues of late) still absolutely carries his bat. But he seems to have become that guy again. And it’s a damn shame, too.
Following that, lead-off itself has become a problem, because there are really no other obvious answers there at the moment — Russell Martin? Steve Pearce and Dwight Smith? Bautista? — which, of course, is likely another reason Gibbons is letting the Pillar experiment linger beyond it’s expiration date.
But it will change. It is being noticed. Relax about this a little bit. As I wrote yesterday, in a piece with many similar themes to this one, “I’ve thought [Bautista] was due for this for a year-and-a-half now, so I get why the impatient, panicky, glass-half-empty folks out there are probably right now convincing themselves that May was the aberration and José is already a long way down the road to being finished. But I like to think that I also get why those types of people are — always, inevitably — sitting in the fucking stands. And I’m glad that the Blue Jays have a manager who is of the opposite mind.”
I’m still glad for that. Last night’s results were not a good look for Gibbons’ patience with Pillar, but it would be pretty fucking stupid if I changed my mind on this so quickly. *COUGH*