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Five Blue Jays Thoughts: The clutch gene, a big opportunity versus Houston, and more

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Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Ethan Diamandas
8 days ago
The Blue Jays split their first series of the year, right on par with expectations. Not great. Not terrible. There were shining moments, like Toronto’s clutch hitting (hallelujah!). But there was a good sample of bad, too, such as the club’s wonky defensive play.
Here are five thoughts after the Jays’ 2-2 start to the 2024 season:

The clutch gene

Is clutch hitting genetic? For Justin Turner, it might be. The 39-year-old batted 4-for-16 with three extra-base hits and four RBIs in his first series as a Blue Jays, breaking open Sunday’s game with a two-out, two-run double that hoisted Toronto to an early lead.
What a concept. Kevin Gausman got some wiggle room, and the Blue Jays fanbase didn’t need to drink its way through another monotonous contest at Tropicana Field. Now this first series was by no means a roaring success, but some seedlings of good grace were planted. The Blue Jays went 8-for-30 with RISP (.267), putting them 15th in baseball, with two extra-base hits and 12 RBI, eight of which came from Turner and Alejandro Kirk.
Kirk also stood out to me. He only had two hits in three games, but both knocks were two RBI singles up the gut. Clutch hitting! How refreshing. While Toronto may not be able to smash its way back from a five-run lead like years past, I saw multiple examples of quality approaches in pivotal spots. There’s something to build on.

Far from stellar defence

Where to begin? Let’s go with the third inning of Friday’s game. With two men on, Yandy Díaz hit a chopper that Bo Bichette misplayed on the short hop. Everyone was safe. The next event? A Brandon Lowe salami that put the Jays in an insurmountable hole.
It’s low-hanging fruit to rag on Bichette’s defence. I try not to. Not every defender is Manny Machado or Nolan Arenado. You can overcome a lack of natural talent with hard work. But, in my opinion, Bichette looks hesitant. There’s a degree of breath-holding when Bichette fields an in-between hop or gets his feet going to (always?) throw on the run.
I’d love to see Bichette own his movements more. Commit to the short or long hop and attack. Set his feet and let it rip to first, low, on a line.
Then there’s the catching situation. The Rays succeeded on six of seven stolen bases, with the only caught-stealing stemming from a fantastic pick-and-tag by Cavan Biggio and an overturned challenge. Tampa Bay – and Jose Siri, especially – ran wild on Toronto. With Siri on the bases, a single could become a triple in a handful of pitches.
Neither Kirk nor Danny Jansen (and I guess Brian Serven, too) have cannon-like arms, but there must be greater emphasis on controlling the run game. I’ll put 33% of the onus on the pitchers to throw over and vary their cadence. After that, it’s all on the catchers. Mix in a pitch-out. Practice your between-innings throwdowns at full speed. Something must change.

Don’t mess with Génesis Cabrera

This was a weird one. In the seventh inning of Saturday’s loss, Jays reliever Génesis Cabrera got in the grill of Rays infielder José Caballero. Caballero reached on an error, then raced over to third where he was tagged out and confronted by the Jays lefty.
It started with a subtle bump, some arm flailing, and then a leathery facewash from Cabrera, who gave Caballero the two-hander and then immediately strolled back to the dugout for a calm little cup of water like nothing happened. Comical? Yes. Stupid? Probably. MLB thought so too, handing Cabrera a three-game suspension, which he is appealing.
I’m all for grit, but maybe the left-hander can pick his spots better next time. At the very least, Toronto flashed some fire. Cabrera is a scary dude. Maybe the Jays won’t feel so vanilla after this.

Ernie Clement season

I’d like to see Clement play 100 games for Toronto this season. So far, the 28-year-old is all-contact, no pop at the dish, but a hit a day keeps the pink slip away. His versatility is big, too, as I imagine John Schneider feels comfortable starting Clement at second, third, or short. The Rochester native made a nice pick play in Sunday’s game that reminded me how fluid he is on defense.
An extra-base hit wouldn’t hurt, but if Clement carries his contact-first approach into RISP situations, then he’ll get his chances.

A big opportunity versus Houston

The Astros own a big, bad lineup, but their hitters looked especially impotent in the club’s four straight losses to the Yankees. Yordan Alvarez is 2-for-17 this year, while Alex Bregman started 3-for-15. Beyond that, Houston is batting .195 with RISP through four games. Bowden Francis could quietly carve Monday, and an early homer or two might set the tone for a fortuitous three-game set.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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