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Three Key Things: Blue Jays manage comeback victory but spoil two great pitching performances against Twins

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Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
1 month ago
Prior to this weekend, the last time the Blue Jays concluded a series against the Twins, they entered an offseason filled with criticism and areas of need, among other things. Fast-forward to this past weekend and another completed series with the Twins, and the Blue Jays, although not entering an offseason, are still scarred with criticism and areas of need.
A “we’re so back” kind of win and two “Ah, this is what we’re used to” kind of wins summed up this weekend’s series loss to the MLB’s representative in the Twin Cities. Here are my Three Key Things from it.

Saturday’s comeback was a sight for sore eyes

The offensive struggles of 2023 and 2024 have left many fans, like myself, reminiscing on the lineups that Toronto has boasted from the past 10-15 years before them. One of the capabilities of a potent lineup is to erase a deficit, whether it be a couple of runs or 5+. Yeah, I’m talking about the Blue Jays erasing an 8-0 deficit against the Reds in June of 2014 (my first Blue Jays game in person), an 8-2 deficit against the Athletics in September of 2021, a 7-0 deficit against the Rangers in April of 2022, and many more.
This year’s team hasn’t proven they can overcome adversity in a game. It’s one thing to simply say it, but it’s another thing to put a number on it. Before Saturday, the Blue Jays posted an 0-for-41 record in games where they trailed by three or more runs since the 2023 All-Star Break. It’s a disheartening feeling when the data suggests you can turn off the TV after a three-run deficit.
That streak has obviously ended after Toronto’s thrilling 10-8 win on Saturday afternoon, a game in which they trailed 7-1 in the third inning and 8-3 in the fourth inning. While the aforementioned old teams would do most of their damage with the home run ball, this team paired the long ball with some bloop singles, hard-hit singles, and doubles.
Among some of the most encouraging things from Saturday, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. went 4-for-5 with 3 RBIs, including a clutch two-out, two-run single with the bases loaded to tie the game in the sixth. Guerrero Jr. wrapped up the weekend with a 7-for-12 line, bringing his overall slash line to .273/.364/.390 with an OPS of .754. Is it where he needs to be? No. But are we seeing him work his way back from a slow start? Absolutely.
Danny Jansen (3-for-5, HR, 2 RBIs) and Davis Schneider (3-for-4, HR, 2 RBIs) were also key contributors to the comeback win, and the Blue Jays got some timely hits from Bo Bichette, Ernie Clement, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Eight of the nine starters registered at least one hit, and six different Blue Jays produced an RBI.
This kind of win could’ve been a “get right” game for the offence. A turning point. A release of all of the frustrations that started last year. Sunday immediately brought us back to square one, but it was nice to see the Rogers Centre get loud again.

Kikuchi and Manoah get tagged with unfortunate losses

Remember when Yusei Kikuchi was borderline un-pitchable in 2022? We had people calling for his DFA in the first year of a three-year, $36 million deal. How silly does that all seem now? Kikuchi is now one of Toronto’s most dominant starting pitchers, and not only is he working towards a massive payday after the season, but his pending bout with free agency may also make him a trade chip at this year’s trade deadline.
That’s all for the future to decide, but Kikuchi is coming off arguably his best start as a Blue Jay on Friday night. Kikuchi pitched a career-high eight innings, allowing only four hits, two runs, no walks, and three strikeouts, lowering his season ERA and WHIP to 2.64 and 1.049, respectively. He was unfortunately hit with a loss as the Blue Jays went 1-for-6 with RISP and left seven runners on base in a 3-2 loss.
While he has historically been a fastball-slider pitcher, Kikuchi has found success with his curveball this season. On Friday night, he threw the curve almost three times as much as his slider, generating four whiffs against it.
On Sunday afternoon, the Blue Jays got a very encouraging start from Alek Manoah, but he, too, was tagged with a loss after the Jays could only muster two hits and one run in a 5-1 loss. Manoah was as efficient as his 2022 self, throwing 78 pitches through seven innings and allowing four hits, three runs (all unearned), one walk, and six strikeouts. A two-out, three-run home run from Carlos Santana in the seventh inning put the Jays in a hole that they could not climb out of, but the Jays have a lot they can be happy with concerning Manoah. Walking only one batter, throwing 55 strikes versus 23 balls, and 16 first-pitch strikes are just a few of them.
Like Kikuchi, Manoah increased his usage in a pitch that he does not normally throw a ton, with his being the changeup. Manoah threw 19 changeups on Sunday with four whiffs and a called strike, but it was his second-most used pitch on the day.

John Schneider and leadoff position banter

It’s a tale as old as… well… the 2024 season: John Schneider and creating the batting order.
That topic took a lot more attention this weekend, particularly after Sunday’s batting order was announced. Just hours after scoring a double-digit amount of runs for the first time this season (and that sense of a turning point, as I mentioned above), Schneider inserted George Springer back into the leadoff spot, DH’d Daniel Vogelbach in place of Jansen, and bumped Davis Schneider down to fifth in the lineup behind Bichette.
Springer had missed the previous two games with an illness, and J. Schneider gave D. Schneider an opportunity in the leadoff spot in his absence. J. Schneider made an appearance on Sportsnet’s “Blair and Barker” on Friday afternoon before the weekend series, and he had to answer a couple of questions concerning the batting order. “I’ve been saying it for a long time. There’s nothing set in stone,” Schneider said. “You’re just trying to adjust and use your eyes and try to see how we can get more runs on the board consistently.
In the two games Schneider hit leadoff, he went 3-for-7 with a walk, a double, a home run, and two RBIs. While that doesn’t guarantee that he will be on that pace for the rest of his career in the leadoff position, the eye test would certainly suggest that Schneider’s offensive output at the end of last year and the beginning of this year would make for the right leadoff hitter for an offence that has been extremely underwhelming.
Through 37 games this season, Springer is slashing .200/273/.290 with a .563 OPS and an OPS+ of 64. A couple of slumps last season forced J. Schneider’s hand in putting Whit Merrifield in the leadoff spot while moving Springer down in the lineup, so at the very least, we (at least we think) know that the Blue Jays have had the hard conversation with him before.
In his defense, J. Schneider did make a good point a few minutes later in Friday’s interview that, while he tries to put guys in the best position possible, he mentioned that he doesn’t want to “do anything crazy day in and day out because these guys thrive on routines.” It’s a 162-game season, and baseball players absolutely rely on routines to help them get through.
However, the Blue Jays are 40 games into a massive season as far as the direction of this franchise goes. Their competitive window can close very quickly. If the goal is to put guys in the best position to win, it has to be done, even if a hard decision needs to be made or a hard conversation has to be had.
I’m sure there will be more to talk about regarding this topic after this week!

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