Three Key Things: Red Sox flex their muscle, Blue Jays suffer first series sweep of the season

Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
21 days ago
The results of many Blue Jays’ series this season have been “one step forward, two steps back,” but this week’s tilt against Boston was simply “No steps forward, three steps back.”
In the first meeting between the two teams this season, Boston swept Toronto, creating a 4.5-game cushion between each other in the AL East and AL Wild Card standings. Boston is already following the trend that they made out for themselves in 2023, as the Red Sox won their first seven games against the Blue Jays last season. This series marked the first time this season that Toronto has been swept, and here are my Three Key Things as to how it happened.

Power was a difference-maker

The narrative about Toronto’s lack of power may be getting exhausted as it is becoming a year-and-a-half-old story, but the Red Sox exposed that flaw at many points this week out-homering Toronto 7 to 2. These weren’t cheapies, either; six of those seven home runs were hit 400 feet or further.
Monday night featured an abnormally bad start from Yusei Kikuchi, who allowed four home runs to the Red Sox within his first three innings. I use the word “abnormal” not only because of how good Kikuchi has been this season, but because he also has been owning the best HR/9 of his career with a season of at least 10 starts. Two of Tyler O’Neill’s three home runs of the series came against Kikuchi, and his third was a game-tying blast in the 8th inning of Tuesday night’s game.
Jarren Duran hit a tie-breaking home run during Wednesday night’s game in the 5th inning, putting the Red Sox ahead for good. Duran had hits in all three games of this series, bringing his hit streak to 10 games. Pepper in home runs throughout the week from Enmanuel Valdez, Cedanne Rafaela, Rafael Devers, and the Red Sox were able to out-hit any problem they would’ve encountered.
Davis Schneider and Justin Turner each went deep in the first game of this series, but they were only solo shots, and the team wouldn’t hit a home run the rest of the series. For the “home runs aren’t the only way to score” crowd, Toronto was 4-for-32 with RISP this week, so they weren’t doing themselves any favors there. Turner represents one of the team’s brighter notes at the moment. He went 5-for-10 during this series with a home run, an RBI, two walks, and five runs, giving him a .318/.423/.455 slash line for the month of June.

This series was a good summation of the state of the bullpen

First it was Erik Swanson’s demotion to Buffalo. Then, it was Jordan Romano’s injury. Then, it was Yimi Garcia’s injury. Factor in Tim Mayza’s and Genesis Cabrera’s struggles, and the Blue Jays are in the middle of a massive bullpen dilemma. The diminished amount of high-leverage arms isn’t stacking up nicely next to a steady diet of high-leverage innings, and with the offence not providing any sort of cushion, this problem will continue to make itself present.
John Schneider elected to use Trevor Richards on Monday night during the 5th and 6th innings, but the Blue Jays were down by four runs during both of those frames. Regardless of the reasoning behind using Richards in that situation, the Jays were down one of their better bullpen arms for Tuesday’s game and maybe Wednesday’s.
That brings us to Tuesday night’s game, in which Brendon Little was thrust into his Blue Jays career’s highest leverage at-bat(s). Little had actually been on a heater during the past couple of weeks, not allowing a run in his previous five outings. He was brought in during the top of the 7th inning with runners on first and third with two outs, and his assignment was to face Devers, who already had a pair of hits on the night. To Little’s credit, he struck Devers out on a beautiful knuckle curve to end the threat and the inning, and Toronto’s 3-2 lead was protected.
Little was sent back out for the 8th, but with all due respect, this inning would typically belong to Mayza or Chad Green. Schneider was likely hanging onto Green for the 9th inning, and Little had been outperforming Mayza as a go-to lefty, so that is the card Schneider chose to play. It took only two pitches for O’Neill to send one of Little’s sinkers just over the centre-field wall, and the Blue Jays lost their lead. On top of that, Little allowed a two-out baserunner, which Green would allow, to score just a couple of batters later.
The Blue Jays are living in the world of Green, Richards, Nate Pearson, or whoever has the hot hand (in the above case, it was Little) handling the high-leverage innings, but the rest of the bullpen and their stats aren’t giving Schneider a ton of great options.

Lineup Discourse!

Maybe it was Monday when John Schneider went away from the lineup that got you 12 runs between the final two games of the Cleveland series. Maybe it was benching Davis Schneider and Ernie Clement for the series finale when those two had been a primary source of offence in recent days. Maybe it’s continuing to hand at-bats to Kevin Kiermaier and George Springer. Maybe it was calling up Orelvis Martinez and not playing him in the series finale either. No matter what you choose, there were a ton of reasons for outrage with lineup coordination and pinch-hitting decisions.
I’ll hear the arguments against having Martinez in the lineup so soon, but the other points I mentioned above I can definitely argue against. Joe Siddall gave some good insight on this prior to Wednesday’s game on Blue Jays Central moments after he and Jamie Campbell reviewed the lineup.
I think what’s happening here is the conversation is becoming more and more interesting around Kevin Kiermaier and George Springer, two veteran players on this team,” Siddall said. “They’re seeing their playing time cut into at times. Now, John Schneider said today they trust in their veteran players, and trust means, I think, as an organization, they have committed to these guys. They’re giving them every single opportunity to get through the funks that they’re in.
I’m with you [Jamie Campbell], I’m with a lot of people. I want to see these kids play.
To Siddall’s point, Springer is seeing his playing time decrease some, but he’s still played in 67 out of Toronto’s 74 games this season. Sure, he’s been moved down in the order, but he’s still getting his at-bats. He’s slashing .197/.288/.291 with 5 home runs and 15 RBIs, on pace for the lowest numbers of his career by far. What makes Springer’s situation complex is that he has 25 million reasons to be in the lineup this year and for the next two years as well.
Springer has recently come out publicly and owned his poor play, and J. Schneider also voiced his support for Springer – obviously, no one knows that he needs to be better more than those two. But this is the difficult gap that the Blue Jays are trying to bridge. They have guys swinging the bats really well, but they want to continue to give Springer a chance to find his groove. Ultimately, if they want to win, they need to field the best lineup possible that will help them do that.

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