Day off in New York, welcome respite for lukewarm Blue Jays offense

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NEW YORK — For at least one day, a New York state of mind may have had multiple therapeutic interpretations for a weary Blue Jays squad that staggered into its first real day off of the 2022 season.

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For manager Charlie Montoyo, a run in Central Park, not far from the team hotel in Manhattan, was high on the agenda.

For a close-knit group of players, the opportunity for a great meal in a big city was sure to be high on the itinerary.

And for everyone involved, a day to forget the important topics of batting average, runners in scoring position and one-point ball games wouldn’t have been the worst approach.

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The Jays reached the 30-game mark with a 17-13 record, an outing which, given the hectic schedule and the lack of a real day off since Opening Day, is one many would have signed before the start of the season.

The way they arrived at this mark, however, was far from desirable and therefore also had to lead to some disappointment.

Playing on the fumes down the stretch, the Jays’ offense went cold except for an early outburst in the first half of a doubleheader at Cleveland on Saturday. And for another demoralizing shot, the bullpen gave up a rare eighth-inning lead in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Ohio’s northern shores of Lake Erie.

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“Like everyone in baseball, we’ve been through a lot, but I feel like I’ve been a bit over the challenge,” Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said. Toronto Sun. “But we feel pretty good where we are.

“I’m not going to lie, from a player perspective it’s been kind of a grueling 30 games. I give them a lot of credit for coming to the pitch every day ready to go with good enthusiasm and energy.

“We were very lucky in that regard.”

If you break the schedule down into 10-game stretches — a good coping mechanism given the long mental journey between 1 and 162 on the MLB schedule — the most recent stretch was significantly worse than the first two.

Dropping three of four to the Guardians this weekend meant the Jays had lost five of their previous seven, leading to a 4-6 record in 10 games. In the previous two stretches, the team went 6-4 and then 7-3.

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The Jays have certainly had one of the toughest schedules in the first 30 games, with six games against the defending AL champion Houston Astros and seven against the Yankees, who have a strong first place in the AL East.

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They have played 20 games in the last 20 days and 30 in the first 31. And on that one ‘dark’ day on the sked, they traveled from Toronto and did it the long way – by bus to Buffalo to circumvent US regulations on COVID-19 testing for those flying into the country . They had Friday in Cleveland because of a rain, but had to play a doubleheader the next day.

The Jays thankfully have two days off scheduled this week, including Monday in Manhattan before facing the Yankees for the first of two and Thursday in Tampa before a three-game weekend against the Rays.

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“It was definitely a chore,” said Jays closest Jordan Romano, the bullpen workhorse who leads the Majors in saves (12) and appearances (14.) there weren’t any real days off. We had a day off but we were traveling so it didn’t really feel like one.

“But just the quality of the teams we faced – Houston, Boston, New York. It was a mental grind, a physical grind. But I think we played a very good ball and all the boys handled it well.

While there’s no alarm with the Jays’ record, the route they’ve taken to get here is surprising to say the least for a group expected to score at will. Although production is down at many MLB outposts, the Jays’ funk stands out.

They rank 17th in the majors in scoring with 115 runs, 13th in batting average (.227) and 18th in running differential (minus-10.) At least they lead the majors in single-set wins (with 10), which kept their record credible.

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None of these results were expected, given the powerful statistical offense the team has shown throughout their 91-win campaign in 2021.

Neither are expected to go on much longer either, especially with cleanup hitter Teoscar Hernandez back in the lineup. But the team members have been saying it for a few weeks now.

“Of course,” Montoyo said when asked if this week’s respite could provide his team with a good mental break. “It was a chore. We played baseball well and went to every game. The offense will click.

“We played against some good teams. To be above .500 after this grind, I’m really proud of my team and we’re yet to click hit.

Most troubling, Montoyo acknowledges, is that the Jays struggle with runners in scoring position. It was particularly awful in the Cleveland series, but it’s been problematic for the past two weeks. They’ve scored just 29 points in their last nine games, which is both disappointing and unsustainable in the tough AL East.

Still, the Jays believe the attack will eventually happen — and there’s little reason to expect it won’t. Now – with five major divisional games on the road this week – would be a good time to start.

“Obviously you want to win as many games as possible,” Walker said. “There were a lot of close ball games and these guys found ways to win.

“Our aspirations are higher than that, but to get out of that above 0.500 I think just puts us in a good position going forward. We all know we haven’t seen our best baseball yet.

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