Blue Jays’ series split against Guardians defined by more missed opportunities

If the Blue Jays’ sweep of the Boston Red Sox last weekend was taking care of business, a series split against the Cleveland Guardians was a missed opportunity.

The strength of each of these two pitching staffs meant that these were four close games, all separated by two runs or less. Only 13 runs were scored combined with the Blue Jays responsible for seven of those. But in the two games the Blue Jays lost, the offence simply couldn’t capitalize on situations to score when the game was within reach, all too emblematic of their season-long issue with runners in scoring position.

In Thursday’s 4-3 loss, for example, Toronto was 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position, which is actually pretty good, but they only mustered three runs because hits were largely singles or infield hits that failed to inflict big damage. And stop me if you’ve heard this before, but missing was that one pivotal hit that drove in multiple runs, namely in a frustrating seventh inning when they had the bases loaded with only one out but couldn’t scratch across the tying or go-ahead run. George Springer and manager John Schneider were also both ejected in that inning after Springer disagreed with a called strike three.

Another fitting example? When the Blue Jays outhit the Guardians 9-3 on Tuesday but lost 1-0, which felt like an injustice to Yusei Kikuchi, who held the opposition to just one run on three hits over seven innings, maintaining his post-All-Star break dominance. At least the next night, Kevin Gausman, who averages 3.3 runs of support per game, tied for second-lowest in baseball among qualified starters, was on the right side of a 1-0 contest.

All season long, the Blue Jays have been one of the better hitting teams in terms of batting average (.261) while they sit third in hits (1049), but they continue to be a below-average scoring team at 4.47 runs per game, which puts them 17th in MLB. It’s a frustrating trend that was exposed against a tough Guardians pitching staff with the third-best ERA in the majors (behind the Blue Jays and the Mariners). It’s not as though they were going to be an easy team to score against, but these offensive issues are nothing new for the Blue Jays, who rank 28th in OPS (.682) with runners in scoring position.

And scoring is only going to get more difficult in the postseason, should the Blue Jays get there. After Thursday’s result, they hold the American League’s third wild-card spot, up 1 1/2 games on the Seattle Mariners, who have won seven games in a row and look to be riding a surge of late-season momentum after their first-half struggles.

Alek Manoah allowed four earned runs on four hits over four innings. (Ken Blaze / USA Today)

Following a series in Boston where the Blue Jays outscored their opponent 25-8 over three wins, it’s not ideal that the offence couldn’t carry that momentum, leading to a lacklustre split. It means that after a 5-2 road trip — on paper a great result — it feels like at least one win was left on the table, especially against a Guardians team that is below .500 and not in a playoff spot.

If there was a positive from the series, it’s that the pitching continues to propel the team to wins.  The playoff-worthy staff held a light-hitting Guardians team to six runs in four games. Their team ERA of 3.73 ranks first in the majors while their 12 shutouts match Milwaukee and Cleveland for the most in MLB. Meanwhile, before play on Thursday, the Blue Jays’ bullpen led the American League in ERA (3.04), FIP (3.41) and opponents’ slugging (.352) since June 20.

Another positive was that Hyun Jin Ryu appears to be just fine despite taking a nasty comebacker off the right leg in Monday’s 3-1 win. The left-hander, making only his second start since returning from Tommy John surgery, looked to be in considerable pain before exiting the game after the fourth inning. But Ryu is scheduled to make his next start on Sunday at the Rogers Centre against Jameson Taillon and the Cubs.

But, the Blue Jays are still returning to Toronto a little worse for wear. Kevin Kiermaier is on the 10-day injured list and required eight stitches to his left elbow after cutting it while making a catch against Fenway Park’s outfield wall. Meanwhile, Danny Jansen exited Thursday’s game with a right-hand contusion after getting hit with a pitch for what seems like the 100th time this season. According to reporters in Cleveland, the X-rays came back negative so it seems fair to assume Jansen will be day-to-day for now.

Meanwhile, while making a rehab outing with Triple-A Buffalo this week, reliever Chad Green was hit in the head by a throw from his catcher to second base. Green, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, has been placed in MLB’s seven-day concussion protocol for the time being.

There has been positive progress on the injury front for Bo Bichette, who is on the IL with right knee tendonitis. According to Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling, he’s been taking swings and jogging at the Rogers Centre, but a return this weekend is unlikely.

Meanwhile, Jordan Romano (lower back inflammation) is eligible to come off the IL on Saturday, while Trevor Richards (neck inflammation) will be able to come off later in the week. Both relievers were expected to only need around the pitchers’ minimum of 15 days on the IL.

The more reinforcements returning, the better for the Blue Jays, especially Bichette to help hopefully kickstart a lineup that needs to finally find a way to start scoring runs as the calendar turns to the most important time of the year.

(Top photo of George Springer and John Schneider arguing with first-base umpire Chad Fairchild: Ken Blaze / USA Today)

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