Blue Jays must seize the moment or face missed opportunities as season enters crunch time

TORONTO — We’ve heard the platitudes.

We got to go now. There’s no time to wait. We have the talent to do it. Etc., etc., etc.

But, at some point, the Blue Jays have to actually do what they say. Or else, this team may look back on a season of many missed opportunities.

A day ago, after the Blue Jays dropped yet another series to the Baltimore Orioles, manager John Schneider said, “We got to go home ready to win, starting tomorrow.”

(Narrator: That did not happen.)

The Blue Jays lost 5-2 to the Cleveland Guardians in the series opener on Friday night at the Rogers Centre. With the Blue Jays looking ahead at five straight series against sub-.500 clubs during this soft part of the schedule, this is a ripe time to gain ground in a playoff race where they still sit 1 1/2 games out of the third wild-card spot behind the Houston Astros. But they did not open this stretch on the sort of winning note they were hoping.

Mathematically, the Blue Jays are still in the middle of the American League wild-card race with 33 games left, though it’s still fair to acknowledge it’s been a wholly frustrating season for a team supposed to be a top contender in the division but instead in chase-down mode. “We’ve got some work to do,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said when he met with the media before Friday’s game.

The GM said he doesn’t pin the club’s issues on one single thing, though, from the outside looking in, the offence has taken the brunt of the blame for the underwhelming season. And with good reason. It’s hard to fault a pitching staff that has the best ERA in the majors coming into this series. But despite some respectable overall offensive numbers (105 wRC+), the Blue Jays came into Friday’s game averaging 4.45 runs per game, while the league average is 4.60.

“There’s a lot of things happening in our batted-ball quality that isn’t playing out into scoring enough runs,” Atkins said. “I do believe as we’ve said before, that that typically turns and I still feel really good about this group and the collection of individuals that form a good team in the clubhouse that have a good chance to go on a good run.”

Again, it’s easy to say the Blue Jays can go on a run — because they sure can, especially with the schedule ahead of them — but it’s up to the players on the field to actually execute, and that’s been something that’s been consistently lacking, especially on offence, for a while now.

Atkins said he does not see signs of pressing from the players, though he acknowledged it’s plausible, in theory, that struggles with hitting with runners in scoring position could take a mental toll. The club’s staff continues to work through any information they can find to help players. As for a reasonable explanation for why they’ve struggled so mightily with hitting with runners in scoring position this season?

“You look at swing decisions, you look at strikeouts and walks and the contact quality that I mentioned, where it’s not turning into as many runs as you would hope or that that would suggest. The balls not going over the fence as much as it does for some of our hitters. And that happens,” Atkins said. “What we focus on and what we look at is the work, the pregame and I’m entirely focused on how I can help and how I can help not just our hitting coaches but our advanced scouting staff get the best possible information in front of our hitters to ensure that they have every possible angle to be the best they can be.”

Again, after Friday’s loss, in which the Blue Jays managed just two solo home runs and went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, Schneider reiterated it’s not about trying harder, it’s about “taking your walk when you have to, getting the big hit when you have to, driving in runs when you have to.

The Blue Jays have to do whatever it takes. And soon.

“The dudes are in the room. The dudes are right there,” Schneider said. “These guys have done it for their entire career, whether it’s here or somewhere else. Again, it’s time to win and you flush this one and you try to win the series tomorrow and Sunday, but it just takes a collective effort.”

Alek Manoah joins Triple-A Buffalo after pause

After he was optioned on Aug. 11, Alek Manoah is finally with Triple-A Buffalo, who are playing in Syracuse this week.

Before Manoah reported, he spent nearly two weeks in Toronto. Why? Atkins said it was so he could be thoroughly examined by medical staff to make sure he wasn’t dealing with a physical issue amid a season in which he has a 5.87 ERA in 19 starts and lost his place in the rotation.

Atkins didn’t say if they were looking for a specific physical issue. In the end, the club declared Manoah healthy. Asked if he’d been pitching through injury this season, Atkins said no. “Our medical staff would have told us if so,” he said.

The GM said the decision to allow Manoah this pause was a mutual one and the club kept Major League Baseball in the loop because typically a player has up to 72 hours to report after he’s optioned.

“His trajectory and his career trajectory has been unique,” Atkins said. “And this pause after him being optioned the first time seemed to make some sense and to make sure we were thorough with that assessment.”

It was an unusual situation and certainly begged the question if this pause was to allow for a mental or physical break for the 25-year-old right-hander who a year ago was a Cy Young Award finalist and is now not even in an MLB rotation. But Atkins said that would be a better question for Manoah to answer.

“Not to our knowledge that he needed either of those two things. It was more about just making sure we were very thorough and mutually working through it,” the GM said.

Now with the Bisons, Manoah has begun the process of ramping back up, although a date for his next start has not yet been determined. Hypothetically, if the Blue Jays needed a spot starter tomorrow, Manoah would not be able to fill that role because of his down period, although the Blue Jays are working through the process to get him back on a regular routine.

“I’m glad that he’s back in Syracuse and on a baseball field again,” Atkins said. “I know he was glad to be there, as well.”

Reliever Chad Green is scheduled to pitch on Saturday and Sunday for the Bisons, which is good news. Pitching on back-to-back days is one of the final hurdles Green has to clear in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Following Sunday, the Blue Jays will make a decision on his next steps.

MLB rosters expand from 26 to 28 on Sept. 1, which allows teams to add one extra pitcher and position player. The Blue Jays could wait until then to activate Green, but it could be sooner, depending on the team’s needs, Schneider said.

Whenever Green is activated, he’ll join an already deep bullpen that ranks as the third-best, per ERA, in the American League. Over his career, Green has typically been a late-inning set-up guy. Schneider said they could use Green basically whenever the game calls for him before the ninth inning, although with so many other leverage options — Erik Swanson, Aaron Hicks, Tim Mayza and Jordan Romano — the Blue Jays have the luxury of being able to ease Green into those high-stress outings, given he hasn’t pitched in the majors since last May.

(Photo of Chris Bassitt: Nick Turchiaro / USA Today)

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