ST. PETERSBURG — Time is running out on the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays season. With Bianca-mania running wild, NFL season upon us, the CFL hitting the stretch run and hockey and basketball getting ready to start up, why should baseball fans stick around to watch a sputtering, tired team that can’t really hit or field play 18 more times? Glad you asked.
1) The Vlad and Bo Show: It’s been going on for a while, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are worth the price of admission and always capable of doing something impressive. Though Bichette is facing adversity for the first time in his young career (just one double and a .213 average and 12 strikeouts over his past 11 games), it will be interesting to see how he works his way out of these struggles. Guerrero has cooled down significantly, going 13 straight games without a homer as the days get shorter. “If you’ve never been here, you don’t know what it’s like. Now you’ve got 400 at-bats, 500-at-bats — that’s a lot of swings. You can see some of the bats are slow right now,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after Sunday’s loss against Tampa. “(The young players) have to make an adjustment.”
2) The pitching prospects: The Jays will take a few more looks at some of their best young hurlers in September. It started with Anthony Kay, who impressed in his first game on Saturday. Kay, the team’s No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, will start against some elite opponents who are in the midst of playoff chases, just like Tampa is. He looked really good against the Rays, mixing pitches and speeds and going inside to keep the Rays batters off-balance. No. 14 prospect T.J. Zeuch will make his first start on Tuesday against the Red Sox (he came in behind an opener in his debut). If he thrives in the next few weeks, it will help his chances of being in the rotation mix next season.
3) Fielding follies: OK, this is a bit tongue in cheek, but really, you never know what the team’s outfielders are going to do. It can add some excitement to what has become a far more dull sport overall with less contact than ever before. We’ve seen balls go off of their faces, get misjudged, lost in the lights, wrong routes taken, you name it. It happened a few times at Tropicana Field, which, granted, can be challenging to field in. Teoscar Hernandez misjudged one on Sunday and it led to a couple of runs. “We’re going to keep working hard and (first base coach Mark Budzinski) is upset right now because we made some misplays in the outfield,” Montoyo said on Sunday. “You know what, go to Toronto, Tuesday he’ll be working with the outfielders in the outfield. We’re going to work hard and try to get better.” Seems like a good idea. Another idea would be giving quality fielders Jonathan Davis and Anthony Alford more of a chance to show what they can do.
4) The amazing K race: A lot of home-run and strikeout records are going to fall in the next few years all across baseball because of the aforementioned drastic shifts in the game that have changed everything (and not for the better, we’d add). Fred McGriff set the Jays mark for strikeouts in a season with 149 back in 1988. Alex Gonzalez tied it in 2001 (as did Colby Rasmus in 2012) and it’s since been surpassed by six players, including Jose Bautista’s record 170 in 2017. Teoscar Hernandez came close to topping Bautista last season with 163 strikeouts and he currently has 136 whiffs in 2019, but Randal Grichuk is the bigger threat, with 146 strikeouts and counting. There aren’t any good records being pursued. If Lourdes Gurriel Jr. returns and goes on a tear, he might get close to a top-10 slugging percentage season by a Blue Jay. There’s also the question of whether any pitcher on the roster will get to five victories. Currently, three have four.
5) Playing spoiler: The Yankees and Red Sox have the huge payrolls and the big names and playoff aspirations that Jays fans can only dream of at this point. They also have a bunch of games against Toronto still to go (six for New York, three for Boston) and could use some wins. The Jays can spoil things for the Red Sox with a big series which would all but end Boston’s flickering wild-card chances. New York is in the playoffs, regardless, but would love to finish with baseball’s best record. That would mean home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, instead of having to start on the road in a potential ALCS meeting with Houston or a World Series clash with the Los Angeles Dodgers (the Yankees and Astros took identical 94-50 records into Monday, while Los Angeles was at 93-52). On paper, facing Toronto six more times seems ideal for the Yankees, but the Jays can show some pride and make them regret that confidence and maybe shake up their post-season plans in the process. They’ll also face wild card-leading Tampa Bay to end the season, so those games still might have some meaning too.