Baseballs doing imitations of laser beams, players in home jerseys wearing grooves into the basepaths, a pitcher pinch-hitting in the fifth – just another August evening on the road for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Before the opening game of a mini-series with the National League-contending Milwaukee Brewers, Jays manager John Gibbons expressed the hope his starting pitcher on the night would deliver a strong outing “and give the offence a chance to take over.”
It didn’t happen.
Left-hander J.A. Happ gave up screaming line-drive doubles to the first two men he faced – Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy – and then yielded another to Aramis Ramirez two batters later.
Though the Jays would close to within a run in the top of the second – Munenori Kawasaki’s groundout scored Dioner Navarro from third – there would be no offensive takeovers this night.
Instead, the Brewers gave their American League visitors a clinic on how to get it done during this crucial part of the schedule, smacking seven doubles and generally making the Blue Jays’ outfielders run around.
It ended 6-1, and marked Toronto’s sixth loss in seven games. The Jays are running out of runway in their bid to lift into the playoffs, and further ground was lost to the division-leading Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners, Toronto’s nearest wild card rival.
Happ survived just three and a third innings – he was replaced by Dustin McGowan after allowing a hit to his opposite number, Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers. Gibbons subsequently called on starter Drew Hutchison to pinch-hit for McGowan (he struck out).
It’s not a huge stretch to say Hutchison, the first Jays pitcher to pinch-hit since Esmil Rogers did it in an extra-inning game in May of 2013, looked more comfortable in the batter’s box than some of his teammates.
On an evening the Jays mustered a season-low two hits, the top four hitters in the Toronto order – Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion – went hitless.
Gibbons said before the game that “baseball’s not a complicated game by any means,” which might be true when you’re playing it well.
If you’re in a deepening rut, as Toronto is, it can seem more complicated.
The pitching hasn’t been great over the last four games – Todd Redmond gave up two more runs in relief – but the main problem is the offence hasn’t been able to paper over the cracks in the way it did earlier this season.
The Blue Jays are in the midst of a worrying power outage, having hit only seven home runs in the month of August – they clouted 53 homers during a 27-5 binge in May and June, and have just 52 to show for the 64 games since then.
While it’s true the Jays’ skipper has a healthy Encarnacion and Adam Lind to bolster his batting order, the club is still saddled with some thoroughly average bats like those of Kawasaki (who has a modest six extra-base hits) and, more problematically, Juan Francisco.
The big third-baseman has 16 home runs this season, but none of them have come in the month of August, where he’s gone a miserable 3-for-38 with 14 strikeouts.
Francisco’s main difficulty seems to be in figuring out what to do with major-league curveballs.
With runners on second and third and no one out in the second inning on Tuesday, Fiers struck Francisco out on four pitches, the last a 73 mile-per-hour breaking pitch that he could only wave at. He is now hitting .219 on the season.
Bautista, one of the Jays’ more consistent hitters, has connected on a long ball just once in his last 11 games.
Centre-fielder Colby Rasmus, who is anything but consistent, has one homer in August, and just a pair of RBI; catcher Dioner Navarro, who hit fifth Tuesday, has only one round-tripper this month.
There’s still time for cool bats to heat up, but not as much as there was yesterday.