Published On: Mon, Jul 17th, 2017

Err of despair sinks in for Blue Jays: Griffin

DETROIT—When the Blue Jays’ manager stated following one of the most disheartening losses of the year that “the way we’ve been playing, we’re where we should be,” that’s a clear indictment of the first 91 games of their season, as they sit at 42-49 with seven teams ahead of them for the second wild card.

The struggling Jays seem to be moonwalking towards a precipice with a combination of poor starting pitching, shoddy defence and a lack of situational hitting, where they rely too much on their sudden-strike capability.

The Tigers won 6-5 on Sunday by doing every little thing better on offence.

“That was there for the taking,” John Gibbons said. “We just didn’t play good enough ball. That’s the bottom line. We took the lead, gave it right back. Got the lead back again. It’s tough to ask your bullpen to go five clean innings there at the end.”

The Jays scored three in the first on a pair of home runs. But with Marco Estrada on the mound the Tigers tied it up efficiently, using two walks, an infield hit, a double and back-to-back sacrifice flies.

Then, in the 11th, the Tigers got leadoff man Alex Avila to first on a walk and sacrificed him to second. A two-out error by third baseman Josh Donaldson on a hot grounder over the bag was followed by a pair of walks and the walk-off celebration in Motown began.

Meanwhile, the Jays were 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position, scoring all five of their runs on homers.

But it’s the Jays’ defence that has taken the biggest step backwards from 2015-16, a deficiency that showed up on Sunday in non-support of an already struggling Estrada. He needed more.

In the first inning, Donaldson slid to backhand a ball, then made an ill-advised throw from one knee on an infield hit that allowed Ian Kinsler to stroll over to third, later scoring.

In the third, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki glided into the hole to his right, with the ball glancing off his glove for an error.

In the fourth inning, centre fielder Kevin Pillar seemed to assume that a fly ball to right centre would be caught by Jose Bautista, but instead it dropped gently onto the Metallica-deadened grass for a double. James McCann then drove a ball deep to left that Ezequiel Carrera leaped for and misplayed into a double.

Estrada retired the next two Tigers, then issued a walk to Nick Castellanos that spelled the end of his night. Estrada had a point that he wasn’t as bad as it seemed. But he was very careful in his choice of words regarding the defence.

“I don’t know how many guys I walked after the first inning,” Estrada said. “I walked a few more, and when balls fall in those guys are going to score. I don’t really need to change much, to be honest. I like what I was doing. I think if it was a different day things would have gone differently. I’m taking a lot of positive things from this game. It’s unfortunate what happened.”

There were so many things that went wrong, including from a managerial perspective. Gibbons was giving all-star Justin Smoak a day off his feet by allowing him to DH while Kendrys Morales handled first base. That did not work out well.

With only three bench players, Gibbons was unable to pinch run for Morales in an attempt for an insurance run in the eighth, and was unable to get Smoak back at first base late in the game while nursing a lead, otherwise the pitcher would have had to bat. Morales botched a ground ball for an error leading off the seventh.

Gibbons was also unable to get Russ Martin in to end the game behind the plate with the lead because he was also the last position player left on a short bench in extra innings.

Meanwhile, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus made every move to put his team in a position to win: pinch-running for the two Martinezes: J.D. after he had just stolen second, and Victor as the potential go-ahead run in the eighth. He pinch-hit for catcher McCann late, and called for a bunt to put the winning run on second in the 11th.

The Tigers stole three bases off Jays backup Miguel Montero, and would have had a fourth if the already-safe Justin Upton had not bounced up off the bag. It was Montero’s first runner thrown out in 2017, in 35 attempts.

The Tigers also: advanced on a wild pitch, took second on fielder’s indifference and had a sacrifice bunt and two sac flies.

As far as Estrada is concerned, he’s not off the hook for his head-scratching steps backward since June 1. In eight starts since the end of May, Estrada is 0-4 with four no-decisions and a 9.50 ERA. He has thrown 759 pitches to wend his way through 36 innings. That’s 181 pitches every nine innings, with a 2.00 WHIP.

While the starting pitching has been injured and underwhelming, the team defence has been jaw-droppingly non-supportive. It’s not just one position and it’s not just errors. It’s also plays not made and poor execution.

After the game, Gibbons was downcast and rightly so. His options in left field are below average defensively with Carrera and Steve Pearce. His options at second base are offensively challenged Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney.

His backup catcher, Montero, threw down to second base on a bounce four times Sunday, and almost drilled pitcher Joe Biagini, who ducked out of the way on the mound. The once all-world defence on the left side of the infield with Donaldson and Tulowitzki has been less than spectacular, making eight errors apiece. One suspects that lower-body injuries may still be in play.

So now it’s on to Boston, where the Jays can either make up ground in the AL East against the first-place Red Sox — or be buried.

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Err of despair sinks in for Blue Jays: Griffin