For the ninth time in 12 September games, the Toronto Blue Jays suffered a loss Wednesday afternoon, this one by the score of 8-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays (box score). Alex Cobb held Toronto to one hit in the first six innings in his third start back from Tommy John surgery.
Thursday’s game was the Blue Jays’ third straight without third baseman and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson , who is nursing a hip issue. He originally hurt himself over the weekend, when he took an awkward step into a base. The injury is serious enough to require an MRI.
The MRI results were not immediately available, though Donaldson did speak to reporters following Friday’s game, and he said he hopes to play Thursday. We’ll have to see whether that actually happens.
Donaldson, like most of the Blue Jays, was in a pretty big slump even before the hip starting acting up. In fact, he’s currently riding an ugly 0-for-23 slump that dates all the way back to Sept. 3. Usually the Blue Jays have enough offensive firepower to overcome a slumping star, but not this one.
That said, a 3-9 record in September is not the result of one man. Donaldson alone isn’t doing that with his recent slump and hip injury. It takes a total team effort to lost nine times in a 12-game span. Here are three other reasons Toronto has been slipping in the standings this month.
1. Bautista and others have slumped too
The Blue Jays have scored 42 runs in their 12 September games, or 3.50 runs per game. That’s down from the 4.91 runs per game they averaged coming into this month.
The biggest culprits in addition to Donaldson? That would be Jose Bautista , Russell Martin , and Michael Saunders . Here are their September numbers:
Saunders has managed to pull off the rare “lower on-base percentage than batting average” trick by not drawing any walks and laying down a sac bunt. Martin went on that incredible home run tear last month, but it hasn’t carried over to September.
Bautista has gotten on base a ton this month and that’s important, but he hasn’t for much power lately. In fact, he’s hit only three homers in his last 25 games and six homers in 34 games since coming off the disabled list in late July. That’s not the Jose Bautista we’re used to seeing.
Even good offenses slump throughout the season. It’s inevitable. Right now Toronto’s offense is struggling not only because cornerstones like Donaldson and Bautista are slumping, but also because complementary players like Martin and Saunders haven’t hit much either. There are lots of holes in the lineup right now.
2. Sanchez has started giving up home runs
For much of the season Aaron Sanchez ‘s innings limit has been a hot topic, and understandably so. He’s having a Cy Young-caliber season, but the Blue Jays want to keep him healthy long-term, so they’ve taken some precautions to ensure he doesn’t throw too much at such a young age. That means using a six-man rotation and pushing back starts.
In his last two starts the sinkerballing Sanchez has allowed three home runs in 10 2/3 innings. That’s after allowing three home runs in his previous 12 starts and 77 innings combined. All three of the recent homers have either tied the game or given the other team the lead too, so they’ve come at crucial times. Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays lost Sanchez’s last two starts.
Going back to the start of August, Sanchez has pitched to a 5.08 ERA with an unsightly 22/14 K/BB in six starts and 33 2/3 innings. Is fatigue an issue? It’s possible. He’s thrown 173 innings this season, far above his previous career high of 133 1/3 innings set back in 2014. Either way, the Blue Jays need to get Sanchez right soon to remain in postseason position. He’s their best starter.
3. Grilli has blown some close games
By and large, Jason Grilli has been phenomenal since coming over from the Atlanta Braves in a small trade at the end of May. He’s emerged as closer Roberto Osuna ‘s primary setup man and has a 2.72 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays. That’s pretty awesome.
Grilli has had two notable hiccups of late, however. And they’ve cost the Blue Jays some games. On August 30, before this September swoon, he served up a two-run home run to Matt Wieters to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning. Then, on Sept. 6, Grilli allowed four runs in 2/3 of an inning against the New York Yankees to turn a one-run lead into a three-run deficit.
Grilli has protected two one-run leads since that meltdown against the Yankees, but the meltdown happened, and it cost the Blue Jays a game, as did the homer by Wieters. Toronto is in the thick of two races right now, AL East and wild card, and letting those late leads slip away is always a tough pill to swallow.
The 3-9 slide in September has dropped the Blue Jays from two games up the AL East to 2 1/2 games back. They’re a half-game back of the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild-card spot and 1 1/2 games up on both the Yankees and Detroit Tigers . Their postseason spot is starting to be put in serious jeopardy.
Getting a healthy and productive Donaldson back would be a huge help, obviously. As would Bautista and Saunders and several others getting on track. The only real long-term concern I have besides Donaldson’s hip is Sanchez, who could be tiring late in the season. Otherwise this seems like standard “teams slump” stuff at the worst possible time.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Josh Donaldson’s hip isn’t the only reason for the Blue Jays’ September struggles