Silent Blue Jays bats dragging team through season-long losing streak

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NEW YORK – A bat in the hands of slugging (and struggling) Blue Jays first baseman Vlad Guerrero Jr. can be a lethal and productive piece of sports equipment.

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Unfortunately, it can also be a tool to vent some overflowing frustration.

And so it was on Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium when Guerrero struck out in the fifth inning, slammed the lumber in the batting box then snapped it over his knee as though it was a feeble, dried-out twig.

It’s been that kind of run for the Jays, who fell 5-3 to their division rival Yankees and were swept away in the two-game mini-series here.

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Not only that, the Jays have lost four in a row — their longest losing streak in 11 months — and are now borderline inept at scoring runs when runners are in scoring position.

“This is a hard game,” Jays outfielder George Springer said, after a contest in which they left 11 on the basepaths. “You know, if you’re not doing what you’d like to do as a team, especially offensively, you tend to press a little bit.

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“But I think over the long run if we kind of slow some things down and get back to the small things and just breathe … I think at the end of the day we’re going to be where everybody would like to be.”

Not converting with runners in scoring position is becoming a heavy burden for a team that could score with such explosiveness last season.  It’s a big reason they are just 1-5 on this nine-game road trip that concludes with three in St. Pete, Fla. against the Rays starting on Friday.  In their past nine games the Jays are 2-7 — and this after starting the season on an impressive 15-8 run.

Guerrero’s frustrating whiff was the sixth at-bat of the day — with more to come — in which a Jays hitter couldn’t convert a runner in scoring position.

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Production like that deadens the old win probability, especially against a deep and sizzling team like the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers not only have the best record in baseball at 22-8 but they’ve won 15 of their past 17, including a 4-1 run against the Jays in that stretch.

Just 15 days previous, the Jays held solo first place in the American League East. After the latest lacklustre loss, they are now a full six games behind the surging Yankees.

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“We are better than what we are doing right now,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We are going to stay even-keeled. But we have to start hitting with men in scoring position. That has been the key, lately.

“Everybody’s pressing because nobody’s doing it. Hopefully, one guy gets hot.”

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The Jays benign offensive attack once again scored a run in the first inning and didn’t manage another until the sixth. So when Gleyber Torres slapped a three-run homer to short right field in the Yankees fourth, the meek Toronto lead was erased.

Torres wasn’t done yet, either, adding a two-RBI single in the bottom of the sixth as the Yankees took care of a baseball basic that is foreign to the Jays these days — converted with runners on the bases.

“It’s been rough, but it’s what we have and we have to get through it,” said Jays starter Jose Berrios, who had a solid enough effort over 5.1 innings, save for the Torres’s shot to the cheap seats. “Every guy in that clubhouse is giving 100 per cent.”

The Jays have certainly had their hands full with the Yankees, who have a 6-3 upper hand in the nine meetings to date.

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“They’re just a good team,” Toronto pitcher Kevin Gausman said earlier in the series. “They can beat you in a lot of different ways and you’ve got to be able to match their energy every game you’re playing them.

“I’ve always said it’s just a little bit different playing the Yankees – especially when they’re good.”

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Montoyo lamented some of the miscues his team made, mistakes that weren’t a factor earlier in the season. Some dodgy work on the bases certainly didn’t help. Just before the Guerrero eruption, Bo Bichette was on second base gazing out to centre field when a pitch from Yankees starter Jameson Taillon went to the backstop … And in the next inning, Alejandro Kirk was victim of the inning-ending out when he tripped over the bag at second — literally — and was easily tagged out … The struggles with runners in scoring position is a blight the Jays bats can’t seem to shake. And as a result, in 10 of their past 14 games they have scored three runs or fewer … Even with the struggles, the Jays were one swing of the bat away from tying it up in the ninth and it almost happened. With a man on base, Bichette destroyed an Aroldis Chapman offering but pulled it left of the left-field foul pole.

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It’s just the third time in the last 64 seasons that the Yankees have won 22 of their first 30 games and the first since 2003. And the Bombers are certainly taking advantage of their home park where they are 14-4 … On Tuesday night, Montoyo thought he was suspended for a game after getting tossed during the madness surrounding the ejection of reliever Yimi Garcia. That wasn’t the case, however, and the skipper was back in the dugout … Now it’s on to face the Rays where Gausman is scheduled to get the start on Friday followed by Hyun-Jin Ryu’s return from the injury list on Saturday … One positive at the plate for the Jays is Bichette who had three hits on Wednesday and has four multi-hit games in his past eight.

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