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Rosie DiManno: The Blue Jays have been too young, too immature, too inconsistent in season’s first quarter

Rosie DiManno: The Blue Jays have been too young, too immature, too inconsistent in season’s first quarter
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From atrocious offence — hitting .218 as a team, heading into Wednesday’s spectacle of home-run prowess — to atrocious defence: three errors in the 14-11 loss, a half-dozen unearned runs, a passed ball, an errant pickoff, and a brain cramp on the 10th inning sacrifice bunt that generated Miami’s three-run switchback rally.

Seven round-trippers — four of them two-run shots — went for naught Wednesday because of mental lapses, sloppiness and sheer bad baseball after an epic comeback by the Blue Jays. They went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position to boot.

“It felt like two different games,” Danny Jansen said on the morning after a very long night at Sahlen Field. The catcher was among those who uncorked jacks.

A quarter of the way through this truncated season, it has often felt, in fact, like a split personality ball club. Simultaneously precocious — keyed into the players’ genuine belief they can keep pace with muscle-flexing teams and surprise a whole bunch of people — and frankly incorrigible, too young and too immature to be taken seriously as a .500 club, which was a reasonable objective.

Organizationally, the Jays have always been maddeningly cautious, at least in the Mark Shapiro regime, and, in retrospect, perhaps they were right. Certainly their preference for developmental deliberation could be, and has been, trotted out as a told-you-so excuse for, say, a pair of starting busts by Nate Pearson and the arse-out hitting dilemmas of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has not yet had a full major-league season under his corpulent waist and won’t in this gerrymandered year either.

Although, to be fair, Guerrero, with a dinger and a single Wednesday, is 9-for-30 (.300) with five extra-base hits over his last eight games, after going 5-for-24 (.172) in his first seven.

Some things are not really worth worrying about and Guerrero as a slugging prodigy belongs in that category. He’s seen a lot of breaking balls low and away — classic pitches for a young hitter — and chased too many of them. But he’s making the adjustments.

Existentially, however, the Jays are discovering that it takes a great deal more than enthusiasm and self-confidence — vanity, even — to be successful between the lines. And right now this is still a callow team that makes too many mistakes, with the veterans just as culpable.

Brandon Drury, like a deer in the headlights, failing to field Jon Berti’s sac bunt in the 10th, is an exasperating example. It pushed even the endlessly upbeat Charlie Montoyo to outright call out the infielder after the game.

“Drury messed it up. He didn’t read it. Actually, I don’t know what he did. That’s a tough play for a third baseman because you’re in between. But you have to go get it. We always say, if you have any doubt, go get it. He had a doubt but he didn’t go get it. That made for a big inning. That wasn’t a good play.”

Interesting, when Bo Bichette was asked to revisit the episode, he issued a non-mea-culpa.

“That’s not my position. That’s not my experience over there. But obviously somebody should have went and got the ball. Some miscommunication. That kind of thing happens, just unfortunate that it happened at that time.”

Earlier in the week, the manager had also dog-whistled Rowdy Tellez, dropping him from the lineup for a game — no DH, no first base. “He’s not been playing good.” Tellez must have taken it to heart and to his plate approach; he had a home run and a pair of doubles Wednesday.

It was stated repeatedly from the get-go of this abbreviated schedule that a good start was crucial, that no team could afford a slump. The Jays have dropped seven of their last 10 games and are 1-for-6 in games decided in the final inning. Doesn’t help much that only one contest has been a real stinker, excluding Wednesday, which was more phenomenon than smelly.

Indisputably that bizarre tilt demonstrated the Jays have no quit in them, which is a heartening foundation, particularly with 28 games in the next 27 days, starting Friday with the Rays in town. As Bichette had observed: “To be honest, it kind of hit a tipping point for all of us. We finally said, enough is enough. We’re going to put our head down and play ball.”

That epiphany of sorts began with Toronto’s first four-bagger, off the bat of Teoscar Hernandez, who leads the team with five home runs. “It kind of felt like, OK, let’s just keep chipping away, keep on chipping away,” Bichette continued. “Obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. But I think everybody in there is happy with the effort we game. We’ll just continue to put that effort in every single day.”

Boldface footnote: Bichette, who has hit in 11 of the past 12 games, with a slash line of .352/.386/.648, became the first shortstop in modern era baseball to reach base safely six times (5-for-5), hit a home run and steal two bases in the same game. “My mentality is more consistent in the box now,” he said. “With the weird schedule and the (relaunched) spring training, it took a little bit. Just trying to keep it going.”

Still and all, despite a season-high 11 runs, a season-high 18 hits, a season-high seven HRs, the Jays found a way to lose the game. The bullpen, which has provided yeoman service, got battered, except for a nice turn by Shun Yamaguchi. And, while Montoyo took encouragement for an offence emerging from slumber, the defence was a dog’s breakfast.

“We didn’t make the plays,” said Montoyo. “When you make errors, they take advantage. We didn’t make the big pitches after the errors and we paid the price. Our pitching has been outstanding, today was probably the first day that, after an error, we haven’t made the big pitches to stop the bleeding. That’s why we gave up 14 runs.”

GM Ross Atkins offered some prescient insights a few days ago. “One of the hardest things — we talk about it often — is going from a competitive team to a winning team. We’re confident that that’s going to happen. It’s hard to put a hard timeline on it.”

A rebuilt team doesn’t just snap out of the baseball bog. Both manager and general manager agree that the Jays’ hitting issues stemmed from overaggressiveness at the plate, every player taking it on his own shoulders as if one mighty swing of the bat will change the outcome. That attitude has, of course, been compounded by defensive brain cramps and wretch baserunning.

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“Overall, we’re trying too hard right now,” said Montoyo. “We’re hungry to win, which I love, which is why we came back in the game. We’re not going to give up. But we need to get better defensively, we need to tighten that up for us to start winning games.”
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