Blue Jays’ offensive struggles becoming harder to dismiss after another shutout loss

HOUSTON — Twice in a three-game span, the Toronto Blue Jays were outplayed and borderline embarrassed by the Houston Astros

Monday, it was a no-hitter at the hands of Ronel Blanco, a swingman making his eighth career start. They escaped defeat Tuesday thanks to a late home run from Davis Schneider. And then on Wednesday, with Schneider out of the lineup, the Blue Jays were shut out once again as the Astros one-hit them on the way to a 8-0 win. 

On Monday, manager John Schneider called the no-hitter an outlier, but by Wednesday their offensive struggles were becoming harder to dismiss. Now, they head to New York 3-4 with an off day scheduled Thursday before a three-game series begins Friday against the Yankees.

A Daulton Varsho double was the lone Blue Jays hit Wednesday, while Houston countered with four home runs, including two off the bat of Yordan Alvarez. Later, Jeremy Pena and Jose Altuve would homer off Wes Parsons, whose stuff was so hittable the Blue Jays may soon have to reconsider his spot on this roster.

Even at the best of times, an offensive performance like this would be frustrating. But there was additional intrigue before Wednesday’s game even began as Davis Schneider was out of the starting lineup after hitting the home run that led to the Blue Jays’ only runs of the series late Tuesday.

Before the game, John Schneider explained the thinking behind the decision. Not only is Astros starter Cristian Javier right-handed, he throws a lot of fastballs high in the strike zone. For some hitters, that’s a great matchup, but not for Schneider, who has talked openly about his struggles against high fastballs ever since his arrival in the big-leagues last summer. 

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So as awkward as the timing was, Javier’s essentially the opposite of who Schneider has succeeded against. The Blue Jays went with Cavan Biggio and Isiah Kiner-Falefa instead.

“I’m sure I’m catching a ton of (crap) for not playing him, which is fine, but we’re just trying to put him in spots to do well,” John Schneider said. “He’s a big part of what we’re doing.”

Before the game, the manager touched base with the utility player to be sure they were on the same page.

“He gets it,” John Schneider said. “He knows where he handles the ball.”

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Now, there are legitimate counter-arguments to be made here, too. If you sit back for the perfect matchup for Davis Schneider, you could be waiting a while, especially with exclusively right-handed pitchers slated to face the Blue Jays in their upcoming series against the Yankees and Mariners. 

Last summer, when Schneider emerged as a surprise power threat, he played sporadically at first before steadily earning more playing time. This year there’s opportunity for Schneider at left field and second base, so if he does perform well above league average, that will eventually translate into playing time.

“If him or anyone is making a statement, they’re going to play,” John Schneider said.

As for Bassitt, it was another tough outing — especially when Alvarez stepped in. The Astros designated hitter singled, homered and doubled in his three at-bats against Bassitt, driving in two. He now has eight hits in 18 career at-bats against the right-hander, including five home runs and 11 RBI.

After stranding Alvarez at second in the fourth inning, Bassitt acknowledged him as the two left the field, saying something to the effect of ‘are you kidding me?’

All told, Bassitt allowed four runs on nine hits in 4.1 innings while walking three and striking out three. Simply put, he left too many pitches over the centre of the plate before handing the ball over to the Blue Jays’ bullpen.

Of course, no one’s blaming Bassitt for the loss on a night the offence so little. Clearly, the biggest issue facing this team is its offence. The numbers will always be a useful guide on that front, and there’s a reason teams like the Astros, Dodgers, Rays and Yankees rely heavily on analytics to plan for games. But at the same time, there will also have to be moments Schneider goes with his gut.

“That’s when you go (like this),” Schneider said, closing his laptop in his office Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve learned that the hard way in a year and a half.”

With 155 games remaining, there’s still time left to find that balance. But this week, the results were as bad as it gets, inviting scrutiny and criticism at every turn.

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