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Blue Jays in search of a spark for their sputtering offense

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after striking out in the ninth inning of an MLB game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 20, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after striking out in the ninth inning of an MLB game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 20, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays recent batting woes continued in a 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.

Bo Bichette paused for a moment, admiring his shot over Fenway Park’s Green Monster that gave the Toronto Blue Jays their first run against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.

Such moments, though, are becoming increasingly rare for a Blue Jays lineup that was supposed to be among the best in the league, but is locked in a team-wide slump. Bichette’s homer in the fourth inning was the first hit for any Blue Jays player since his own infield single in the third inning against the Royals on Sunday, a span of 9.1 consecutive innings.

They wouldn’t get another until Bichette came to the plate again in the sixth and reached on another single that didn’t leave the infield. Over a stretch of 13 innings, Bichette had three hits; the rest of the Blue Jays lineup combined had none.

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Two days after being held to two hits in a loss to the Royals, the Blue Jays collected just four—all by either Bichette or Randal Grichuk—in dropping the first game of the series 4-2 at Fenway Park. The Blue Jays have now dropped three in a row and are hitting a collective .168; their .208 on-base percentage in that span is better than only the Seattle Mariners.

The struggles extend throughout the lineup. Leadoff hitter Marcus Semien is now in a 0-13 slump. Among 41 players with at least five games in the leadoff position this season, Semien is tied with the Rangers’ Isiah Kiner-Falefa for worst on-base percentage.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has just one extra-base hit this season and is hitting only .188, not to mention his shaky defence in left field on Tuesday. Cavan Biggio returned to the lineup on Tuesday for the first time in five days and went 0-4. His OBP this season is down more than 100 points from 2020, while his .602 OPS is more than 200 points worse than it was last season. Even Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is in a mini 1-8 slump, although he managed to extend his on-base streak to 17 straight games with a first-inning walk.

Catchers Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk are a collective 6-65 (.103) this season, worst in MLB at the position. Jansen doesn’t have a hit since April 7 and is currently in a 0-21 drought.

The problem for manager Charlie Montoyo is there is no player in his lineup who is hot right now and can move up in the order to provide a much-needed spark to the stagnant offense.

“The guys in the bottom of the lineup are struggling, too. So if you’re going to bring guys up that are struggling, there’s not anybody really hot right now. It’s the whole lineup struggling,” he said following Tuesday’s loss in Boston, according to MLB.com.

“Like I always say, hitting is contagious, and right now, when you don’t hit, everybody feels the pressure. For sure, these last couple of games, that’s what it looks like.”

The Blue Jays are still getting their bats on the ball, with a contact rate in the top-six in the league. They don’t swing at pitches outside the zone, with the fifth-lowest swing rate over their hitting slump. They’re also in the top half of the league with 26.7 percent of their batted balls going to the opposite field.

But it hasn’t helped. The Blue Jays still aren’t getting on base, aren’t generating runs, and aren’t picking up a key hit in pivotal moments. Willie Keeler famously said in another century, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” The Blue Jays are becoming good at hitting it where they are.

There is some help on the way. George Springer could make his much-delayed Blue Jays debut within the next week. Cleanup hitter Teoscar Hernandez, out since April 8, is nearing the end of his 10-day quarantine on the COVID list. The addition of both would jumpstart a lifeless offense. Springer would replace Semien in the leadoff role, where he leads all hitters over the last four years in home runs, RBI, and walks.

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Those are qualities the Blue Jays desperately need right now. Montoyo can keep assuring everyone that it’s only a matter of time before the lineup gets hot. But, barring the return of Springer and Hernandez, he hasn’t seen it yet.

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