It wasn’t long ago that defence was a real weakness for the Blue Jays, but these days their glove work is making the difference between winning and losing.
Last night was a great example, as the Blue Jays squeaked out another tight victory by beating the Yankees by a score of 2-1. While a lot of the credit has to go to the pitching staff, and in particular to Yusei Kikuchi for his best outing as a Blue Jay so far, part of the reason the Yankees were held at bay was because of the defence.
The last play of the game highlighted two players who are making a big difference so far this year. The first would be Matt Chapman, who is a two-time Platinum Glove winner, and it hasn’t been hard to see why. Chapman brought a powerful bat with him when the Jays acquired him from the Oakland A’s, but his true calling card is his defence. With two out and the bases loaded on Wednesday night, Chapman made a different play on an in-between ground ball, and put his throw in a spot that gave Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a chance to dig it out and end the rally and the game.
Chapman has made a habit out of making very difficult plays look routine, and the final out was just the latest example.
On the other end of that throw was Guerrero Jr., who has quickly become one of the better defensive first baseman in the American League. For those that didn’t know, Vlad Jr. started his career as a third baseman as well, but has found a home that suits him very well over at first. With his improved conditioning, he’s also made a habit out of making very athletic plays at first base, such as the Chapman throw that I’ve already referenced. On that play Guerrero Jr. got low enough to make sure he would secure the baseball, and pretty much did the splits in the process.
The 2nd place finisher in last year’s AL MVP voting has always had nice hands on the infield, and that skill has translated very well to first base. After watching him go through some growing pains at a new position over the last few years, these days his glove work feels like an asset.
The other member of the infield making a big impact would be Santiago Espinal, who has more or less earned the job as the starting second baseman these days. Cavan Biggio has missed time because of a stint on the Covid-19 IL, and he figures to still factor into the second base equation this season, but I’m guessing it’ll be an uphill battle to take playing time away from Espinal at this point.
Espinal is a capable defender at any position on the infield, and even spent some time in the outfield during his minor league days. Not only is he capable at shortstop, third base, second base, and more, but I’d argue that he’s a plus defender regardless of where you line him up. When his job ends up at second base, which is arguably “easier” than the hot corner or playing shortstop, he can show off his skill set even more. He did just that while robbing DJ LeMahieu of a hit in the 8th inning of last night’s game, and I’m sure that’s just one of many instalments on his highlight reel this year.
The only infielder that’s struggling a bit with the glove so far this season would be Bo Bichette, who has already committed six errors. While the 2021 All-Star has had a few miscues, and he’s not likely to live up the defensive standard of Chapman or even Espinal, he is making steady improvements on that side of the ball. If he can be at least average this year, and I think that’s his floor, then the infield as a whole unit is definitely one of the better groups in baseball.
Good infield defence is something the Blue Jays have wanted for a few years now, and at the moment I’d argue that they’re as strong as they’ve been since back in 2015 when they acquired Troy Tulowitzki at the trade deadline. Defence may not be as sexy as home runs or 10-run games, but it leads to wins, and we’re seeing the proof so far in 2022.