Thankfully the Blue Jays managed to win Monday’s game against the Cubs, but a failed bunt attempt nearly cost them in extra innings.
As easy as it would be to point the finger at Santiago Espinal for not executing on a bunt attempt in the 11th inning, I’m willing to cut him a bit of slack here. The reason I say that is because bunting has become a bit of a lost art at the highest level, and it’s not the easiest skill to execute under pressure. Buck Martinez made comments saying as much on last night’s broadcast, and I completely agreed with him.
Espinal came to the plate with runners on first and second and nobody out in extra innings, and John Schneider asked him to bunt the runners over. Unfortunately once he managed to bunt the ball in fair territory, it was pushed way too hard, and also to the wrong side of the diamond toward first base. As a result a charging Alfonso Rivas was able to get the lead runner in Jackie Bradley Jr. at third base, nullifying the bunt and giving the Cubs an important out without allowing any runners to advance.
Without coming down too hard on the guy, I will say that it’s a play that Espinal needs to execute in that situation, regardless of how infrequently he’s asked to lay one down. He fits the profile of the type of player that would be asked to bunt from time to time as a light-hitting infielder that frequents the bottom third of the lineup. That said, a closer look shows us that he has just one sacrifice bunt so far this year, and just three over the course of parts of three seasons as a big leaguer.
I’ll readily admit that I’m not watching the Blue Jays as they practice, and I have no idea how much time they spend on bunting. What I do know is that it hasn’t been part of their game plan very often this year, as they rank tied 18th in all of baseball with just eight sacrifice bunts all season.
When I see a stat like that, I’m tempted to say something like “forget about bunting completely then”, since it’s such a rarely used strategy. As much as it may seem like it would be easier than hitting a baseball that’s flying at you at 100 miles per hour, it’s also a skill that takes a lot of practice, especially in today’s game with the ridiculous movement we see on pitches. Asking Espinal, or any player for that matter, to come in and deliver with a perfect bunt in a pressure situation probably isn’t totally fair, unless it’s something they’re working on regularly.
However, it’s also a skill that can make the difference in winning one game, and that need could be even more amplified once the playoffs roll around, assuming the Blue Jays can be part of the postseason picture. Fortunately the failed bunt attempt became a moot point after Danny Jansen drove in the winning run, but otherwise we’d be talking about that play a lot more.
Many of you will remember the time Breyvic Valera was brought in to “pinch bunt” for Alejandro Kirk in 2021 (which didn’t even work out), but the idea seems a little less ridiculous to me now than it did then. The average big leaguer is rarely asked to square around these days, and again, it’s not the easy skill to just use once or twice a year in a live game situation.
As the Blue Jays look ahead to the last 35 games of the regular season, they need to find a way to pick up every win that they can, which is a lesson that should be fresh in their memories after missing the playoffs by one game last year. If that means that they need to dedicate some extra time to bunting, or even have a few of their bench players available as specialists on a rarely used skill these days, then so be it. They got away with it on Monday night, but that kind of simple mistake can be the difference between a win and a loss, and in last year’s case, a chance to play postseason baseball.