The Blue Jays couldn’t execute a bunt when they needed to on Friday night, and it’s not a new problem for the AL contenders.
Oddly enough I actually wrote about this not long ago when Santiago Espinal had struggled to get a bunt down against the Chicago Cubs, and we saw a similar struggle on Friday in a tight game with the Rangers. Once again Espinal was unable to lay down a solid bunt when he was asked to, and he wasn’t the only Blue Jay in that position this time around. Jackie Bradley Jr. had a chance to contribute with a bunt late in the game as well, but he wasn’t any more successful than Espinal.
In that last article I wrote about how it’s not as easy as it sounds to be able to bunt against big league pitching. Not that I have first hand knowledge of the experience by any means, but I can’t imagine how tough it would be to keep a bunt between the lines with the velocity and movement on the pitches being thrown in MLB these days. Add in the fact that it’s a little used tactic from big league skippers these days, especially in Toronto, and it’s asking a lot more than it seems like it should be.
The first place to start for the Blue Jays would be to continue practicing an important skill, but it’s hard to replicate a live game situation. Considering there are just 25 games left in the regular season, there may not be enough time to build confidence for those that might be asked to bunt, or the margin for error for John Schneider and the coaching staff as they look to lock up a playoff spot. They still only have eight sacrifice bunts as a team for the entire season, and two came from players that aren’t even on the roster anymore (one for Tyler Heineman, and one for Gosuke Katoh).
It’s an odd little problem to have presented itself lately, but I feel like it’s pretty clear that the Blue Jays don’t have a competent bunter on the roster, or at least not someone they’re going to ask to bunt anyway. Maybe George Springer or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have a hidden talent, but Schneider is never going to ask those sluggers to lay one down.
If I were in Schneider’s shoes over the next month or so, I’d be actively looking for live game opportunities to practice bunting for players like Espinal, Raimel Tapia (the team leader with three), and maybe others like Whit Merrifield or Jackie Bradley Jr. That might sound a little silly, but building confidence in the skill ahead of a potential playoff series could really pay off, especially when every run is even more magnified than usual.
That said, with the Blue Jays still needing to earn their playoff spot, Schneider and the coaching staff might have to pick their spots before they ask someone to try to bunt again. After another rough set of attempts on Friday night, it might have to be a tool that they put away for a while, at least until they have a chance to sharpen it in a few lower leverage situations.