Blue Jays vs. Yankees pre-game notes
Lineup change highlights Blue Jays Thursday
The Blue Jays and manager John Schneider, thus far, have kept the batting order pretty consistent and fairly simple ever since leadoff man George Springer snapped his long hitless streak and was bumped back into the leadoff role. That was a no-brainer lineup move with Springer. After all, he had been signed for 2021 as the best leadoff hitter in the American League and so there he remains.
But on Thursday vs. the Yankees, with four games remaining in the roller-coaster road to the playoffs, with three wins needed to guarantee a spot on the October dance floor and with two straight shutouts against them, a new batting order was unveiled.
Springer is still in the leadoff, spot, but was now followed by DH Brandon Belt, SS Bo Bichette, 1B Vlad Guerrero Jr. and 2B Cavan Biggio. The importance of having Bichette and Guerrero hit back-to-back in the order and the swag and sense of menace it presents to opponents remains important, but they are simply flipped with Bo moving from two to four. Belt will make the first inning more of a grind for opponents, as he works the count and sees a lot of pitches.
The bottom line is the Jays have had trouble scoring runs in the first inning. Over the past seven games, in the first inning alone, opposing hurlers have allowed one hit and one walk in seven innings. It has been the club’s lowest scoring inning all year.
“Just trying to get (Bichette) up with guys on base,” Schneider said in his pre-game media session. “I know it looks very reactionary, but it’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time.”
In fact, I recall back in June of 2021, at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, when Springer was re-joining the team after 44 days on the sidelines due to injury, there were coaches and serious discussion at the time that Bichette should be installed as the full time cleanup hitter, with well-thought out arguments. Didn’t happen.
There may be a side benefit to batting Vlad then Bo. With a really good hitter behind Guerrero, he may have to be challenged more with pitches in the zone, instead of those tantalizing sliders and cutters and fastball just off the outside corner that Vlad sometimes has a tendency to chase. On the other hand, Bichette is less likely to change his approach and the pitches he swings at, no matter who is hitting after him.
“That’s part of it,” Schneider said. “Bo’s going to get pitched the way he’s going to get pitched and having him behind Vlad is a good thing. I like the way that it lines up. I think we play really well when we have a lead. When you face really good pitching like we have been, it’s kind of hard to crawl back into it.
“It’s been kind of weird the whole year. We all know who our guys are. They need to do what they’re good at, but, yeah, the first inning has been pretty quiet here. Hopefully we can kind of jump start it a little bit.”
Somehow, despite not scoring a run since Sunday in St. Petersburg against the Rays, the Jays have managed to hang onto the second wildcard spot.
And another thing…there is a chance that if the Jays lose on Thursday, while the Mariners and Astros win, to loom ominously over the Jays shoulder in the wildcard race, that LH Yusei Kikuchi will take the Game 1 start against the Rays to open the weekend series, with LH Hyun Jin Ryu bumped … likely to Saturday. If RH Kevin Gausman is needed to clinch a playoff berth on Sunday, then he will make that start. Otherwise the AL strikeout leader will line up on Tuesday for Game 1 of the wildcard series in either St. Petersburg or Minneapolis.