LONGLEY: Post-season collapse sets up off-season of change for Jays

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Much as he did a year earlier when his team agonizingly missed the playoffs by one game, Vlad Guerrero Jr. was front and centre at the baseball funeral that unfolded Saturday evening at the Rogers Centre.

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Slumped over the railing of the Blue Jays dugout, Guerrero watched the Seattle Mariners celebration right there on his team’s home field, no doubt in equal parts shock and frustration.

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And as the Jays first baseman ponders the stunningly swift exit more deeply, surely the 24-year-old will be wondering what the team must do to avoid an inglorious ending for a third consecutive year.

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“I always focus on what I can do, trying to help my teammates on everything,” Guerrero said through translator Hector Lebron in the quiet of the Jays clubhouse on Saturday. “The other things, I just let the front office take care of that.”

Subtle dig from a frustrated superstar? Perhaps. Frustration in the moment of disappointment and a screeching end to a season with such high expectations? More likely.

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But Guerrero’s passing reference to the work of the front office certainly reflected the dissatisfaction of a fan base that may have had its hope fuelled by a late season surge but wasn’t duped into believing the team was going to be a serious contender deep into this October.

And with that dissatisfaction comes dissection.

Of general manager Ross Atkins’ work at the trade deadline that ended up not being enough to greatly enhance the team’s chances. 

Of manager John Schneider for some of the in-game decisions, though we’re of the mind that with an 8-1 lead there was no move from the dugout that truly cost the Jays a game that was that well in hand. Put it more explicitly on that point: A team that had a seven-run lead with just 10 outs to get there should have been able to take care of business.

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The Jays’ 10-9 loss to the Mariners on Saturday at the Rogers Centre certainly was the trigger point for an off-season of scrutiny, not merely for what happened over the four hours and 13 minutes it took to complete one of the latest post-season disasters for a Toronto pro sports team.

And Schneider acknowledged it will be difficult not to look at multiple moments of Saturday’s drama from the fifth inning and beyond.

“I thought it sequenced out pretty well,” Schneider said when asked to explain his bullpen use after removing Kevin Gausman from a game after 5.2 innings of brilliant starter’s work. “Tiimmy Mayza is a tough guy to get underneath and hit the ball out of the ballpark.

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‘Yeah, there’s always going to be times where I could sit here for about six months and second-guess myself, but right now I don’t.”

That Schneider even mentioned the thought of second-guessing means you know that it’s already begun. He’ll shake off the lingering effects of the devastating loss eventually, but not over the first few days of an off season that arrived too early.

Running through some of them, here’s our thoughts on the in-game moves of consequence:

  • Lifting Gausman after 5.2 innings was a match-up based decision and one made easier by the fact that the starter had loaded the bases. Did Gausman pitch well enough to get a shot at finishing the inning? Perhaps. Was Mayza the right call in the situation. Probably. The southpaw’s worst mistake was the wild pitch that scored a run. The one he allowed a three-run homer to Carlos Santana was a good hitter winning the battle against a good pitcher.
  • Anthony Bass was the biggest liability in the bullpen on the day and things truly began to unravel under his watch. But Bass had been mostly money since he came over at the trade deadline and as Schneider suggested fit in the sequence. His struggles forced the early call for Romano and things truly unravelled as a result.
  • Perhaps the biggest decision of consequence was one that wasn’t made at all. Moving Jackie Bradley Jr. into centre field in the late innings and shuffling George Springer over to left would have had, in the precision of hindsight, immense benefits.

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In any event, in the 125 days or so until the group returns to Dunedin for spring training, there will be business to take care of – from the front office to the players themselves. A team that has lost five in a row and eight of its past nine in the playoffs has work to do.

“We talked about getting incrementally better,” Schneider said. “and it starts in spring training.”

As is always the case with a young team, the off-season will be important, especially as another year with a high-end core in place disappeared so meekly.

“We need to make the best of these opportunities,” Guerrero said. ‘We’ll work very hard, come back stronger next year and then we’ll see what happens.”

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