The reasons behind the Blue Jays’ disappointing play of late are pretty simple. The back end of their starting rotation has collapsed, and the bullpen is nowhere near good enough for a team with World Series aspirations.
None of those things can be controlled by a manager.
He can’t stop Yusei Kikuchi from scattering the ball everywhere, nor can he do much to solve his team’s problems late in games when the likes of Trent Thornton, Trevor Richards and Sergio Romo come out of the bullpen.
That didn’t stop Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, however, from making Charlie Montoyo the scapegoat for his team’s woes Wednesday afternoon. After a 2–9 run that saw them drop from the third and final wild card spot, Atkins felt changes were required due to a “disappointing” performance in the first half.
“It’s a very complicated thing to talk about the details of why exactly now,” Atkins said during a news conference before Wednesday night’s 8-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. “In the end, we made the decision in the last 24 hours with a lot of consideration.
“Pointing to the rotation and the bullpen, my feeling about it is: Good teams win. It’s not necessarily good pitching with good bullpens. Look at the history of the game. Good teams win championships.
“The person to look at is me. I am the one who has to be held accountable. We will continue to work hard in every area of our team to improve.”
As is typical after a decision like this, it didn’t take long for the forks to come out. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, who covers the Mariners, a team that recently swept the Blue Jays, suggested the players had been done with Montoyo for weeks, a sentiment echoed by ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
A player recently approached his Star colleague, Mike Wilner, to ask if Montoyo had been criticizing his pitching staff to the media. Privately, another expressed frustration that Montoyo hadn’t addressed the team when things got tough during the recent 1-6 road trip. Publicly, pitcher Kevin Gausman questioned his team’s approach to defensive changes.
Something wasn’t right, but that’s not unusual for a team struggling to live up to its own expectations. Sure, there could have been a dysfunction, but it wasn’t as blatant as a fractured Blue Jays clubhouse from 2015-16 when players often fell out with each other. That didn’t matter when the Blue Jays headed to the American League Championship Series; matters now because of his history.
“It’s always a players’ locker room,” Blue Jays center fielder George Springer said when asked if the players had begun to ignore Montoyo. “The players are the ones in the locker room, you know. It’s up to us to have fun. Our clubhouse is fine. I love each and every one of the guys that are in our clubhouse. I haven’t had any problems like that.”
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If players were frustrated with the way things were running, they may not be happy with what comes next, because it’s unlikely to change the game’s strategy. The Blue Jays take a collaborative approach to building the roster and developing game plans, and they hope to continue to do so.
Interim coach John Schneider, who will take Montoyo’s place for at least this season, has already been involved in many of the decisions made. This is not a situation where he is going to turn everything upside down. He’s been on the ride all this time.
During his introductory press conference, Schneider suggested there could be some changes in the coming days, but “nothing really stands out at the moment.” Later, when asked if the club could alter his preparation work, Schneider’s reply was that it would be “business as usual”. Minutes later, it was revealed that Wednesday’s lineup was nearly identical to the one Montoyo used the night before, though one noticeable difference during the game was a greater use of hit-and-run.
Before the game, Atkins was also asked what changes he hoped to see with the product on the field, either through strategy or messaging, and he didn’t have much of an answer, at least none that he was willing to offer publicly.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Atkins said while dodging the original investigation. “If I hadn’t felt it was necessary, it wouldn’t have happened. It got to the point where I felt like there was a lot of individual stuff going on and we need to play better as a team. I feel strongly that we can, and will, and I feel like this is a step that can help.”
The decision to replace Montoyo is largely symbolic. The Philadelphia Phillies fired Joe Girardi earlier this year and have gotten better; the Los Angeles Angels sent Joe Maddon packing and it got worse.
Given the talent in the locker room, the Blue Jays hope to improve, but there’s no reason to believe the odds of that happening with Schneider are any higher than they would have been with Montoyo.
The reality is that the list is more flawed than most of us previously believed. The way to improve is to beef up the rotation and add a couple of high-level relievers. If that happens, this team still has a chance for a deep run in October. If not, the season could come to a premature end just like it did in 2021.
None of these arguments are meant to suggest that Montoyo, who finished his tenure with the Blue Jays with a 236-236 record, was perfect. His willingness to let pitcher Marcus Stroman show him on the field in the first year was an early warning sign that he would have a hard time holding players accountable.
With the media, he never seemed comfortable explaining his decisions and often seemed nervous on the bench during games. There weren’t that many surprising moves on the bench this season, but the previous three there were quite a few.
Players would have taken notice of that over time, but it doesn’t provide an excuse for their poor performance. The responsibility lies with those who are not producing and with the guys in the front office who put the team together, not with the manager.
Nothing about Montoyo really changed from year to year, so if the Blue Jays felt he wasn’t the right person, they should have made this change before the season started. They didn’t, and instead made him the scapegoat midway.
Atkins better hope this works. If his team continues to drop in the rankings, he won’t be able to use the same excuse in a few months.
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