Just when it looked like the Blue Jays were getting back to full strength, one of the key cogs in a lineup that was already struggling to score went down in a crumpled heap after crashing into the center-field wall.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the Jays’ most valuable player, but next up on the list of players they can ill afford to lose might be George Springer. Unfortunately for manager Charlie Montoyo, that happened when the three-time all-star took a nasty fall in a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Springer was diagnosed with a sprained ankle after he landed awkwardly following an attempted leaping grab in straightaway center. The 32-year-old initially remained in the game following a long delay, but he was removed an inning later after limping down the first-base line.
Montoyo told reporters after the game that the injury was “mild” and that, for now, Springer was considered day to day. That should result in a sigh of relief for the Jays but, despite the encouraging report, the last year has proven Springer’s availability is rarely that simple.
An oblique injury last spring eventually turned into a strained quad as he ramped up baseball activities. A knee injury sustained in August cost him two weeks and continued to be a problem for the rest of the year. Overall, he appeared in fewer than half of the Jays’ 162 games.
No team wants to lose a player the caliber of Springer, but the timing of this setback seems particularly cruel for the Jays if the injury ends up lingering. A lineup that has struggled for most of the year just welcomed back Teoscar Hernandez from a strained oblique while catcher Danny Jansen could return from the same injury Saturday. The hope was that a full roster would help reverse course on a losing streak now at five games, but they’ll have to do that while Springer’s status is uncertain.
Over the last week and change, the Jays dropped a pair of series to the New York Yankees and one to the Cleveland Guardians. Montoyo’s squad is 2-7 over its last nine games, in third place with a 17-16 record and, more concerning, seven games back of the Yankees pending the result of their matchup against the Chicago White Sox. When the skid started May 2, the Jays were seven games above .500 and just 1 1/2 games out of first.
Most of the blame falls on the offence, which has yet to hit its stride five weeks into the year. The Jays have scored three runs or fewer in 52 per cent of their games, which is way up from last year’s rate of 37 per cent. They were supposed to have the best offense in the majors yet, as of Friday night, the Jays ranked 20th with 125 runs. They managed just two runs on six hits Friday.
Losing Springer isn’t going to help any of that, nor will his replacements of Bradley Zimmer and Raimel Tapia provide much security for a pitching staff that is doing its best to keep the Jays in games. The Jays wasted another solid outing Friday from Kevin Gausman, who was saddled with the loss after allowing four runs — three earned — on five hits while striking out eight over seven-plus innings.
The Jays were 18 games above .500 (48-30) when Springer was in the lineup last season and just two games above (43-31) when he wasn’t. Put another way, they were a post-season team with a healthy Springer and barely above average when he was hurt. That stat can be a bit misleading because there were other factors at play, too, but few can deny the Jays are a much better team when he’s on the field.
Missing Springer for a couple of days isn’t a big deal. Missing him for a couple weeks or more will be an extremely challenging obstacle to overcome. For now, all they can do is cross their fingers and hope the injury is as mild as they claim.
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