For the second game in a row, the Blue Jays started out with a snag.
Teoscar Hernández tracked back to the wall, bouncing on the warning track before leaving his feet. As the Toronto outfielder crashed into the cushion, the Anthony Santander shot entered his glove. Mirroring Raimel Tapia’s first-inning robbery from the game prior, Hernández opened Sunday’s ballgame with the latest Blue Jays stellar defensive play.
"That defense was just picking me up all game," Sunday's starter Alek Manoah said.
Like the rest of the Blue Jays’ season, Toronto’s defense has been up-and-down in 2022. During a 13-14 August, they ranked as the worst defensive team in the American League by Outs Above Average. So far in September, they’re the AL’s best.
The defensive gems came from around the diamond during Toronto's series win over the Orioles, and the Jays committed just one error in the three contests. Tapia climbed the wall on Saturday, George Springer laid out for a grab in center, and the middle infield hooked up for three double plays in the series.
The Jays have six positive defenders by OAA this month, to just one negative (Hernández at -1). Entering Sunday, the team’s top defender this month was outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., despite starting just nine games.
Bradley is playing a bit more than the Jays initially thought when they signed him in early August, Schneider admitted, but his glove has found a place in the Toronto outfield mix. He’s started 17 games for the Jays, and the club is 11-6 in those contests.
"If you look up and you have Jackie out there, you feel really confident when the ball is hit to him," Schneider said.
For a team that's faltered in the field at times, Bradley has been the latest defensive weapon added to the mix. He fits alongside late-game specialist Bradley Zimmer, Gold Glover Matt Chapman, and the flashy Santiago Espinal, giving Toronto a shutdown defensive unit to rival any in baseball.
The ability to flash the leather becomes increasingly important as the Jays inch toward October. Six of the top seven squads this season by team OAA are currently in playoff spots, with the Diamond Backs as the lone exception.
When the stakes get higher and the lights get brighter, every defensive play falls under the microscope. With this run of strong fielding in September, the Jays are proving they're ready.
"Guys are responding to the time of year it is and kinda kicking it into gear," Schneider said. "There's a sense of urgency with every play."