Brooms come out in Cleveland as Blue Jays swept in back-to-back series

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Amid the dark cloud of a top prospect being suspended 80 games for PED use and the gloom surrounding a team that can’t string together series wins, a silver lining has emerged.

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And his name is Spencer Horwitz.

If he’s not in the lineup every day moving forward, then something really is amiss with this Blue Jays club.

Orelvis Martinez, who was handed the suspension on Sunday, generated hype when recalled last week from triple-A, but Horwitz seems to be the real deal.

The buzz he’s creating is at the plate. He’s now earning a starting job at second or at least is providing second thoughts on how best to fully integrate Horwitz as a full-time player, a role he clearly deserves based on his play.

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Twice he went deep in Cleveland, once again reaching base every time he’s in the starting lineup, which begs the question: Why isn’t he in the starting lineup each and every game?

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He can’t do it all for obvious reasons, as Horwitz’s blitz in the box wasn’t enough to keep the Blue Jays from getting swept for the second time in as many series, this time against the host Cleveland Guardians. Cleveland took the series finale 6-5 to send the Blue Jays deeper into the doldrums as their record fell to 35-42.

This remains a Jays team crying out for change.

One of those changes shouldn’t involve Horwitz, unless it means more playing time. His at-bat in the ninth inning against an elite closer was epic as Horwitz drew a one-out walk to reach base for the fourth time on the day.

Reaching base for the fifth time was Justin Turner, who stroked a two-out single up the middle to keep the Jays’ hopes alive. But the game ended on a George Springer groundout.

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Yusei Kikuchi of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch.
Yusei Kikuchi of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on Sunday, June 23, 2024, in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Nick Cammett /Getty Images

YUSEI, WHAT?

Not exactly an economical start for Yusei Kikuchi and overall not exactly what the lefty envisioned when he took to the mound.

A roughly 40-minute rain delay ended Kikuchi’s day.

When play resumed in the third inning, Zach Pop inherited a 2-2 count with the bases loaded. He walked in the tying run, induced a double-play that would score Cleveland’s go-ahead run as the game became a battle of the bullpens, which played right into the hands of the reliever-rich Guardians.

Pop went 1.1 innings before Brendon Little was asked to eat up innings and record outs.

Mississauga’s Josh Naylor turned on a Little offering and went deep for his 20th home run of the season to give Cleveland a 6-3 lead.

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FIRST OFF

A weird and wacky first inning would unfold. Once the dust had settled, the Jays finally had their first lead of the series.

It was provided when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stroked one of those patented no-doubters, a two-run moon shot that gave him two belts in three games.

A wild pitch would allow Turner, who drew a walk, to try to advance to second base. The initial call was an out, but the Jays asked for a video review.

On the play, it was clear Turner’s helmet was dislodged and essentially used to shield the veteran from the tag at the bag. The play was overturned, but Turner was left stranded. Springer struck out for the eighth time in four games.

In the home half of the frame, Springer’s throw from right field resulted in an error as his woes continued. It was Springer’s second error of the season and first since April 21.

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While his struggles at the plate have been well documented, give Springer full marks for his defence. The latest flashing of the glove arrived in the second when Springer prevented at least one run, perhaps two, from crossing home plate on a highlight reel catch to end the inning.

Fittingly, Springer was rewarded the following inning when he lined a double into left field, his 14th extra-base hit of the season. Turner, who once again reached base on a walk, advanced to third on the double.

Up stepped Addison Barger, who struck out swinging for the second time in as many at-bats. Sunday marked Barger’s 11th game in the show. His second whiff of the day was Barger’s 11th on the season.

CUAS FOR CONCERN

A move was made to address pitching depth, but it’s anyone’s guess what, if any, impact Jose Cuas will have on the big-league club.

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A week after the reliever was DFAed by the Chicago Cubs, the Jays swooped in Sunday to claim the right-hander, who made the Cubs’ opening day roster before alternating from triple-A Iowa and the big leagues.

In nine appearances with the Cubbies this season, Cuas did not figure into a decision and had a 7.43 ERA. He’s expected to join the Jays’ triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.

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WRATH OF KWAN

Unlike the Blue Jays, the Guardians have a legitimate leadoff hitter in Steven Kwan.

Simply put, Kwan has terrorized Toronto as the teams exchanged roles as hosts during a 10-day stretch.

Heading into Sunday’s series finale in Cleveland, Kwan had 10 hits in five games versus the Jays, including three multi-hit games. He even went deep Saturday.

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Kwan draws more walks than strikeouts, can run and equally important is his ability to put the ball in play. In other words, he’s precisely the kind of player the Jays don’t have in a lineup that changes from day to day.

Kwan led off the fourth inning by launching a rocket into right field off Pop, Kwan’s seventh homer of the season, a career high. He almost went deep again, but Kwan pulled it foul to lead off the sixth.

DAULTON DAY TO DAY

Popularity aside, the only Blue Jays positional player who merits an all-star nod is Daulton Varsho.

The team dodged a bullet when Varsho woke up Sunday and did not feel any worse for wear after he collapsed in a heap in Saturday’s ninth inning on a groundout to second in Toronto’s 6-3 loss.

Varsho was given the day off Sunday after experiencing lower left back tightness on his swing.

Day to day is how the Jays listed Varsho as the Blue Jays open a three-game series Monday in Boston.

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