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The basement-dwelling Blue Jays lead the league in hope

Steve Russell / Toronto Star / Getty

After the Toronto Blue Jays lost Wednesday to the Boston Red Sox, completing a series sweep at home that felt like a shovel full of dirt on the grave of their season, John Schneider offered a quote that was startling in its optimism.

Speaking about George Springer, Kevin Kiermaier, and Justin Turner, three veterans who've spent most of the season swinging wet noodles at the plate, the Blue Jays manager said, "I know there's a lot of information out there that suggests they are on the downswing." Correct so far. But then: "There's a lot of information the public doesn't get, that we have, that suggests otherwise."

Oh? It's hard to imagine what this secret information could be, unless it's from a Marvel-style alternate universe in which Springer and Kiermaier aren't two of the absolute worst hitters in baseball for almost three months now, as they've been in this one.

Turner, who had a good April, awful May, and is in the middle of a better June, could end up having a fine offensive season, even if it seems clear at this point that the Jays would have been better off bringing back Brandon Belt in the role of older vet who can still thump a little.

Kiermaier, though, who even in his best years was a slightly above-average hitter, has fallen off a cliff. Now 34 years old, his .543 OPS would be the lowest in MLB, except he doesn't have enough plate appearances to qualify.

Someone who does have enough plate appearances to qualify is Springer, and his .579 OPS mercifully isn't the worst in baseball. It's second worst. (Shoutout to Pirates infielder Jared Triolo and his .567 mark.)

Cole Burston / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Springer's decline - he's also 34 now - has been going on for a while, and if there's evidence of his old self buried in underlying statistics, it's definitely well hidden. His Statcast numbers put in him in just the 19th percentile for hard-hit percentage and the 10th percentile for average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant. He's in the 28th percentile for balls hit on the barrel of the bat, but was in the 90th percentile in that statistic in his first season in Toronto, and was above average then in both hard-hit percentage and exit velocity.

His batting average on balls in play has dipped this season, which suggests some bad luck at the plate, but that's it for unfulfilled promise. Do the Blue Jays have access to an underlying statistic called hope? Given the two years and $50 million remaining on his contract after this season, Springer would definitely be near the league leaders in that metric.

Despite repeated suggestions from Schneider and general manager Ross Atkins that they believe the Toronto offense is on the verge of a breakout, their actions suggest otherwise.

A pipeline to Buffalo has been opened, and the team's steadily importing players from AAA in hopes of sparking a lineup that's 13th in the American League in runs and 15th - dead last - in home runs. Davis Schneider made himself indispensable early in the season when he seemed like the team's only hitter with home-run pop, and Ernie Clement (!) has better numbers than all but a few Jays regulars.

More recently, Spencer Horwitz and Addison Barger were given playing time after the team cut Cavan Biggio and Daniel Vogelbach. Horwitz has been excellent (.862 OPS) since his arrival, and Barger's been much better in June (.967 OPS) after a disastrous early season call-up.

These are small samples, to be sure, but any incremental improvement in the Jays' moribund offense could make a significant difference to a team that consistently wastes good starts from its pitchers. The latest addition is Orelvis Martinez, a 22-year-old infielder with 16 home runs this season in the minors. Blue Jays fans can be forgiven for wondering if that's a typo, since 16 seems like far too many for a single player to have hit at this point. Martinez mashes left-handed pitching and may be overmatched against MLB right-handers, but Toronto ought to let him try.

Mark Blinch / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Schneider said his goal is to ultimately get back to a version of the lineup that broke camp in April, but there's an alternative strategy staring him in the face: Play the kids. The team that began the season, the one that was supposed to rely on internal improvement to improve on last year's 89-win total, instead goes into a weekend series in Cleveland with a 35-39 record, with no chance of catching New York and Baltimore in the AL East and already 5.5 games back in the race for the last AL wild-card spot.

Last season, when the Jays turned around a slow start to pinch one of those last playoff spots, they were 39-35 after 74 games. They are, in other words, pretty much dead anyway. A middling April was followed by a mediocre May and now a meh June. The Jays aren't a rebuild candidate, not with an expensive roster and Bichette and Guerrero approaching free agency, so they may as well give at-bats that would normally go to veterans to the youngsters they've already turned to in something that approaches desperation.

May as well go the whole way, then. Would giving a lot of playing time to guys like Martinez, Horwitz, and Barger potentially flop if they struggle against major-league pitching? Quite possibly. This obviously wasn't the plan. But the guys they would replace have already struggled against major-league pitching, and for months. It's not a blip.

The kids, collectively, feel like a lottery ticket, but that kind of miracle is what the Jays need to save their season. Schneider should be buying all the lotto tickets he can get.

Scott Stinson is a contributing writer for theScore.

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