By Rob Ficiur
If Toronto Blue Jays fans want to experience Jays baseball playoff drama look on the internet for highlights from October 2015 because 2016 won’t have any Toronto stories. After leading the American League East for more than two months the September Blue Jays leave their fans frustrated. So far the Jays have two wins and seven losses since the calendar turned. Why has this team, that seemed destined for another playoff run, stalled at this time?
1. Hitting when it counts. When the Blue Jays beat Boston on Saturday they had one hit in ten chances with runners in scoring position. Three for ten at these critical times is what you would expect from a contending team.
When the Jays played the Red Sox, the batting numbers stood out. Seven of Boston’s nine starters were batting above .270; four of whom are batting over .300. In contrast the Blue Jays had two starters batting over .270; one of whom was hitting over .300. Batting average is not everything, but if you don’t hit you don’t score. Key Blue Jays veterans such as Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russel Martin are batting 20 to 30 points lower than their career averages. Last year the Jays lead the majors in home runs. Are they trying to replicate the home run crunch and not getting the key hits they need?
2. Starting Pitching coming back to earth – As of this minute the Toronto Blue Jays are second best in all of baseball with a 3.88 earned run average. The Blue Jays are first in all of baseball in quality starts by their starting pitchers. The Blue Jays starters have exceeded expectations of their most optimistic fans until we turned the calendar into September. All star Aaron Sanchez has a 4.67 ERA in his last seven games. Marco Estrada who should have been an all in July is 2-6 with a 5.86 ERA in his last seven games; Jay Happ, who leads the team with 18 wins has an ERA one run higher the last seven games than the rest of the season.
The Blue Jays starters, with the exception of the aging RA Dickey, began the year with no long term pedigree. They pitched from April to August like they were hall of famers. Now slumps have hit all of them at the wrong time.
3. Relief was no relief – The Kansas city royals made the last two world series on the arms of three unstoppable relievers. The Blue Jays’ relievers have not done their job in September. Twice in the last week relievers have blown leads and lost games. With the hitting and starting pitching slumping, poor relief appearances stand out in ways they did not when the team was winning.
4. Were they Jays over confident? From July 30, 2015 until August 30, 2016 the Jays were the best team in baseball. If they were down they knew they could come back –and they often did. Is their slump the result of losing a bit of that edge that kept them in the games the last thirteen months.
As a fan I was getting a bit over confident in the Blue Jays success. In August I was harassing the loyal Boston Red Sox fan – who is the editor of this paper – I suggested there was no way her Red Sox could catch the Blue Jays. Now that the Red sox are in first place, I will try to avoid any contact with her until the Blue Jays go on a winning streak and reclaim their rightful spot of first place from those Red Sox that I counted out. (And if they don’t come back I will just avoid the editor until next season.)
5. Optimistic Prediction – The Jays will rebound! The Blue Jays are still in a Wild Card payoff spot. Ten of the nineteen games they have left are at home. Fifteen of their last nineteen games are against teams that are below them in the standings. On paper there is no reason that they Jays can win two out of three in each of these series. If the team had gone in this slump a month ago it would be brushed off as the dog days of summer.
6. Pessimistic Prediction – The Jays will crash. The most disturbing trend that we have seen in the last two months is the Jays have lost games against teams they were well ahead of in the standings. In late August they lost two of three to the last place LA Angels. They followed this up with another two of three losses to the last place Tampa Rays. Good teams should not lose to last place teams. When it happens a championship caliber team should come back with more determination and focus and win the next series no matter who they are playing.
The Jays have lost five of their last seven series. A month of bad luck or bad habits appears to have smitten their confidence. Without confidence star athletes become average and teams drop out of the race faster than you can say “Go Blue Jays Go!” We will keep chanting that until they finally win (like 2015) or lose (like so many other seasons we try very hard to forget)..