Through the good times and the bad times, it’s been clear that the Toronto Blue Jays’ offence isn’t all there. That’s unlikely to change between now and the end of the season
One of the defining characteristics of this year’s edition of the Toronto Blue Jays has been their inability to cash men in scoring position. This deficiency was on full display last night as the New York Yankees topped the Blue Jays 2-0: Toronto’s once vaunted offence left a total of 14 men on base, wasting two leadoff hits from Devon Travis, two leadoff walks in the top of the third inning, and a one-out double from Troy Tulowitzki in the top of the seventh inning.
The opportunities to win were there, but the Blue Jays couldn’t take advantage of them. They were beat by Bryan Mitchell, who was making his first appearance of the 2016 campaign. Talk about a wasting winnable game.
If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the lack of timely offence has defined the Blue Jays all year.
For all the frustrations vented at the bullpen, it’s been the offence that has given Toronto’s relievers such a narrow margin for error. Drew Storen is Drew Storen, but how many pressure-packed games have Joaquin Benoit and Jason Grilli entered? In one sense, this is their job – they’re there to lock down leads – but it also feels like they’re the only difference between a win or a loss from the seventh inning onward. The offence disappears.
From earlier in the season to last month’s disappointing series losses to the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Blue Jays have demonstrated a penchant for letting winnable games escape their grasp. This has led to the latest hot take: they suck.
Do the Blue Jays suck? No, they remain one of the best teams on paper, if not the actual field, in all of baseball. Their lineup features a two-time home run champion, the reigning American League MVP and current runs scored leader in the AL, and the current RBI leader in the AL. Drop these three bats at the top of any batting order and it would be only natural to expect dominant offence. Now add the second best team ERA and the youngest closer to record 30 saves in a season to the mix, and it’s hard not to start thinking about a parade in October.
There’s little point in stating the obvious except that it has seemed to escape many people: this is a really good team that is simply not playing up to expectations.
Last season the Blue Jays mashed their way to a run differential of 221. Their run differential for the 2016 season currently stands at 96 despite trotting out essentially the same lineup. If this underscores the offensive struggles of this year’s team, it also highlights the strength of their pitching and defence. Imagine where the Blue Jays would be right now without the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ. It could be worse.
September baseball is a different beast. For teams in the playoff race, every game is important. Also-rans find new life in the role of spoilers, and the expansion of the roster gives managers new ways to find their way into and out of trouble. If John Gibbons stuck mostly to his game plan against New York, Joe Girardi tinkered his way to a sweep of Toronto.
All of this is my way of saying that a 1-5 start to September isn’t actually that surprising for the Blue Jays. There have been signs all season that the offence isn’t quite up to the job. It may shock you, but it certainly shouldn’t surprise you. I go back to that series in Cleveland – the way Toronto could have very easily swept the Indians but instead stumbled out of Ohio with one win and two blown leads.
The Blue Jays have the tools to compete; they just haven’t being swinging those tools with authority. As the regular season winds down, this is magnified by the intensity of September baseball. The Blue Jays have now had five months to figure out that they should probably start swinging at all those fastballs down the middle. If they haven’t figured this out by now, it’s hard to imagine them learning it by the end of the September.
A shock, no doubt, but not a surprise.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Rob Lockhart UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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