As Blue Jays take on the Orioles, fans have a chance to see how team measures up to another rebuilding rival
Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase
“Mirror, Mirror on the wall. Who’s the furthest along of them all?”
It would be easy for Blue Jays followers to look at series against the Rays and Red Sox, or even the defending champion Nationals, as the measuring stick against which they can judge how youth movement is progressing. But for me, this initial series against the Baltimore Orioles has been circled since Schedule 2.0 was released. There are several major league teams who have fallen upon dreadful times over the past 3 years, either by choice or by inevitability.
As a Blue Jays fan marooned in Pittsburgh and a bemused relative of hard-core Tigers apologists, my exposure to truly pitiful teams has been constant and tough to watch. But no team has fallen so far, so quickly this century than the Orioles. Which as a division rival no doubt brings smiles to the faces of the Toronto faithful. But a look at the standings as of Sunday shows us the Orioles with a record of 12-9, winners of 7 of their last 10 games and currently holding the top wild card slot in the American League. Your eyes will need to drop down a notch to find Toronto, rolling a 7-11 record that pays handsomely at the craps table but elicits an “Oh crap” response from fans.
Let’s make no mistakes- on paper the Blue Jays are the better team and theoretically are further along the path to contention than Baltimore. Even with the promotion of their top prospects over the past 12 months, Baseball America ranks the Blue Jays system at #4 in MLB, while the Orioles are still nesting in the lower echelons of the rankings. The signings of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi and Travis Shaw showed the Toronto front office believed it was time to add players to a young core and move one step closer to playoff contention.
Baltimore signed 36 year-old Wade LeBlanc and journeyman catcher Bryan Holaday, then invited a staggering 66 players to major league camp as an invitation to all to win a spot on the 26-man roster. In my heart, I know the Blue Jays have assembled the framework for a sustained winning and contending future. But my brain looks at the early season winning by the Orioles (and fellow rebuilding from the subterranean Tigers and Marlins) and starts to shudder.
Mark Shapiro has seen the writing on the wall before in Cleveland in 2001, and purged big dollar contracts to assemble a core of young talent destined to return to the playoffs quickly. With the encouragement of Rogers ownership, he and Ross Atkins have done a splendid job following the same formula for success- so far. Baltimore GM Mike Elias was an integral part of building a woeful Astros franchise into a World Series champion (without the use of trash cans and rogue players).
It will be years before the O’s can claim to produce the results the Jays have had with the drafting and acquiring of prospects. Elias hired a noted out-of-the box thinker in Brandon Hyde, rich in player development experience. Sound familiar? Hyde, even in the midst of a horrific 108 loss 2019 season, brought a steady hand and developed confidence and chemistry to his youthful roster of unknowns. The Blue Jays have not yet seen such results under the helm of Charlie Montoyo in Year 2.
When I start to have doubts about my team, I seek to to take refuge in numbers. When Fangraphs made their evaluations for the 2020 Twilight Zone season, the numbers were stark when comparing the two species of AL East birds. The Blue Jays were projected to play at a .450 winning percentage clip, while Orioles would win only one-third of their games. Toronto was deemed to have a 5.6% chance of winning the AL East, and a hopeful 10.9% shot at securing a wild card berth. Baltimore- numerically speaking they were eliminated before even taking the field (0.4% to win division; 1.1% to earn the wild card) and assigned 24.7% chance of losing the way to the 1st overall pick in the 2021 Amateur Draft. I was not a math major, but looking at the results of more than a third of the season being played, the numbers do not add up. I do recall each of my math teachers preaching that “numbers do not lie”. Not so sure about that right now.
Blue Jays fans – take heart. These series against a division rival in similar circumstances to the Jays are a true barometer of success for 2021 and beyond. How the Blue Jays play on the field against a seemingly less talented Orioles roster is more important than the results against any other divisional opponent. Baltimore should be a mirror-image of the 2019 Blue Jays in many of our visions of what the future holds. Try to use this measuring stick as an objective tool to help us focus on our team’s REAL progress and ACTUAL development. Root for a series sweep – but don’t use this measuring stick as a crutch to ease any doubts that may still linger.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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