108: The 2017 Blue Jays and the quest for .500

This has been the reaction of players and fans alike every time the Jays have had a chance to go .500 (Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

This has been the reaction of players and fans alike every time the Jays have had a chance to go .500 (Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

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OK, picture this ... 

It’s April 28, 2017. 

The Toronto Blue Jays have just lost their 17th game of the season. They have only six wins. You and your buddy are sitting around wondering whether to scream, cry, or just swan dive off your balcony. You are both talking about cancelling the summer because ... well, what do you have to look forward to if the Jays are out of contention?

Although this may sound like your worst nightmare, this was of course the reality for me- I mean many Blue Jays fans a mere two months ago.

Now imagine your friend, who just so happens to be the eternal optimist, says something like: “You know what, they can still get to .500 before the All-Star break.”

Obviously, you laugh. But then you begin to wonder ... Is it possible? 

You do some quick math.

65 more games until the All-Star break ... they’d have to go 38-27. That’s a .585 winning percentage ...

You conclude it’s possible, but highly unlikely. So you go back to the screaming and the crying.

***

However, as you are all undoubtedly aware (because everybody, including me, is making such a ridiculously big deal about it), the Jays have already had eight opportunities to reach .500 this season, six of which have occurred since that dreadful 6-17 start. 

As incredible as this return to normalcy has been, I’m sure you are also aware that those eight opportunities have been an even bigger nightmare than the vast underachieving that set the season in motion.

I’m sorry to do this to you, but here’s a (painful) reminder of how those eight opportunities to reach .500 have played out:

April 5 @ Orioles: Jays enter the game with an 0-1 record. They lose this game 3-1. 

April 7 @ Rays: Jays enter the game 1-2. They lose this game 10-8.

June 1 vs Yankees: Jays enter the game 26-27. They lose this game 12-2. 

June 3 vs Yankees: Jays enter the game 27-28. They lose this game 7-0.

June 5 @ Athletics: Jays enter the game 28-29. They lose this game 5-3.

June 13 vs Rays: Jays enter the game 31-32. They lose this game 8-1.

June 16 vs White Sox: Jays enter the game 32-33. They lose this game 11-4.

June 20 @ Rangers: Jays enter the game 34-35. They lose this game 6-1.

To say the Blue Jays have been dominated in their attempts to reach .500 is, quite simply, to put it lightly. In those eight games - five of which have been against AL East opponents - they have been outscored 62-20.

Now that number looks mighty bad on its own, but if you break it down even further it becomes - dare I say it - oddly “suspicious”, if not borderline unbelievable. 

(So if you’re one of those superstitious fans who thinks the team is cursed, or if you believe the psychology of things like reaching .500 creep into a player’s mind and effect his game, the rest of this article is for you).

Prior to Wednesday's game against the Texas Rangers, on the season the Jays have averaged 4.3 runs per game while averaging 4.6 runs against. 

However, in their eight chances to reach .500 they have averaged just 2.5 runs per game, while they’ve given up an average of 7.8 runs against.

For a fairer comparison, you can even isolate the Jays' 36 losses - and the numbers from those eight games remain completely outrageous. Averaging out all their losses, the Jays still managed 3.7 runs for and 6.3 runs against.

It’s nearly impossible to come up with a concrete reason as to why the Jays have played so poorly when staring the .500 mark in the face. If you try to point fingers in order to figure out where it all went wrong, one is forced to state plainly, “everything” - which is to say the Jays pitching and offence have both been equally dreadful.

For instance, Blue Jays hitters have gone a collective .215 (57-for-265) at the plate over those eight games, whereas they’ve hit .244 over the entire season.

They’ve also managed to hit an impressively terrible 7-for-52 (.135) with runners in scoring position in games to go .500, leaving 55 men on base in the process (or roughly 6.9 per game). To make matters worse, they’ve only averaged one home run per game - and everybody knows the Blue Jays don’t win when they don’t hit homers.

Consider also that their batting average with runners in scoring position over the entire season is nearly 100 points higher than in those eight games, at .229. They’ve also averaged 1.4 home runs for the year as opposed to 1.0 (hitting 97 homers in 70 games).

But if the offence has been a let down during the team’s quest for .500, it’s safe to say the starting pitching has been downright calamitous. 

During those eight games, Jays starters have averaged a mere 3-2/3 innings per start (throwing a total of 32-2/3 innings). And despite the quick hooks, they’ve somehow managed to allow 38 earned runs over that span, posting an eye-gouging ERA of 10.58.

Jays pitchers have given up 18 home runs (or 2.25 per game) during those eight games. On the season, however, they have given up the fifth fewest long balls in the American League (87 - or 1.24 per game).

It would be one thing if you could blame the apocalyptic plague of injuries that the Jays have had to deal with all year. Although that still wouldn’t account for the total disparity between the numbers posted in those eight games and those posted in, well, just about any other stretch - you can’t use that excuse even if you wanted to.

Despite missing a combined 70 games this season, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki have been in the lineup every game when the team has had a chance to go .500. 

And even though the starting rotation has, at times, been patched with a who’s who of minor leaguers, six of their eight chances to reach .500 have seen starters from the opening day rotation take the mound. The other two games have been started by the *generally* effective Joe Biagini.

So whether you believe in some sort of “curse” (stupid) or simply bad luck (likely), you can’t deny that the Jays played totally awful when it counts. Because .500 might just be another game, but it’s one they are going to have to win eventually if they want to make the playoffs.

Thankfully, they will get another chance at it on Thursday when they face the Texas Rangers - attempting to (finally) bring their record to 36-36.

One would think all those nightmarish numbers would have to end at some point.

For the sanity of all fans, let us hope ...

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Follow Tyler and #Section108 on Twitter: @TylerJoseph108