108: Deep breaths - Osuna and Blue Jays are OK

 No need to panic just yet - Osuna and the Blue Jays are up to task (Photo: Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

No need to panic just yet - Osuna and the Blue Jays are up to task (Photo: Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Sept. 21, 2015

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

Like every other Jays fan, I awoke Saturday morning feeling pretty darn good about myself. 

Fresh off a 6-1 win over the Boston Red Sox, I went out for a coffee and grabbed a newspaper - as is my weekend custom. I flipped to the sports section (and threw out the rest). There was a lot of nasty stuff going on the world, but all was right with the Toronto Blue Jays.

On the front page was a photo of Aaron Sanchez hugging Russell Martin and, in big bold letters, the caption read: “Warm, Fuzzy Feeling.”

But ... that was then and this is now.

Roughly four hours later the Jays would go on to blow a two-run lead late against those same Red Sox. The very next day they blew a three-run lead early.

So a day and a half and two heartbreaking losses later, I now feel sick to my stomach.

Oh the ups and downs of a September pennant race.

***
Being atop the American League East this late in a season is unchartered waters for many Blue Jays fans. Overreaction to back-to-back losses seems totally understandable, if not inevitable, when you’ve only recently become so fond of (and almost accustomed to) winning.

But fear not ... despite what you may hear around the water cooler on Monday, the Blue Jays are O.K.

For starters, just think about how far the team has come in such a short time. 

On July 28th the Jays were eight games back of the New York Yankees in the East. Now they are 2.5 games ahead.

And be honest - if two months ago someone told you that the Jays would even be close to the division in mid-September you would’ve said “thank you very much” and ran.

But, being so close to actually winning this thing, every loss is a little more magnified - and when you lose back-to-back games it feels downright apocalyptic. 

Perhaps Jays fans have been a bit spoiled of late. After-all, the team did go 30-9 from the day they acquired Troy Tulowitzki to the day he cracked his shoulder blade in a collision with centre fielder Kevin Pillar. 

Let’s pause for a moment to discuss just how good a 30-9 run really is. 

A 30-9 mark is a .769 winning-percentage. Over a 162 game-span that equates to 124 wins. The most wins by an MLB team in a single season - literally from the beginning of recorded history to now - is 116 (the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners). Only 14 teams have ever finished a season with a win-percentage over .700.

Moral of the story: those are some tough numbers to sustain.

And since losing TULO to injury, the Jays have gone 4-3 - which, comparatively speaking, does make it seem like the sky(dome) is falling.

Remember the days - not so long ago I might add - when 4-3 looked pretty good?

Ya, neither do I.

But if the Jays do go 4-3 the rest of the way they’d end up with 92 wins, their first 90-win season since 1993.

Would that be good enough to make the postseason? With the way this division race is shaping up, your guess is as good as mine.

(In conclusion, #PrayForTulo)

If losing one of the best shortstops in the game wasn’t bad enough, many people - who obviously suffer from short-term memory loss - are questioning Roberto Osuna’s ability to close out games after Saturday’s collapse.

Leading by two with two-outs in the eighth, the Jays turned to the youngest player in the league to register the final four outs of the game.

But, after getting the final out of that inning, 20-year-old Osuna came back on in the ninth and gave up three runs, including a two-run monster shot off the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr. that tied the game.

If this was June? The mass reaction would probably be, “no problem, it happens.” But it’s September, and a meaningful one to boot. So it’s “S.O.S.”

The thing is, there isn’t a closer in baseball who hasn’t blown a save this year.  And “Robot” Osuna has been fairly automatic all season. Saturday’s shaky ninth was his just second blown save (in 18 opportunities).

Let’s forget his age for a minute. Actually, forget everything and just look at his numbers. 

No pitcher on the Blue Jays has a better ERA (2.38) or opponent batting average (.183) than Osuna. He also happens to have one of the best WHIPs (0.87) among all closers.

Of the 29 other pitchers with 16 or more saves this season, only Andrew Miller of the Yankees (0.80) and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers (0.80) have better WHIPs.

And this isn’t a small sample size anymore either.

Even though it’s his first season in the MLB, Osuna has been relied upon heavily in key situations. He has appeared in 61 games and worked a total of 64.1 innings, facing 247 batters.

Over that span, he’s averaged 9.65 strikeouts and 1.93 walks per nine innings. He’s also given up the fewest hits per nine innings (5.88) among all Blue Jays pitchers with over 30 innings of work. 

With those numbers perhaps the kid deserves a bigger vote of confidence from fans ... ‘cause there’s no doubt he has it from his teammates.

Speaking with reporters back in August, veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins said of Osuna, “He’s mature beyond his years. He’s seasoned. He has the it factor. He’s not your normal 20-year-old.”

That’s high praise from a man who’s had more years in professional baseball than Osuna’s had on planet Earth.

And after Saturday’s loss, Hawkins made a point to speak with the rookie closer, making sure he knew the team still believed in him.

“Because when you do [struggle],” Hawkins told reporters on Saturday, “you feel like you’re all by yourself, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth ... He knows we got his back.”

Russell Martin apparently told a story of his time with the Yankees, when the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, blew three saves in a row late in a season. 

So yes, those types of games can happen to anyone. 

But if the Jays are actually going to end this 22-year playoff drought they better not happen often. 

Hey, if you’re still feeling a bit panicky, just repeat the words I saw on some guy’s t-shirt Friday night:

“Osuna Matatta ... it means no worries, for the rest of the game.”

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Follow Tyler and #section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108