July 13th, 2015
By Tyler King
Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Royals - the final game before the All-Star break - provided many examples of all that is good and bad with the 2015 Blue Jays.
It started as a game that Toronto had no business winning, but quickly became one they never should have lost.
Down 7-0 early, the Jays scored eight runs in the sixth-inning to take an 8-7 lead. It was back-and-forth from there, but the Jays eventually lost in a comedy of errors, 11-10.
Chalk up yet another one-run loss...
And by the time the field had cleared (and I had finally stopped cursing at my television screen), every major story line of this season had manifested itself in that one game.
The Jays scored plenty of runs in Sunday’s contest. But there was also some really terrible pitching, errors galore, a couple of surprising bright spots, and lots of controversy surrounding our biggest stars...
In terms of summing up the Jays’ season, that sounds about right.
So let’s first tackle that prolific offence.
It’s been well documented that the Jays have one of the best lineups in baseball. Their 486 runs scored is not only tops in the league, it’s actually 77 more runs than the next best New York Yankees have recorded.
But even though 10 of those runs came in the final game of the Royals series, it still wasn’t enough to get a win.
Considering the Jays’ ridiculously potent offence, their attack can be surprisingly spotty at times.
For example: they scored 60 runs in a single week in June, but they also had a recent stretch of 27 innings without anybody crossing the plate.
In Sunday’s game, it was much of the same. The bats were nonexistent ... and then, all of a sudden, they weren’t.
The Jays only had three hits in the first five frames, but then recorded six hits (and eight runs) in the sixth-inning alone.
I think I even fell asleep for an inning or two when we were down 7-0, thinking the game was over.
Silly me. (I should have known better.)
I woke up at just the right time to watch them make it close ... and then lose.
Keeping with our 2015 season analogy, you can look at that sixth-inning as June’s 11 game win-streak. An incredible accomplishment, yet one that didn’t do much in the end. The Jays, somewhat bafflingly, are fourth in the American League East and sit a game under .500.
Uh ... how? I repeat: they’ve scored 486 runs!
So what does that say about our pitching...?
Easy! It’s awful. Their 4.18 team ERA is the fourth worst in the AL.
Sunday’s game turned out to be a nightmare for fill-in starter Felix Doubront, who gave up seven runs (five earned) in five innings of work.
(Another classic Jose Reyes error certainly didn’t help. Maybe he’s some sort of ghost, because I’m pretty sure the ball went right through him - but more on that later.)
In Doubront’s defence, when he left the game he was in line for the win. But the bullpen wasn’t much better. Sadly, it’s been that way for most of the season.
I’m generally a pretty positive person, but even I don’t know how to spin this one. The pitching staff just isn’t getting it done, and they show little signs of ever figuring it out - although they can prove me wrong anytime, please!
I’m not sure if all the top-quality pitchers being shopped around (Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija, and Jonathan Papelbon, anyone?) makes general manager Alex Anthopolous’ job easier or more challenging.
With all the big names in the trade market it puts a lot of pressure on the Jays’ GM to make a splash.
Let me just say this, I don’t envy him.
If Anthopolous doesn’t make a move for an arm - and almost any move will do at this point - he not only risks losing his job, but he’s also looking at a full-on fan mutiny. There will be riots in the streets!
(Actually, there will probably just be a lot of empty seats. I’m not sure what’s worse.)
The defence of late (in the infield especially) hasn’t done our staff or GM any favours. The Jays’ 54 errors this season are fifth worst in the AL.
On a lighter note, Oakland has committed 82 errors - which has little to do this story, but is still hilarious nonetheless.
Aside from All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson - who was ill and didn’t play in Sunday’s loss - the Jays’ infield has looked like a mess at times. It can get real scary when Ryan Goins and Justin Smoak aren’t playing.
In the outfield things are only slightly more stable. Kevin Pillar has been a gem in centre, and Jose Bautista is a plus defender in right ...
But oh my lord when that ball takes off and heads into left field ... all bets are off.
I get lightheaded watching Chris Colabello trying to track fly balls. I got so dizzy on Sunday I almost lost my lunch.
But you can’t rag on Colabello too much. After all, there’s a legitimate argument that he’s been their most consistent bat.
(And yes, I know about that Donaldson guy.)
This dream season for Colabello can’t be considered a fluke anymore either.
In 206 plate appearances, Colabello is hitting .326 - the highest average on the Blue Jays. He also has eight home runs and 32 RBIs to go along with an .871 OPS. Those stats border on All-Star status.
If someone tried to bet me at the start of the year that Chris Colabello would have those kinds of numbers, my response would have been simple:
A similar statement could be made about rookie infield Devon Travis, who has found his swing after a lengthy stint on the DL. He’s currently hitting .304 at the break.
Both of those guys were also huge reasons why I even bothered watching the end of Sunday’s game. They both continued to add to their stellar campaigns, as Colabello had three walks and scored twice and Travis had two hits, a run, and an RBI.
Honorable mention goes out to Pillar here as well. After a miserable 2014 where he rode a lot of pine, and even more of the triple-A shuttle, he’s now hitting .274.
All three of those modest players were also on base more on Sunday than team leaders Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Russell Martin.
Bautista has been the face of the franchise for years and has appeared to be the undisputed team captain. But lately his leadership has been called into question.
He’s definitely not your traditional, “good-guy, do no-wrong” superstar.
What was once dismissed as his inherent passion, Bautista’s mini-tantrums at the plate are now starting to be looked on by fans as a bit selfish, even whiny.
Umpires sometimes call a ball a strike. It happens to everyone. But it seems to visibly rattle Bautista more than any other player.
That has never been more clear than when he was thrown out at a crucial moment in their previous ballgame.
With the Jays tied in the eighth-inning, Royals pitcher Wade Davis threw what was clearly a ball to Bautista. But it was called a strike by home plate ump Jerry Meals, which, as usual, had Bautista muttering something ominous to himself (but really to the umpire - you’re not fooling anyone Jose!).
One pitch later, Bautista started talking again and was promptly ejected from the game in the middle of his at-bat. All of this took place with the go-ahead run at first and only one out.
Now I don’t think I’m being ridiculous in saying, a leader has to be smarter in that situation. But that being said ... what on the planet earth was Jerry Meals doing there?
I mean, give me a break, it’s a tie ball game. Bautista never stared him down. He never even looked in the umpire’s direction. Yet, almost as if to goat him, Meals took off his mask and became much more animated than the Blue Jays slugger.
It was a prime example of an ump trying to steal the show, and also evidence that they continue to hold too much power in baseball.
After watching the replay, and without knowing exactly what was said, it was a completely bogus ejection. And one that cost the Jays dearly.
(Bautista later said that he was never arguing balls and strikes, rather that Davis wasn’t coming to a complete stop before starting his delivery.)
Perhaps Bautista should get a pass for his antics on Sunday (and his .239 AVG.). After-all, he’s still driving in runs despite playing with a sore shoulder basically all season ... But wait ... how did he injure it again?
On April 21st, after a few wild pitches with Bautista at the plate, he got into a heated exchange with the entire Baltimore Orioles’ bench. And in the heat of the moment, he admitted to making a dumb play trying to throw out Delmon Young at first from the outfield in the following inning.
So Sunday’s ejection clearly isn’t the first time Bautista’s aggressive personality has cost his team. It’s almost as if the word is out and he’s on a much shorter leash with umpiring crews.
Bautista will even miss Tuesday’s All-Star game because of that injured shoulder.
Guys like Russell Martin were brought in this year in the hopes of solidifying the leadership group - and building a veteran core capable of withstanding the pressures of the post-season. And although Martin’s veteran presence has never been questioned, he too made a (very) poor decision on Sunday.
With the Jays trailing by one with one out in the seventh, Martin advanced from second to third easily on a wild pitch. But he rounded the bag for absolutely no reason and was promptly thrown out.
He would have been the goat of that game had he not been shown-up (well, down) by the oft-criticized, and defensively wild, Jose Reyes.
Although I truly feel for Reyes, I’ll admit that even I sent a few friends some Jose Reyes hate mail on Sunday after he had a SECOND routine - by every stretch of the word - ground ball slip right through his legs.
The error came right after the Jays took their improbably lead the sixth, and it allowed the Royals to score three runs in the frame.
It was a time in the game where you look to your veterans to find a way to put up a zero. Instead, we’re sitting here talking about the pros and cons of potentially benching one of the most offensively dangerous shortstops in baseball.
This is not a new debate either. The whirlwind all began earlier in the season when Blue Jays’ radio announcer Jerry Howard publicly criticized Reyes for being a defensive liability.
The fact that Reyes actually is a liability at times doesn’t help, but we have to give the guy a break. I mean, I’ve read some of your comments online and it’s almost like Reyes is one more error away from being blamed for the Greek debt crisis.
Jose Reyes will be the starting short stop for as long as he’s healthy. And that’s the way it should be.
It is borderline blasphemous to even consider replacing Reyes with the more defensively sound (but offensively marred) Ryan Goins - no matter how many cuss words the Jays’ shortstop causes me to yell per game.
Case in point: the Jays’ record when Goins starts is 28-28. With Jose Reyes? It’s 33-26.
And that’s the only stat that really matters.
By the way, Reyes had three hits in Sunday’s game and also drove in the tying run in the eighth to make it 10-10. How quickly we forget.
Had the Jays won the game this debate wouldn’t even be happening.
However, like the entire first half of the Blue Jays’ season, we’ve been left with more questions than answers.
Follow Tyler and #section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108