108: Where do the Blue Jays go from here?



July 21st, 2015

By Tyler King

If you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, chances are you’re currently experiencing a crisis of faith.

Beyond the halfway point of the 2015 season, the Jays have put themselves in post-season limbo yet again. They are playing .500 baseball and lie 4.5 games back of the division lead with 68 games remaining.

A record of 47-47 isn’t bad. But it’s definitely not good either. And sometimes it’s this grey area that can be the most frustrating for fans.

Is the “Bautista era” over? Is Michael Saunders alive? Is GM Alex Anthopoulos looking to buy or a sell at the trade deadline? Are the New York Yankees actually good (when nobody thought they would be)?

How you approach any of those pending issues likely depends on how you answer this one question:

Do the Blue Jays actually have a chance to make the playoffs?

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer... and honestly, it may come down to which side of your brain you feel like listening to. 

Your logical left brain is probably saying, "Let’s approach the rest of this season rationally. The dream is dead.” 

It’s likely telling you:

The Jays are only 47-47. They’re 4.5 games back. They have a makeshift rotation. The bullpen is a disaster (except you, Roberto Osuna, you’re alright). The front office has already dealt all of our stud prospects (Noah Syndergaard, Travis D’Arnaud, Adeiny Hechavarria, etc...), Anthopoulos hates rental players and Rogers hates spending money.

“OK. Let’s reload the farm and try again in a few years.”

But maybe, just maybe, the Jays start to go on a little bit of a run. Maybe Bautista hits a couple dingers (which he did over the weekend) and begins looking like himself again (he’s second in the American League in RBI).

Your right brain pops up:

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

You might now be inclined to think, the Blue Jays are ONLY 4.5 games back. The AL East is weak. There’s an extra wild card spot. Josh Donaldson isn’t human. Aaron Sanchez is returning from the DL (Stroman too?). Maybe Anthopoulos can move another Brett Lawrie and save our season...

“Bring on the rentals and let’s make a run at this thing!”

Such is the life of a Jays fan, constantly shifting from one extreme to the other.

Obviously, I’d much rather listen to my right brain. After 22 years without playoff baseball in Toronto, the Jays should probably attempt to seize what little opportunities they have. 

But then again, we’ve waited this long - what’s another three years?

Despite where they are in the standings, Jays management is clearly not ready to throw in the towel. Although that could change based on how the Jays play during the upcoming road trip, where the team goes from here is anyone’s guess.

If you look back at recent history, you’d probably give up on 2015 altogether. I mean, the Jays haven’t had a winning record over the last two months of a season since 2010. 

During the past five years, the Jays have a record of 126-152 in games played after July 31st. That doesn’t really bode well for the miraculous late-season push everyone’s hoping for (although maybe they’re due?).

Just last year the Jays were 51-48 on July 20th - only three games back of the division. They then proceeded to lose 17 of 26 games in August and never came close to contending.

Of course, you can argue that this team is different, that it’s the most talented it’s been in years - maybe since the glory days. But even that might not be enough to warrant the Jays going “all-in” (aka exchanging promising prospects for immediate help).

In 2013, much of the baseball universe thought the Jays had finally found their golden ticket. Anthopoulos was basically a national hero that off-season, acquiring R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Melky Cabrera.

(Ironically, some of those trades are why many fans want to run him out of town).

Almost everybody thought that the 2013 roster was going to be a team full of studs. And you would have been hard-pressed to find a single person north of the border willing to criticize the Jays GM. 

They were even the odds-on Vegas favourites to win the World Series that year... remember that?

Or perhaps you just remember them going on to win a completely underwhelming 74 games, and finishing 23 games back of Boston Red Sox. 

(Life lesson of the day: don’t gamble.)

Now I’m not here to say all hope is lost, nor do I want to rain on any potential parade (but with the way Donaldson’s been going a little RAIN is welcome in T.O. anyway). But, being completely objective, the odds are not in the Blue Jays’ favour.

At 47-47, the Jays need win 43 of their remaining 68 games just to reach 90 wins. 

To finish the season 43-25 is a tall order for any team - you almost need to win every series - let alone one that typically struggles down the stretch. And even if they do somehow pull that off, there are no guarantees.

Well... I guess it’s a good thing I’m irrationally optimistic (as a twenty-something year-old Toronto sports fan, my own sanity has depended on it), because I believe the Jays can defy the odds.

Despite being only .500, Toronto is still relatively close to the Yankees, who lead the division at 50-41. 

Most “experts” are waiting for the Yankees to fall-off a cliff anyway, although they’ve pretty-well been waiting all season.

Even if the Yankees maintain their current pace, they are only projected to win 89 games - an unbelievably low total for an AL East champion. 

Over the past 10 years, the winner of the division has never finished with less than 95 wins.

The last time a team won it with fewer than 90 wins was fifteen years ago, in 2000.  (Coincidentally it was the New York Yankees, but that doesn’t mean anything!).

This is essentially just an elaborate way of saying: there may not be a more opportune time for the Jays to make a push. 

In the past five seasons, only once have the Jays have been closer to leading the division at this point (2014).

Sadly, what this also means is that much of the Jays’ hopes rest on what the other teams do. If the Jays start playing lights out - that is if their offence keeps rolling and their pitching somehow stabilizes - they still have to rely on other teams faltering.

Not an ideal situation... for the team or my blood pressure.

That being said, there is some statistical evidence that the Jays are due for a better second(ish) half of the season.

There’s a mystical baseball sabermetric concept known as “Pythagorean expectation,” which was developed and applied by the same guy who essentially started the 'Moneyball' movement. (please note: I am referring to statistician Bill James, NOT Brad Pitt - although great movie). 

Basically, this formula attempts to uncover how many games a team should have won based on their run-differential.

According to Baseball Prospectus, which uses an even more advanced version of pythagorean, the Jays +86 run-differential means they should (theoretically) have a record of 56-38, the second-best projected record in the entire league.

(Funny... I can’t figure out if that stat is more encouraging or depressing.)

Either way, it’s certainly not perfect. The fact that nobody can say this team has simply been “unlucky” sort-of proves that. But honestly, at this point, I’ll take whatever signs of hope I can get.

If the Jays make a few moves, and if the offence keeps putting up runs like they’ve done all season, anything is possible...

Left-brain be damned.


P.S. Seriously... is Michael Saunders alive or...?


Follow Tyler and #section 108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108

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