By: Dan Grant
With the Toronto Blue Jays recent scrumtrulescent play, a fever has taken hold of the city–lo, the nation! The local ball club is in the hearts and minds of just about everybody these days, from the travelling high guys out west in British Columbia, to the giddy bloggers here in Toronto. Hell, even Kevin Durant got in on things!
It feels weird, in the best way possible. Kind of like Christmas in July. Except that it’s August. So maybe it’s something else. Something a little stranger, a little more unconventional.
A little more for the people. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
Welcome to Blue Jays Festivus!
It’s A Festivus Miracle!
Many things this season could be classified as the traditional Festivus Miracle. Surviving without Marcus Stroman. The emergence of Chris Colabello. Roberto Osuna channeling his inner Billy Koch (Note: on field only, yikes!). Kevin Pillar’s glove in center field. All things (healthy) Devon Travis. And that’s without even mentioning ALL. THE. TRADES.
Not a single one of those things could have been predicted or counted upon when 2014 came to a close, but when you add them all up, they kind of tell the story of the 2015 Blue Jays. And that’s been great and all, but a miracle? Not quite.
The miracle came when all those things coalesced and over a 15 day period, the team played some of the most effective baseball ever seen. I don’t mean just in Toronto. I mean, ever. On Tuesday, July 28th, the day after acquiring Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins, the Jays lost 3-2 to Philadelphia to fall eight games behind the division leading Yankees. They’ve since won 13 of 14, including 11 in a row, as of the writing of this column.
Of course, to make up so much ground so quickly, they needed a lot of help from those faltering boys in pinstripes, which leads us to the question:
How in the hell did Toronto catch New York so quickly?
One of the major criticisms of Toronto earlier this year is that they couldn’t hold leads and/or win close games. They’ve blown an American League leading 17 saves, and have done it in just 40 opportunities. The Yankees, with their killer bullpen combination of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, have blown just 9 saves in 43 opportunities. If you’re looking for your eight game difference, well, there it is in black and white. But there’s more to it than that; those stats are as of today, and even though they still hold true, the gap has disappeared. Miller and Betances are both still healthy and firing bullets, right? So why have the Yankees fallen off a cliff?
It turns out they may not have been all that good to begin with. They were a respectable 41-37 at the end of June before reeling off a fantastic July in which they went 17-7 and vaulted out to that big lead. They played AL East opponents just nine times that month, well below average, and avoided the Blue Jays entirely. In those games they managed a 7-2 record, but won three games by a single run and another two contests by only two runs. They were 5-1 overall in one run games during July, while playing to a 12-17 record in such games during the other months of the year.
It doesn’t end there. The Yankees rank as the third worst defensive team in baseball, per Fangraphs Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) statistic. Their fielding is ranked at -44 for the season, ahead of only the putrid White Sox and Phillies. They initially made up for this with their aforementioned excellent bullpen, with surprisingly solid starting pitching and with a powerhouse offense that still ranks second in the Majors in runs scored.
However, since August 1st, that vaunted offense is hitting only .193 as a team, worst in the Major Leagues. They’ve scored only 36 runs for the entire month, as they’ve watched the Jays make up 8.5 games in the standings on them.
And there you have it, a recipe for the perfect Festivus dinner!
Add one cup slumping hitters to two cups horrendous defense, add a pinch of scorching opponent and voila! Shark food: the tradtional Festivus meal!
The Airing of Grievances
Now that we’ve celebrated where we are, it’s time for me to tell all you jerks what I really think of you, so buckle up.
1.) First, just in general, people need to bury the cliches when it comes to why this baseball team is winning. The Jays are winning because they added four All-Stars that they didn’t have last season; they also added excellent role players and have seen some of their young talent bear fruit. Period. John Gibbons is not suddenly a better manager (he was always good) and the team is not suddenly willing themselves to victory because of some magic bestowed upon them by the baseball gods.
Is it awesome that
the Dome Rogers Centre is suddenly rocking for every home game? Yes. Does it seem like these Jays all really like each other and are having a killer time kicking asses left right and centre? It does! But these guys are not ‘feeding off each other’ or ‘jelling at just the right time’. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team sport. You hit alone, you field alone, you pitch alone, you catch alone. Talent bears out and the Jays are loaded with it right now.
2.) Every last one of you needs to calm the eff down about Drew Hutchison. I understand that this is Toronto and we’re not used to having nothing to bitch and moan about, but having a fifth starter with the potential the Hutchison has is a good thing! Yes, he needs to be more consistent and yes, he’s been frustrating as hell this year, particularly given how strong his August/September was last year. But if there’s anything we know about Tommy John surgery, it’s that it’s different for everyone and can be up to a two year injury. The first year is about recovery, the second year is about learning how to pitch again. Hutch returned from his surgery and had a solid 2014, with many predicting a breakout 2015. He even received the clubs opening day start, which probably fuelled a lot of the nonsense talk we’ve heard about him so far this year. Do I think we should add depth in case he can’t handle things in the playoffs this year? Yes. Do I think that we should hang on to a still only 24 year old starter with a legit wipe out slider? Dear god, yes.
3.) Finally, my pet peeve: can we stop bringing up Noah Syndergaard every single time Aaron Sanchez pitches? By all accounts, the Mets wanted Syndergaard more than Sanchez at the time of the Dickey trade. The Jays were happy to accommodate, because it’s rumoured that they valued Sanchez more highly at the time, which is now seen by a tortured few as some great lapse in judgement. Sanchez began this year with some control problems but put up four consecutive quality starts, in dominating fashion, before sustaining an injury. He’s also been great since coming back. Out of the bullpen, yes, but great. And sure, Syndergaard has looked good for the NL East leading Mets, and leads MLB in fastball velocity but that trade isn’t one that you can stick in the loss column for Toronto just yet.
Choking on your scorn? Have a look at these stats since June 1st:
14 GS, 93 IP, 12 Quality Starts, 62 K’s, 2.32 ERA, 1.18 WHIP. Team record is 9-5 in the 14 starts.
12 GS, 74 IP, 7 Quality Starts, 84 K’s, 3.41 ERA, 1.27 WHIP. Team record is 6-6 in the 12 starts.
Player A is going deep into games and giving his team a chance to win basically every time he takes the mound. Player B obviously has more strikeout potential but his WHIP is higher than you’d like and he’s providing quality starts just over 50% of the time.
Player A is R.A Dickey.
Player B is Noah Syndergaard.
Obviously it’s not that cut and dried; Syndergaard is at the beginning of his career and Dickey can’t have much left in the tank, relatively speaking. But it’s a little bit eye opening, no? With Sanchez slated to return to the rotation in 2016, Dickey pitching well right now and the Blue Jays heating up at just the right time, lets just enjoy what we have and not worry about some Thor look-a-like in NYC.
Feats of Strength
It’s finally time for the feats of strength.
To this I would point to the relative health of the Blue Jays roster so far this year.
‘A healthy roster?’ you’d guffaw, ‘Stroman, Saunders, Travis, Bautista’s shoulder, Edwin’s finger, Navarro’s hamstring, Sanchez’s…wait, what did he hurt again? It doesn’t matter! Dan, the only thing less healthy than the Jays roster is the Canadian dollar, amirite? Politcal zinger! Topical!’
After I got you some ice for your fresh black eye, I’d point out that after a tumultuous spring, this team has actually been pretty solid on the injury front.
Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin have avoided any DL stints. Ditto for Kevin Pillar, Chris Colabello, Justin Smoak and Ryan Goins. Troy Tulowitzki is on pace to play the most games he’s been in since 2011. The entire starting rotation–Price, Dickey, Buehrle, Hutchison and Estrada–are on pace to make at least 27 starts apiece.The bullpen has been equally fortunate, losing zero guys to injury this entire season, despite running out myriad different configurations. The Jays haven’t had a pitcher go on the DL since Stroman himself!
Speaking of which:
is coming should might come back!
I think, as a sports fan, we generally hear ACL tear and think ‘well that’s 12 months gone’. There have been recent exceptions, but generally speaking, it’s a death sentence for the season that it happens in.
And then you see this:
And it makes you feel like this:
Pretty great, right? A feat of strength if I ever saw one.
Well that’s about it. I’ll leave you to enjoy this crazy holiday with an anecdote, from the son of the creator of Festivus, Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe:
‘The real symbol of the holiday was a clock that my dad put in a bag and nailed to the wall every year…I don’t know why, I don’t know what it means, he would never tell me. He would always say, ‘That’s not for you to know.’
Alrighty then! Happy Blue Jays Festivus, everyone. Remember, it’s not over until you pin me.
Hey, Yankees fans: Let’s rumble.