Okay, stop me if you have heard this before. The Toronto Blue Jays rattle off an impressive run historic run early in the season.
It’s becoming a springtime tradition in the Big Smoke for the boys of summer to tear the cover off the ball and build unwarranted buzz around the team. I got tricked into falling for a historic May last season and wrote a column about it. Four months later, I looked like an idiot. I have a feeling I’m getting fooled again.
But how much different are the 2015 version of the Blue Jays from the teams of the past?
Let’s go back in time to 2013, the most recent time the Jays won 11-straight.
2013 was the year of the Mio trade; it was supposed to change everything. The Jays shipped a bunch of top prospects out of town (many who are breaking into the MLB now) for some win-now guys.
The Jays traded for household name guys like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera. They even acquired then-National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey. The Jays were contenders – in December.
It turned into one of the most devastating seasons in franchise history.
Reyes broke his ankle 11 games into the season, Cabrera played with a tumour on his spine, they got absolutely nothing from unrestricted free-agent-to-be Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey began his career as a fraud.
A month before the all-star game, something unusual happened. The 27-36 blue birds ripped off 11-straight wins, lifting themselves to 38-36, but still five games back in the division.
Gravity set in the rest of the way and the Jays stumbled to 36-52, finishing 74-88, DFL in the American League East and 23 games back of the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. So much for the 8-1 preseason odds to win the ship.
Delabar registered a sensational year. His weighted-ball throwing regime turned his career around. He pitched in 58.2 innings, striking out 82 batters with a fastball between 94-96 and a 3.22 ERA.
Cecil teamed up with Delabar in the offseason for the weighted-ball exercises. He appeared in 60.2 innings, fanning 70 batters and lefties only hit .191.
There’s no doubt, the Jays’ bullpen was their strongest asset, always cleaning up the mess left by the starters. The pen pitched the third most innings in the majors, 552.2, and finished with the ninth best ERA, 3.37.
Not one starter submitted an ERA under 4.00. Buehrle was the closest at 4.15. During their 11-game streak, the Jays unimaginably received wins from slugs such as Esmil Rogers, Johnson and Chien-Ming Wang. Those guys won’t strike the fear of God into any opposing lineup.
The Jay’s offence was above average, finishing in the top 10 in homers (185), RBI (669) and OPS (.729).
Let’s jump to 2014.
No blockbuster editions and no World Series aspirations. At this point, just win – please.
The Jays moseyed out of the gate, going 12-15 in April and sat 3.5 games out of the division. Once the calendar flipped to May, the bats abruptly awoke.
Edwin Encarnacion put the world on blast notice, launching baseballs into orbit. He tied an AL record for home runs in May with 16, which included five multi-homer games.
The Jays were straight pimping on teams from May 15 to June 6. They rattled off 18 wins in 21 games, building up a 5.5 game lead in the AL East. Sadly, it was the largest division lead they have ever had that, (ahem) late into the season.
As good as the Jays were in May, they were downright dreadful in the back half of June, going 7-15 from June 7-30.
Encarnacion pulled his right quadriceps on July 26, trying to leg out a grounder in Oakland, and that was basically it for the Jays. The offensive load was too much for Jose Bautista to carry.
I went down to New York City to catch a Jays-Yanks series and the offensive struggles were quite evident. After Bautista, it was a cakewalk as pitchers dominated over-the-hill players like Colby Rasmus and Juan Francisco, and not-quite-MLB-ready players such as Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose and Ryan Goins.
Dickey was still up to his fraudulent antics.
The Jays finished 83-79, four games over 500, third in the division and 13 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.
And that brings us to this year’s Jays.
They entered the season with four of the 10 youngest players in the AL. They whiffed on landing several key relievers in the offseason and spring training. They have no closer, no set-up man, their rotation looked bleak even if Marcus Stroman was healthy.
I didn’t know how this team was going to compete. But then, they Jays bats woke up once again and things started to turn around.
The 23-30 Jays beat the World Series-favoured Washington Nationals with a pair of homers from Pillar to kick off another 11-game run. The streak pushed them four games above 500 and one back in the division.
Is there an echo in this blog?
So does an 11-game win streak mean anything? Not in June.
I’m done; I’m not getting fooled by another Toronto-based-team hot streak.
The Toronto Maple Leafs fired their head coach when they held a playoff spot with a 21-16-3 record and owned the leagues best offence this year. Then they hired a under-qualified coach and rocketed down the standings.
The Toronto Raptors started this year 24-7, owning the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the first half of the season. They finished the season 25-26, couldn’t get in a groove offensively or defensively and were bounced from the playoffs before someone could yell, “Uncle!”
So no, I don’t trust the Jays. But I want to trust their offence.
During this 11-game tear, they were doing what the Jays do. They receive poor pitching performances while being bailed out by their offence. The Jays went 44-for-93 (.473) with runners in scoring position, their team batting average was .312 with 18 dingers and 123 hits. That’s a slug fest.
Josh Donaldson is emerging as an early MVP candidate (which is almost as meaningless as an 11-game winning streak in June).
It is hard to hate Reyes when he gets two hits a game and steals bases.
While their averages might be down 20-30 points, Joey Bats and EE are still productive and getting on base.
They received a gift from God when they pulled Chris Colabello from the scrap heap in an emergency situation. Colabello is hitting .345 with four homers, 22 RBI in 157 plate appearances to go with a MLB leading 18-game hitting streak.
They are the class of the MLB when it comes to offence this year. They sit first in OPS (.780), third in homers (91), first in RBI (343), third in average (.268) and on base percentage (.333).
But it’s simply not sustainable when you have as many as eight right-handed hitters in your lineup each night. They are hitting .257 off righties. When a southpaw steps on the mound, it’s a whole new ball game. The Jays rake lefties for a.313 average. Once meaningful baseball begins in August, the Jays aren’t going to see anything with a left arm throw a baseball.
If the Jays received any quality pitching, they would be running away with this division. Their pitching staff has been rancid from day one.
Their starters own the fifth-worst ERA at 4.62, they’ve allowed the second most long balls (54) and walked the third most batters (130).
Their bullpen doesn’t get a lot of chances to close out games, but when they do, they aren’t that efficient. They’re 8-for-18, the fewest saves and opportunities in the bigs. At one point they went 34-straight days, from May to June, without recording a save.
The Jays have rotated closers like they’re rotating steaks on a grill. They went from Cecil to Miguel Castro and back to Cecil. They haven’t found anyone to get the final three outs.
Cecil has been the lightning rod for my frustration this year. It’s not his fault he is being forced into a role he isn’t fit for. Lefties fear-not when Cecil toes the rubber. They are hitting .333 off the closer entering Monday night’s game. That’s absolutely unacceptable.
The Jays need to put up crooked numbers in order to win. The Jays are 6-13 in one-run games this season. There are multiple factors that go into a record like that, but it heavily falls on the bullpen and not getting guys out in winning time.
They have to do something about the pitching staff or they will miss the playoffs for the 22-straight year.
Bautista and Encarnacion are possible trade chips. They both have team-friendly deals, both still in their prime and both would harvest a lot in return. With an offence that is productive as theirs, maybe they can afford to give up one of the pillars of this offence from the past five years.
If they can’t switch anything up, I can’t see them changing their regular-season fate.
Winning 11 in a row might mean something to the organization, but it doesn’t even register on the MLB’s radar. Their streaks don’t come close to cracking the top-20 MLB winning streaks of all time.
Each previous time the Jays won 11 consecutive, they failed to reach the postseason.
But, I can almost guarantee you that I’ll sit down four nights a week, listening to the delta tones of Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler as the Jays wind through the season. I’ll even go down to Seattle and watch them play a set with the Mariners. And I’ll be there through thick and thin.