With the dastardly Boston Red Sox in town to visit the Toronto Blue Jays, we are in for some exciting baseball. Well, exciting might be one word to describe it, but I have others that I will mention later on. The Blue Jay bandwagon has been a little bumpy lately after being swept by the Yankees and losing two out of three to the Tampa Bay Rays. Many pundits in this city will tell you that the Blue Birds are still only 1 game back of those same Bosox and therefore this is not a time to panic. Don’t listen to them. Panic… and panic in a big way.
Now out of the 23 games they have left, the good news is that 13 of them are at home. Rogers Centre will be packed to capacity and the crowd will be in a frenzy supporting their team. Hopefully this will spark an offence that although not terrible, isn’t the same as the one that bludgeoned opponents last year. I fully understand that comparing this team’s offence to that of 2015 is unfair as last year’s offence was one of the best in the entire history of baseball. But it is still is a major concern that they are not getting the production that they need when they need it most. Yes, they are 4th in the American League in runs scored (625) but that is a far cry from the 891 they had last year. There are a number of factors as to why that is but the one thing that stands out the most is that this year’s lineup tends to strike out significantly more. They struck out 1151 times last year placing them 5th in the AL East compared to 1126 so far this year and have sunk to 12th place. They have become an all-or-nothing type of team and those do not tend to do well down the stretch. When you are in a close game and need to manufacture a run you do it by walking, stealing and making contact. The Blue Jays have shown an inability to do that and it is costing them dearly.
There may or may not be many reasons as to why the strikeouts are up but that isn’t the only issue that has me in panic mode. To start we can take a non-statistical and purely emotional point of view. Last year the Jays were trying to win the AL East while this year, they are trying not to lose it. It may mean the same thing, but each brings with it a complete different sense of emotions for both fans (panic) and players (tense). There is an enormous amount of pressure on the Blue Jays and they aren’t performing when it counts. Maybe they are feeling the pressure, maybe they are gripping the bats a little too tight and maybe that explains the strikeouts. All in all, there is an uneasy air that surrounds this team and you don’t have to be in the club house to feel it either.
If you hang around baseball players long enough, you find the one word that defines them all is routine. They are creatures of habit and prepare for each game the same way, go through drills the same way and even put on their clothes the same way each time. The Blue Jays on the other hand have completely disrupted their routine these past few weeks. They went to a 6-man rotation for a while, had Nelson Liriano pitch out of the bullpen, moved Bautista back to cleanup recently, after having him hit leadoff and there are a few other frequent batting lineup changes as well. I am not putting this on Manager John Gibbons’ shoulders alone as the whole front office is responsible, but the one thing that players crave is consistency and they haven’t had it. Is it really that big of a surprise then they are a meagre 15-15 in their last 30 games? Playing .500 baseball down the stretch will not win you a pennant.
Now the past 30 games may be a small sample size in a 162 game season, but the Jays have a very short time frame to turn this season around as it will end before you know it. So the Blue Jays have to correct the ship and they have to do it now. There is no tomorrow. Meaningful baseball in September is one thing and so is exciting baseball, but what Jays fans are in for is far, far different. These next 23 games will be nail-biting, hair pulling, head banging and heart-stopping baseball on a scale we haven’t seen in these parts since 1993. The good news is that we won back then so although it really is a time for everyone to panic, it doesn’t mean we won’t come out on top again either.
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