Photo Credit: Rick Ostentoski-USA TODAY Sports
It’s funny how seasons go sometimes (and games, too, it turns out). If you listen to people who are smart about baseball talk — or if you try to be one yourself — you’ll notice that they avoid the sort of bold, sweeping statements more typical of talk radio callers, the guy at the end of the bar, or your uncle. The “turn it off, this team is fucked!” and “no chance, not a championship rotation!” kind of stuff.
That’s because baseball is hard. It’s weird. And, with apologies for getting Rumsfeld-ian (look it up, kids), when thinking about how a season will go, as much as there are known knowns, there are whole lot of unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns, too.
Thinking on that, at one point during tonight’s game I began to write a post wondering if this is what the worst-case scenario for the Blue Jays’ offence looks like — or the worst case that a reasonable person could have envisioned. It seemed like it might turn into a reasonable angle for a recap, and also that it can’t be that far off!
Tulo and Martin seemingly falling off a cliff, Bautista, Donaldson, and Encarnacion regressing just enough to be noticeable, Colabello suspended, Goins and Pillar turning into pumpkins. I’m just talking about results here, so this can all change, but if the reasonable-seeming best case ahead of the season was a “mere” continuation of last year — with potentially an extra kick from Tulo, Saunders, or even Martin (absent the rigors of having to catch R.A. Dickey every fifth day) — how much worse could we have actually thought it might get, compared to how it’s been?
As I was reminded later on in the game, I probably shouldn’t ever underestimate baseball fans’ ability to get incoherently negative, but seriously! For a group of hitters this good, and lineup nobody gave half a thought to touching, let alone revamping — and all kinds of thought to how to keep them together in 2017 and beyond — it’s been just about as bad as you could have pictured.
But then there’s been the pitching. The pitching that people piss and moaned and bleated and fuck-talked about insufferably all winter long. The pitching that’s been better than even those of us who defended it could have dreamed (as long as we’re not talking about the bullpen, that is).
And so then this became a post about Aaron Sanchez.
The Jays’ starter was brilliant yet again — showing confidence in and execution of his secondary stuff that looked a step beyond even where it was just this spring. It was this Aaron Sanchez that the Jays were dreaming on when they were (presumably) made to choose between him and Noah Syndergaard to send to the New York Mets in order to get R.A. Dickey — the kind of in-his-prime Cy Young-calibre talent that just doesn’t ever become available to a franchise like this one (which… let’s not talk about how that all worked out, OK?).
Sanchez cruised into the ninth inning, looking capable of throwing a Maddux (a complete game shutout of fewer than 100 pitches). But… uh… needless to say, he did not.
This then almost became a post about how people love to whine about John Gibbons leaving his starters in too long — which is a bit silly most times, and would have been especially ridiculous tonight, if anybody was actually doing such a thing (93 pitches, bruh). Then it almost became about how Miguel Cabrera was nearly fucking decapitated by Roberto Osuna (because holy shit), or about the insufferable hindsight Twitter crew insistent that the Jays should have put the winning run instead of pitching to Miggy there. For a while it was almost about the dumb trash Orioles and the dumb trash Royals getting into some kind of dumb trash fight in one of their dumb trash cities. Then it was almost about the non-Osuna bullpen (because nobody can blame Osuna for his role in this mess — nor Sanchez, for that matter) and how it turned up unreliable (with little help from having zero margin for error) yet again.
By the end of the game, however, it became clear that this had to go back to being about the hitting. And yet, a post about the Jays’ hitters not getting the job done? What more can you even say at this point?
A whole lot of nothing seems to be is the frustrating answer, because whatever is going on with the Blue Jays isn’t about a lack of talent or a hitting coach or insufficient inspiration or whatever superficial-but-satisfying remedies some fans will insist must be tried. It’s not even about plain old bad luck, though that’s certainly been an element of that — as I noted last night, citing the disparity between their rankings for their collective BABIP (28th) and hard contact rate (6th).
It’s just… they’re not getting hits sometimes. There doesn’t really have to be a reason.
But also — and I guess this is what the post is really about — some of the kind of woe and frustration we feel about it comes down to perception, too.
It certainly feels like the offence has been the problem a lot, and when you look at the numbers, there’s no question. Ben Nicholson-Smith tweets that the Jays are on pace for just 670 runs this season, after scoring 891 last year. Yet, look at the club’s run totals since they dropped that dogshit game to the Yankees in the Bronx to begin their string of series against Boston and New York: 8, 3, 7, 10, 3, 4, 4, 7, 5, 4, 5. And then, of course, the two so far in Detroit are an ugly 0, and 2.
But in the depths of our frustration are we feeling too far into the past, beyond that good stretch that had us giddy and boisterous after clawing back a huge chunk of Boston’s then division lead? Are we forgetting that the Jays showed up in Detroit having just scored 60 runs over 11 games, and reaching back right into that ugly April and early May to feel like things are worse than they really are?
A little bit, I think. Though who could blame us after that goddamn mess of a goddamn gut-punch?
Still, couple that adjustment to our collective memory with the fact that Aaron Sanchez was legitimately next-level good tonight, and I think it’s OK to actually feel kinda OK about it all right now.
I mean, it’s weird as hell, too. Who could feel anything but sick after letting a game like that — with so many chances; with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the ninth! — slip away so quickly and emphatically? But it is. It’s OK. It’s really kinda OK.
(As long as you don’t think too hard about the bullpen, that is.)