Jays lose 9-5: Are the Jays’ relievers who we thought they were?

Drew Storen
MLB.tv/Sportsnet screengrab via @ateDARYL

Relievers are volatile. We hear this over and over, yet it really can’t be repeated enough. What it often simply means is that things are never quite as bad as they seem. And… uh… also that they’re never quite as good as they seem, either.

For a brief and ultimately ephemeral moment last week, it looked as though the Blue Jays might have finally, if shakily, weathered the bullpen troubles that had plagued them all season. Drew Storen went 14 appearances from May 20th through Friday night in Chicago allowing 12 hits and four walks with 12 strikeouts over 13.1 innings, allowing just two runs, for a 1.35 ERA, as opponents hit a not-awful .231/.310/.385 against him. Jesse Chavez wobbled against Baltimore and Arizona, but had us feeling good with his previous nine appearances, over which he allowed just five hits and two walks over 11 innings, with zero runs and a sparkling .139/.184/.139 slash line against. And Gavin Floyd allowed a 1.95 ERA and a .095/.130/.143 line over seven appearances from June 8th until the 22nd.

Add in the amazingly reliable Roberto Osuna, plus Jason Grilli — who sported a 1.46 ERA and a .182/.302/.205 opponents’ slash line over 14 games heading into his appearance in Chicago over the weekend — and Joe Biagini, and it felt not only like things were maybe going to be OK, but that with Brett Cecil on the mend, the Jays might have something resembling a genuinely reliable unit back there.

The Jays certainly seemed optimistic on Storen in particular. Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet explained some of the work the former Nationals closer had done in order to remake himself after coming out of the gate so horrendously flat:

Quietly, the Blue Jays have been helping Storen reinvent himself. Instead of relying on the four-seam fastball he threw 37 per cent of the time last season, Storen now leans on a two-seamer as his primary pitch. Not only does the additional movement on the sinker compensate for his drop in velocity this year (he’s lost two miles per hour off his four-seam fastball), it also helps Storen keep the ball down in the zone.

From there, the 28-year-old has begun to use his change-up more often working off the two-seamer, focusing on throwing the two pitches from the same lane and disguising them with the same arm action. Both pitches have similar movement, but the hope is the seven mile-per-hour difference between them will help Storen miss more bats, or at least induce more weak contact. And, in an indirect way, using the change-up more often has helped Storen’s slider as well.

Nobody was saying that the Jays had the makings of an elite bullpen, but one that could be effective enough given the all the team’s other strengths? It really felt like that!

For about a minute.

But that’s the thing about using all those arbitrary endpoints, as I did when quoting the stats above. It makes it very easy to see the trends that you want to see — especially when they match up with things like what we’re hearing there about Storen feeling good and changing his pitch mix, or with stories about the work Chavez had done to improve after his season seemed to bottom out (at least emotionally) in the dugout of Yankee Stadium a month ago.

Now Floyd is hurt, Chavez has given up six earned runs over his last five appearances, and Storen five over his last two (including the four tonight that broke the game open for Colorado).

Ugh.

But let’s remember that those samples of data use arbitrary endpoints, too. And that tonight’s rage-inducing loss came in the dumb thin air of Colorado.

We can’t throw out what just happened, or what happened in Chicago, or what happened before those fleeting bright spots. But it’s never quite as good or bad as it seems.

Or at least I fucking hope so, because it seems pretty fucking bad sometimes. And there really isn’t much they can do about it right now.

Ending on some positives…

I can’t believe it, but somehow in all that Marco Estrada extended his MLB record streak to 12 straight starts of at least six innings pitched and five or fewer hits allowed. I know, I know, it’s a liiiiiiittle specific a milestone, but holy shit, how crazy is it that he’s doing it? It’s hard to feel good after a game like that, but seriously!

Oh, and Edwin (pay him) is a fucking boss, in case you somehow missed that, and if Devon Travis is actually a star-calibre MLB second baseman — which is pretty much what he continues to look like right now — that would be pretty seriously awesome.

I truly enjoyed the Rockies broadcast crew laughing at the audacity of Ezequiel Carrera for bunting in the direction of Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado, especially because they’re damn right.

Hey, and after the game, Carlos Gonzalez told reporters — such as Nick Groke of the Denver Post — that he didn’t much like the fans’ warm reception for a visiting player, even if it was a franchise icon. “I kind of took it personally,” CarGo said (“with a smile,” according to Groke). “I want to make sure the fans are on my side.” In other words: now I have someone to actively dislike in the rest of this series! So that’s kinda positive too.