Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
If they win tomorrow it’s fine.
Not exactly a ringing, rousing endorsement of this team or this season right now, but that’s the thing I keep coming back to in thinking about yet another loss to the Rays. Mostly because it’s true!
The Red Sox lost — granted, to the Orioles — so the AL East race remains as tight as ever, and the Jays’ position in it remains very strong, and their destiny in their own hands, despite having missed an opportunity to gain some much-needed ground.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just tired, or maybe I’m just tired of arguing about it. But this is it! This is the team the Jays are going to sink or swim with. It’s not going anywhere!
So we maybe don’t have to make every action a referendum on the team, on the season, on a player, or on the manager.
The Jays are really neither a mystery nor a monolith.
The bullpen has been pretty decent, but John Gibbons can’t go to Osuna-Grilli-Benoit-Biagini every night. Benoit had pitched in three straight games already, and had he gone to Osuna and Grilli tonight, they’d have been looking at three straight tomorrow, and likely unavailable. With the team down Gibbons did what one does, and the second choice relievers (plus Biagini, who is pitching in September for the first time in his career) didn’t keep it close enough.
And the offence is what it is.
Pained fans wonder what has happened to the once-vaunted lineup, but the answer is simply that they’ve lost a lot of productivity both at the core and on the margins of the offence, and for fairly obvious reasons. Last year there were 15 players in baseball, and nine in the American League, with at least 350 plate appearances and a wRC+ above 140. Four of them were Blue Jays: Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Chris Colabello. Right now this year they only have Donaldson, and he’s been too banged up to be productive over these last couple of painfully scrutinized weeks. Edwin Encarnacion is still great and just a shade behind where he was last year, but… yeah. Bautista has hit more balls hard in the last few games than the results show, but his power — perhaps because of the toe and knee issues he’s suffered this year — right now isn’t what it was. And Colabello? Well… y’know…
But the thing about Colabello is that there was so much BABIP in there — he led that group of hitters with at least 350 PA by 24 points (!) over second-place Odubel Herrera and 64 points over the hitter ranked 25th — that we knew he almost certainly wasn’t going to come close to repeating his 2015 anyway, and yet we still felt good about the offence because a guy like Troy Tulowitzki was here to pick up the slack. And he has! And so has Michael Saunders — especially in the first half — and Devon Travis has only been a little less fantastic than he was in his 2015 spell. But none of it has been enough to offset those losses at the core, especially with a whole bunch of other losses on the margins.
Last year Danny Valencia had 238 plate appearances at 127 wRC+, and Ben Revere having a career year with a 102 wRC+ over 246 PA. Last year Ryan Goins was far better at the plate (85 wRC+ compared to a 40 this year). Justin Smoak was almost 20 points of wRC+ better (108 versus 90). Kevin Pillar was about 15 points of wRC+ better, as was Russell Martin (though he’s salvaging a slow-starting 2016 here late in the season). Dioner Navarro had nearly 200 PA at a not-entirely-horrific 84 wRC+, too.
This year it’s just not the same collection of guys having career years, coupled with elite players providing elite production and marginal players stepping in and mystifyingly not being goddamn sinkholes.
So where do we point fingers here? Bautista still has an incredible eye but physically just isn’t himself right now. Donaldson is a legit MVP candidate hampered and struggling at an unfortunate time. They’re also, y’know, along with Edwin, by far your best hitters. And the other guys are, for the most part, just guys.
What I would say, you will probably not be surprised, is that we shouldn’t point fingers. That a strong roster of baseball players has been playing baseball against other strong rosters of baseball players and baseball things have happened. That more time for Bautista to find his groove can only be a good thing — and the way his exit velocity is trending, it feels close. That as much as Donaldson sitting hurts, getting him right will help in a big way. That the bullpen is OK, that the starters are holding up their end of the bargain, that every John Gibbons decision you want to lose your mind about is, in actuality, a whole lot closer to a coin flip.
That it’s all still there to play for and a whole lot to like here. That in this sport you don’t let a bad ten games define what you think a team is, even if they happen to be the last ten the team has played.
That if they win tomorrow it’s fine.
(I mean, obviously even if they don’t win tomorrow it’s fine. It’s *less* fine. And, y’know, HOLY SHIT WIN, YOU JERKS! But it’ll be OK. The world won’t end, nor will the season.)