The Blue Jays have played .600 ball over their last five games!
That’s a rather disingenuous way to spin the way their season has been going of late. They have, however, slipped quietly out of horrific awfulness and into regular old mediocrity, winning four of their last eight. Four of their last seven, even!
It’s not great — not yet, at least. And it may never be great. But the team is at least treading water without Josh Donaldson, Aaron Sanchez, Troy Tulowitzki, and J.A. Happ, which is really all we can ask of them as we hope that a return to full health will be enough to power the Jays to a run that will right this leaky ship.
Yet we can look at least a little bit more positively at where they stand and where they need to go than we would have a week ago. At 6-14, the Blue Jays have the same record as the Houston Astros did a year ago. And while the Astros didn’t end up making the playoffs, they did finish with 84 wins and, perhaps more importantly, by the last week of July they had clawed their way back, and briefly topped MLB.com’s postseason projections for wining the AL West.
The Astros’ likelihood of winning the division peaked on July 24th, when the club sat at 54-44. It was downhill from there for Houston — they won just three of their next 14 games, effectively taking them out of the race — but it didn’t have to be.
I think of these Astros now as I did the 2011 Red Sox back when the Jays had mirrored their 2-10 start. Neither of those teams made the playoffs, but they clawed their way back and into the driver’s seat. It’s not impossible.
I especially think of those teams when I see some of the initially more grim numbers in a post like Bluebird Banter’s recent look at where things stand.
I don’t mean that to be a criticism of the piece, which is more about simply showing the numbers than trying to make grand pronouncements about them. Yet I still cringe a little when seeing stuff about how 27 teams have started 6-14 since 1995 and only one of them, the 2002 Angels, made the playoffs.
The reason those Angels were able to overcome their rough start and others weren’t? The Angels were good! Good enough to win the World Series, even. While the vast majority of teams that start 6-14 do so because, like last year’s Twins (who also get mentioned in the piece), they are bad.
Grouping teams by their record at this stage doesn’t really work, as the three examples given in the piece show (as does a season record distribution chart later on). We have a World Series winner, an 84 game winner, and a 103 game loser.
In a chart showing the distribution of final season records for teams that started 6-14, we see that that finishing with a .467 winning percentage on the season, or halfway between 75 and 76 wins, would put a team in the 75th percentile. Which is to say: 75% of 6-14 teams ended the season worse than 75.5 wins. Put another way, 75% of these teams went 69-73 or worse the rest of the way. They were bad teams! Or, at the very least, not good teams.
The Jays, on the other hand, are prooooobably a good team. We can’t say yet for sure that they are, obviously. We certainly can’t say with confidence yet that they’ll be able to overcome this hole that they’ve dug themselves. But, with apologies to the piss-soaked internet commenterati, we can’t say they’re bad yet either.
Still, right now they need to play at a 94 win pace to get to 89 wins on the season. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it’s certainly better than most would have felt they were capable of.
And yet it’s not that hard for this picture to get better fairly quickly. The Jays are in tough in a doubleheader in St. Louis as I write this. Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright versus Mat Latos and Casey Lawrence will do that to a team. They then return home for a series with the Rays. After that they visit the Yankees and the go to the Trop. They return home for a visit from Cleveland, then four with the Mariners.
Let’s say the Jays play .500 through the Mariners series. That would mean going 9-9. Following that they play two at home and then two away to the Braves. Let’s say the Jays rip off four in a row against the shitty Barves and then win their next series, in Baltimore, 2-1. Things don’t usually work like that, I know, but within in the realm of things within the realm of possibility it’s in the realm of possibility.
So that’s 15-10 over their next 25. Their record, then, would be 21-24. With 117 games remaining, they’d still be in a fairly similar place, needing to play at a 94 win pace the rest of the way to get to 89 wins.
But after that Orioles series the Jays go to Milwaukee for two, then come home to face the dumb Rangers and then the Reds to finish out the month of May. Five wins in those eight isn’t too too much to ask, so let’s go one better and say they win six. They’re now at 27-26. They above .500. They now need to win 62 of their remaining 109, and need to play at a 92 win pace to get to 89. It’s still not great, but it’s better. They’re chipping away at it.
This isn’t quite the “hey, they just need to rip off a 10 game streak and they’re fine again” kind of stuff, though I’m absolutely being optimistic. Overly optimistic, even. They’d still have to go 21-12 (no Rush jokes, please) over their next stretch to get to this point. And that a) is a lot to ask, and b) still doesn’t put them in a great place!
But that’s where things are at. Not impossible. A little less impossible than a week ago. Yet still tough.
Thing is, it was always going to be tough! And they don’t have to get to .500 by the end of May. It could be a longer process than that. This is just one of an infinite-ish number of ways it could happen. Or it could not happen. Another slide like the one that began the season and these are probably the Astros all over again — a team that was probably good enough to make the playoffs, undone by under-performance, untimely injuries, and the ebb and flow of schedule. But at least the last few games, even if they’re merely treading water, have made it feel slightly less daunting — even if precious time keeps slowly slipping away.
Of course, I have to be optimistic, not only because it’s now my job to follow this team through thick and thin anyway, so I can’t check out, but because I’m gonna wear this if I’m wrong:
Coghlan Flip will go down as the season turning point. Book it.
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) April 26, 2017
Or maybe it was the Stroman double! Either way, a season that gives us this (via incredibad29) can’t really end anything but a gift, so let’s maybe just enjoy it: