For the second year in a row, as August fades and the first hint of autumn weather signals the end of summer, the conversation has once again turned to that of meaningful baseball in September for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Meaningful September baseball. If you haven’t done so already, let that sink in for a minute.
So many years of having nothing to look forward to in September, save for playing spoiler to whichever teams were still fighting for a playoff spot. Despite having all the love in the world for a team, to be a fan of one that ends every season simply playing out the string is a tedious existence. And yet, here we are, two games into meaningful September baseball, still (tied for) first in the division, and it feels as though there is so much with which to be concerned.
And, I totally get it. After the exhilaration of last season’s unexpected division championship and playoff run, during which both the opposition and this fan base were absolutely blown away by the juggernaut that was this team’s offense, this season has had a very different vibe. While the Jays have already been blown out the same number of times as all of last season (12 games), they have won just 25 game by five or more runs (with 27 games remaining) compared to blowing out other teams 37 times in 2015. Rather than leading the league in runs as they did last season, the Jays are fourth in the majors and second in the AL East behind the one team that could potentially oust them from first. Their +99 run differential is nowhere close to the +221 run differential of last season, despite having mostly the same lineup. In other words, the Jays are winning in a less spectacular fashion than last season, leaving little room for error when the bats turn cold as they have a number of times the last few week and, in turn.
Yet, they have just one fewer win than they did after 135 games last season. Bolstered by an improved pitching staff that leads the American League and is fifth in the majors with a 3.81 team ERA, thanks primarily by their starting rotation, which has a combined ERA of 3.72 entering yesterday’s game, the Jays have simply found other ways to win. It’s not nearly as much fun to watch as last season, however, and with the Red Sox hitting the cover off the ball, being tied for first feels like a very tenuous position in which to be.
Entering the month of September, the gambling site Bovada listed the Jays as being the fourth favourite to win the World Series at 15-to-2 odds, behind the Cubs (3-to-1), Nationals (11-to-2) and Rangers (13-to-2). The Jays are also favoured to win the AL East at 10-to-11 odds in comparison to 8-to-5 odds for the Red Sox. Baseball Prospectus places the Jays’ odds of making the playoffs at 90.6% with a 48.8% shot at the division title. As Michael Baumann of The Ringer writes, over the first four months of the season, the Jays spend four days tied for or in sole possession of first; they spent the month of August leading the division for 26 of 31 days.
That’s little consolation to fans who have watched this offense struggle to score runs against the Rays and Angels while surrendering a ton of runs to the Twins. Such inconsistency is, simply put, both frustrating and worrisome, especially when the Red Sox just keep mashing. In his most recent piece for The Score, Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb looked at the contenders’ schedules for the remainder of the season. Entering September, the Jays had ten games remaining versus sub-.500 teams while the Red Sox had nine (two of which have been played by each team – the Jays’ two losses to the Rays and the Sox’s two wins against the Athletics). Conversely, the Jays will play 19 games versus teams at or above .500, compared to 20 for Boston.
Twenty-two of the Jays’ remaining games are within the division with 16 on the road, while the Red Sox will play 23 against division rivals with 19 road games. Three of those are in San Diego, where Big Papi will either have to play the field or not at all. While the Jays have a slight edge in terms of scheduling, the most likely scenario is that it will take the six games that the two teams have remaining against one another that will decide the division. In their thirteen previous games this season, the Jays have won seven, suggesting that the race really is too close to call.
I’m not going to lie. I’m not comfortable with where the Jays are right now. Anything less than another division championship would feel like a disappointment, and, quite frankly, the thought of a possible one-and-done wild card game is something for which I am not prepared. But, this feeling, this passion, this angst, could not exist without meaningful baseball in September. And, while I’m not at all comfortable with the position in which the Jay are currently, it sure as hell beats all those years of having nothing to play for in September.
- Though his on-field contributions are on display nightly, it can be easy to forget the impact that a veteran player such as Troy Tulowitzki has behind the scenes. While we’ve heard stories about he and Josh Donaldson sitting around discussing hitting, his mentorship of Marcus Stroman is perhaps more notable. The two have become quite close, with Tulowitzki taking the sophomore under his wing to help him navigate the ups and downs of 162-game season. Quite frankly, we probably all could use some life advice from Troy Tulowitzki.
- Seventeen year old Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who played with the Bluefield Blue Jays in the Appalachian League this season, ended the year with a .271 batting average and .808 OPS with eight home runs, 46 RBI and 64 hits in 276 plate appearances. There’s no doubt he’s built for power, but has yet to settle into a defensive position – he made eight errors in 113 chances at third base. Though he’s a long way off from making his major league debut, he is no doubt someone to follow as he ascends the minor league ranks.
- Conversations with Cabbie may just be the most entertaining of all. This one in particular, in which our boys in blue discuss their “main gloves” and their “side gloves”, is so full of innuendo that, well, we can’t be entirely sure they were talking about gloves.
- And, finally. In case you somehow missed it, Sportsnet’s Barry Davis filled time Thursday night by writing and recording a song in honour of reliever Joe Biagini, who was given a chance to react while the cameras were rolling. It’s the latest in an ongoing series of delightfully awkward interactions between the two that has made for one of the more lighthearted side stories of the season.
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