The Toronto Blue Jays had a fairly easy World Series title in their grasp last year. If John Gibbons knew when to pull David Price in Game Two of the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals, that could have helped. Who else remembers them stranding second and third with none out in the top of the ninth in Game Six? If they played like an above-average team in those games, they would have made it to the World Series.
Given how pathetic the New York Mets played against the Royals in the World Series, one would figure that Toronto could have won the Commissioner’s Trophy for the first time in 22 years. It wasn’t meant to be, and the poor Jays faithful was led on into believing their team would have a bounce-back season.
As a guy whose followed the Jays since 2002, there hasn’t been a time where I was convinced they were legitimate contenders at the start of 2016. It seems like 90 percent of fans believe they’re the favourites to win the AL pennant. Nevermind any of that. Here are 15 reasons why your Blue Jays aren’t coming close to a World Series.
15. They Lose When They Should Win
To have pride in sports is to want to be better than everybody else. Any time you lose OR you’re losing in a game, you’re hungry for victory and you fight your way back. For anyone watching the Blue Jays in 2016, this hasn’t been the case.
As I watched them lose last weekend’s series in Cleveland (blowing leads in the ninth and eigth to lose games one and three of the series, respectively). I realized they just don’t understand it. Then they lost a home series to the struggling Los Angeles Angels after blowing a 2-0 lead with J.A. Happ on the mound.
And what happened? Any time the Jays gave up a lead, they gave up. It’s been the same story all season. For any opponent playing the Jays, know this: Any time you take a lead on them in the sixth inning or later, consider it a win. The Jays lack true pride and heart to win games that were in their grasp.
14. Brett Cecil
Honestly, if Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez were traded, then what in the world is MLB’s worst reliever doing here?
I don’t care how much you talk about his incredible scoreless inning streak last year. Brett Cecil already has seven freaking losses for a reliever and there’s still over a month to go. His WAR is -0.3. In case you didn’t know, having a negative wins-above-replacement is bad. But Cecil’s been way worse than the -0.3 stat. As of this writing, his ERA was at 4.24. For a guy asked to pitch no more than three outs, that’s actually disgusting.
But John Gibbons has this theory that putting in your worst players may work out okay because they just might turn it around one day. Ya, nope. Again, the team was quick to get Storen and Chavez out of the way. But here stands Cecil, the man who’s doing everything possible to give away games.
13. Not Mentally Tough
Any, and I mean absolutely ANY championship team has the mental toughness. They want it more than everybody else. They don’t have any enemies inside their own heads. All they want to do is come out there and win-win-win!
Like I said, the Jays showed zero toughness against the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 ALCS, mentally. They couldn’t play under pressure, showed zero confidence and Jose Bautista was the only guy who showed up to hit all series. Again, how do you strand second and third with nobody out? How does that happen? Oh yeah, I forgot we’re talking about the Blue Jays here.
Just look at all of Toronto’s losses this year. They aren’t confident when they lead late, and they know they’re not capable of coming back to win games. It’s absolutely dreadful that the Jays fans have to see this. Their team doesn’t want it. They’re a classic example of guys who seemingly only want to get paid.
12. Faltering Rotation
The Blue Jays have been consistent at one thing all season: Starting pitching.
Actually, they used to be consistent. But the numbers are scary in suggesting their once-dominant rotation is actually going downhill. For example, Marco Estrada, who led the AL in many pitching stats (including opponent batting average) has gone 1-2 in August, and it should easily be 1-3. Last week’s outing against the New York Yankees saw him surrender five earned runs, but his team erased a 6-0 deficit to win.
His walk to strikeout rate of 7:19 is terrible, and his ERA in August is 6.00. Since when is that impressive when your pitching to the Tampa Bay Rays, Yankees, and Angels, three teams who have lineups that wouldn’t scare most Triple-A teams?
Furthemore, R.A. Dickey is still not as good as the team wants you to think. Please stop trying to justify a 9-13 record and 4.53 ERA. Just stop. Oh, and Marcus Stroman has shown signs of getting back on track after a disastrous June and July, but who knows if he’ll actually stay that way?
11. Too Reliant on Home Runs
Why did the New York Yankees only win one World Series from 2001-2012 during their dominant years? Why haven’t the Boston Red Sox won more titles since 2007 despite fielding elite lineups? And…oh yeah, those Jays have had a very potent lineup for a decade, but haven’t come close to a championship. Because, they were too reliant on home runs. Well guess what, when October rolls around, you’re facing the best pitchers in baseball who don’t allow home runs that often. Look at the Royals’ 2015 championship team: It was all about small ball.
Only the Baltimore Orioles have more homers this year than the Jays. And if you watch Toronto play, they basically aren’t winning games if they don’t crank at least three homers. They can’t get singles or walks consistently. They never try to steal bases despite having decent speed all over the lineup. They just don’t get it: Singles, doubles, walks, and bases stolen are what it takes to win in October.
10. Lacking the “IT” Factor
To have the “it” factor is to just have that drive to win and be better than your opponents. To have the “it” factor is to hold onto games that you SHOULD win while also winning games that you deserve to lose. Good teams find a way to do both, frequently.
To have the “it” factor doesn’t mean leaving runners in scoring position stranded every game. Uh- excuse me. I meant to have runners in scoring position means to not leave them stranded seemingly 90 percent of the time. To have the “it” factor is to not strike out as a team 10 times a game.
You’re starting to get the idea. The Royals, for example, trailed Houston 2-1 in last year’s ALDS and were behind 6-2 going into the eighth inning. The Jays can’t ever seem to piece a two-run inning, yet the Royals were able to put up seven more runs in that game, en route to an ALDS series victory and eventually World Series.
9. No Jose Bautista Bat Flips
The Toronto Blue Jays would have likely missed out on last year’s ALCS if Jose Bautista didn’t hit a three-run homer in the infamous Game Five against Texas in the ALDS. Besides the epic moment that came to Toronto sports, it was greatly remembered for Joey Bats’ bat flip that infuriated the Rangers, who thought it was a classless move.
I stood by the bat flip. When you hit that big of a home run in your life, you deserve to celebrate accordingly. If you don’t like the bat flip, then don’t throw him a pitch that he’s going to crush every time. With Texas and Toronto both likely to make the playoffs in 2016, they could meet again in October.
The only thing that’ll be different? Bautista probably won’t get the chance to flip his bat again. As of this writing, he’s batting .222 with 15 home runs and a porous .444 slugging percentage. Knee and foot injuries put him on the DL and he has yet to find his groove in 2016, which probably won’t come back. This guy hit .250 last year with 40 homers and a .536 slugging percentage.
8. Lack of Speed
Here’s the deal: Some teams can hit but don’t have great speed-runners. I know Darwin Barney, Kevin Pillar, Bautista, Michael Saunders, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Melvin Upton Jr. have above-average speed. Sadly, none of them are even close to running like an average lead off hitter.
I have no idea how many times these guys have jogged when hitting ground balls yet only getting thrown out by a couple of steps. It sounds hard to believe, but it’s no exaggeration. So many tappers down the third base line or mishandled balls by the left part of the infield, but the Jays can’t get on.
Only four teams have stolen less bases than the Blue Jays. I’m sorry I keep bringing them up, but last year’s Royals sure knew how to win ball games with great base-running skills. Keep in mind, Lorenzo Cain’s series-winning run against Toronto came off a single–where he made it home from first base.
7. Josh Donaldson’s Decline
Remember the days on Twitter where people said Josh Donaldson was on pace to hit better than he did in 2015–when he won the 2015 AL MVP? Those days were about a week and beyond ago. Now, I hope we never have to talk about them again. Listen, I love Donaldson and he’s already making a case to go down as the top player in Blue Jays history. But it’s been absolutely frustrating to see him lack the timely hits as well. He hit 41 homers last year, had 123 RBIs, batted .297, and had an 8.8 WAR.
As of this writing, ESPN projects him to hit 37 home runs, 105 RBIS, and hit 2.88 while his WAR is at 6.3. If I can be taken as honest and not pessimistic, Donaldson probably won’t even his 37 home runs at this point. That’s asking him to hit nearly one homer every three games, and I’m not buying that.
Donaldson’s defence hasn’t gone away, but his offence has taken a very noticeable dip. And again, I can’t even tell you how many times he’s ended rallies without coming through in the most crucial times.
6. Not Playing it Small…
So the Jays are second in home runs, but their team batting average of .248 is very disappointing. We’ve talked about the inability to steal bases and beat out throws that most other speedsters would be able to accomplish. What’s frustrating is how the Jays are second in drawn walks. That’s part of small ball.
But again, the singles don’t come through. The sacrifice bunts never happen because John Gibbons would rather be aggressive; often leading to double plays. They can’t run fast enough to steal. They don’t have the guys who can hit for average with the exception of Devon Travis. Everybody else relies on the long ball.
The Jays can’t even use basic fundamentals in the regular season. If you’re not bringing guys around with base hits, walks, and steals, how can you expect to hit in the playoffs when your offence is inconsistent enough as is?
5. National League Champion Would Crush Them
The Chicago Cubs are the heavy World Series favourites. Again, as of this writing, their 647 runs score are the third-most in baseball. Their team ERA of 3.13 is far-and-away the best in the majors. You know how Aaron Sanchez’s 2.99 ERA is really good? The Cubs have three starters who have a better ERA than that.
You know how J.A. Happ is contending for the AL Cy Young? Four Cubs starters have a better ERA. So basically, if these two teams met in the World Series, Chicago has a much deeper rotation and a way better offence. Bring the Brooms to Wrigley.
If the Cubs somehow fail, the San Francisco Giants could contend for the title. After all, it is an even year, and the Jays aren’t the team that’ll stop that trend. The Washington Nationals would also be dangerous, as their 3.47 ERA is second-best in baseball. Plus Bryce Harper would be the one bat-flipping at the Rogers Centre.
Sorry, Jays fans. Even if you win the AL, you can’t really think your bats will wake up against the MLB’s two best pitching staffs. Your lineup has a reputation of making career fourth-or-fifth rotation arm options look like Randy Johnson.
4. Can’t Beat Better Teams
This feels a bit odd to write, because the Jays have somehow played well against the top teams. They’re 7-6 against both the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, 4-3 against the Texas Rangers, 3-4 against the Cleveland Indians, 2-1 against San Francisco, and 1-2 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But yeah, they probably won’t beat Boston if the two meet in October. Boston’s rotation has improved steadily in August, and the Jays rotation (at it’s best) has had problems dealing with the Red Sox offence. No reason to believe David Ortiz won’t crush his dinner again in his last postseason.
The Indians exposed the Jays. Cleveland was outplayed during that three-game home series against Toronto and still took two of three and nearly pulled off a sweep. Texas will be out for revenge against Toronto. So the Jays hopes of beating the superior teams will be dashed quickly.
3. Untimely Hitting
According to TeamRanks.com, the Jays strand 3.27 RISP a game, even though it seems like far more. That’s the 10th-worst in baseball. But then again, most of those teams ahead of Toronto don’t even have half the talent in their lineup as the Jays. So for Toronto, it’s inexcusable. According to Yahoo Sports, the Jays are hitting .251 with RISP this season, also 10-worst in the league. In the seventh inning or later, they’re hitting just .241, while small ball teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals are hitting in the .270s.
Toronto is hitting .247 with runners in scoring position with two outs. Even though that’s sixth-best in the majors, don’t be deceived: They often do that when the game is out of reach (winning or losing). The data can only be so specific, but I’m confident they’re batting well below .220 when they’re in a one-run game with RISP and two outs.
Only the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves (26 each) have more bullpen losses than the Blue Jays, according to ESPN.com. That’s okay for those two squads, as they’ve been among the NL’s worst and committed fire-sales at the trade deadline. But for the Jays to be in playoff position and have 25 losses from their bullpen is actually hilarious. You have to laugh. Their 3.85 ERA and opponent batting average of .251 is less than acceptable. It’s disgusting.
As I said earlier, they did get rid of Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez in the bullpen, but Cecil remains. Joaquin Benoit and Jason Grilli have been A-plus setup men for Roberto Osuna, but the relievers early on in the season put them in a bind. And now here’s Cecil who refuses to turn things around.
1. John Gibbons
One of the greatest sciences of all is the Jays’ refusal to a) bring back John Gibbons to manage this team in 2012 and b) let him hang around this long.
All of the problems outlined earlier on this list boil down to Gibbons. If he didn’t obsess over trying to fix Cecil, the Jays could easily have five less losses. If he decided to let his team bunt and steal a little bit more, that could help. If he didn’t leave his starters in to go from a lead to an ugly deficit, the Jays would be comfortably ahead in their division.
Gibbons also makes very silly decisions, such as keeping Josh Thole on as a batter over Russell Martin when R.A. Dickey is taken out of the game. Gibby still hasn’t realized that he needs to tell his batters to stop going for the fence on every swing. Gibbons was fired in his first stint for a reason. Many can’t explain why he even got a chance and has managed to hang onto his job.
John Gibbons has never been a great fit for the Jays. Their success last season was because of the roster. Managers make bigger differences in baseball than you think, but the men wearing suits in the Jays front office seem to put friendship over winning. That’s a great way to avoid setting up for a World Series parade.
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