The View From Thirty (One)

In which I gain the wisdom of a child and prove with numbers that Kendrys Morales is THE MAN!

In addition to winning their second series of the season over the weekend (and in Tampa Bay no less!) the Jays passed an important, if somewhat arbitrary, milestone: game thirty. It’s an old saw that you can only really begin to start taking stock of where your team is at after thirty games have been played, and at the moment, well, the Blue Jays are kind of where they’ve been all year: between a rock and something just a little less rock-like. Eleven and twenty is…not good. It’s not as bad as it could be, but still…not good. Are the Jays doomed? Are they still in this thing? Are these questions we should even be asking?

I dunno. But here’s the transcript of a conversation I had this morning with my eleven year old son that I believe pretty much sums up the interior life of every Blue Jays fan these days:

Son: Daddy, can the Blue Jays make the playoffs this year?

Me: Well, I’m not sure. They could but it’s going to be really hard for them to–

Son: Don’t say that! They can do it.

Me: Well, I didn’t say they couldn’t, it’s too early in the season to be sure. I’m just saying that they started really badly–

Son: But they’re playing really well right now.

Me: I don’t know if they’re playing really well. Bautista’s looking very old all over again and Travis isn’t really hitting yet; the pitching is a mess–

Son: They’re all injured, though. It doesn’t count. Who’s even in the lineup right now, anyway? They’re not even really the Jays. Tulowitzki and Donaldson are going to come back and they’ll be good again.

Me: Martin’s injured too now, you know.

Son: He’s no loss, he wasn’t hitting well anyway.

Me: Actually, he was coming round and he’s always good behind the plate. They were really depending on him.

Son: Doesn’t matter. They’re winning. They can still make the playoffs and you shouldn’t say they can’t.

Me: I didn’t say they couldn’t, I just said it would be har–

Son: They can make it.

Me: Maybe, but–

Son: They can.

Me: But–

Son: They can, Daddy!

And then it kind of went on like this for a while.

And: who the man? Kendrys, Kendrys is the man.

Here’s a statistically insignificant point which I am going to claim is significant:

In games where Kendrys Morales homers the Blue Jays are three and two. In games in which he does not hit a dinger they are eight and eighteen. Put another way, when Kendrys homers the Jays have a .600 win ratio, and when he doesn’t they’re playing .444.

By way of comparison, when we look at the team’s next-best tater-hitter, Justin Smoak (with five so far this year, compared to Kendrys’ six, which added together is still less than Aaron Judge but we’re not going to talk about that right now) the Jays are two and three (.400) in games in which Smoak finds the seats.

Things get even more interesting when you look at the RBI for each, with Smoak at seventeen and Morales at twenty. So while Morales does have a slight edge in RBI, meaning we could perhaps chalk up his greater win ratio to there simply being more men on base for Morales than for Smoak, I’m not sure that’s going to fly given that the difference is just three runs.

The fact is, when Morales hits home runs, the Jays tend to win games. So this really isn’t rocket science, is it? What should Morales be trying to do in almost every single one of his at bats, particularly with men on base?

That’s right: swing, baby, swing!

 

 

 

This Team Can’t Win. But in Two Weeks This Won’t Be the Same Team.

There’s good news and bad news for the Jays…and weirdly enough it’s the same news

@ New York Yankees, May 1-3

Blue Jays 7, Yankees 1

Blue Jays 5, Yankees 11

Blue Jays 6, Yankees 8

After finally winning a series last week and taking the first game against New York, the Blue Jays and their fans were understandably optimistic about taking two of three against the Yankees as well.

Sadly, the Blue Jays’ pitchers had other plans.

But back to that first game: Marco Estrada was incredible (again) and Matt Barnes didn’t look too terrible either: didn’t look fabulous, but he got the job done, which for this series was something of a rarity for the bullpen.

Which brings me to game two:

After a horrific start by Latos, Leone was not good, Grilli was just godawful, while Loup continued his surprisingly consistent run of OK-ness for the year. I guess that two good starts from Latos is probably about as much as anyone could have hoped for, but lordy oh lordy that was not pretty. The really worrying sight was, of course, Grilli, and not just because he coughed it up all over Grandma’s new rug, but because he’s been coughing it up all over the rug, the couch, the chaise and the freshly laundered doilies all season. It’s hard to know what’s going on with him: slow start? Forty years old? Who the heck knows, but I sure as heck hope it’s something he can get over quickly (which is why if it isthe age thing, then the back end of the bullpen is in real trouble).

Aaaaaand, game three:

Whether it was just One Of Those Starts or some kind of mystery-one-game-only injury, Marcus Stroman joined Grilli in messing up Grandma’s stuff because that was not a good start. Assuming it wasn’t an injury then there’s probably not a lot to be concerned about, since Stroman’s always been prone for the Big Fall Apart every once in a while, but he usually bounces back and pitches really well the next time out.

But…if it is an injury thing (and there’s no real reason to believe that it is right now, but if it is)…

Eep.

He did at least leave the game with a lead, but the bullpen…man oh man, that bullpen. Amid all the panic over the (complete lack of) offence to begin the season everyone (including yours truly) seems to have lost sight of the fact that going into the season the one area of real concern for the Jays was that bullpen. And now, perhaps, we’re seeing why. Tepera was good until he wasn’t and then Biagini made a bit of a mess of Grandma’s increasingly filthy furniture.

Do you realise that even with the Blue Jays’ (complete lack of) offence, if the bullpen had been performing even at the league average the Jays would have twelve or thirteen wins by now instead of nine? And thirteen and fifteen is a LOOOOT different than nine and nineteen.

Now, on the (rather significant) upside the Jays have now scored four or more runs in thirteen of their last seventeen games. A couple of weeks ago I argued that so long as the Jays could be league average on offence (which means scoring four or five runs a night) then they would be just fine…but that was predicated on three points that have (temporarily, I hope) been somewhat altered: 1) the incredible strength of the starting rotation, 2) the brilliance of Osuna and, 3) the ho-hum-adequate nature of the rest of the bullpen.

And, wouldn’t you know it, just about as soon as I wrote that piece, Happ and Sanchez went on the disabled list, Osuna started to struggle and the bullpen began to implode on a more or less regular basis.

Which brings me, at last, to the good news. Which is also the bad news.

First, the bad: right now, the Blue Jays’ pitching is a mess: two starters (three? Stroman?) are down; the bullpen is absolutely not very reliable. Osuna, thank the gods, has begun to look more like his old self but until he’s thrown a few more one-two-three innings when it really matters I’m not quite ready to climb off the ledge on that one. If this keeps up then…well…I hope you like the CFL because that’s the only playoff action you can look forward to in October.

But now, the good news: the Blue Jays’ pitching is a mess, which is just another way of saying that the problem is no longer the offence. They’re getting four or five runs a game almost every night: that’s really good.

At the beginning of the season, they had the greatest starting pitching in the league but zero runs were being scored. Now, they’re scoring enough to win, but the pitching is a shambles. If they can just put it together, they could be a really good team.

And, you know what? There’s every reason to expect that they can put it all together.

They’re already scoring as many runs as they really should need to, and that’s without Josh Donaldson and Tulo. When they come back, it should only improve.

The starting rotation is a shambles because Happ and Sanchez are out with genuine but relatively un-terrifying injuries. It’s going to be a painful two weeks before they return, but they will return. Assuming Stroman is also OK, this is a problem that will fix itself, probably right around the time that Donaldson and Tulo return to the lineup.

Which leaves only the bullpen. As I said, Osuna appears to be more like his old self, but I’m going to want to wait a bit and see, but assuming he does turn things around then there’s really nothing too much to worry about in the pen either. Very soon, teams are going to start letting pitchers go or shopping them out. Creating an overpowering bullpen is hard, but putting together an average one is one of the easiest things to do on a major league roster: the Jays did it last year when they brought in Grilli in May and Joaquin Benoit in July; they can easily do so again this summer.

The team on the field right now is playing relatively good baseball. But in two weeks that team is going to be replaced with one that features Josh Donaldson (batting, I pray, in the three hole behind Bautista), Tulo at short, and the starting rotation they began the year with. Sometime very soon after that they will probably also be boasting an improved bullpen. And that, my friends, is a team that can win some ballgames.

The only question, which is the same question I’ve been asking since the Blue Jays opened the season one and nine, is will it happen soon enough to save the season? I honestly can’t think of any reason why it can’t.

But that doesn’t mean that it will.

Stay tuned.