Baseball’s a funny sport

Welcome to the postseason.

For the first time this season the Jays truly are heading into a must-win game. Lose Sunday and it’s season over. And what a disappointing end that would be.

All the excitement of a team poised for a World Series run has been sapped by two heartbreaking losses on home turf against a team the Jays probably should beat relatively handily.

It’s doubly disheartening to think Jays fans may have waited 22 years for a return to the playoffs, and might have to wait at least another year for a playoff win.

The sad truth is that baseball is a funny sport, where far too often what “should” happen doesn’t happen. David Price “should” shut down the Texas offence. Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion “should” have success against Yovani Gallardo and some of the bullpen pieces they’ve thrown out against Toronto in Games 1 and 2.

Russell Martin “should” be able to execute a fairly simple rundown.

And yet, that hasn’t happened.

In the ultimate example of the game-of-inches that baseball is, the Jays are down two games to none because of an inch here, and an inch there.

Take Friday. An inch more air between Rougned Odor and second base, a split second timing on a Josh Donaldson swing, a hair more lift from Edwin Encarnacion’s warning track shot to centre field, an inch here and there on a few pitches/an inch of forgiveness from the home plate umpire, and we could very well be spending the last couple of days talking about a best-of-three series.

For six months of the year you take the last two games and say “that’s baseball.” Over the course of 162 games those things almost always even out. You win a few you shouldn’t, and lose a few you shouldn’t. You lose a few games to an inferior team, and beat the better team on more than one occasion.

That’s not to say the Jays have been the better team. They haven’t.

But they are the better team. Given enough games between the two teams, the Jays would come out on top.

Unfortunately that’s not how things work. After grinding through 162 regular season contests, the best teams almost invariably are the ones that make the postseason. But when October rolls around the race immediately goes from a marathon to a sprint. A sprint where anything can, and quite often happens.

Let’s just hope that the Jays can recover from their stumble out of the blocks, and at least put themselves back into the thick of this dash.


A guide to hating the Texas Rangers

Combining their late season charge with the fact the home ballpark actively discourages the wave makes the Texas Rangers a tough team to hate.

Combining their late season charge with the fact the home ballpark actively discourages the wave makes the Texas Rangers a tough team to hate.

Alrighty, the regular season is officially over and the Blue Jays are still playing.

That must mean they’ve made the playoffs!

While most of us are fairly new, or at the very least extremely rusty, at this whole postseason thing it’s probably best to spend the next few days preparing. It seems to me that we’re all quite comfortable with cheering the home team, and it’s pretty easy considering the roster the organization has constructed. So the next most important thing is to learn to hate the opposing team.

Jays fans have had no problem hating opposing teams in the past, but there’s always been a reason. Whether it’s the shitbirding ways of the Baltimore Shitbirds or the throwing-at-our-stars-and-not-getting-thrown-out-only-to-have-Sanchez-tossed-when-a-ball-gets-away-from-him Kansas City Royals, those teams are easy to hate.

However, the Rangers man. They’re the team that was almost written off early after a 7-14 April. Like the Jays they went on a tear in the second half, securing the AL West. Texas has some fun and likable players, like Adrian “just as good as Derek Jeter but without the ballwashing” Beltre and Cecil (Fielder, not Brett)’s kid.

And of course there’s the fact the team actively discourages the wave at home games.

If the Jays weren’t in the postseason this year I’d be choosing between Texas and the Mets to be my adopted team for the month of October.

However, this time of year is not for the weak at heart. Canadians may not be hateful people, but it’s playoffs time. So without further adieu, here are some tidbits to get your Texas hate flowing.

Michael Young

For years Jays fans had to withstand the constant reminders every year that Michael Young was drafted by the Jays and traded from the Toronto organization to Texas for Esteban Loaiza in an ill-fated playoff push. That team ended up with 83 wins, and Young went on to have a nice little career, while Toronto spent years trying to find a shortstop who wasn’t awful.

But the thing is, Young wasn’t nearly as good as many people seem to think. Sure, he had some nice years by the traditional numbers, having a stretch of five straight years with 200 or more hits. But he was basically a 2-3 fWAR player, with a high-water mark of 4.1 in 2005.

And yet, every time Texas came to town we got to hear about the one that got away.

Well, screw Michael Young. It may have took 15 years but we got our shortstop now. How ya like them apples, Texas?

Cole Hamels

The lanky lefty had long been tied to the Jays as a possible trade target. But according to multiple reports over the years, Hamels had the Jays on his no-trade list, meaning he didn’t want to come here.

Well, suck it Cole. We got a lefty who’s better than you. And he’s more likable than you too.

Oh, and Cole Hamels reminds me of those teams that should have won Doc Halladay a World Series, but choked twice. So Cole, here’s to you getting taken to the proverbial woodshed on Thursday. You’ll wish you waived your no-trade clause when you see the lineup Toronto trots out for Game 1.

Jade Helm

According to this handy and hilarious infographic the most Googled term in Texas is Jade Helm.

For those unaware, Jade Helm refers to a conspiracy revolving around a military exercise in the American South that could involve, according to the Hartford Courant:

That Jade Helm 15 is actually a psychological operation aimed at getting people used to seeing the military on the streets so they will not be tipped off when the invasion actually happens.

That Jade Helm 15 is an international operation (UN vehicles have been spotted) whose goal is to seize everyone’s guns.

That the military plans to round up political dissidents.

That the military intends to remove key political figures who might oppose the institution of martial law. (I’m pretty sure Democrats don’t have anything to worry about here.)

That the military is secretly using recently closed Wal-Marts to stockpile supplies for Chinese troops who will be arriving to disarm Americans. (I have to say this is my personal favorite.)

It’s so Texan to be worried about the government taking their guns, but it’s also quite hilarious that people think recently closed Wal-Marts are being used to stockpile Chinese troops.

We could go down so many unfortunate racial, homophobic or xenophobic paths to point out that there is a lot of batshit crazy in Texas, but it’s more fun to showcase the craziness by conspiracy theories that include Chinese people waiting to file out of Wal-Marts and taking over America. I mean, have you ever navigated a Wal-Mart parking lot? They’re impossible!

Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?

Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?

George Bush

Before he took the Oval office for a political ride only rivaled by Toronto’s crack smoking, alcoholic racist and homophobic ex-mayor, George Bush was the Governor of the great state of Texas.

He also was a part owner of the Rangers for much of the 1990s.

‘Nuff said.

So there you have it. Enough reasons to at least start hating those damned Texas Rangers. My blood’s boiling just thinking about those bastards.

Bring on Thursday!

He’s gonna Burl

Blue Jays at Orioles 4/13/14

This afternoon may be the final time we see Mark Buehrle pitch.

It’s funny how things turn out.

When he was acquired from the Marlins as part of the massive Jeff Mathis trade, Mark Buehrle was something of an afterthought. Josh Johnson was poised to take the American League by storm and Jose Reyes was coming off a healthy and productive season, ready to electrify the fans in Toronto. Buehrle was considered, by many, to be the ugly contract the team had to absorb in order to make the deal work.

Fast forward a few years and the man they call Papa is been the biggest part of that deal, from a Blue Jays perspective.

Buehrle is an absolute treat to watch pitch. With stuff that doesn’t look much better than mine (note: I’m a decent pitcher…in my beer league) he’s managed to get by for so long on guile, changing speeds, and straight out Burl-ing. There’s really no way to describe how he’s found success.

And that’s not to mention the fact he’s routinely among the fastest workers in baseball, is a great fielding pitcher, and one of the better pick off artists in baseball. He’s just fun to watch.

While the Jays struggled to find the right recipe to create a playoff-bound team, Buehrle was the one guy you could always rely on, day in and day out, to take the hill. His reliability perhaps led us, as fans, to take him for granted. And every time he hit a rough patch the knives came out as media, fans and talking heads questioned whether Father Time had finally caught up with the ageless wonder. And each time he’d silence the critics by going back and Burl-ing a seven-inning, one run gem.

But now it appears, that perhaps, it truly is the end of the road. Buehrle, himself, hasn’t said anything definitively, for either his career or his time in Toronto. But it certainly feels like it might be. People around the team are talking like it is.

If so, I sure hope he goes out this afternoon with his 200 innings.

It’s funny, Buehrle’s been considered done, for what it feels like, most of the season. But with a couple innings this afternoon he’ll finish the season with a very Buehrle-esque 200 innings, 3.82-ish ERA, 2.3 fWAR, and a 15-7 record. In what might be his final season in Toronto, perhaps his final season in the big leagues, Mark Buehrle has once again been taken for granted, in a sense. Without his steady play early in the season – when the starting pitching was a disaster – the team might not have been close enough to convince Alex Anthopoulos to pull off the big trades he did. That shouldn’t go unnoticed.

It’s a shame we probably won’t see Buehrle in the playoffs. And it’s too bad that’s totally the right call. In years past Gibby could have run Buehrle out throughout September to get him his 200 without today’s somewhat odd plan. It’s the price you pay for success. There’s no room for sentimentality. No room to honour the veterans.

Perhaps the best way to honour Mark Buehrle in a season like this, is for the young pitchers he’s mentored over the past few years to go out and Burl their ways to a World Series.

So now what?

Jays fans all over have continued basking in the glow of the team’s first division championship in 22 years – they haven’t made the postseason since 1993 donchyaknow! – celebrating today through a strange dayish game after yesterday’s awesomeness.

We’re going to the playoffs people!

It’s been a longtime for Jays fans. Those who were old enough to tie their shoes the last time Toronto had October baseball may be able to remember how to postseason, but there’s also a good chance that two-plus decades in the baseball wilderness has sapped them of that experience and knowledge.

For the rest of us, we’ve never really postseasoned before. Sure, I was alive the last time and from what I remember it was awesome. If I recall correctly I also thought my stuffed rabbit was pretty awesome at that point too.

Of course, I’ve watched postseason baseball for years. But I watched it as a baseball fan, as someone who just wanted to watch fantastic competition. You always adopt a team, but they’re never truly your team.

Now, our horse is in it.

So, what the hell do we do now? To be honest, I kind of feel like that person who’s never had to speak publicly suddenly being thrust in front of a room full of people and asked to give a speech. What the hell should I be doing with my hands?!?!??

How do you act? How do you watch? For the fans who have enough luck and enough money to make it to a game (note: not me by a long shot), how do you cheer, and when do you you?

It’s a brave new world we’re in, as Jays fans. The last time Toronto was in the postseason there were no blogs and no Twitter. So how do we Tweet in the postseason?

It’s all very confusing.

They say athletes are always taught to treat it like another game. I’m sure that’s how the Jays will be approaching next Thursday – just another game. At least, they’ll treat it like any other game as best they can.

I guess that’s what I’ll do to. Come next Thursday I’ll crack a beer, turn on the TV and sit back in my recliner. Then I’ll watch just another baseball game.

I might also squeal like an eight-year-old kid on Christmas day.

It’s real

Every year for as long as I remember I have uttered something to the effect of: “I think this year might be the year.”

As good or as bad as the Toronto Blue Jays roster was, I, as an ardent fan, was able to devise an incredibly rational argument as to why this year’s team would defy the odds and make it to the playoffs. In the past 15 years since I’ve become a serious fan I’ve been able to convince myself that the current roster would be the one. I’ll admit, it took some creative thinking, but being the optimist I was, I always thought it was possible.

But each year, as August rolled around, though I still tried to believe, there was always that little thing in the pit of my stomach saying, “you know it’s not real.”

And every year that little thing grew as August progressed. And when the kids returned to school everything returned to normal. And normal meant the Jays weren’t playing meaningful games.

Until this year.

As always, when spring training came into focus I was optimistic. There’s a lot of talent here, I thought. They could surprise.
Even as July progressed and the team was in a middling pattern, good enough to still be in it but not good enough to actually mean anything. But the offence, I said. Look at the run differential, I argued. They’re better than their record, I’m sure of it.

These last eight or so weeks have been, by far, the best weeks for me to be a Jays fan.

Tonight was the culmination of that optimism, of 15 years hoping for better results than last year. And they did it in typical 2015 Blue Jay way: bludgeoning their opponents into submission.

A few weeks ago someone asked online, who is your favourite Blue Jay this year. It’s a tough question, because really, who isn’t?

My favourite Jays players of all time, in order, are: Roy Halladay, Carlos Delgado, and every single member of the 2015 team.

In addition to being a team full of supremely talented players, they’re also incredibly damned likable. From dirt bags to cocky, overachievers to the quiet pitcher who’s mastered an impossible pitch, every player on that team is a joy to cheer for.

Tonight things became real. The 2015 Toronto Blue Jays will be the division champions, and will play in the postseason.
I watch every postseason. Every year I’ve watched it with great anticipation, knowing full well that my team is not in the dance.

This year it’s different. This year my team is not only in the dance, but poised to lead it.

In the past October was always met with a bittersweet sentiment from me. The postseason always makes for great baseball, but it always means the end of watching my beloved team.

Not this year.

This year I can watch my favourite team, on my favourite platform.

It’s Blue Jays baseball, in the playoffs.

I’ve been waiting 15 years for this.

Go Jays.

A radical idea for the 2016 Blue Jays rotation

By going a little unconventional the Jays might be able to best utilize two of their young hurlers next year.

By going a little unconventional the Jays might be able to best utilize two of their young hurlers next year.

Yesterday afternoon’s Toronto Blue Jays win marked the much anticipated return of Aaron Sanchez.

The big righty was activated off the disabled list prior to Saturday’s tilt with the Mariners, and tossed one scoreless inning out of the bullpen. I was listening on the radio so didn’t get to see him, but he didn’t walk anybody, though he allowed a hit and – at least according to Jerry Howarth – one of the outs was a fairly loud one.

Following Sanchez’ scoreless eighth, Roberto Osuna continued to be brilliant, striking out a batter in a scoreless ninth.

The team’s decision to move Sanchez to the bullpen isn’t one with which I necessarily agree. The relief corps. seemed to be sorting itself out, with Osuna excelling in the closer’s role, Bo Schultz emerging as a high leverage option, and Brett Cecil figuring things out (seriously, he hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 8.2 innings pitched). Over the past 30 days the bullpen has the eighth best FIP (3.26), seventh best ERA (2.71) in baseball with good strikeout and walk rates (8.25 and 1.77, respectively). They haven’t had a lot of shutdowns (13) but also, perhaps surprisingly, haven’t had a lot of meltdowns either (9).

So for me, the place for Sanchez is back in the rotation, which still has its issues, though it too has been better over the last month or so.

But the team made its decision and we have to live with it. It’s too late now to do anything about it anyway.

My question is, what happens next year?

There has been a bit of confusion over what this move to the bullpen means for the future of Sanchez. Is he now a permanent reliever? Will they give him another chance to start? After all, he was coming around as a starter before the injury. Some of the concern is that Sanchez’ frame can’t hold up to the rigours of a starting role. But that’s a touch ridiculous in my opinion. Outside of a battle with should soreness in 2013 I didn’t come across any injury concerns during his minor league career.

He should be given every opportunity to start, because Sanchez still has the upside of a very valuable starting pitcher.

You know who else who still has the upside of a very good starting pitcher? The aforementioned Roberto Osuna, that’s who.

Looking forward, the problem with both pitchers next year is innings caps. While the Jays don’t subscribe to a hard and fast limit for innings increases they absolutely closely monitor the workloads of their young starters.

After throwing 35 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery last year Osuna has thus far thrown 44.1 in 2015. He’s on pace to throw around 60-70 innings out of the bullpen. To throw him in the rotation straightaway next year is simply not going to happen. There is virtually no way the Jays could feel comfortable going into the season expecting Osuna to at least double this year’s innings total.

For Sanchez, the story is better in some ways, worse in others. He’s thrown 67 innings thus far, and will likely finish at around 85-95, depending on how he’s used. Last year, between the minors and majors, he threw about 140 innings. However, Sanchez went from a starter’s role to a relief role in July 2014, when he was originally called up to the big leagues. He’ll now spend the rest of this season as a reliever. That means, when next April rolls around he’ll have been a reliever for the majority of the past two years, having started only 31 games during that time. It’s not an insurmountable task for him to return to the rotation, but it’s something the Jays brass will have to keep in mind.

On top of all that, taking those two out of the bullpen leaves a gaping hole at the back end of the pen that will need to be addressed.

So, enter my somewhat radical solution: a mid-season switch. It would be unusual, for sure, but having Sanchez start for roughly half the season, and then moving him to the bullpen while stretching out Osuna to take over as a starter. Or vice versa, of course.

It’s tricky, we really don’t know if Osuna will succeed as a starter in the big leagues, he’s never started a game above high-A ball after all. But he has the repertoire and frame to potentially be a very successful starter.

However, both Sanchez and Osuna have shown they belong in the big leagues and keeping them in AAA to manage their innings – the only other realistic option to give them the chance to start – would be wasting bullets.

Since Sanchez is somewhat more proven as a starter, and could probably handle a bigger workload, it’d probably make sense to put Osuna in the rotation to start the season. That way, if he falters  they can move to Sanchez early.

The biggest problem with this plan is stretching out the second half starter. Yesterday on The Fan Mike Wilner suggested it’d take three or so starts to stretch Sanchez back out at this point if the team decided to return him to the rotation. That’s two weeks. It would be problematic but certainly not insurmountable. The team could make the transition around an off-day or ideally at the all star break. With good timing, there would be only minimal impact at the big league level, perhaps as little as having one spot start from a Todd Redmond type.

I’m not sure if this has ever been done, intentionally at least. And there are certainly some optics issues around the fact you’d be telling your young pitcher that he’ll only be a starter for a couple months, no matter how he performs. But it could be the best way to utilize two young hurlers who can be valuable to the Major League squad.

What should the Blue Jays do in the outfield?

Yes, the outfield.

While most of the attention – and rightly so – has been put on the pitching staff for the Toronto Blue Jays, an interesting situation is emerging in the furthest position from the mound. The team’s outfield, both for 2015 and beyond, is going to be an interesting issue to follow in the next four weeks.

Four months ago I figured they were set. Jose Bautista manning right, Michael Saunders in left, and rookie Dalton Pompey in centerfield. Kevin Pillar, meanwhile, was the perfect fourth infielder. He was the next incarnation of Reed Johnson, able to play all three outfield positions, hit and run enough to be useful.

As a rookie, Pompey didn’t really have to do anything special. Hit his weight, play decent defence, and learn the craft of being a big leaguer on the fly.

About that.

Halfway into the season the Jays outfield has never been what it was supposed to. The number of times Pompey has been flanked by both Saunders and Bautista in the Jays outfield so far? Zero.

The thing is, where one idea fails, another succeeds. That guy who was supposed to be the perfect fourth outfielder? Turns out he’s a pretty solid starter. Kevin Pillar has been an average hitter while also being very good both on defence and on the base paths. By doing that he’s been very valuable, putting up a 2.1 fWAR thus far.

While that is a very nice revelation for the Toronto front office, the rest of the outfield has been…uh…a bit of a mess. After dealing with a shoulder injury he really doesn’t seem to have completely gotten over, Bautista has returned to play right field. So, at least for the time being, that’s figured out.

But left field is another situation. Ezequiel Carrera, Danny Valencia, and Chris Colabello have combined to do most of the heavy lifting. Simply put, Colabello’s had a great stretch, but is neither an outfielder nor as good a hitter as he’s shown, Carrera is a stop gap, and Valencia is a lefty mashing infielder.

While pitching does, and should, remain the priority, the outfield remains an issue. The latest I’ve seen on Saunders is that he’s nearing a rehab assignment, and Dalton Pompey has turned it around since being sent to AA New Hampshire.

Should either Saunders or Pompey make their way back to the big leagues and finds success, than this issue goes away really quickly. However, the non-waiver trade deadline is nearing. Saunders won’t be back for another couple weeks, and even if you call Pompey up tomorrow you won’t know what you have by July 31.

So that means taking some calculated risks.

The one possibility is the Jays use Pompey as trade bait. It makes sense, in a…uh…sense. With Pillar showing he’s at least a capable centerfielder, Alex Anthopoulos could feel comfortable using Pompey as the centrepiece of a deal. By solving the pitching situation it becomes much easier to make do with whatever you have in left field. Trading the young Canadian to shore up the pitching, and then having Saunders come back healthy would be just bloody peachy, putting the team in a great position in 2015.

But any decision can’t be made with just this year in mind, no matter how much AA’s job may or may not be on the line (note: I sure hope it’s not). By trading Pompey you’re essentially giving Pillar the job for the foreseeable future. At best, this is what he is, a solid starter. At worst, this is a blip and he goes back to the guy who can’t hit and whose defence isn’t enough to make up for it.

Pompey, while he could still be a flop, also still has the potential to be a star. But he’s nearing the point where he has to start making inroads at the major league level.

What could complicate things, in a good way, is the emergence of Anthony Alford. Having yet to reach 21 years old, the outfielder who finally committed to baseball full time after flirting with his football aspirations, has excelled at two levels in the minors this year. Between Dunedin and Lansing this year he’s hit to a .410 OBP and .842 OPS.

Has he shown enough for the Jays brass to be willing to deal from their outfield depth? Has he shown enough to become an attractive trade piece himself?

The Jays could sure use an upgrade in the pitching staff, either in the bullpen or the rotation. But there aren’t many pieces that both have value and make sense to move. Sure there’s some pitching depth you could move for veteran players, Daniel Norris and Jeff Hoffman come to mind. But Norris is a nice depth piece who still has tons of upside, and has Hoffman shown enough for either the Jays or an acquiring team to feel comfortable with since his return from Tommy John surgery?

Pompey may be the most movable asset, and yet that all depends on what the front office thinks of both Kevin Pillar and Anthony Alford.

Today’s game would have been great no matter who won

Holy shit balls wasn’t that a game this afternoon?

MLBtv took precedence over whatever work it was I was supposed to be doing today (unless my boss reads this, in which case…uh…screw it, he knows I was watching the game) as the Jays and Rays had a tilt for the ages.

While it’s easier to say this in light of the fact the team I was cheering for ended up pulling this one out, if you watched this game and didn’t like it for any reason, then you’re not a baseball fan. This game had everything – besides offence, but who wants offence anyway? – a baseball fan would want. From the great defence of Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and of course, Josh Donaldson, to the drama of a perfect game into the eighth and extra innings heroics by Chris Colabello, it was awesome.

As Jays fans we can bask in the glow of a big win, as big a win as you can get in June anyway. Today’s game marked a rare series win over those pesky Rays, in Tampa Bay no less. It was a chance to gain ground on the AL East leaders, and send the team off on a good note before an off day Thursday and a seven game home stand against Texas and Boston.

But as baseball fans we can just appreciate what makes this game so great. The ingredients were all there today for a good old fashioned 12-9 win. The best offence in baseball up against Nate Karns. Tampa Bay up against Marco Estrada, who despite his recent decision to turn into Dave fucking Stieb was not that long ago a forgotten man in the Jays bullpen (seriously, let that sink in. Estrada was a forgotten man in the BLUE JAYS bullpen).

Instead we’re treated to a pitching duel, a 1-0 game that took 12 innings to find that first and only run.

You can’t predict baseball.

Yet, I’m sure there’s a certain segment of the supposed fans who would whine and moan had the Jays lost. “They wasted a great performance by Estrada!” “Where’s the offence?!?” and of course, “the bullpen sucks!” because, that has to be a complaint at all times.

There are probably Rays fans saying those very things right now. Who am I kidding, there aren’t any Rays fans.

Had the Jays lost 1-0 in the 12th we as Jays fans should still have looked at it as a great game. Hell, had this been a Brewers-Rockies tilt we should have still looked at it as a great game. And it was won by Toronto on the razorest of thin margins.

Plain and simply it was a great game for a baseball fan.

Is the bullpen really that bad?

I swear, this post has been in my head for a while!

Sure, after yesterday’s extra innings win it’s probably  definitely easier to write about the Jays bullpen in this light, but I swear it’s not just because of Saturday’s five innings of shutout relief baseball.

The bullpen has been an easy place to pick on for this year’s Jays squad. It was a bad pen last year, there were no reinforcements brought in from outside the organization over the winter, and early in the season there have been some high profile blow ups.

But that’s the thing about relievers, 90 per cent of the time they have those blow ups they’re high profile. It’s the nature of the game. Give up a four spot in the eighth inning of a close game and it’s hard to hide from that.

And the Jays did plenty of that early on. In the first month of the season they were only one back of the league lead in meltdowns – shutdowns/meltdowns are a stat that essentially determines anytime a reliever increases or decreases his team’s chances of winning by six per cent – with 13.

Strangely, though, over that first month the relief corps was in the middle third of baseball for ERA, FIP and xFIP. The bullpen posted a strong K/9 rate and middling BB/9 rate. Home runs were a bit of a problem, but not a glaring issue, and they also had the fifth highest BABIP in baseball.

So by all metrics, the bullpen, in the first month of the season, wasn’t all that bad except for far too many big melt down innings.

Since then, just about every number has gone in the right directions. More strikeouts, fewer walks and home runs, and an ERA, FIP, and xFIP that are all at or nearly at a run better than in April.

As far as the meltdown stat, the Jays now have had 29 meltdowns, putting them a hair on the bad side of average. It’s still a bit of a problem, and critics might couple that with the ugly numbers in high leverage situations and conclude they need a #Proven closer.

Toronto’s bullpen has some of the worst numbers in high leverage situations – third lowest K%, second highest ERA (13.29!), sixth worse FIP,and the worst xFIP in baseball. Opposing batters are hitting to a .357 wOBA against Jays relievers in those situations, good for fourth highest in baseball.

However, consider two things. First, Jays relievers have pitched the fewest high leverage situations of any team in baseball. That’s in no doubt largely due to the fact the offence has been explosive, giving the bullpen big leads with which to work. It’s perhaps wise to expect this to just be a bad blip, and things will regress to the mean as the season wears on.

You don’t draw conclusions on any 40 at bats for a hitter, or any 40 innings from a starter, probably shouldn’t draw conclusions from 40 innings from a bullpen.

The second thing to consider is the names of the relievers given those high leverage appearances. Coming out of spring training the team rolled the dice with two young hurlers in the back end of the pen: Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro, collectively known as Castruno. The fact they hit 50-50 on that duo is awesome – Osuna has been nothing short of lights out. But the fact they hit 50-50 also means one flamed out. Castro struggled in his 12.1 innings of relief work, before being sent down to AAA.

Additionally, while the team was trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice – two lightning bolts in a bottle? Lightning in two bottles? Something like that – they were also without the team’s best reliever from 2014, Brett Cecil. Old Goggles missed some time in the spring with shoulder problems. It seemed to take a while upon his return to really round back into form. his velocity was down and his vaunted curve ball wasn’t what it was last year.

But since his early return, Cecil has improved each month, as evidenced by a wOBA against that went from .376 in April, to .267 in May and so far .237 in June. His strikeout and walk numbers are strong, and once his home run rates stabilize Cecil should return to the dominant reliever he’s been the past couple of years.

Now I’m not arguing the Jays should just ignore the bullpen. Another arm down there could be huge for a playoff run, and possibly a World Series run. They certainly don’t have an abundance of arms back there. Outside of Cecil and Osuna, you have Aaron Loup, whose been decent, and then Liam Hendriks and Steve Delabar. The latter two have had their moments but still aren’t the season-on-the-line kind of guys.

But the bullpen is ok and there’s always the possibility that Castro returns to provide some help (depending on the seriousness of his recent arm injury), or that Marcus Stroman makes a speedy recovery and can pitch in September. Or perhaps last year’s first round draft pick Jeff Hoffman races through the minors.

There’s also Matt Boyd, who was recently called up to AAA Buffalo after having sparkling numbers in New Hampshire. The jury seems split on Boyd, some think he’s sneaky good others say he’ll get exposed at the higher levels.It’s a possibility he’s a guy who could help out.

With potential holes in the outfield and a starting rotation that I’m still not sold on, the bullpen isn’t a “must solve” situation. If you can get someone to help without giving up much, great. But the bar’s not set terribly high. Get someone at the Loup level and I’m a happy camper.

Save your big bullets for another area.

You can’t win the division in June, but you can lose it

Well hasn’t this been a fun little stretch for Blue Jays fans?

After last night’s dramatic come-from-behind win the Jays have now won nine in a row, climbed back above .500, and put themselves within spitting distance of the division lead. It sure has been fun, and the way the team is going lately shows why they should be a legitimate contender: solid defence, great base running, decentish to good pitching and sweet delicious offensive awesomeness.

But despite the run, Toronto is still out of a playoff spot, sitting two games back in the division and one in the wildcard. But that’s really nothing we should worry about. There are still 90-plus games to go and all sorts of things can happen. This part of the season is all about seeing things come together, having the rotation and bullpen settle into something resembling ok, and staying within that aforementioned spitting distance of the division.

As you may recall from last year, if you’re a Toronto fan, a great run in the first half doesn’t mean squat in the long run. This recent run hasn’t given them the division, and it hasn’t even given them a temporary lead in the division. Not yet, anyway.

So while we need to temper things a tad – just like we had to, uh…de-temper?…things a few weeks ago when they were losing all those games – one thing we could look forward to is turning this division race into a race of four.

After last night’s awesome comeback over the Red Sox, Boston now sits seven games back of the division, and six back of a wild card spot. The only team with a worse record than Boston in the AL is Oakland. A weekend series win for the Jays probably won’t do it, and even a sweep might not be enough, but if Boston loses this series and goes on to have a poor week next week, it could be the death knell for the team this year.

Some have even pegged the time of death as yesterday. Easy there Tim, the body’s still warm! Hell, there’s still a heartbeat, even if it’s weak and irregular.

But the AL East could very possibly be a four team race very soon. Coming back from seven games back is a daunting task, but doable with this much time still left in the season. Gaining seven games on one team, six on a second team, five on a third and four on a fourth is certainly a challenge. Should they fall back much further it could quickly become next to impossible.

Then again, maybe they beat the Jays today and tomorrow, rattle off nine or ten straight and put themselves right back in the thick of it. Ya know, like the Jays have done the past week and a half?

Baseball’s weird like that.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen and the Jays keep the good times rolling.