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.

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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.