It’s Not Over Yet For The Toronto Blue Jays
I may sound like a massive homer and extremely loyal to the Toronto Blue Jays but as crazy as it may sound, do not write the 2014 season off just yet. As things sit on the 21st of August they remain 4.5 back of the Detroit Tigers and 4.0 back of the Seattle Mariners in the chase for the second AL Wild Card spot. With 35 games left, 4.5 games to gain over two teams is a challenge, but not impossible given how streaky the 2014 Blue Jays have been.
The Blue Jays began the season with a decent month of April with a 12-15 (12-14 with 1 loss in March) record. That record could have easily been .500 or slightly above if not for late inning bullpen malfunctions and a largely quiet offense. The offense exploded in May for an outstanding month when the team went 21-9. That was one of the best 30 game stretches in franchise history. No matter who was on the mound for the opposing team, the Blue Jays were hitting them and hitting them hard.
June came along and started with a 3 game sweep of the Tigers followed by a win at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. Then came Shelby Miller and Jaime Garcia throwing back to back gems which sent the offense and team as a whole into a funk. June was a 12-15 month for the team but they really struggled late in June and into early July. The injury to Edwin Encarnacion sent the Jays out of first place and they would not touch it since. July ended beautifully with another hot stretch and they finished 15-11.
As we sit here in August, the Blue Jays currently have an abysmal record of 5-11 with a lack of offensive fire power. However, the Blue Jays managed to wake up in their win yesterday to split a mini two game series with the Milwaukee Brewers and really bailed out a largely ineffective R.A Dickey. The top of the order really got the job done yesterday and it gave a small glimpse of hope that maybe, just maybe there could a run in store.
As said earlier and highlighted in these monthly records, the Blue Jays are extremely streaky. A cold spell is followed by a hot spell and a spiral into another cold spell and then things heat back up. The reason I do not think that the season is over yet, as many Toronto media outlet personalities have declared and outspoken fans, is the next three series that lie ahead for the Blue Jays, which will ultimately and finally put to rest any playoff hopes or send the Blue Jays and their fans into an exciting pennant race in September when the rosters expand.
The upcoming nine games are back at the Rogers Center against the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees. All three teams are extremely beatable. The Rays and Red Sox are both under .500 and the Yankees are tied in the Wild Card race with the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays hot month of May featured an extremely home heavy schedule which they have these next 9 games. Here are a few things that will determine the Blue Jays success over these next 9 games:
1. Power Surge
The Blue Jays power numbers are almost non-existent in August. A team that relies so heavily on the home run ball isn’t hitting home runs at the same pace as May through July. Baserunners are being stranded and an effective top of the order is going to waste. A lot of the power numbers have dipped largely due to Edwin Encarnacion being out of the lineup. Teams pitched around Jose Bautista and his power numbers really plummeted. Juan Francisco who was a big contributor in May and parts of June is almost an out per at bat and he has played his way off the roster when and if Brett Lawrie returns.
If the Blue Jays can recapture their power stroke over these next 9 games, they will be successful. The Rays boast the best pitching out of all three teams and they will send Drew Smyly, Jeremy Hellickson, and Chris Archer to the mound this weekend.
2. Top Two Stay Hot
Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera have been the lone Blue Jays who have seen great success at the plate in August. This entire season it feels like Cabrera is good for two hits a ball game and Reyes has pushed his batting average nearly to .300 thanks to batting .346 since the all-star break.
Reyes and Cabrera seem to always be on base and if that trend continues, with Bautista, Encarnacion, Adam Lind, and the surprisingly effective Dioner Navarro behind them, runs will start scoring again. Keep on getting on base at the top of the order and early leads will be built.
3. Will Someone In the Bottom Half Please Step Up?
Reyes, Cabrera, Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind, Navarro. Beyond these 6, the bottom of the order is usually filled out by the likes of Colby Rasmus, Danny Valencia, Juan Francisco, Steve Tolleson, Munenori Kawasaki, and Nolan Reimold. Francisco is almost a guaranteed out and Rasmus has been the biggest disappointment after a stellar 2013. Valencia is great against left handers. Tolleson and Kawasaki platoon has been ok and Reimold has proven to be a decent bat off of the bench.
However, consistency at the plate has not been there. If one of these six players steps up and heats up, it will go a long way to not always relying on the top half. Colby Rasmus is the one who really needs to step up at the plate over these next 9 games and into September. Some runs need to be created from the bottom half and on a consistent basis would propel the Blue Jays to scoring runs in bunches again. Even Steve Tolleson was a great contributor in May but Brett Lawrie‘s bat in the bottom half of the batting order is really missed.
4. Mark Buehrle
Mark Buehrle should get 2 starts over the course of this 9 game homestand. He pitches on Saturday and likely the following Friday against the Yankees. Buehrle had been the Blue Jays best starting pitcher for the majority of the season but he has really hit a wall lately.
Buehrle has only managed to throw over 6 innings once in his past 5 starts and since June 1st, he has a 4.79 ERA. Buehrle was always a candidate to regress as the season went along, but lately, he has been pounded. Mark Buehrle needs to find a happy medium between post June 1st and prior to June 1st. He will be heavily relied on come September should this be a successful 9 game homestand.
These four things is what will likely go a long way to a successful 9 game homestand for the Blue Jays. The biggest key being the offense waking up in the power department. 3 series, 9 games at home all against teams that are beatable. If the Blue Jays are able to string a 6-3 or better homestand, some ground likely will be gained in the Wild Card race and September will be a whole lot of fun.