TORONTO, Ont. – On May 23, the Toronto Blue Jays were 26-22 and leading the American League East by one game when they opened up what many believed was going to be a crucial run of games in which they would play 16 of 19 at home.
This was going to be a big test for the surprising Jays, with series against the Oakland A’s, who had the best record in the league, the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals and perennial pain in the Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays. And those three road games? They just happened to be in Detroit, against the powerhouse Tigers.
That 19-game stretch is over, and it featured sweeps of the A’s, Red Sox, Rays and Tigers. The Blue Jays went 13-6 and when the last game of the run ended, they had a five-game lead in the American League East and sat second in the major leagues in runs scored.
And yet, panic is beginning to set in in many corners of Blue Jays fandom because that 19-game run ended with four losses in five games – with the Blue Jays scoring a grand total of two runs over those four losses.
Within a five-minute span in the seventh inning of the Jays’ loss in Wednesday’s finale against the Twins, I got a tweets from Jays fans that said things like: “Death spiral begins”, “smoke and mirrors”, “the season is getting away from them” and, of course, “Fire Gibby.”
I don’t believe this is an accurate representation of how the entire fan base really feels, hopefully not even the majority. The knee-jerkers always seem to be the loudest, unfortunately. But if you subtract the crazy, there’s some legitimate frustration with how the Blue Jays have been playing the last few games.
It’s no fun to watch your team get shut out, and whenever a team has trouble scoring (normally high-octane offence or not), the players will look flat and even disinterested, even though the reality is that they’re even more frustrated than the fans who are watching and listening to them fail.
A team is never as good as it looks when things are going well – like, say, when it has won 20 of 24 games or something. And likewise, a team is never as bad as it looks when things are going poorly – like coming within a couple of innings of being shut out four times in five games. The truth always lies somewhere in the middle.
The truth about this Blue Jays team is that there is no smoke and there are no mirrors. This is an extremely efficient, productive offence that has outscored every team in the major leagues but one – even though they’ve only scored two runs in their last four losses combined. They’ve done it with no one hitting significantly over his head and with two regulars (against righties) – Juan Francisco and Anthony Gose – hardly contributing at all over the last little while.
It’s a very good baseball team that was playing well over its head for the better part of a month – they spent almost four weeks on a 135-win pace, after all – and it was bound to hit a bump in the road. The bump has been hit pretty hard, four losses in five games with all four losses having almost been shutouts.
It’s important to keep an eye on the big picture, though. Even after a 1-4 stretch over which they scored a total of seven runs, the Blue Jays still hit the road sitting second in the major leagues in runs scored. And they took off for Baltimore with a five-game lead in the AL East.
Just as the stretch of 16 of 19 at home was important, so too is the 10-game road trip that begins Thursday night – and you can extend that to the next 13 games, since the Blue Jays play 10 of them against their closest pursuers in the division, the Orioles and Yankees.
But every stretch of games for here on out is going to be important. Every game is the biggest of the season when you’re in first place, which is something that Blue Jays fans are going to have to get used to all over again. It’s going to be a fun summer, and if you can quiet the feelings of impending doom that come rumbling up from a deep, dark place every time the Jays stumble, it’s going to be even more fun.