The best thing about the month of May for the Toronto Blue Jays is that it’s over. Its final day went as many of the previous 30 did for the Jays, with a one-run loss in a game they should have won.
The Blue Jays capped a 12-17 May by blowing a three-run lead in the sixth inning in Minnesota, re-taking the lead on a Josh Donaldson home run in the seventh and then giving up a couple of runs late to lose. A reliever (Roberto Osuna) took the loss, but this one can’t be blamed on the bullpen. The decisive bottom of the seventh began with Jose Reyes making a terrible throw on a routine ground ball, and Torii Hunter’s eventual game-winning two-run double came a couple of batters later. Hunter’s double was a fly ball to deep left field that the average big-league outfielder should catch. Chris Colabello, though, is not an average big-league outfielder.
It was the Blue Jays’ ninth loss in their last 15 games, and the seventh in which the margin of victory was one run. The other two losses were by just two runs. All the games winnable.
It is said, by people who have done a great deal of research into these things, that the single greatest determining factor as to which team wins a one-run game is nothing more than simple luck, which is why teams’ one-run records tend not to be repeatable. This would imply that the Blue Jays have been nothing more than very unlucky over this stretch — and over the season as a whole — since they are an abysmal 3-12 for the year in games decided by one run. But this implication ignores a rather large fact — the better a team plays, the more often it puts itself in position to take advantage of good fortune. Lately, the luck the Blue Jays have made for themselves hasn’t been of the positive variety.
Colabello has been the Blue Jays’ saving grace with the bat. He hit the ground running after being called up from triple-A Buffalo on May 5 and hasn’t stopped. A second-inning single (and eventual run scored) Sunday gave him an 11-game hitting streak, and he finished the month hitting an astounding .368/.417/.568. The Blue Jays’ league-leading offence wouldn’t be nearly as potent without his contributions. The glove is another story, though, as Colabello has been pressed into action in the outfield, which is his third-best position behind DH and first base. The decisive blow in Sunday’s loss was a fly ball to deep left that landed on the warning track behind Colabello, who took a poor route to try to run it down. The miscast left-fielder also dropped a line drive by Joe Mauer in the first inning that was ruled a sacrifice fly and an error.
Colabello is doing his best. He was somewhere between seventh and ninth on the Blue Jays outfield depth chart when the season started, behind Jose Bautista (unable to play the outfield for the entire month of May), Michael Saunders (injured), Dalton Pompey (demoted for performance), Kevin Pillar, Steve Tolleson (injured) and Ezequiel Carrera. Danny Valencia and Ryan Goins factor in there as well, but I don’t know that there’s an order you can put them in. Clearly when you’re relying on Colabello as an everyday outfielder you’re pretty desperate, and his bat has certainly made his continued presence in the lineup more than worthwhile. Bautista’s return to the outfield will help with this problem, but Colabello should still be in the lineup everyday as long as he continues to hit. And that means at least the next three games in left field while the Jays are in Washington.
While you can’t fault Colabello for being a poor defender in the outfield, mistakes are more difficult to forgive when they’re made by someone like Reyes. A high defensive standard was set at shortstop by Goins in his absence, and now that Reyes is healthy he can’t be expected to reach the bar Goins set. But he can certainly be expected to be better than he has been.
The issues with Reyes’ defence in the past have been well-documented. He played shortstop last season like he was hobbled, with barely any range to his left and not a whole lot more to his right. Something that has never been an issue for him, though, has been arm strength. On Sunday there was that poor throw in the seventh that Edwin Encarnacion couldn’t handle, and another one four batters later. That one, though, Encarnacion managed to pick. Tuesday night against the White Sox, Reyes didn’t get much on a throw on a double-play relay, which led to the go-ahead run scoring in a game the Blue Jays eventually won on Donaldson’s dramatic walk-off home run.
This season Reyes has shown much better range than he did last year, but his throwing now seems to be an issue. He continues to contribute with the bat, though, getting three hits in Sunday’s loss, including a two-run single in the second inning and a leadoff single in the ninth to put himself on board as the tying run for Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnacion to try to drive in. In between, he hit a flare single to centre and got thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, mostly because he didn’t start running hard until he got to first base. Reyes was also thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple in Friday night’s series-opening win in Minnesota.
Like Colabello, Reyes’ bat is overcoming his deficiencies with the glove. In six games since coming off the disabled list, the Blue Jays shortstop is 10-for-27 with four doubles, hitting .370/.370/.519. The deficiencies in Reyes’ game, though, seem to be a lot easier for him to clean up, which is why more is expected from him.
With May in the rearview mirror, the Blue Jays open June with a series each against a first-place team. The Nationals rule the roost in the National League East, and after they’re done with them the Jays come home for three against the AL West-leading Houston Astros. The Blue Jays were swept four straight in Houston in mid-May.
The best thing about May is that it’s over, and the best thing about the season so far is that every other AL East team is playing terribly, too. That may well last all season, but the Blue Jays need to stop playing as though they’re counting on that.