No Toronto Blue Jays fan could be blamed if they felt a bit off-kilter in the early part of the 2019 baseball season. The early weeks — and months, really — have a way of doing that to you.
A long off-season followed by another six weeks of spring training leads to infinite amounts of speculation, forecasting, and wish-casting, among fans and pundits alike. By the time the real games start, we are all starving to see real baseball that means something.
The problem that arises from this is that there is a tendency to read that much more into everything that happens in this initial game action. Because we spent six months starving in the dark for meaning, every flicker and crumb now starts to feel as though it means everything.
We know this, of course. We all know this, but 12 months seems to be just long enough to allow yourself to forget a little. Frankly, there’s more fun to be had in some ways by losing yourself in the moment.
But if you find that your emotions are already fraught and frayed, here’s a few tips to help regulate your baseball moods in the early going.
It’s a long season
People hate to hear this, because it negates their anger at whatever minor catastrophe they’ve just witnessed. But if you proclaim the futility of the rest of the season because of what you’ve just witnessed over the past three hours, it’s fair game to point out that there are literally hundreds more games to be played in the coming months.
What we’re looking at in the moment is a glimpse through a pinhole. There’s a lot more to come.
It’s never as bad as it seems
The 2018 Blue Jays were a bad offensive team, and they finished with a slash line of .244/.312/.427. The 2019 Blue Jays, in the present absence of some high-calibre offensive youngsters, just managed to pull their team batting average above the Mendoza line.
Looking up and down the lineup, there are players who remain below .200 for the moment, though they have never had such a poor showing in their career. Is it possible that they are embarking on a historically awful season? It’s certainly not likely, and you have to imagine that, for as awful as they might look in any given at bat, they’ve got better days ahead.
Moreover, if the team looks feeble at the plate, or eminently hittable on the mound, that doesn’t mean that the entire 162-game campaign will play out exactly as one lousy inning just did.
Forget about RISP
A team’s performance with runners in scoring position almost always sounds bad. An 0-for-8 makes it sound like the team is incompetent. A seeing-eye squibber or a hung breaking ball, and suddenly you’re 2-for-8 and maybe winning the game easily. As we’ve attempted to put small sample sizes in their proper context in recent years, this is one stat where the sample size is always tiny, but it is presented as though it is decisively meaningful.
Let this one stat go, and you’ll find your mood improves.
It takes a lot of players to get through a season
Over the course of a season, there will be a number of carbon-based lifeforms who pull on your favourite team’s jersey. To fill a gap, or a need, or perhaps because for a brief moment, they seemed like they could possibly help.
Does anyone really remember that Jeff Francis and Phil Coke pitched for the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays, en route to their division title? Or that Jimmy Paredes played seven games to help the Jays reach the Wild Card the next year?
How many times do you stop to ponder Ryan Langerhans, or Ian Parmley, or Brad Glenn, and the role they played for the Blue Jays? Do you even remember that Darnell Sweeney played for the Jays last season?
There are going to be seemingly random roster machinations, especially in the early going. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Baseball is hard
You know why the Jays look foolish on high fastballs and breaking balls down and away? Because those are pitches that are really hard to hit. The best players fail more than they succeed – at least offensively – and there is increasingly an entire industry built up to provide video and technological guidance to ensure that they do.
You’d like to see a good approach, but sometimes a well-executed pitch is going to make a good player look silly. Mike Trout struck out 124 times last season, so whiffs happen.
At the same time, throwing those pitches that seem to defy physics at times is difficult. Sometimes that means a pitch misses the catcher’s target and goes for a ball, and sometimes it means serving up a cookie that gets parked in the 500-level seats.
One bad at bat, or outing or inning shouldn’t ruin your impression of a player. Live in the aggregate. You’ll be much happier for it.