At the beginning of September, you may have come across a piece that I wrote entitled: September Vibes: The Hunt for Blue October. If not, I urge you to take it for a spin before diving into this second instalment.
I urge you for a specific reason. And it’s not for the purpose of self-promotion, or as a way to pad BJR’s page views. Instead, I recommend reading/revisiting it to get the full effect of just how much of a bumpy ride (on and off the field) the month of September has been. So much so that one starts to wonder whether or not the fact that Raptors’ tickets officially going on sale Thursday morning was merely a coincidence, or a sign from a higher power.
Nevertheless, a “shameless plug” from yours truly pales in comparison to the egregious performances the Blue Jays have recently put forth.
Some might categorize that last remark as a cheap shot, and I wouldn’t put up too much of fight to dispute that claim considering the amount of variables involved. But when a team starts off the most important month of the season on the short end of four straight series, a streak that resulted in losing 9 of 12, that “cheap shot” isn’t without merit, either.
For those that wish to skip the preamble and keep it moving, I’ll provide you with the Coles Notes version with a few updates incorporated within:
Overall theme: A checkpoint to reflect, celebrate, feel the pulse of the team and its fan base, look ahead to what the future may hold…and to mock the Texas Rangers’ hypocritical nature while begging the Baseball Gods for a postseason rematch. Fingers crossed for that last one to happen.
Perspective on the 6-man rotation: The mission was to dispel the negativity surrounding it even existing. Though, as it turns out, I should have built my argument around when the Blue Jays’ decide to go six deep instead of referring to it as a weekly sure thing. Either way, the flexibility it provides when preparing for a future series should be viewed as invaluable.
Marcus Stroman: Recognizing the fact that the Stro Show has turned things around in rather remarkable fashion. Which, ironically, represents an individual microcosm (only the other way around) of this article’s premise.
Encarnacion and Bautista: The missed opportunity to re-sign Edwin during Spring Training along with the somewhat understandable reasons why the front office neglected to nip the situation in the bud. Namely: The interference (or sideshow, if you will) of Jose’s contract demands. Which in turn, has caused the situations surrounding the impending free agents to see a shift in their narratives. One: the odds of re-signing Edwin should now be deemed as improbably low. Two: the odds of Bautista needing to take a pay cut in order to re-establish his value are becoming increasingly high, therefore remaining in a Blue Jays’ uniform.
Devon Travis: I raised concern that the Jays’ removal of Travis from the leadoff spot (and Bautista taking his place) would become permanent. A notion that has fortunately subsided in the weeks that followed. Not only could the team’s recent offensive woes get a boost from Bautista getting reacquainted with his middle-of-the-order rhythm, but Travis has been the best of the limited options to sit atop the order — his apparent allergic reaction to drawing walks notwithstanding.
R.A. Dickey: Just a reminder about the underlying positive that the extra rotation option has provided. Meaning: Limiting Dickey’s wildcard potential in the midst of a pennant race (he hasn’t pitched since Sept. 5th). Oh, and other than a possible role coming out of the bullpen if the postseason is in this team’s future (one that would only take that wildcard potential to a whole new level, I might add), feel free to prepare your farewell speech. One that could offer a bit of closure regarding what could have been with Noah Syndergaard in the fold. Well, perhaps just a tiny bit.
Dalton Pompey: Even though any kind of extended run of playing time wasn’t in the cards, Pompey’s call-up offered another opportunity to find out if Pompey could lay the groundwork for a future full-time role. Not to mention the ability to capitalize on his speed. Let’s just say that two AB’s in 14 days, along with limited situational substitutions, hasn’t helped answer any questions.
Now, as we fast forward to the present, I’ll start off by combining a few main topics of discussion these last two weeks have brought to the forefront.
To help bring it to life, here’s a quote from Wednesday’s Quick Reaction written by Cam Dorrett. One that captures the frustration of a fan base rather nicely. You know, that painful-to-watch 8-1 loss to this franchise’s kryptonite:
“For just the second time this season, the Jays were held to two hits. 2. As in one more than 1. As in two more than the absolute least amount of hits you can possibly have. As in one less than the teams that are now above them in their division. As in the amount of games reigning MVP Josh Donaldson has now missed due to a lingering hip issue he went for an MRI on today. Any way you slice it, two hits is unacceptable, and so is losing a series to the Rays in September in a pennant race. The one lowly run the Jays mustered came off, (wait for it), small ball! This team is not going to transform into the Kansas City Royals overnight, but at some point, when the homers-stop-homering, you’ve got to figure out how to manufacture runs.”
I found myself venting vicariously through that paragraph on two different levels. One: The fear of this season slowly slipping away becoming more and more real. Two: Since I forgot to turn off my Twitter notifications and found out what happened before I got the chance to load up my PVR (after I went all day escaping co-workers ruining everything), it definitely helped release some tension.
But it also speaks to a few big picture issues:
- I’m all for keeping an even keel when the moment calls for it, and most learned the hard way by originally mocking what J.A. Happ could provide. But to the people who continue to turn a blind eye when it comes to holding this team accountable for its actions, I have news for you: IT’S OK TO CRITICIZE WHEN CRITICISM IS WARRANTED! … With the amount of time and energy we all put into this team, how can you simply stand by and exist as just a blatant homer? We all want the same thing. And while there is a line one can cross where all they’re doing is simply overreacting to a certain situation, the contingent of fans out there that scoff at any level of panic or concern over this team squandering such a massive opportunity with such little time remaining to accomplish their goal is head-scratching. I mean, it won’t result in you becoming any less of a fan if you let your emotional attachment meet reality every once in a while. Try eliminating your imaginary pedestal sometime.
- The perfect example of that pedestal: Josh Donaldson. From the media to the fan base, it seemed as if the overwhelming majority was afraid to take his recent struggles to task. Hey, he’s my favourite Jay too, and the fact that he’s seemingly been banged up for a good portion of the year should be taken into account, but that doesn’t mean he’s above being called out. Let’s keep everything on the up and up here.
- On that note, let’s do just that — cause JD surely deserves his praise in the same light. After everyone was on red alert over his MRI, his return to the lineup last night was a welcome sight. Not to mention him breaking out of his 0-23 slump by going perfect at the plate with no signs of rust in the plate discipline department (2 walks). Was it a coincidence that this team’s struggles coincided with Donaldson’s individual struggles? It can’t be that cut and dry in a game that hinges on so many solo efforts. However, even though there’s no analytic explanation to defend it, can we really deny the impact he makes on an emotional level? And can we really deny just how much of an advanced stat that represents?
- The fact that the Jays got back in the win column on Thursday, and that the bats woke up from their slumber, shouldn’t hide the reality that Gibbons’ obvious refusal to incorporate any kind of small ball tactics on a regular basis has become a detriment to the team. Counting on the long ball, or simply timely hitting, is just inviting more luck into the equation. That philosophy will play the background in June, but not in September. Why ignore something that can only help? This often gets a pass considering the Jays don’t exactly have a surplus of players who fit every aspect of manufacturing runs. But in the case of Upton, and to a much lesser extent, Pompey, you can still micromanage certain situations — particularly on the basepaths. Besides, forcing a gameplan onto the talent you possess, while not letting a players skill set dictate what the gameplan is, is a stone age way of thinking.
- Which is concerning on multiple fronts. One: The notion that if Upton does end up replacing Bautista full time next season, we may be looking at a situation where this club isn’t maximizing what he’s capable of. And he’s made it pretty clear he has erratic tendencies otherwise.
- Gibbons’ popularity has risen dramatically throughout the last two years, and you can count myself as one of the ones who changed sides and went all in. But since old habits die hard, there comes a time when a compromise in decision-making needs to take place. Though something tells me that if the Jays’ September rollercoaster ride ultimately results in them falling short, then we’re more than likely going to be talking about a new bench boss come December.
It’s easy to say after a win, but the series in L.A. could very well represent a turning point. The remaining schedule after the fact has the Jays facing off against 80 percent of the teams they’ll more than likely be battling with to advance into the postseason. There’s plenty to be said about controlling your own destiny while going head on with your enemy — they’ll only have themselves to blame if they don’t. But it’s another thing when you get a second chance to pounce on a far inferior opponent. The Angels have wins for the taking and they can only mean a leg up when the chaos heats up.
Speaking of turning points, anyone else think that if the proper call was made on Hanley Ramirez’s “check swing” last night that he would have seen a pitch in a different location? One that likely wouldn’t have amounted in a game-winning dinger?
Though, I’d be lying if a small part of me isn’t picturing what it would be like if the last game of the season between the Red Sox and Jays ultimately ends up being a winner-take-all event. One that by all indications is currently set up for David Price to take the hill.
In the meantime, an important Friday night awaits.