A few observations on the Toronto Blue Jays, based primarily on a stretch of four series in which the Jays went 7-5 against four of the better teams in the American League (the Angels, the Rangers, the White Sox and the Yankees) and yet still ended up losing ground in the playoff chase:
- This is a team that’s seriously lacking punch; I count one genuine home run threat in the entire lineup (Vernon Wells), which isn’t nearly enough to get the job done in the American League East. The Yankees, by contrast, have Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi batting third through sixth, respectively…seriously, how is this team not undefeated?
- This lack of punch is symptomatic of the Jays’ utter futility when it comes to producing in the clutch. Wells, who led the American League in hits back in 2003, is also woefully ineffective when it comes to producing when it matters. Two weeks ago against Los Angeles, Wells stepped to the plate in the eighth inning with the Jays in front 7-0; he smacked the first pitch he saw into the left field stands for what must surely rank as the most inevitable home run in Major League Baseball history. Then last week against the Chicago White Sox, Wells came to bat in the eighth inning with one out and a runner on third after after Toronto had clawed back from a 4-0 first inning deficit to tie the best team in baseball. To the surprise of absolutely no one who follows the team on a semi-regular basis, he sent a fly ball to shallow centre field and failed to drive in the run; Chicago ended up winning 5-4.
- One more thing about Captain Clutch: somebody needs to restructure his contract to include a $500 for every at-bat in which he doesn’t swing at the first pitch. It’d probably net him $1,500 for the entire season…but still, it’s a start.
- Actually, do that for Orlando Hudson as well.
- John Gibbons is slowly learning how to manage a major league ballclub; also, in case it wasn’t already obviously, he’s clearly insane (five ejections so far this year and counting…seriously, what player in baseball wouldn’t want to play for a manager like him?). Yet he also needs to let his left handed batters play against left handed pitchers–specifically Corey Koskie, Frank Catalanotto and Eric Hinske, none of whom started the last two games of the Yankees series. Take Hinske, for instance: yes, he’s been struggling this year, but he’s also been turning it around the last couple weeks (see what he did against Chicago in case you don’t believe me)…so why bench him in favour of Frank Menechino? Or Catalanotto: he was the American League Player of the Week two weeks ago, yet got a total of one at-bat in the second and third games this weekend. If the Jays were in the playoffs, would Gibbons bench Hinske in favour of Menechino if a lefty were on the mound? Warrants mentioning.
- I refuse to succumb to the prevailing logic that the Jays have played their way out of the playoff chase. They’re currently embarking on a seven-day stretch in which they play a mediocre Detroit Tigers four times and the free-falling Baltimore Orioles three times; if the Jays were to take, say, five games against Baltimore and Detroit, they’re probably right back in it. Once again, it all boils down to a series against the Yankees–this one at the stadium next week, which will either haul the Jays into a pennant race or expose them as frauds. Of course, I’ve been wrong before.