Less than twelve hours ago I wrote a blog entry in which I declared that I still had faith in the Toronto Blue Jays’ ability to challenge for a playoff berth this year. However, after enduring an utterly disheartening 9-8, twelve-inning loss the Detroit Tigers, I’ve been forced to admit to myself that this, sadly, isn’t their year–barring a comeback of Lazarus-like proportions, which frankly I don’t see happening. This evening, at least three of the points I was grousing about earlier today were plainly in evidence:
- Utterly futile when it really matters? Check. First, Miguel Batista blew yet another save–this one especially disheartening since it was immediately following Orlando Hudson’s dramatic, go-ahead home run in the bottom of the eighth. Then, in the ninth inning, Gregg Zaun stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, worked the count to 3-1…and then struck out. Two innings later he had a chance at redemption–but with runners on the corners and two outs, he struck out yet again (Zaun was 0-for-3 with three K’s tonight; by contrast, Big Huck was 2-for-3). An inning later, the game was over.
- Vernon Wells failing in the clutch? Check: he grounded into a game-ending double play. To be fair, Verno had a good game today, and the double play ball was about a foot away from going into centre field…and that doesn’t change the fact he grounded into a game-ending double play. My buddy Justin just sent me an E-mail which says that Jamie Campbell actually uttered the following statement seconds before the final outs were made: “Well, if you’re going to get a clutch hit, you’re going to get it from this guy.” Clearly, Jamie Campbell’s ability to judge clutch performers is about as good as his ability to measure the trajectory of a long fly ball.
- Gibbons mismanaging matchups? Check. After Batista mangled the game for Toronto in the ninth and then redeemed himself slightly with a perfect tenth, Gibbons brought in Scot Scoenweis. Again, to be fair, it wasn’t like he had a whole lot of choice: the Blue Jays’ bullpen is currently being worked harder than John Daly’s liver. But that said, it seems odd to bring in a lefty when the team you’re facing has a lineup comprised exclusively of right-handed batters; for someone who plays lefty/righty matchups to an obsessive degree, it seemed an unusual tactic–and Schoenweis ended up taking the loss.
It probably didn’t help that Toronto was forced to play from deficits of 4-0 and 6-2, thanks to a Dave Bush that looked an awful lot more like the Dave Bush of April and May than the Dave Bush who went 8 1/3 innings against Los Angeles two weeks ago. But the bottom line is that the Jays were in an excellent position to win a game they probably didn’t deserve to win, and then lost it anyway. The good teams find a way to win these sorts of games. But the Blue Jays couldn’t–and therein lies the major difference between them and other, more mature, more competitive outfits.
Give this team a year or two and they’ll be stealing these sorts of games on a regular basis. As much as I’m disappointed to be watching the 2005 season slip slowly away, I refuse to be utterly despondent. This team has the potential to be downright scary in a few years’ time; throw in a big bat to complement Verno (who put up monster numbers in 2003 batting in front of Carlos Delgado) and a legitimate #2 starter, and this team could realistically win 100 games (an idea espoused by a caller to the FAN’s post-game show on Sunday that was readily endorsed by Mike Wilner). The pieces are slowly falling into place; it’s particularly exciting to think about Russ Adams, Aaron Hill and Alex Rios growing old together in Toronto (Adams, in case you haven’t been noticing, is stringing together an absolutely torrid stretch post All-Star break…y’know, just in case you’re one of the ones who thought we should move him in exchange for A.J. Burnett). The bullpen is generally outstanding, the rotation is at least 3/5ths set for next season and Roy Halladay is a bona fide stud…honestly, if you’re one of Toronto’s sixteen remaining baseball fans, you’ve got a lot of cause for optimism.
This year, sadly, is passing us by. Earlier today I wrote, “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.” By that logic, Toronto has to win its next six games–and then go into the Bronx to face the Yankees for four games. Again, I’ve been wrong before, and writing off a team’s chances in early August isn’t necessarily appropriate. Based on this evening’s game, however, this year’s edition of the Blue Jays won’t be a contender much longer; instead, the team should use the remaining schedule as a stepping stone for 2006.