Monday, June 23, 2014

Toronto Tailspinning

The Blue Jays have sputtered in recent weeks as their bats have gone cold
The Toronto Blue Jays have been in first place everyday for the last month, but the way they're playing they could be in third place by the end of the week.

Since beating the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 on June 6th to extend their winning streak to six games, the Blue Jays have fallen apart. They got shut out in the remaining two games of that series with the Cards (at home, I might add) as Shelby Miller and Jaime Garcia, neither of whom qualify as world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination, silenced Toronto's bats. The Blue Jays proceeded to lose two of three to the Twins, a mediocre team in every sense of the word.

Then Toronto hit the road for a 10-game trip, and that's where things really fell apart. They split a four game set against a very beatable Baltimore pitching staff (losing to an abysmal pitcher in Bud Norris and a green one in Kevin Gausman) then got swept by the Yankees in the third iteration of the House That Derek Jeter Ruth Built. The Bluebirds saw their division lead dwindle from 4.5 games to 1.5 games as they fell first to Masahiro Tanaka--a legit Cy Young candidate--then to lesser pitchers Chase Whitley (a rookie) and David Phelps.

After that it was on to Cincinnati for an interleague duel with the Reds. The Blue Jays blasted the home team with 14 runs in the series opener, but while giving up nine to one of the National League's five worst offenses. The following day was worse, as Mike Leake stifled Toronto, J.A. Happ got hammered, and the Jays were routed 11-1.

Desperately needing a win to salvage the series finale and end their rough road trip on a high note, Toronto took a tough 4-3 loss as Johnny Cueto outdueled R.A. Dickey. The Blue Jays lost more than the game, though. Brett Lawrie had to leave when he was hit by a pitch that fractured his index finger, and was placed today on the DL. To make matters worse their best hitter, Jose Bautista, left the game with a strained hamstring and is day-to-day.

So, after an incredible month of May and strong start to June, the Blue Jays gave up most of their gains over the past two weeks by dropping 11 of 15. Their lead over the AL East, once a comfortable margin of six games, is now a mere 1.5 over the Orioles and Yankees. They'll have to regroup at home against Joe Girardi's Bombers, who are on a roll of their own after winning 10 of their past 16 and are looking to make up more ground in the standings, perhaps even grab hold of first if they pull off another sweep.

It's not like the Jays have home field advantage, though, as they've actually played better away from the Rogers Centre. They're fortunate they won't have to face Tanaka, for their slumping bats wouldn't stand much of a chance against the Japanese phenom currently leading all of baseball in wins and the league in ERA+. Make no mistake, Toronto's offense is to blame for their recent run of futility; they've scored three runs or fewer in 11 of their past 16 games, of which the Jays have lost 10. They'll need to be better against Whitley tonight, Phelps tomorrow and the ageless Hiroki Kuroda on Wednesday, which will be tough without Lawrie and Bautista.

Because if they don't, Toronto will lose first place in a matter of days. And once that happens, in a division as competitive as theirs, they might never get it back.

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