Let’s start with the good news.
It is officially summer and the Toronto Blue Jays are in first place in the AL East. With 42 wins, the Jays rank only behind Oakland in the race for first overall in the American League, and lead the Orioles and the Yankees by 1.5 games each.
Unfortunately, the tides have turned for the Blue Jays. Last week can be classified as one of the worst weeks of the season. The team was swept in Yankee Stadium, and then was nearly swept in Cincinnati as well. Only the second biggest comeback in franchise history prevented an 0-6 week. The pitching has gone cold, the bats have gone silent, and to make matters worse, players are dropping like flies.
The goodwill that the team built up with their red-hot May is all but gone. With a tough homestand approaching before the annual (and dreaded) West Coast road trip, the Jays need to right the ship in a hurry if they want to maintain their perch on top of the division.
Here are three things from week 12:
Week 12: June 16 – June 22
Record: 1 – 5
1. House of Horrors
Coming into this season, you could have polled Blue Jays fans to state the stadium where the Jays struggle the most, and without doubt the answer would have been Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay. While true that Toronto perpetually struggles in Florida against the Rays, I think we can all agree that there is a new house of horrors for the Jays and their fans – new Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees moved into their new stadium for the 2009 season, and have been thumping the Blue Jays there ever since. Toronto’s record in the new Yankee Stadium is an abysmal 11 – 38 (.224 winning percentage), which projects to a full season record of 36 – 126. Even more staggering is that after being swept there last week, the Jays have now lost 16 consecutive games in New York, including a remarkable 0-10 campaign in 2013.
I’m not sure what the reasoning is behind the struggles. It’s definitely not the team itself, as the Yankees are a far cry from the powerhouse they were in the late ’90’s. Perhaps it’s the stage and grandeur of being in New York, perhaps it’s the crappy park itself, where even I could probably hit a home run to right field. Whatever the reason, with the Yankees in close pursuit of Toronto in the standings, the Jays are going to need to figure out how to win in New York. They play a three-game set there in late July, and then four potentially critical games in mid-September.
Time to figure it out boys.
2. Dropping Like Flies
The Blue Jays had a terrible season in 2013, with the biggest contributor to their struggles being injuries. Many fans and pundits agreed that if the team could stay healthy, they had a very good chance to contend this season. So far that has proven true. Aside from the usual injury to Brandon Morrow and a lenghty DL stint for Colby Rasmus, the club has been relatively healthy.
Until now. While the team was busy losing on the road last week, they were also getting banged up left, right, and centre. First, both R.A. Dickey and Adam Lind left games in New York with injuries, though neither appear to be too serious as both were back playing later in the week (though Lind appeared a bit limited). Next, Brett Cecil was placed on the 15-day DL on Thursday with a groin strain. Then on Saturday, Jose Reyes left the game after fouling a ball off his leg, though he was able to return on Sunday (clearly not at 100%). Finally, Sunday was a disaster, as both Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista were knocked out. Lawrie was hit on the right hand with a pitch (his third HBP of the week) that ended up fracturing a finger. He was placed on the 15-day DL immediately and there is no timetable for his return. Bautista left the game with tightness in his left leg and is scheduled to undergo an MRI today.
Obviously, losing any of those players hurts, but losing team leader Jose Bautista is downright devastating. He is in the midst of a fantastic season and is a rock in the middle of the lineup. If he misses an extended period of time, Toronto is in trouble. A lot of trouble.
As it stands, the Jays depth is about to be severely tested. We can only hope they withstand the injuries better than last year.
3. Comeback for the Ages
“We just knew we were gonna comeback and win that ballgame” – Ernie Whitt, 1989.
It was Sunday June 4, 1989, in Fenway Park in Boston when the Jays last staged such a huge comeback. That afternoon they trailed 10-0 in the top of the 7th before coming all the way back and winning 13-11 in extra innings. Ernie Whitt had the big hit, a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the 9th, and then was immortalized in the Jays documentary “Sky High” with the above quote.
Well, Friday night’s big comeback in Cincinnati wasn’t quite as epic, but it did bring back memories of ’89 (especially for Buck and Pat who mentioned that game about 50,000 times during the broadcast). On Friday, the Jays trailed 8-0 after two innings, and 9-3 after five, before rallying to win the contest 14-9. The Jays got closer in the third after a 3-run bomb by Encarnacion (who torched his former team over the weekend), and then bombs by Lawrie and Francisco closed the gap to one in the seventh. Dioner Navarro tied the game with an RBI double in the 8th, before the Jays went wild off Aroldis Chapman and Sam LeCure in the 9th – highlighted by Edwin’s second 3-run blast of the night.
For those watching on TV, it was a wild ride, and gave hope to all of us that it would lead to a change in momentum and a new winning streak. Obviously that didn’t happen. But that 1989 team did ride a second half wave to a division title. Maybe history will repeat itself again in 2014.