An August Nightmare

August

To me, August has always been a bit of a sad month.  It is still the heart of the summer, but the days are slowly growing shorter, and September is right around the corner.  I have never been able to enjoy August as much as I should.

And neither, apparently, have the Blue Jays.

After beating Houston on July 31 the Jays were 10 games above .500, held a 3 game lead over Seattle for the second Wild Card spot, and sat only 1.5 games behind the Orioles for first place in the AL East.  They were also red hot, and with Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion getting set to return, about to get healthy.  Everything was looking great.

And then the calendar flipped to August.  In 11 games this month the Toronto Blue Jays have fallen off a cliff.  The team has gone 3-8 and been outscored by 28 runs.  They have dropped a full five games in the standings, falling 6.5 back of Baltimore in the East and 2 back of Detroit and Seattle in the Wild Card chase.

The reinforcements that we all expected back in late July / early August never arrived.  Lawrie returned for three innings before being hurt again.  Lind just returned last night, and Edwin isn’t expected back until the weekend.

So what is to blame?  Sadly, everything.

The bats have gone silent.  In August, Jays hitters are performing worse than in any other month, posting a .239 AVG, .302 OBP, .319 SLG, and .621 OPS.  The team has only hit 5 HR in 11 games, and has struck out over 2.5 times for each walk – by far the worst ratio of any month.

The pitching hasn’t been much better.  Starters have gone 1-6 with a 4.52 ERA, and relievers have gone 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA and 0 saves.  There have been great performances to be sure, but it seems like for every great start (Stroman vs. Detroit or Happ vs. Baltimore) there is a dud (Buehrle twice).  For every lights out relief performance (Jenkins et al in the 19 inning game) there is a collapse (Janssen last Friday).

Most worrisome is that the lack of depth is finally catching up with the team.  Fans worried that with Lind, Lawrie, and EE out, the Jays lineup behind the top-3 in the order was weak.  According to August OPS numbers, weak may be an understatement:

Melky Cabrera – .919

Jose Bautista – .892

Jose Reyes – .796

Colby Rasmus – .716

Dioner Navarro – .602

Anthony Gose – .568

Munenori Kawasaki – .468

Those numbers simply aren’t good enough.

What’s interesting (and troubling), is that this August swoon is starting to become an annual event.  In 2010 the Blue Jays went 15-13 in August, marking the last time the team won more than they lost in the month.  In 2011 Toronto went 13-15 in August, the second worst winning percentage of any month that season.  2012 was an absolute disaster with a 9-19 record – the worst by far.  Last year the Jays slumped to a 12-17 mark, 2nd worst of the season.

In a way, the 2011-2013 August records can be explained.  In baseball, August has long been described as the dog days of summer, and generally marks a point in the schedule when games seem to drag on and on – especially for teams that are long out of contention.  With very little to play for, motivation drops, as does performance. 

But this year the Jays actually are in contention.  Games matter.  At bats matter.  They simply aren’t playing out the string as both the players and fans have become accustomed to in recent years.

Like a carrot on a stick, the franchise’s first postseason birth since 1993 is within reach.

As long as we can get through August…

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