Baby Steps

Finally.

For the first time in 2017 people are talking about the Jays in a good way.

All it took was Chris Coghlan to channel his inner Willie Mays Hayes, Marcus Stroman to come off the bench as a pinch hitter, and Ryan Tepera to actually hold on to a lead for Toronto’s bullpen.  Yes, Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals seemingly had it all, and most important of all it ended with a Blue Jays win.

Through 20 games, the Jays sit dead last in the AL East with a record of 6-14, matching the worst 20-game start in franchise history originally set in 1979.  None of the numbers look good.  The club has a team OPS of .639, second worst in the AL.  They are scoring 3.50 runs per game, second worst in the AL.  They are hitting .181 with runners in scoring position, second worst in the AL.  They are hitting .172 with a runner on third and less than 2 out, worst in the AL.

It goes on and on, but that is not what this post is about.  The Jays are off to a bad start – we all know that.  But that doesn’t matter anymore.  What matters is what they do from this point on.

Open your eyes wide enough and it’s easy to see that things are slowly starting to turn around.  In the past week things are actually looking up.  Toronto has put together a 4-3 record, and some of their hitters are slowly but surely coming to life.  Russell Martin is hitting .438 with 2 HR.  Jose Bautista finally went deep, as did Devon Travis.  Justin Smoak is actually looking like a serviceable big leaguer.  On the mound, Marcus Stroman continues to impress, and it seems as if Liriano has shaken off his awful start.

What is important for fans to realize, and what is sometimes difficult to accept, is that a turnaround takes time.  The Jays aren’t going to win 10 games in one night, and aren’t going to win the next 10 games in a row.  If they are going to turn it around, it is going to be a slow and steady crawl back to respectability.  The first goal on that trek back up is the .500 mark.

Baseball is a game of seemingly arbitrary endpoints, so let’s make one up here: game 62.  That is when Toronto realistically needs reach .500.  If they can get to 31-31, that leaves 100 games left – a nice round number – to do some damage.

To see why that milestone is important, I took a look at every single playoff team in the wild card era, which began in 2012 – a total of 50 different instances.  Through 62 games, the average record of the 50 playoff teams was 35-27, with 88% being .500 or better.  That means only 6 times in the wild card era has a team with a losing record at the 62 game mark rebounded to make the playoffs.  The worst teams in that stretch?  The 2013 LA Dodgers and the 2012 Oakland A’s, both of which were 27-35.

Does that mean reaching .500 guarantees a playoff spot?  Not even close.  But what it does mean is that failing to reach .500 will make it very difficult to qualify for the postseason, especially in a division as tough as the AL East.

For the Jays to reach that magical mark, they will have to go 25-17 in the next 42 games, just under .600 baseball.  For context, the 2016 Jays went 25-17 or better in 58 different 42-game stretches.  The 2015 Jays did so 51 times.

Including today’s doubleheader in St. Louis, Toronto plays 20 of those 42 games on the road, and only 15 are against teams that are above .500 as of right now.  The team will conceivably be getting Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Josh Donaldson, and maybe Troy Tulowitzki back.  All good news.

There is still a long way to go, but there is hope it can be done.

The baby steps have started.  The just need to keep on coming.

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