A hundred and one games into the 2007 Major League Baseball season—a year in which they were widely expected to challenge the Eastern Seaboard’s hegemony in the American League East—the Toronto Blue Jays are exactly one game over .500. In other words, this won’t be the breakout year after all; in fact, it’ll be tough for them to replicate last year’s 87-75 record, which was only good enough for second place in the division.
What’s gone wrong so far? We’d like you to turn your attention to the kid with the inflatable bat. The sad truth is, there’ve been several occasions this year when manager John Gibbons could’ve inserted him into the line-up and the team wouldn’t have missed a beat. It might sound obvious that a team built to score a lot of runs needs to, y’know, hit the ball every so often. For whatever reason, the Jays have not—at least not consistently enough to challenge for a playoff spot. (They’ve apparently turned on the jets the last four games, throwing up thirty-four runs.) The pitching has been better than expected, especially after B.J. Ryan went down with a season-ending injury and with with three relative newcomers (Shawn Marcum, Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan) holding down spots in the rotation. The defence, as usual, has been beyond reproach. Yet when the heart of your line-up can’t produce on a regular basis, you’re essentially dooming yourself to mediocrity.
There are still reasons for optimism—although that could just be a product of one too many visits to the Rogers Centre this year. If the team’s current offensive surge can carry into the final sixty-one games of the regular season, there’s every reason to think that next year could produce dramatically different results; at the very least, next season’s probable pitching rotation (anchored by Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett) could be among the best in the business. But know this: if, in one year’s time, you’re reading another blog entry in which a kid with an inflatable bat is prominently featured, you’re probably reading about another lost season. And for a team like Toronto, which struggles to draw despite a massive population base, that wouldn’t bode well for the franchise’s long-term future.
Photo by jcaires79 from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.