Alex Anthopoulos tells a story about hanging out with the scouts one day during his time as a minimum-wage intern with the Montreal Expos and experiencing a statistical revelation: Jeremy Giambi’s numbers said one thing, but the pudgy hitter’s awful batting practice suggested another.
Anthopoulos wasn’t, in his words, “feeling it.” The numbers and his own eyes didn’t match up.
But as the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays watched his team hit the quarter-pole with a pair of victories over the San Francisco Giants – and prepare for a run of 22 games that will likely determine the fate of its regular season – he admitted there were times a guy can find solace in numbers.
“Look at where we rank in some of these categories,” he said, sitting in the dugout before the Blue Jays won the first of two games against the Giants to bring their record up to 16-24. “Our numbers with men in scoring position hasn’t been good, but you know that a number like .201 isn’t going to maintain itself.”
The Blue Jays open a three-game series against the New York Yankees on Friday in the Bronx, then return home to face the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. That’s 10 games against the muddled mass of teams in front of them in the American League East, followed by a return to the joys of inter-league baseball with two games at the Rogers Centre against the Atlanta Braves before embarking on a road trip to Atlanta, San Diego and San Francisco – capped off by three home games against the Texas Rangers.
This has been a good run for the Blue Jays: a 7-3 record, back-to-back winning series and 10 or more runs in three consecutive games for the first time in 10 years. The Blue Jays aren’t hitting .210 with runners in scoring position; they’re at .239 (baby steps) and a team that had the second-worst on-base percentage in the first month of the season (.294) has the third-highest OBP so far in May at .340. That’s all good.
Not so good? Going into Thursday, the Yankees and Rays were also on 7-3 runs. The Baltimore Orioles were 6-4 during that time and that only reinforces the reality of the Blue Jays’ start.
Even if you leave aside the fun-sucking websites that reveal your team’s chances of making the playoffs as just this side of impossible, the early burial means the Blue Jays effectively do not have their destiny in their own hands.
But that seems far too depressing a concept heading into the May long weekend. I kind of prefer manager John Gibbons’s analysis that what this team needs is a bunch of good winning streaks, especially since the spur for the Blue Jays recent offensive renaissance was Gibbons’s 3,467th lineup shuffle of the season: Melky Cabrera, blown hamstrings and all, leading off, Jose Bautista hitting second and Edwin Encarnacion batting third.
It’s been that way during this four-game sweep and it’s a fallback position that is familiar to any manager who has seen his team stop functioning offensively: when in doubt, put your best hitters at the top of the order and get them as many at-bats as possible.
It’s also likely reflective of how things will be done until Jose Reyes gets back. There will not likely be an earth-shattering addition because Anthopoulos suspects one player alone won’t get the job done. “Any upgrading … it would be internal,” the GM said earlier this week. “There’s definitely room for improvement. But I also think the talent is here for that improvement.”
The Blue Jays’ slow start had vultures circling this week, which will henceforth be known as the week the R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle trade rumours started. President and chief executive officer Paul Beeston made clear going into the season that the increase in payroll that explained the winter’s activity was part of a three-year plan – the suggestion being that it wasn’t one desperate roll of the dice, while also reflecting the reality of sports: sometimes things just don’t work out.
So consider these first 41 games a months-late reminder that the winter moves left the Blue Jays with a 25-man roster that is among the oldest in the majors, a team that plays half its games on the knee-shredding, back-spasming devil’s spawn that is artificial turf, and brought in players not familiar with the meat-grinder that is the AL East and another player whose super-charged offensive numbers were aided by performance-enhancing substances.
The nightmare isn’t the record; the nightmare is it all being because of age-created, diminishing returns instead of some statistical blip.