Losing’s no fun, but when you’ve been around for a while, it becomes easier to cope with the strain.
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is all too aware of the fact his club entered Tuesday’s game against the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers with five losses in its past six games, and only four wins in its past 15.
He’s not happy about it, of course, but there’s no point in overanalyzing and building the problem into something bigger than it already is.
“Baseball’s not a complicated game by any means,” he said. “There’s only so much you can do, and it starts on the mound. That’s just the way it is.”
As to whether there are any motivational tactics he could deploy, Gibbons said: “It’s a trick-less game.”
This is not to say Gibbons is simply whistling a happy tune and leaving reality to others. He’s plainly concerned by what he sees; when asked for an injury update on infielder Brett Lawrie, he said: “I couldn’t tell you anything about Brett right now, I’m preoccupied with some other things, if you know what I mean.”
Keeping one’s wits in trying times is always preferable to panicking, and despite mounting resignation among some segments of the fan base over the Jays’ postseason chances, level-headedness is surely the correct approach.
Toronto has 30 games remaining against divisional opponents, and on Friday it opens a nine-game homestand during which the Jays will play the bottom-feeding Boston Red Sox, the surging Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees. It’s an opportunity to make up ground in a stadium where the Jays are seven games above .500.
Indeed, Toronto’s best bet is to overtake the Baltimore Orioles and win the American League East. Capturing a wild card would ensure a single-game playoff on the road, or a meeting with either Oakland or Los Angeles.
For the Jays to arrest their tumble down the standings, they need wins, lots of them.
To that end, Toronto has to improve its run production – the Jays recorded a major-league-worst 46 runs in August entering Tuesday’s game – and start hitting home runs (a mere seven so far in August).
It would also help if the Jays could also have productive offence and reasonable pitching at the same time.
“It would help to get a good start on the mound, which we haven’t had much lately, and give the offence a chance to take over,” Gibbons said.
He sees no evidence that his players are pressing, trying to do too much or stepping outside their roles. But there was one seemingly obvious example of that in Sunday’s loss to the Chicago White Sox. With Jose Reyes standing on second after a leadoff double, left fielder Melky Cabrera – who has hits in 24 of his past 30 games, and has batted .370 since July 13 – laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner.
It was a selfless play and the result of Cabrera’s own initiative, but Gibbons admitted to being dismayed – Reyes would later score, but the Jays could muster just the lone run in the inning.
“You don’t want to do that that early, one of the best hitters, hottest hitters … He’s trying to be a team guy and get on the board soon, but that early, you’re looking at a big inning. Especially the way he’s swinging it. I mentioned it to him,” Gibbons said jokingly, adding: “I don’t know if anything was lost in translation.”
A little levity may be just the tonic.
Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost told a reporter in Minnesota earlier this week the main lesson he drew from late-season collapses as Brewers boss in 2007 and 2008 was to stop tinkering and overmanaging and just calm down.
It’s a message Gibbons, who has had his combustible moments in the past, has clearly assimilated.