I’d like to thank The_Game, who provided the comment in today’s Replay Thread that I have appropriated for the title of this piece.
When I posted the Game Thread 90 minutes before game time, I noted how close the Jays were to their main rivals for the division and wild card, and noted that “this thing can be done.” In fact, I may have subconsciously been overstating the case. I was quoting (not that I’d expect it to be understood, but just because I like the phrase) a very great cricketer by the name of F.W. Spofforth, who uttered that phrase (constantly) through one of the great miracle comebacks in cricket history. The thing is, it would take nothing like a miracle for the Blue Jays to overhaul their rivals and make the playoffs. Merely having their luck even out over the remaining course of the season would just about do it. It’s a tall order to pass three, or even five, other teams - but by no means an impossible one.
The point has been made recently that contending this season is a bonus for the team’s fans, that it was not anticipated and that the team would have to play above its head in order to achieve it. That is true; the “master plan” didn’t anticipate this now, although many of us did predict the .500 record that the Blue Jays enjoy now, and which (in these times of increasing parity) brings a team to the edge of contention. We can then take even greater solace from the fact that the Blue Jays have actually played better than their record as well. We’ve seen the numbers before, but let’s reiterate them here.
White Sox +83
BLUE JAYS +59
Red Sox +57
Now, the numbers aren’t all this flattering. The Jays have been lucky this year in both creating and preventing runs – they’ve scored more and allowed fewer runs than you’d expect given the statistics. That’s offset to some degree by their level of competition, as they have played against some very tough offenses. But the fact remains that purely in terms of wins versus runs, the Blue Jays are the unluckiest team in baseball. (The Mariners are second, the Brewers a long way behind in third. The Nationals, Diamondbacks, and White Sox – no surprises there – are the luckiest three so far.)
We have heard before, and it’s a sentiment that I agree with, that what “really matters” are the wins and losses. Now as I say, I agree with that – ultimately, at the end of the day, what gets you into contention and wins championships are wins and losses. But let’s face it, this team isn’t quite there yet. So isn’t it a great thing, a really terrific thing, that the Blue Jays are in fact playing this well? Isn’t it a terrific sign from a young team that they are playing well enough – with a few breaks one way or the other – to be a playoff team? It certainly fires me up.
Because, ultimately, wins and losses aren’t the only thing that matters. How the team plays, at-bat to at-bat, inning to inning, game to game, also matters. And that’s something that the Jays have done well so far. Very well, even. There is an irony in all of this talk of the Jays’ lack of luck, too, which is that I haven’t been as pleased with the performance Jays’ manager since the departure of Cito Gaston (with the possible exception of Tim Johnson’s year) and yet the Jays have a terrible record in one-run games and aren’t squeezing out as many wins as you’d expect them to.
Yesterday’s game was a disappointment, despite any number of silver linings (Eric Hinske’s big performance primary among them – he’s been getting marvelous extension through the ball, keeping his weight back). Ted Lilly, cruising and looking in complete control, hurt his shoulder and started to toss the ball up in the fourth. His defense let him down a bit on the Teahen triple and the Ambres single, and Berroa homered off a pretty decent pitch, and suddenly it was 4-4. Just luck, really. The Jays had some bad at-bats when they had done damage to the Royals’ bullpen, putting runners on base. Again, this is “luck”; not in the sense that clutch performance can’t be helped, but just that the opposition didn’t make mistakes when they might have. One game means nothing; improvement is everything.
So, a disappointing loss in a game that might have been won – the story of the season so far. It does break your heart when a good team comes up short time and again like this (at least, it does mine) but it feels good, nevertheless, to have a team that can win games regardless. The Royals actually need these sorts of games to win at all – they don’t get any fun 9-4 poundings like Saturday’s.
I think it’s a credit to the young Royals team that they can bear down and win these kinds of games, when so many teams in their position would lose them. But let’s face it, I’d rather have our team than theirs. Unless I’m very much mistaken, this Blue Jays team is younger than the Royals, though you’d never know it from what they’ve achieved. I will say this for the Blue Jays, that they have managed to rebuild, right under our noses, without the kind of unending nightmare that the Royals are going through now, or which the Twins’ fans suffered through for a decade. As an Expos fan, I had to abide through a similarly punishing suite of years after 1994 – not to the degree that Minnesota did, or Kansas City does now, but certainly agonizing and seemingly unending. If the Blue Jays can manage to get back in touch with the league’s leaders, as they have, with the same budget constraints but without the pain of losing year after to year, more power to them.
In the meantime, let’s remember – five back with 64 to play. This thing can be done!