It’s taken me a little over two years, but I’ve gotten on board the most popular Toronto Blue Jays bandwagon– the one to ride John Gibbons out of town. It pains me a little, but the time has come for Gibbons to end his second run as manager.
It pains me because Gibbons seems to be a nice enough guy. He was certainly a breath of fresh air to see interviewed after the surly John Farrell, who ultimately was only biding his time before getting a chance to bolt back to his beloved New England. It pains me because so many fans were never willing to give Gibbons a chance when he was rehired before the 2013 season. And mainly it pains me because he seems like a reasonably competent manager. Although now that I’m living in Texas, I only get to actually watch Jays games infrequently, nothing I’ve seen (or read in boxscores, summaries or other columns) suggests he’s botched things up on-field this year. He’s started the best lineup he could, has dealt with a few key injuries and seems to have for the most part gone to the mound at appropriate times.
But the bottom line is that the team is woefully under-achieving and getting worse. After today’s game they sit in last place, having lost 9 of the last 11 games, including being swept in Houston and losing at home back to back to Seattle. They are a mere 2-10 in one run games (no small reason the Orioles won the East last year was their 32-23 record in those games.) There’s no obvious reason for that, just as there’s no obvious reason the Jays have a decent +14 run differential this year, second best in the division. They’re scoring more than they allow,yet somehow still losing games and losing ground.
I’m not inside the clubhouse, so I can’t know who’s giving the proverbial 110% and who are just going through the motions. What we fans know is that a large part of the rationale for trading for Josh Donaldson and signing Russell Martin was to provide a winning clubhouse atmosphere, just as the reason for not making Colby Rasmus an offer was a desire to remove his legendary (among sports writers’ at least) laziness and bad attitude. Donaldson’s hitting over .300, Martin .279, both upgrades over the players they replaced…but the club still has a seeming lack of “fire in the belly.” Once they fall behind by a run or two, even in the middle innings, they seem content to pack it in and think about a quick exit to the steakhouses and nightclubs. At least so it seems to those of us in the cheap seats. Whether or not this is accurate, one thing certain is that John Gibbons can’t pull the right strings to get clutch performances from his star-filled roster. There’s no guarantee someone else would have the answer either, but it could hardly hurt to try. Miami and Milwaukee have already gone the same route; the Brewers under Craig Counsell are 9-10 with more or less the same daily lineup Ron Roenicke rode to just 7-18.
A major league player making millions of dollars shouldn’t need motivating to go out and bust his behind to win, but all too many seem to. A change in manager- maybe to a yelling, kicking, in-yer-face type of blowhard different than laid-back Texan John- might be the shake they need.
The time to do the deed is now. The Jays have gone into a free-fall yet remain close enough to turn things around. As predicted, the AL East is truly mediocre this year, and with a six or seven game winning streak Toronto could find themselves on top. And certainly with almost 120 games left, there’s time to right the ship and sail into the playoffs. But another nine losses over the next 11 days and the season will be lost, no matter how hopeless the Yankees and Red Sox are.
One more detail. The man delivering the news to Gibbons should be the General Manager- the new General manager, the one who should succeed Alex Anthopoulos. Because whether you blame a sub-par bullpen, a lack of desire among the players, Jose Bautista’s .220 average, oft-injured Michael Saunders for being injured or John Gibbons lack of managerial acumen for the disappointing season so far, it was after all, Anthopoulos who assembled this team. If anyone has to be shown the door in Jays-land they should be going out on his coattails.