Did Final Week of Schedule End Jays Playoff Run Too?

As I sat and watched, fairly disinterestedly, the Royals prevail against the Mets in last night’s marathon Game 1 of the World Series, I couldn’t help but think “Toronto could have won this game, and probably in 9 innings!”. Ahh, what might have been!

There’s no shame in being the bronze medal and that’s essentially what the Blue Jays were this year- baseball’s bronze medal winners. That’s a lot better than we’d really hoped for six months back. Yet it still smarts a little, knowing how close they came to having a shot to go for the gold. A sting made worse by the way KC won the final game of the ALCS, what with a very questionable ninth inning strike call against Ben Revere topping off a fan-assisted Royals homer. Nevertheless, lose they did and there were ample chances for them to have turned around at least a couple of the KC wins. Ultimately we might have to just tip our caps and acknowledge Kansas City have it all together and might be the best team in baseball.

When looking back to what the Blue Jays could have done differently, all I can come up with was that they seemingly took their foot off the gas a little bit in the final week. That’s pretty understandable, given human nature but might have cost them the World Series they, and we fans, craved. In particular i think 2 miscues cost them badly.

First, the October 1 game against Baltimore. Having clinched the division the day before in Maryland in Game 1 of a double-header, they fielded a team of subs for the second game and lost. Understandable, even acceptable. The regulars were not only high on winning the division but tired. No harm in putting in the likes of Carrera and Pompey for the nightcap. The problem came the next day when they again sent out a team of minor-leaguers and fill-ins. Cliff Pennington hitting second and Jonathan Diaz in the starting lineup hardly inspires confidence. Not to mention the starting pitcher, Drew Hutchison, well-rested to the point of being rusty and (as well-noted) having an awful season pitching on the road. Not surprisingly, Hutch gave up four hits (one a home run) and three runs in the first and was chased from the game, requiring six relievers patched together to get through the game. Baltimore won 6-4.

To make matters worse, David Price had last pitched on the 26th, making the day his normal day to pitch. As we recall, he didn’t pitch again until the playoffs and seemed out of sorts doubtless due to having an unusual amount of time off. It’s quite conceivable that Price would have easily gone six or more innings, shut down the Orioles early and won the game.

Of course, that is 20/20 hindsight. John Gibbons addressed the issue and told ESPN “we want to win home field … we’ve been going at it hard all year. Going back and playing an early game (for the regulars) today would be like no day off. I’ve got to do what’s best for these guys.” He has a point. It was a cool rainy day, the game’s start was delayed for three hours and most of the regulars had been playing hard day in, day out for weeks. Some, like Edwin Encarnacion playing through injuries. So giving them an extra day off to rest and chill out has its merits. Besides which, Diaz and Kawasaki, two of the more questionable players in the lineup both responded with RBI singles. Had Encarnacion made his hernia worse, or David Price slipped off the muddy mound and torn a ligament, there would have been no end to the second guessing and criticizing of Gibby.

Perhaps even more questionable was the last day of the regular season. Readers here know I am a fan of Mark Buehrle but giving him the start on one day’s rest simply to allow him to try to hit a personal milestone (200 innings pitched for the 15th time in a row) was bizarre to say the least. Of course it backfired with the Rays jumping out to an early 8 run lead and as it turned out, chasing Buehrle from the game in the first, without even hitting his 200 innings. It would have been far better to send RA Dickey out to the mound to start and then, if the game seemed under control by the 6th or 7th inning, let Buehrle come in to finish it off if he felt up to it. Dickey would have been on short rest, but 3 days rest is better than one and he wasn’t slated to pitch until well into the ALDS, so he’d have plenty of time to recuperate. It was a regrettable game to give away. Granted, as it turned out KC would win that day and pick up the AL-best 95 wins but the Jays didn’t know that taking the field and still had a shot to win home field advantage throughout the playoffs. We saw how huge that would be this month.

The Royals lost their opening playoff game at home to Houston on Oct. 8 and haven’t lost in Missouri again since. The Jays won 2 of 3 against them in Toronto but were swept in KC. Had the fields been reversed, one has to feel that the Jays might have at least gotten to game 7…and could be the ones putting those Mets in their place right now.

The things that might have been. We could dwell on it, but instead, let’s look back and enjoy the memories of the most exciting and successful Jays team in a generation and look forward to another run for the gold next year!

I’ll look at some areas the team needs to address for the 2016 season next time here, but the first need is obvious- the General Manager. Rogers need to get someone in place and soon, with free agency only a week or so away and players having options that need picking up or declining. I’m as surprised as anyone to say it, but after the 2015 season, I now am fully behind the idea of bringing Alex Anthopoulos back to finish what he started. That should be Mark Shapiro’s Job 1.

UPDATE OCT.29: Well Mark Shapiro DID make it his Job 1, but in a rather unexpected way. The Blue jays now are looking for a new General Manager.

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  1. Pingback: Discover: Three for Thursday « MLB.com Blogs

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