Streaky MLB season sets up an exciting finish
What a season this has been in Major League Baseball. I’ve never seen anything like it. Teams look unbeatable in one series, and then, immediately in the next series, look like they may never win another game.
We saw the Blue Jays win five of seven games before getting swept at home by the Texas Rangers in a huge series for both teams last week. That sweep was the high point in an unpredictable couple of weeks for the Rangers. They were swept by the Astros in three straight games before taking two of three from Oakland and then hammering the Jays.
The Rangers then headed to Cleveland and got swept by the Guardians. Toronto went on a five-game win streak immediately after the Rangers left town.
It has been a streaky season across the board. The Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of teams leave those of us in the prediction business scratching our heads. Just when you think you know what a team is, they flip the script.
It’s hard to explain exactly why this is the case, but it inevitably comes down to consistency. Teams with dependable starting pitching tend to stay out of long losing streaks. A lack of depth in the rotation can leave teams vulnerable to falling into a rut.
Teams built around offence can be streaky. Good pitching can stop good hitting, so having an explosive offence is not always a predictor of winning. The timing of when a team scores runs matters. Some teams win big and lose big, and are streaky from game to game.
The baseball season is a rollercoaster of peaks and valleys. The final 10 days of the season will not likely be won by teams finally finding consistency. Rather, it will be won by teams that get hot or lost by teams that go cold.
Jays continue to struggle with situational hitting
Toronto’s pitchers have been phenomenal during the team’s recent hot streak, while the offence has been just good enough.
One aspect the Jays really need to click is their situational hitting – the ability to get a runner on, get him over, and get him in. Offence can’t always be about hitting home runs. Teams that win big games tend to do the little things well. Good clubs take advantage of more scoring opportunities than bad teams. I’m talking about tacking on runs when you have a 4-1 lead, or slowly whittling away at a deficit, one run at a time.
It's an area where the Jays have not been very good this year. They have only been successful scoring a runner from third with fewer than two outs 46.9 per cent of the time, which is the seventh-worst mark in baseball. These are gimme RBI opportunities where a batter doesn’t need a hit, just a productive out.
Jays hitters have approached these situations all season long like the pressure is on them instead of the opposing pitcher. The result has been batters chasing too many pitches out of the zone.
Postseason baseball means facing some of the best pitchers in the game. It’s hard to string several hits together to put up a crooked number on the scoreboard against the toughest arms in the game. That’s why home runs are so important. But it is imperative to cash in on opportunities when runners do get in scoring position. Teams just can’t wait for the top of the batting order to score runs.
The Jays need to rely on players other than George Springer, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., to be run producers. Matt Chapman, Dalton Varsho, Alejandro Kirk, and others need to add length and depth to the lineup. Brandon Belt’s health is also an important factor too. The Jays could really use his plate discipline and professional at-bats in the lineup. His recovery from back pain is needed as soon as possible.
Guerrero’s knee has flared up over the past couple of days. An MRI showed some irritation, but no major structural damage. He sat out the last two games of the Yankees series, but it was a good sign he was able to pinch-hit in Thursday’s game Obviously, the Jays need him back in the lineup as soon as possible. Plus, they need him to be effective.
Manager John Schneider will have to do some juggling with the lineup since Guerrero might be better served to get at-bats as the designated hitter for a bit before returning to the field. That’s also the case with Bichette, who still needs his sore quad protected and rested on occasion. Belt will also need at-bats at DH when he returns from the injured list.
Schneider will have to balance health and well-being of individual players with matchups and the needs of his team. This is where the versatility of Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider, Whit Merrifield, and Santiago Espinal is so valuable.
Staring at the schedule
The Jays, who have won five of their past six, have nine games left. I wrote last week that the Jays, who are currently 85-68, needed to get to 91 wins to make the postseason. That means they have to go 6-3 over the remaining nine games against the Tampa Bay Rays (six) and New York Yankees (three) to be ensured of a playoff spot. The Jays can’t end up in a three- or four-way tie with the Rangers, Astros and/or Mariners because they do not own the tie breaker advantages.
Certainly, head-to-head matchups have a double impact. The Astros have three games left against the Mariners, while Seattle also plays Texas seven times. The seven games between Texas and Seattle, who each have 10 games left, are a critical factor in the fate of the Jays. If Seattle or Texas dominates the other, it opens the door for the Jays – even if they just win three of nine games. However, if Seattle or Texas wins four of the seven games, then both teams still have a shot if the Jays were to falter.
For Seattle, the three games against Houston are hugely important. The Rangers have three against a depleted Los Angeles Angels team. A 6-4 record gets both the Mariners and Rangers to 90 wins. Houston plays the Kansas City Royals and Arizona Diamondbacks in addition to the Mariners. A 5-4 record gets the Astros to 90 wins as well.
I believe the season will come down to the final weekend, but the Jays will hold on and make the playoffs as the third wild-card team because they will be tied with the Rangers at 90 wins. The Mariners will not make the playoffs, while the Astros will win the AL West with 91 wins.