Time for Jays to take their game to the next level
The Tampa Bay Rays entered play Tuesday with a 35-14 record – the best in the majors. They were 22-4 at Tropicana Field, their home ballpark, so far in 2023. They have been the most dominant team in baseball all season long. They had outscored their opponents by 126 runs.
But on Tuesday night, the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Rays handily – by a 20-1 score.
The team that has been the best in baseball this year made bad pitches, threw two wild pitches, made an error and overthrew cutoff men. They hardly looked like the best team in the game.
In fact, the Rays team that took to the field on Tuesday looked a bit like the Blue Jays have looked over the past couple of weeks: losers of five straight games and nine of their past 13 to sit at 26-23 in the American League East.
On any given day, the worst team in baseball can beat the best team in baseball. It is the nature of this amazing, glorious, crazy sport. The teams that make the playoffs and win divisions every season are the ones that are the most consistent.
A former Los Angeles Dodgers manager once said, “No matter how good you are, you're going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you're going to win one-third of your games. It's the other third that makes the difference.” It means there will always be 54 games up and 54 games down. It is the remaining 54 games that determine the outcome of the season.
The Jays team that pummeled the Rays Tuesday night certainly didn’t look like the same team that has been making errors in the field, running the bases poorly, chasing pitches out of the zone, giving up key hits and home runs, and not delivering in the clutch with runners on base.
They looked like the team that most pundits predicted, at least at the start of the season, could compete for the division title.
Why does this happen? How does it happen?
What goes up, must come down and what is down, usually goes back up again at some point. Tuesday night’s rout of the Rays – with their last 10 runs coming off position players – doesn’t mean that the Jays are cured from the ills of playing bad baseball. It is only one game and one win, regardless of the score.
Teams can’t give up extra outs and baserunners. Good teams capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes. Teams have been doing that against the Jays. The Jays did it to the Rays for one game. Good teams don’t beat themselves regularly. As we saw, though, it can happen to even the best team in baseball.
Before the season, Jays manager John Schneider said he wanted to clean up his team’s mistakes. He also wanted a team that did the little things right. The Jays haven’t really done that on a consistent basis nearly one-third of the way through the season.
The Jays are a talented team, but so far in 2023 it has felt like something has been missing. They don’t seem to sustain their high level of performance and execution. It’s time for them to take their game to the next level. It is the next step in the maturity of this team.
This can’t come from the manager or coaches. It has to come from the players. They can’t focus on winning the next 10 games or even one game. The focus has to be on winning this pitch, in this inning, in this game. Then win the next pitch and the next one. One at a time. When you do that, you win games.
We focus so much on young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, but I really think that the Jays go as George Springer goes.
It has been a bit of a slow start for the 33-year-old outfielder, but he is starting to heat up. He is playing outstanding in right field lately. He has hit .414/.500/.724 with two homers, six runs, five RBIs and two stolen bases over the past seven games. Springer is the mature veteran on the team. He knows what it takes to be more than just a talented team. He knows what it takes to be a champion.
It is natural to look for someone to blame when things are going poorly. Typically, the manager takes the heat. The Jays pounded the Rays on Tuesday, but it doesn’t mean that Schneider was a better manager in that game than he was in the previous 13. When a good team plays poorly and goes 4-9 as the Jays did, it means everyone is underperforming. The pitchers didn’t pitch. The hitters didn’t hit. The coaches didn’t coach. The fielders didn’t field.
Unfortunately, I have some experience with teams playing poorly. As a general manager, I would be front and centre during my team’s struggles. It is easy to be available to the media when things are going well. But when things were bad, I always wanted to offer public support for the manager and players. I wanted to remind everyone that this is what happens over the marathon of the 162-game season and that things would turn back in our direction.
Behind the scenes, I would play devil’s advocate with the coaching staff. I would challenge what we are thinking and doing to prepare our players for success. I would ask questions without judgment. I wanted to be sure we were looking at every angle of what and how we were doing things.
As for the Jays, there is nothing to panic about. We have seen flashes of the very talented roster that general manager Ross Atkins put together. But now it is about growing up and maturing as baseball players. It is about taking their game to the next level. Execution. Making plays. Making pitches. Getting hits. Keeping the line moving in the lineup.
There is a rhythm to the way the good teams play. The Jays have gotten out of sync on occasion. They have it in them to go on a run like the Rays have. Toronto needs to mesh as a team and believe they are the best team, and not play as individuals.
Tuesday’s big win may or may not turn things around. But this team will go on a run soon because there is too much talent in this lineup not to break through.