Generally speaking, when a team has a 6-4 road trip, you consider that a win and go home with your head held high. However, when the final team you wrap up that trip against is 18 games below .500, dropping three of the last four seems like a lost opportunity.
That was exactly the case this weekend when the Toronto Blue Jays survived a slug-fest with the Houston Astros on Thursday, only to be punch-less in the final three games of the set and go home on a losing streak instead. More importantly, those three games were a microcosm of why the Blue Jays now trail the Baltimore Orioles by 3.5 games in the American League East.
In that final three game stretch, the Blue Jays scored just 4 runs and were unable to dig themselves back into ballgames against a pitching staff that has surrendered the second-most runs in the American League. Stretches like that are to be expected, but the inability of the pitching staff to respond and keep the team in games, particularly in the final two, is what dictated a loss in all three games.
The ability of the pitching staff to throw shutdown innings is also what separates the Blue Jays from the first place Orioles.
The growing theme at the trade deadline was how the truly dominant teams went out and found themselves an anchor for their rotations. While you need to score runs in baseball, there is proof year in and year out that pitching wins ballgames, and championships.
Since the All-Star break, the Orioles are 10-6, but have a 2.78 ERA and have allowed just a .225 batting average against. In that same span, the Blue Jays 11-6 record, thanks to an impressive showing in New York and Boston, but only managed to make up a half game in the standings, and none in the loss column. That’s because the Blue Jays are sporting a 4.29 ERA and opposing hitters are hitting nearly 30 points higher against Toronto pitching (.253).
What does that all translate to?
Well it is the key difference why the Orioles lead all of baseball with 23 wins in 1-run ballgames or why they have an MLB-best 12-4 record in extra innings. It is also why the Orioles are exceeding their expected Win-Loss record of 58-52 (based on run differential). Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are just 1-3 in extra-inning affairs (fewest in all of baseball) and 9-10 in 1-run games. The only good news for Toronto is that they are right where their expected Win-Loss record says they should be, at 60-53.
Long story short, it means the Blue Jays are winning the games where they outslug their opponents, but can’t overcome a strong start by the opposing pitcher.
If the Blue Jays want to overcome this deficit in the AL East, or even just secure the second Wild Card, they’ll need better pitching performances from their starters. It is pretty telling that your staff is struggling when a rookie (Marcus Stroman) and an outright enigma (J.A. Happ) have been your most consistent starters since the break.
R.A. Dickey – 4 GS, 5.00 ERA, .252 BAA, 4 HR
Drew Hutchison – 3 GS, 8.76 ERA, .351 BAA, 3 HR
Mark Buehrle – 3 GS, 6.89 ERA, .343 BAA, 2 HR
Marcus Stroman – 4 GS, 2.25 ERA, .205 BAA, 0 HR
J.A. Happ – 3 GS, 1.47 ERA, .212 BAA, 2 HR
And just for good measure, here is the back end of the bullpen:
Needless to say, the Blue Jays pitching staff needs to step up and make some changes. Hitters are getting a really good bead on them right now, and with an important series against Baltimore starting Tuesday night, the staff cannot afford to be digging holes that the bats will be unable to climb out of. I don’t know if it is just tired arms (Hutchison) or runs of luck running out (Dickey and Buehrle), but someone needs to take the reigns and straighten things out.
This is where the men separate themselves from the boys, and where Alex Anthopoulos’ silence at the trade deadline will speak volumes as to whether standing pat was the right or wrong decision.