The dog days of summer doesn’t quite encompass how the Toronto Blue Jays did the last seven days. It’s been emotional for many Jays fans, watching their team struggle at the plate and the mound at key moments in ball games. Sometimes they pulled it off; many times it felt like hair ripping with the bandage they yanked off.
Baseball can be a very emotional game, and it must be understood that those feelings do not necessarily translate to a sense of urgency. Each play, each pitch is its own game. Emotions must be in check with egos, making sure that judgement is taken away from the situation. You can’t fix your car if you start using the wrench to beat the radiator to death. You can try… but the good feeling will soon be gone when you now have two car parts to replace.
With this installment of Blue Swagger, we want to look at who are the players getting the job done, while the others find their form. Which position player was the stabilizing force behind the Jays that they can build momentum around? Which pitcher had the most success and how can the others on staff share in their own fortunes?
When you think of a stable helmsman in baseball, you should be looking to the catcher. He runs the defence and calls the games, keeping his divas on the mound from having major meltdowns of drama. Well, as much as possible, at least.
Dioner Navarro has been doing a good job of that and hitting more than expected. Considering previous catchers telling Toronto media moguls that they shouldn’t be expected to be exceptional in both offence and defence, Navarro has been having a pretty good rebuttal of a season, including this past week.
In 14 at-bats, Navarro hit .286, including a big home run against the Tampa Bay Rays to keep the Jays in the game. That average was the best of any Blue Jays player with at least the same amount of at-bats. The closest to that total was Colby Rasmus at .278 with undoubtedly one of the best choices to bunt in a recent game at home against the Rays, leading to the victory. However, with 4 strikeouts and numerous times chasing ugly pitches with runners in scoring position, Rasmus was not chosen this week for having the swagger.
Navarro also cashed in 2 RBIs while maintaining a .333 on-base percentage, second only to Munenori Kawasaki who had a .385 OBP. The major difference here came down to slugging. Kawasaki did alright to get on base; however, when the Jays needed a hit or at least the inning to continue, opposing pitchers went after him more aggressively, with him being a much less lethal threat. Navarro was very patient to let his .500 slugging percentage do the talking for him, and he spoke loudly with his stick.
The argument could be made that Navarro’s recent problems with passed balls could keep him off the top of this swagger list. Granted that the Venezuela-native should be held accountable for overplaying his glove when he could just block these pitches, Navarro has been a source of stability in a position that Jays fans have not seen in a number of years. If the team wants to move forward, they will need to stay the course like Navarro. Hit big, but be patient. Better to make solid plays, even with a few mistakes, than miss the bigger picture by compounding the problem.
The same could be said for the Blue Jays’ pitching staff. To put this into a clear perspective, R.A. Dickey, who gave up five runs in his last start, was the only Blue Jays’ starting pitcher on record with a win. The man gave up five runs, including a home run, in that game. Dustin McGowan had the other win, pitching 3.1 innings in 4 games. As long as you are in the game, you have a chance. Boy, the Blue Jays were really pushing how far that proverb would go.
Even though he did not get the win, the best starting pitcher this week was Drew Hutchison, with his second good outing at the Rogers Centre. In six innings of work, Hutchison allowed only one run and two walks, while striking out seven Rays’ batters. That was the same lineup hitting everything and anything the other starters tried throwing at them. He only allowed them to hit .250, the next closest being a .308 batting average allowed by Mark Buehrle. While Buehrle’s outing was not terrible either, Hutchison had movement on his pitches and was peppering the zone a bit more, edging Buehrle out by a few hits.
Everyone in the Toronto media and the Blue Jays clubhouse has said that Hutchison has had great stuff, but his recent outings suggest that he needs to have confidence in order to maintain his craft. He will do better later in games if he is hot early and keeps his head on straight.
The bullpen deserves an honourable mention this week for keeping games closer for the Blue Jays than they were looking from the start. With a blown save opportunity, inconsistent play, or small sample size in big moments of the games, it was hard to see anyone beating out Hutchison this week for top spot here.
You can’t expect big moments to happen every second of your lifetime. You eat a cookie, you smile, you go to bed. Life gives us shiny moments in small doses. The consistency we live by dictates how often we get to eat that cookie without some huge tragedy hanging over us, clouding our judgement and taking away from our enjoyment. Baseball works the same way. You have to be consistent and keep your head. You are not going to hit a home run every time you come to the plate. Players and fans cannot expect a moment like that every time the Blue Jays play. Working hard and trying hard are not the same thing. Sometimes a shiny moment comes after someone fights to get on base as ugly as was possible. Sometimes you have to work hard to win each play, instead of trying to win the game all at once. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and when they were finished, they just burned it down anyways.