The Toronto Blue Jays and the one run game

Sep 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (33) is relieved by Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) during the seventh inning in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. The Toronto Blue Jays won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (33) is relieved by Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) during the seventh inning in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. The Toronto Blue Jays won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /
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Going into a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Blue Jays currently sit 2.0 games back of the Boston Red Sox for first in the AL East. With 20 games remaining, the margin for error gets smaller with each game

The Blue Jays entered the 2016 season with largely the same roster they finished their 2015 playoff run with. A few players moved on like David Price, Mark Buehrle, Ben Revere and more, and a few faces were added such as free agent J.A. Happ.

Their results have been very similar as the Blue Jays are fighting for the division lead again, but how they’ve gotten there has been very different from their 2015 run. Instead of just pummelling their opponents into submission with their potent offence (they still do that occasionally), their pitching rotation has been arguably their greatest strength this season.

Toronto’s offence has continued to be a strength as well, but obviously not to the degree that it was last season when they led all of baseball in that department.

With the vast improvement in the rotation, one would think that the Blue Jays should be in an even better position than they were in 2015. However, the Blue Jays have had a familiar Achilles heel, and it’s continued to hamper them this season.

The Jays stink in one run games.

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Yes, Roberto Osuna has been excellent again this season, and the acquisitions of Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit have been a big boost, but the bullpen has struggled overall. The bullpen has especially struggled in tight games, with the Jays having a 15-23 record in one run games in 2016. Fortunately they are 62-38 otherwise, or they’d likely be a long way back in the playoff picture.

By comparison, the Rangers are 30-9 in one run games, which happens to be the new standard in MLB history. As a result, the Rangers are currently 9.5 games up in the AL West, and are a virtual lock to win their division, barring an epic collapse.

For the Blue Jays, this is a problem that extends beyond this season. In fact, the Blue Jays were 15-28 in one run games last year as well, and 78-41 in the rest. The bullpen has been a problem for a while now, but there have been several other elements that helped hide the shortcoming.

How far back does this issue extend? Well… for all the credit John Gibbons has received for being a good bullpen manager throughout his career, the numbers tell a slightly differently story.

If you combine his first go-around with the Jays (2004-2008) with his current tenure, the Blue Jays are 134-191 in one run games under Gibby, for an unsightly .410 winning percentage. The Jays are 498-411 (.548) otherwise under his watch.

How much of the blame can be placed on the manager? It’s truly hard to say, and it’s certainly hard to stick him with all the blame this year. The club has struggled to find effective options in the bullpen, especially in the late innings, before the arrival of Grilli and Benoit. They’ve dealt with an ineffective Drew Storen (who was supposed to help shore up the pen), an injured and inconsistent Brett Cecil, and down seasons from several others. The trade acquisitions certainly helped, but it’s still a guessing game after the starter comes out.

Next: Blue Jays Morning Brew: Biagini, Dickey, free agents

The club will have to find a way to lock down the late innings, or once again rely heavily on the offence throughout the end of the season and the playoffs. Last year, the playoffs showed that it’s much more difficult to pummel your opponents when you’re facing the top pitchers in a big moment.

Here’s hoping the Blue Jays can figure it out…. or avoid one run games altogether.

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