Blue Jays: Improved play in extra innings a key to success in 2018

TORONTO, ON - JULY 30: Steve Pearce
TORONTO, ON - JULY 30: Steve Pearce /

The Toronto Blue Jays have a series of aspects in which they have to improve if they want to contend in 2018. One of those aspects is extra innings games in which they won just five out of the 19 they played in 2017.

A record of 5-14 in extra innings isn’t going to get a team into the playoffs, which is the objective in 2018. In comparison, the winner of the AL East, the Boston Red Sox, had a fantastic 15-3 record in extra inning games in 2017. It’s simple, you don’t have to be an expert to say that a .263 winning percentage, whether it’s in nine inning games or extra innings, is bad and has to be improved if a team wants to make the playoffs.

Extra innings games are a different scenario. Fatigue affects the game, and the way games are played can change in many ways. Bench players and bullpen arms see time during extra innings, which adds pressure on managers to take the right decisions. Many surprises come in to play and heroes rise to the occasion, like Steve Pearce against the Athletics on July 27th with an epic grand slam to give the Jays a win in the bottom of the 10th inning. The Blue Jays definitely need more of those epic wins in 2018. Those outcomes not only add a win, which is the aim every game, but they can have a very positive impact mentally for players and fans, which can give a boost to the team.

One factor that might give optimism for better results in extra innings games is the fact the Blue Jays have a better bench for this coming season than they had in the disappointing 2017 campaign. As mentioned above, bench players see time during extra innings, and therefore it’s no secret that if those players see playing time during extra innings, and those players are improved, then you have a better chance of winning.

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For example, imagine this scenario: Bottom of the 11th, bases loaded, two outs. Who would you rather have at the plate, Darwin Barney or Yangervis Solarte? With all due respect to ex-Blue Jay Barney, it’s a no brainer that Solarte is the one you want to bat. With the acquisitions of Aledmys Diaz, Solarte, the good spring Teoscar Hernández is having and the spectacular last month of the past season he had, along  with the signing of Curtis Granderson, it seems like Toronto’s bench is quite a good one compared to the 2017 one.

Ideally, you want to avoid playing extra innings. One factor that might have contributed to the Jays having played so many extra inning games is Roberto Osuna‘s high amount of blown saves in 2017, and the workload the bullpen had due to the short starts by the rotation who averaged 5.4 innings pitched per game. Those short starts therefore lead to the bullpen being overused, and when extra innings came the Jays might have been left with one arm in the bullpen, who probably wasn’t even supposed to pitch in that game.

Adding on to that, after a game where manager John Gibbons was forced to use arms he didn’t want to because of the workload they already had, the next day the Jays would have another game in which they might get another short start, and therefore Gibbons would be obliged, once again, go down in the bullpen and get another pitcher into the game. It’s being caught in a vicious circle from which you have to get out with longer starts and have fresher relievers for extra innings in order to have a better chance of winning in these type of games.

“Free baseball” can be fun at times, boring, and even heartbreaking when your team is beaten by a walk off after a long game. However they conclude, those heartbreaking losses happened 14 times to the Blue Jays in 2017. In this exciting coming season, extra innings results will have to look different for the Jays if they want to have a chance to be in the desired playoffs. With a better bench and longer starts, which helps the bullpen be fresh for longer games, the Blue Jays will be better positioned to see more success in extra innings games.

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