The MLB regular season is like a marathon and we’re at the point in the race where some teams have started walking towards the finish line; some teams who started off in the lead have run out of steam and have begun falling back to the middle of the pack; some teams have even extended their early lead; and there teams like the Toronto Blue Jays who coasted at the beginning of the race, caught fire in the middle of the summer, but instead of trying to find that extra boost they elected to coast to the finish line.
The Blue Jays were in sole possession of first place in the American League East on July 2, but here we are in the middle of August and the Jays would not qualify for the postseason if the season ended today. So, what happened?
With the amount of fireworks we had at the MLB Trade Deadline this year you’d think it was fourth of July not the thirty-first of July (although Independence Day got in the on the roster-shuffling fireworks, too). Two of Jays AL East rivals punted the rest of their season by dealing one of their aces to other AL Contenders; Jon Lester to Oakland and David Price to Detroit. Instead of making a huge splash like the Tigers and A’s, the Jays elected to acquire utility infielder Danny Valencia from Kansas City. And that was it.
It’s important to remember, though, the Jays had won six in a row heading into the Trade Deadline — 11 of their last 13, too — so acquiring a major piece like Price, Lester or a big-time bat didn’t seem like a move that Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos had to make. It made sense for the Anthopoulos to not make a major move at the deadline with Jays’ playing the way they were heading into the deadline, but the MLB Playoffs don’t make any sense; it’s a crapshoot, so just getting in is really all that matters.
It’s rare to see the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays sitting atop the AL East standings; the New York Yankees are still somehow hanging around, the Boston Red Sox are suffering from a season-long World Series victory hangover ; and the Tampa Bay Rays have been ravaged by injuries — the latter three teams probably won’t repeat this season’s performance next season. The Orioles and Jays have lucked out with the AL East’s Big Three having down seasons, but instead of maximizing their fantastic opportunity to contend this season the Jays have played it safe.
The Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of becoming the What-If Team of the 2014 season simply because they’re a good team that could have been great; one of the worst case scenarios from a fan’s perspective. It’s hard to picture the AL East being this down again, so why not go all-in this season and see what happens?
Sure, the Jays are still very much in the playoff hunt, but all the teams they’re chasing are better. The Jays are one-and-half games back of the second Wild Card spot currently occupied by the reeling Tigers, but Detroit has the better starting rotation (even without Price) and lineup; although the Jays have the slightly better bullpen, per Fangraphs.
The California Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or have they not added California back to the name yet?) occupy the other Wild Card spot, but they have the luxury of having arguably the League’s best all-around player in Mike Trout (and the AL’s best offense) and it’s a pretty safe bet the Angels are going to qualify for the postseason, even after losing Tyler Skaggs for the rest of the season.
The Jays best chance to make the postseason is, and has always been, to win the AL East; the road is just a lot easier here (again, the Jays have to know this will not be the norm). The Jays have lost seven of their last 10 while the Orioles have won seven of their last 10. But when you look at Baltimore’s starting rotation — lowest WAR in the AL — you have to wonder how this team is doing it, but then you look at Toronto’s starting rotation and it makes sense.
If it’s 2014 and making the playoffs still looks plausible at the end of July you can’t continue on with Mark Buehrle as your go-to starting pitcher. You don’t have to go out and get an ace like Lester or Price, but you have to do something. Adding another quality starter or two — like a Justin Masterson, John Lackey or even a big-fish like Cole Hamels- for this team could have made the difference.
Anthopoulos wants to extend the Jays window as long as possible, which is generally the safe, and better, route to take, but not this season. Toronto is a well-put together team that’s close to being a great team, but they may not get another opportunity to do something special like they could have this season.
What’s happened to the Red Sox this season mirrors what happened to the Jays last season; lofty expectations, but ultimately luck wasn’t on their side and everything went wrong. When things actually go your way, and you’re fortunate enough to be leading your division in July that’s the type of season you can’t waste.
And with the way August is going for Anthopoulos’ club, it appears the Jays may have punted on what could have been a magical season instead of going for it now even if that means it’ll hurt a little more down the line.