The Toronto Blue Jays are 23 games into the season, and already, 11 of those games have been decided by just one run. They have had three additional games decided by two runs, and still, they have a record of 15-8. Looking into the standings, however, this leaves them second in the American League East, 1.5 games back of the New York Yankees.
This has some fans concerned, after all, the Blue Jays are expected to win the division for the first time since 2015. Many have shown their frustration with the inability of the Jays to take off and win a game by a large margin, but is it really a point of concern for them?
In those 11 one-run games, the Blue Jays have a record of nine wins, against just two losses. The vast majority of the time, the Jays are finding a way to win the close games, and while it can be frustrating to see the high-leverage relievers come out of the pen night in and night out needing massive outs, it hasn’t been a problem for Toronto so far. Eventually, the tide could turn with important bullpen arms eventually needing the day off, but early in the season, the pen can stomach some extra innings while the offence gets things going.
The Jays have played seven series so far this season, and they are yet to lose one of them. Their worst result came at the hands of the Yankees, where they split a four-game series on the road early in the season. For those who believe in home-field advantage, it should be mentioned that the series was played in the Bronx, about as hostile as a hostile territory can get.
Even though the season is still young, it can be scary to see your biggest rival in the division’s top spot, especially when you have been playing some great baseball. The context behind the Blue Jays’ current situation is important, however.
Both teams have played seven series, this season, but their opponents have been vastly different. So far this season, the Yankees have played the Baltimore Orioles six times, the Detroit Tigers three times, the Cleveland Guardians three times, the Kansas City Royals three times, and the Boston Red Sox three times. There was, of course, also the four-game series against the Blue Jays that resulted in a split. Not a single one of their opponents, outside of the Blue Jays, is above .500 early on the season, as the Yankees have been picking apart some of the American League’s worst teams.
The Blue Jays can’t say that they have played nothing but the league’s best teams so far, but their schedule has unquestionably been much tougher than the Yankees have faced. The Jays have played the Texas Rangers three times, the Oakland Athletics three times, the Boston Red Sox seven times, and the Houston Astros six times. Against the Astros, the Blue Jays have won four of their six meetings against a team that is expected to easily win their division. Their opponents haven’t always been elite, but they haven’t been playing mostly bottom feeders like their New York counterparts.
It’s unlikely that this battle does anything but heat up this season. The Blue Jays and the Yankees are both really good teams, and on paper, neither of them should be running away with the division. It could get even more contested too, with the Tampa Bay Rays seemingly still in the mix, even if they have gotten off to a slower start to the season than they would have hoped. If there is one thing to be slightly concerned about for the Blue Jays, however, it’s the run differential.
After Sunday’s win over the Astros, the Blue Jays are a measly plus one in the department. On the other hand, the Yankees are a staggering plus 41, good for the second-highest mark in all of baseball this season. Why is this a concern if the Blue Jays are still winning? Well, using these numbers, a prediction can be made about a team’s record, and according to that, the Jays should be 12-11 right now. The Yankees, however, are expected to have a 16-6 record.
Typically, these numbers tend to sort themselves out. The teams with high run differentials work their way to the top of the standings, and teams that have negative run differentials sink to the bottom. The Blue Jays have bucked that trend to start the season, but it’s exceptionally rare for that to continue. This is a result of their close one-run games and their opponents being better compared to the Yankees, at least partially, but there’s still no reason to panic. Part of the issue is with Danny Jansen and Teoscar Hernandez being out of the lineup, and some of it has something to do with cold bats from players like Bo Bichette, Bradley Zimmer, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at times.
The Jays have been getting a lot from their best players, this season. On the pitching staff, Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah, Adam Cimber, and Jordan Romano have been about as good as anyone could have hoped, and with the bats, the likes of George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Alejandro Kirk have been lights out.
If we’re calling the team’s run differential a concern, it needs to be said that it can be fixed. The Jays need Hernandez back in the lineup, that much is clear. He’s one of their better hitters, and it would force opposing pitchers to pitch to Bichette and Guerrero, possibly helping them hit better. As for the pitching, getting more out of Hyun-jin Ryu and Yusei Kikuchi is paramount. That being said, April has just ended, and the Blue Jays are well in contention so far. Any panic is completely misplaced.
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