MacArthur: Jays' situation increasingly dire with each loss

Scott MacArthur
8/20/2014 9:20:36 AM
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MILWAUKEE – Get out a pencil and a piece of paper. It's time for rudimentary math; time to let the players worry about winning today while others concern themselves with the broader, increasingly bleak, picture.

Write down the numbers one to 12 in ascending order. Each time Toronto loses a game, mark an 'X' through the corresponding number. Why 13? Given the way the season is trending, the Blue Jays need to win at least 88 games to qualify for a playoff spot. With a record of 64-62 after Tuesday's action, in order to be 88-74 by season's end Toronto had to go 24-12.

That's just for a chance.

The American League East leading Orioles are on pace for 94 wins.

In the race for the second wild card spot, the leader Mariners are eyeing an 88-win season; the runner up Tigers are looking at 88 victories (rounded up on percentage points); the Yankees are on pace for 83 wins.

The Blue Jays, playing at a .508 clip, would end up in the 82-win neighbourhood.

That's not going to get it done.

What's more disconcerting are signs of fraying in the starting rotation. Through the first seven games of this eight-game road trip, Toronto pitching had allowed 11 first inning runs (two on Tuesday night).

"Just another game where we gave up a lot of runs early and we couldn't do anything with (Brewers starter Mike) Fiers," said manager John Gibbons. "He did a nice job. A lot lately we've been giving up some runs early."

Playing come-from-behind on a near-daily basis isn't ideal for an offence which has gone cold. In 16 games this month, the Jays have scored 48 runs or exactly three per game.

One of the main culprits is the decline in home run production. Despite the recent downturn the Jays' season total of 141 remains tied for second-most in baseball (with Colorado) behind Baltimore's 157.

The Jays have hit only seven long balls in the month of August (16 games).

"Power comes and goes," said hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. "It's kind of one of those things when guys get hot they can usually get hot together and home runs are usually just a by-product of good at-bats and good swings and catching balls out front a little bit more."

The Jays are one of three teams in the American League which require the home run to cash more than 40-percent of their runs scored, which is to say if Toronto doesn't hit the long ball, most of the time it won't score enough.

Entering Tuesday's play, 225 of Toronto's 558 runs (40.3-percent) were cashed via the home run. They're joined by Baltimore (251 of 531 – 47.2-percent) and Houston (219 of 501 – 43.7-percent).

Nine teams come in the 30-39.9-percent range and the remainder fall below.

The hope is the recent returns of Edwin Encarnacion (26 home runs) and Adam Lind (who despite having only four home runs, is a crucial middle-of-the-order bat against right-handed starting pitching) from injury will lengthen the lineup and pave the way to more pop.

"A lot of times when guys try to compensate because of a lack of power and try to do a little too much then it works against you," said Seitzer. "I think that's kind of where we're at right now. As far as overall as a team we didn't start off very good home run-wise the first month of the season and then all of a sudden in May it came in bunches and it came for a long time."

Seitzer is looking to hits with runners in scoring position (RISP), specifically hits with runners in scoring position and two outs. He's sensing players, especially the Jays' best, are pressing. One example would be Jose Bautista, who's a .300 hitter with RISP this season but that number dwindles to .111 (4-for-36) with RISP and two outs.

With Tuesday night's loss, Cleveland pulled even with the Blue Jays in the wild card race. The more teams you're chasing, the less likely it is you can gain ground on a nightly basis.

Time is ticking away. Don't lose sight of your pencil.

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