The good, the great and the historic
A rare night when the bats go silent has little effect on the Jays’ September numbers
Through the first 130-plus games of the season, there were duelling narratives surrounding the Blue Jays.
Those who felt good about the team would point to a positive run differential that was among the best in the majors to suggest the Jays were much better than the standings indicated.
The people who were more pessimistic often said something like. “You are what your record says you are.” For the Jays that meant playing .500 baseball and being considered more of a pretender than a legitimate contender.
Then there were those who felt the truth was somewhere in the middle, that a series of mid-season meltdowns by the bullpen and an onslaught of injuries meant the club was playing below expectations, yet unlikely to go on a run during the second half.
With fewer than three weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s the first school of thought that appears to be winning out. The Jays, despite a 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night, have been enjoying one of their best stretches in franchise history and they turned an uphill climb into a downhill sprint seemingly overnight.
And sure, trade-deadline target José Berríos, who allowed one run over seven strong innings against the Rays, has played a role in the late-season turnaround, as did the previous additions of relievers Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards, but much of the credit for the recent string of success belongs to the guys who have been here all year long, before a lot of winnable games turned into actual winning streaks.
The Jays were shut out for the third time this season Tuesday, but the lineup has been better than good lately, even better than great. It has been historic since the start of September, with numbers that have never been seen before. It seems impossible to sustain the pace for much longer, and maybe the Rays game was the start of another dry spell, but it’s midway through September the Jays are putting together one of the best months any team has had.
Consider this stat from the Elias Sports Bureau about the recent run: The Jays hit .331 average with 36 homers in their first 13 September games. That made them the first team in MLB history with at least that many homers and that high of a batting average over any 13-game stretch, regardless of the month.
Additionally, the Jays plus-58 run differential over that same span was their best in any 13-game span in franchise history. On the season, they are plus-172, which is tied with the Rays for second most in the AL, trailing only the Westleading Houston Astros. Their 232 home runs are tops in the majors and the most in franchise history through 144 games, surpassing 226 across the same number in 2000.
Entering the second game of the Tampa series, the Jays had a slash line of .331/.410/.636 in September. While the rankings are bound to change over the next two weeks, their 1.046 on-base plus slugging was the best a team has produced in a single month, surpassing the 1930 Yankees that put up a 1.035 in June with Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs leading the way.
Add everything together and it’s no wonder the recent surge catapulted the Jays to the top or near the top of a lot of major offensive categories. They started Tuesday’s game leading MLB in slugging (.467) and OPS (.802) while ranking second in average (.268), OBP (.334), hits (1,309), extra-base hits (493) and runs (765).
“I won’t say I expected something like this, but I mentioned it in August when we kind of cooled down and we weren’t hitting that much, I said, ‘We’re going to hit again, I just don’t know when it’s going to start,’ ” Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said a few hours before his team produced just three hits and stranded three baserunners. “It has been impressive. I wasn’t expecting 22 runs (in a game), 11 runs in one inning and all that stuff, but it has been impressive for me to watch.”
The recent stretch, Tuesday excluded, has has been a complete reversal from what took place in August when the Jays frequently struggled to score. They were held to three runs or fewer in 18 of 30 games, including six straight, while finishing the month ranked 12th. They hit just .251 with a .750 OPS that month, averaging 4.26 runs per game. Through 14 September games, they had already scored 114 runs, which results in an absurd average of 8.14.
The bats can’t stay this hot forever, as Tuesday proved. At some point there’s going to be another stretch when runs are hard to come by and everyone in the lineup goes missing at the same time.
That begs the question, in a sport where momentum is hard to gauge from one game to the next, why do teams like the Jays often fall into all-or-nothing stretches over extended periods?
There are no definitive answers, just theories.
“It takes the pressure off from the next guy,” Montoyo said, referencing the recent surge. “And when a team is struggling offensively, everybody feels the pressure, everybody tries to do more. When somebody’s hot, it relaxes the guy behind him, and the guy behind him. That’s what’s going on right now.”
The key for the Jays the rest of the way will be limiting the lows and maximizing the highs. They can afford some off nights like Tuesday, especially considering the quality of their starting staff. What they can’t have is another stretch like August when the lack of offence was the primary reason behind a 3-7 stretch that sent the team stumbling down the standings.
The end of the season is within sight and the Jays are sprinting to the finish line at an unprecedented September pace. We’re about to find out if they still have enough left in the tank to get there in one piece.