Blue Jays Notebook: Why team’s skid makes pre-season goals harder to reach

Blue Jays Notebook: Why team’s skid makes pre-season goals harder to reach

TORONTO – It took less than two months for the Tampa Bay Rays to build a 10.5-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East standings, and even if you don’t believe the true talent gap between these clubs is quite that big, the separation in the standings is rapidly making the Blue Jays’ pre-season goal of winning the division more challenging. 

Remember, to earn a first-round bye and avoid the unpredictability of a three-game wild card series, you must win your division. And when you do some math, it becomes apparent just how hard it’s going to be for the Blue Jays to catch the Rays this summer, especially with fewer head-to-head matchups on the schedule.

Current record

Record needed to win 90

162-game pace needed for 90

Record needed to win 95

162-game pace needed for 95

Record needed to win 100

162-game pace needed for 100









Blue Jays









Now, difficult isn’t impossible. Could the Blue Jays play at a 101-win pace from here on? They did for the first month of the season, so it’s not out of the question. And could the Rays simultaneously regress? Sure.

It’s just that the Blue Jays are now counting on both of those outcomes if they’re to have any shot of winning their first division title since 2015. And first things first, they need to get back into the playoff picture before any talk about catching the Rays becomes realistic. After their struggles in May, there’s certainly no guarantee of a wild-card berth.

With meaningful trades tough to complete before July, the improvement likely has to come from within. All of which means a weekend against the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins promises to be interesting as the Blue Jays’ road trip continues. In the meantime, some thoughts on a team that suddenly finds itself in last place:


Alek Manoah became predictable Thursday, waiting out the pitch clock so often that the Rays were able to time his delivery with ease and steal five bases while he was on the mound, contributing to a 6-3 Tampa Bay win.

But elsewhere, teams are finding ways to bend the pitch clock rules to their advantage in minuscule but still significant ways. Among the approaches teams are using to gain a little more time between pitches:

• If a pitcher asks for a new ball with at least nine seconds remaining on the pitch clock, the clock resets, providing the pitcher a few more seconds to prepare (Manoah’s used this strategy effectively at times).

• With a runner on, catchers will throw down to first base even when they know full well they’re not picking anyone off. The thinking: the ball gets to the pitcher later, meaning he has more time to recalibrate.

• Along those lines, catchers will sometimes delay returning the ball to the pitcher, even calling pitches with PitchCom during that intermediary window to give pitchers a slightly longer breather.

All teams are said to be doing it, and everything above is legal – bending yet not breaking the rules.


Twenty-nine teams have had to test their starting pitching depth this season, dipping into their bullpens or minor-league affiliates for rotation reinforcements (the Rays lead baseball with 11 starters used so far). The one exception? The Toronto Blue Jays.

Eventually, Hyun-Jin Ryu may provide depth on that front (he’s months away, even best-case scenario) but with Mitch White and top prospect Ricky Tiedemann still sidelined, the Blue Jays don’t actually have much in the way of available rotation depth unless you’re a big believer in Casey Lawrence, Zach Thompson and Drew Hutchison, all of whom have ERAs above 5.00 at triple-A Buffalo.

Under those circumstances, the Blue Jays badly need the likes of Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt and Jose Berrios to stay healthy and continue stabilizing things. Otherwise, their depth could be tested in unwanted ways.


It’s been an uneven season for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has slumped for stretches in May and has yet to connect for a home run in Toronto. But if you zoom out, you’re looking at a player who’s playing plus defence at first while hitting .298/.366/.489.

And consider this question, which Arden Zwelling and I contemplated on the latest edition of At the Letters: how many players can realistically be expected to out-hit Guerrero Jr. from now until the end of the season? The list of clear-cut answers is short. If you ask the ZiPS projections at FanGraphs, only seven players are safe bets to out-hit Guerrero Jr. from here: Yordan Alvarez, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Bryce Harper.

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