Blue Jays, Leafs Providing Good Lesson

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Aug. 27) – Other than baseball observers employed by Rogers Communications, there is universal concession that the Blue Jays have long been out of the playoff hunt in the American League. Understandably, Rogers people (not named Gregg Zaun) are being stubborn – their bosses own the baseball club. But, they aren’t nearly as un-knowledgeable as they sound.

This form of media denial was palpable while the Maple Leafs were losing eight consecutive games in March en route to their annual collapse. In each instance, apologists in the electronic industry pointed to how wonderfully the clubs performed early in the season. The Leafs – as you may recall – were 10–4–0 in October while giving up 40-plus shots a game. Even I was temporarily sucked in, believing the goalie tandem of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer could compensate for such failure of puck possession. Then came November and reality took hold.

The Blue Jays were similarly granted at least an American League wild-card berth on June 6 after a remarkable and illusory power eruption had them 14 games over .500 (38–24) and six full games clear of second place in the American League East. Then came a 5–0 loss to St. Louis at Rogers Centre on June 7 and the ball-club hasn’t recovered.

It took awhile – two months and 20 days to be exact – but the Jays have finally spit up the entire plus–.500 bulge (a ghastly defeat at home to Boston Tuesday night turning the trick; Red Sox scored seven runs in the top of the 11th to break a 4–4 tie). While struggling at a clip of 14 games beneath .500 since June 6, Toronto is now 66–66 on the season. During that time, there has been a 16–game swing between the Jays and Orioles. Baltimore was six back of Toronto then; 10 games up on Toronto now. Most striking in a ghoulish 6–16 August is a 2–7 record since July 31 against bottom-feeders Houston, Chicago White Sox and Boston. The Jays can still make the playoffs with roughly a 24–6 record in their remaining 30 matches. And, I can become a neurological surgeon by my 80th birthday if I start medical school this autumn.

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EDWIN ENCARNACION, JOSE BAUTISTA AND THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS HAVE BEEN ANYTHING BUT MIGHTY SINCE THE FIRST WEEK OF JUNE.

In all of it, there is valuable information: Unless a team bottoms out early, there is hardly any reason to rejoice or despair in the primordial leg of a season. Playoff territory has only once, in my recollection, been determined before June in baseball – during the 1984 schedule when Detroit Tigers compiled a staggering 35–5 record in their first 40 games. It is correspondingly difficult to remove oneself from playoff contention early in the 162–game Major League season, though Baltimore did a fairly thorough job with an 0–21 mark to begin the 1988 campaign. Hockey is the same. Almost never will a team “clinch” a playoff spot in October or early–November. But, Stanley Cup aspiration can die very quickly – the premier local example being an 0–7–1 belch by the Maple Leafs in October 2009. Despite a brave front, Brian Burke, Ron Wilson et al were out of the playoff hunt with 74 games left on the docket.

Considering the Blue Jays and Leafs perform in an oxygen/nitrogen environment that routinely engenders collapse, early patterns should be taken in stride; excuses ideally kept to a minimum. The Blue Jays were 38–24 on June 6 with more than enough time to embark on a 28–42 playoff-killing pratfall. Same with the Leafs and their 10–4–0 smoke–and–mirrors act last October. Even after a 14–2–2 surge in January and February, the Leafs were perfectly able to fold. The excuse element is laughable. With the Blue Jays, it has largely centered around the club’s best hitter: Edwin Encarnacion. “If only Eddie had been healthy all season…” the apologists wail, conveniently omitting that Toronto is a malodorous 12–26 with Encarnacion in the line-up since June 6. Given that baseball is more prone to statistical analysis than any sport, you might think such blatant oversight would be kept to a minimum. But, no.

When a Toronto club embarks on even a modest run, a cheeky, disdainful comment arises here in town: “Plan the parade.”

Now you know why.

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