Resilience is a word that often rolls off John Farrell’s tongue when he talks about his Blue Jay team.
It is a quality the Jays have often featured this season and speaks well to the will and character of the assembled players. Sometimes, though, lost in the rhetoric, is the fact that resilience has been absolutely essential because this is a team that has been consistently inconsistent.
Yes, injuries have decimated the pitching staff and now threaten a couple of the key position players, but that is simply a hard fact of life in almost any team’s 162-game schedule.
One thing is certain: With a record that has, for the first time all year, slipped to two games below .500 and 12.5 games off the division lead, leaving them with seven teams ahead of them in the wild-card race, Toronto’s season is circling the drain.
If there is any of that bounce Farrell so admires left in this outfit, then by all means they need to demonstrate it immediately, if not sooner. They are facing their most daunting challenge, not just this weekend in Boston, but as they move toward the all-important August 1 trade deadline.
While this team has doggedly maintained a winning record for most of its 92 games, it has never — not once — been better than four games over .500. Now they are two games under and facing the toughest portion of their schedule.
Farrell addressed this in a brief meeting before the Jays’ first game in New York earlier this week, hoping to rally the troops. He characterized this trip as an opportunity for the players to define their season. The red-hot Yanks proceeded to sweep the series and outscore Toronto by 18-4. How’s that for definition?
Now they face the Red Sox, who have not exactly been a sure thing themselves this year. After a lousy April followed by a May-June recovery, the Red Sox have been mediocre themselves so far in July, with a 6-8 record this month. Then the Jays come home for six games, three each against the surprising Oakland A’s and the recovering Detroit Tigers and then it’s another nine-game road swing to Oakland, Seattle and Tampa.
What happened against the Yankees is one thing. They have taken control of the toughest division in baseball and are unlikely to loosen their grip. They are 36-13 in their past 49 games.
The threat for Toronto is that they may yet prove to be no match for the teams they have to beat to stay in the wild-card hunt where they sat 3.5 games out before Thursday night’s games. Not an insurmountable challenge, but one that needs to be attacked right now, even with Jose Bautista on the disabled list and Brett Lawrie’s health uncertain.
It’s not even about whether the Jays will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. With the notable exception of the Roy Halladay trade, made with a gun to his head, few of Alex Anthopoulos’ deals can be characterized in that kind of black-and-white context.
When AA evaluates deals, he is simply looking for value, both for now and for the future. That’s how Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Rajai Davis, Sergio Santos and Jeff Mathis became part of this team, adding both immediate and lasting value.
Even if he decides it’s time to convert some of the team’s prospects into immediate upgrades, you can take it to the bank that there will be components that keep on giving beyond this year and next.
It is simply not in this GM’s DNA to trade future assets for rentals, no matter how attractive the immediate gain might be. So, the trade deadline will come and go and while the Jays might be in the middle of the wheeling and dealing, AA’s outlook is unlikely to change.
At risk is the public perception that this is a franchise with momentum. That momentum can be measured in improved attendance, bigger TV numbers, greater buzz in the community.
The Jays, averaging 26,647 fans per game, are on their way to their best seasonal attendance in the 21st century, taking into account that attendance figures between 2002 and 2008 were, to put it kindly, unreliable. Greater fan response has always been a key component of the Jays plans for increasing payroll and improving the roster.
They are now getting that response but if the team tanks in the second half, it risks a disconnect with this fragile revival of interest.
But, hey fellas, no pressure.