The story of the young 2009 season has been the Toronto Blue Jays. With the powerhouse Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees in the division most pundits wrote off the Jays chances this season — and that was before they sustained a number of pitching injuries, including the loss of Jesse Litsch, who started the season second to Roy Halladay in the rotation. Yet the Jays have soared out of the gates and on May 12 lead the AL East with a 22-12 record. The question everyone now asks is, are they for real?
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick thinks that the Jays could continue their winning ways. He notes their impressive win totals over the past year (impressive in relation to the competition), including their record since Cito Gaston took over as manager last year. They also have a number of pitchers out with injuries, and when they return the team could have the favorable problem of not having enough innings for everyone. Combine this with a league-leading offense, and Crasnick believes the Jays could have some sustainable success.
The 2009 Blue Jays, for me, conjure up memories of 2005. At some point around now-ish that year I had a conversation with a friend who thought the Orioles could be for real. That scared him, since the Yankees were off to a putrid start (they would soon be resurrected by Tino Martinez, however). I told him not to worry, that the Orioles would come back to earth. That they did, finishing the season 74-88, fourth place in the AL East.
On May 12, 2005, the Orioles had a record of 22-12.
On May 12, 2009, the Blue Jays have a record of 22-12.
This isn’t to say the Jays will collapse in a similar manner. They have a good team, after all, and they could be even better once they get some of their injured pitchers back. However, there are certain trends that, like the Orioles in 05, the Jays will not be able to maintain. We can start with the Jays offense, which has scored 204 runs and is the most in the majors by 20 runs. This would extrapolate to 972 runs over 162 games, which is just not likely to play out in reality. They’ll end 2008 scoring fewer than six runs per game. Similarly, the Orioles were averaging 5.4 runs per game in 2005, but ended having scored just 4.5 per game.
Plenty can happen between now and the end of the season, so to proclaim the Blue Jays “for real” at this point is a bit absurd. That’s not to say that they’re not. They have a good collection of players who are all doing rather well right now, and if they can sustain that and take advantage of returning pitchers, they could turn the AL East into an enormous dogfight. Yet they still haven’t done it against the powerhouses in the division. Tonight marks the Jays’ first game against the Yanks, and they have yet to play the Sox and Rays. By May 12, 2005, the Orioles were already 5-1 against the Yanks and 2-2 against Boston, 16-6 against the whole AL East.
Remember, too, that even at the end of May 2005 the Orioles were still atop the division, by three games, and the Yanks were in fourth place. In September, the Yanks had claimed yet another AL East crown. Also, the Orioles were still at 43-35 on June 30, 3.5 games ahead of the Yanks. It wasn’t until the end of July that the Yanks had surged ahead. Baltimore, by the way, won eight games the entire month of July. So even if the Jays do keep up this torrid pace for a little longer, it’ll really take an entire season to prove that they’re for real.
Are the 2009 Blue Jays a better team than the 2005 Orioles on paper? I think so. That’s what separates these two cases. Even when they’re battered the 2009 Blue Jays pitching looks better than that of the 2005 O’s. This is why the league needs to take the Jays seriously. However, given what we’ve learned about them from the past few years, their early-season surge could very well play out similarly to the Orioles in 2005.
When hearing how awesome a team is on paper, people often reply by noting the obvious, that the game is played on the field and that results are what matter. That’s obviously true, but that paper can catch up to you. Teams can play way over their heads for considerable portions of the season, just like others can play like crap for a month and a half before hitting the thrusters. Baseball plays a 162-game schedule so most of these flukes can run their course and the best teams can come out on top. It’s the advantage of a large sample. Let’s not forget that when evaluating the Yankees — and the Blue Jays — right now.