Crunch Time is Here for Blue Jays
SEATTLE – People call it crunch time for a good reason.
When you get to this point in a baseball season, there isn’t time left to be patient or philosophical or make excuses.
It all has to happen now or it won’t happen at all.
“You definitely feel the pressure more at the end of the season than you do during the earlier months,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
“I think that’s kind of natural. Losing can always be tough to stop, but there’s no doubt that there’s a different feel when you get to this point and there’s not a lot of season left.”
The Jays chose the first two weeks of September to play some of their worst baseball of the season, losing 11 of the first 16 games in the month. They come home now after winning a series against the Seattle Mariners, one of the teams chasing them in the wild card standings, looking to continue to gain positive momentum.
“Obviously we needed to start playing better but I didn’t sense a change in mood in the room or with the guys on the coaching staff,” Gibbons said. “You just go about your business every day and, sure, there’s a lot at stake but it doesn’t affect your routine.
“We like playing at home. I know our record the last home stand wasn’t great, but we feel good there in front of the home crowd. There’s not a whole lot of time left so we’ve got to play good. You’ve got to be optimistic.”
With a lineup made up of so many trusted veterans, Gibbons doesn’t have any trouble sleeping at nights.
“Your big players become big players because they tend to step up when they’re needed,” he said. “That’s how they get their identity.
“That makes a huge difference. My feeling has always been that with so many guys struggling this month that it was going to change, that it had to change. You’re not going to hold everybody in that room down.”
THE 20-WIN DEBATE
It’s not very often that a pitcher reaches 20 wins any more but, Tuesday, J.A. Happ became Toronto’s first 20-game winner since Roy Halladay did it in 2008. Modern analytics do not recognize a lot of value in pitcher wins, but that achievement still has plenty of cachet in clubhouse around MLB.
“There are two ways to look at that — purely what metrics will tell you, what it indicates about a pitcher and their future; and then the other side of it is what it means to a team and morale,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. “When a team goes on to the field and they have the feeling that this is a winning pitcher, there’s a lot to be said for that. I think that’s the subjective side of why we do these things, why we enjoy the game of baseball so much, that there’s so much to chemistry, morale, confidence and what one person can contribute to that is real. But you can’t ignore that, over time, guys are unlucky and guys are unfortunate so there are a lot of really good pitchers out there this year that won’t win 20 games.”
The Jays made it official Wednesday that Francisco Liriano, not R.A. Dickey, will start for Toronto on Friday against the New York Yankees.
While the Blue Jays did not win Liriano’s last start in Anaheim, he certainly pitched well enough to win, allowing six hits and just two earned runs over six innings in Toronto’s 6-1 loss on Saturday.
Dickey last started on Friday, tossing five shutout innings in a 5-0 win over the Angels. He was used Wednesday against Seattle in the 12th inning, giving up the unearned run which ended the game.
FREE AGENCY LOOMS
The Blue Jays have nine pending free agents who could be less than two weeks away from their final games in a Toronto uniform.
Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, Dioner Navarro, Scott Feldman, Dickey, Brett Cecil, and Joaquin Benoit are all in their walk years but Gibbons said the subject never comes up.
“Some of them are going to be gone, no doubt about it,” said Gibbons. “It’s obvious that could happen. I know it got talked about in spring training but not since then. I don’t hear much talk about it and I never hear (the players) talking about it.
“It’s the reality and if a couple of key ones leave, then it’s going to be a completely different-looking team. But that’s the business. Guys earn the right to be a free agent. Naturally they’ve got to test things out.”
Atkins has little to add to the ongoing discussion, especially regarding Encarnacion and Bautista.
“We don’t have control over that,” Atkins said. “Edwin and Jose have a lot of say. So it’s hard to tell you the likelihood but the desire and intent will be there.”