After finding a way in the AL Wild Card game against Baltimore and then having their way with the Texas Rangers in an ALDS sweep, the Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in a significant 2-0 hole in the ALCS vs. the Cleveland Indians.
Toronto pitching has been between above average to stellar throughout the playoffs so far, but the surging offence has been silenced over the last two games. But is it really the fault of the bats?
I don’t think so. This is different than in the season when the hitters were doing consistently poorly against many different pitchers over a long stretch of time. Just a few days ago they were hot as could be and now they’re just….not.
You could argue they’re swinging for the fences or jumping on first pitch or whatever negative Blue Jays cliche you want.
But look at these stats. Edwin Encarnacion for example has had 7 AB this ALCS. He’s faced 40 pitches for a 5.7 per at bat average. That’s almost double his 3.2 pitch per plate appearance average in the Divisional series. Pillar was 2.69 in the DS and has stayed at a 2.71 so far in the CS. Tulowitzki was a 2.76 in the DS but jumped all the way to 4.0 over the past 2 games. Martin sits exactly at his 4.5 DS average. Upton was a 2.57 but has drawn 5.5 out of Cleveland. Some players have dipped a little. Donaldson was a 4.2 in the DS, and against Cleveland he’s 3.37. Saunders was 4.6 but is now a slightly lower 4.0. And Carerra is now a 2.85 compared to 3.71 in the DS.
But to me the big indicator is Jose Bautista.
He’s one of the very best I’ve ever seen at extending an at bat. If the average pitcher had to face Bautista for every out his pitch count would likely be up to about 75 by inning three.
In the Wild Card game he had 3 at bats and faced 19 pitches for a 6.3 pitch per at bat average. Against Texas where the entire team seemed to have a field day, he had 12 at bats and hit a dismal .167! But he still faced 60 pitches for a 5 pitch average and had an on base percentage of .286.
Here in these allegedly quiet two games against Cleveland Joey Bats is listed as having 6 at bats. He’s forced 43 pitches out of the Cleveland staff for a higher than average 7.2 pitches per at bat.
Most Blue Jays hitters are good at tracking pitching patterns and predicting when a hittable pitch is on its way. In my opinion this is why they’re still getting some hits, especially after two outs. They’re still picking away and doing an ok job of trying to find a moment.
What makes them so great though is their ability to pounce on unexpected mistakes. This talent scattered deep into the lineup is what usually gives them that extra solo home run here and there, adding 2-3 possible bonus runs per game. But all credit to Cleveland pitching. They just aren’t making mistakes, and definitely not enough to have a team win the game off them.
Last night was amazing to watch. It was like the Cleveland pitching staff was using an oopie. My 6 year old son is a fairly unpredictable pitcher. His repertoire consists of one pitch he calls the stinker. The wind up to this pitch makes you think only of self preservation, and your hands instinctively move into protection mode. The ball then usually ends up literally dying harmlessly at your feet. We were watching the 8th inning yesterday and he was chanting “throw the stinker, throw the stinker”. Unbelievably, after throwing inside curve balls at the speed of sound, the very next pitch Miller made the ball come at Donaldson at waist height only to somehow have it literally die harmlessly into the dirt. Swing and a miss to end the inning. A perfect stinker.
Toronto batters are notorious for arguing strike calls. I think that’s because they’re usually in full control, fully confident, fully expecting to hit the ball. When it doesn’t happen they’re justified in searching for an external reason.
The batters were obviously frustrated in game 2 as well, but the body language is completely different. They’re not looking quietly dejected at making mistakes and resigning themselves to the fact that it’s their own fault. They’re not looking around at umpires or the crowd looking for support in feeling like they were cheated. And they aren’t even lashing out.
They’re internally seething.
You can see a different, deeper rage right now. It’s because they’re being beaten by good pitches and there’s literally nothing they can do about it.
They’re doing things right. They’re still patient. They’re waiting, but for something that just isn’t there: a hittable pitch.