Toronto Blue Jays: Where Did it All Go Wrong?

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The Toronto Blue Jays react after loosing to the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The Toronto Blue Jays react after loosing to the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Blue Jays fell short of their ultimate goal, but where did it all go wrong for them?

Well, to be frank, it all went pretty well in retrospect. The Toronto Blue Jays made it to the American League Championship Series, which is really good. Being in a major sports semi-final means the team finished third or fourth (and in this case, in a 30 team league).

That’s back-to-back appearances in the ALCS, which is really good, but in the end, there’s only one team that wins it all and 29 who don’t. For the other 29, there are articles like this appearing about all of them. But this one is a little later than most because the Jays’ season just ended and most teams did not.

Where’d it all go wrong? Well, Cleveland, obviously, but there are two micro events and two macro underlying factors that I see that led to the Jays’ demise.

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The first mini-event was in the first inning of the first game of the series. In the previous Blue Jays’ inning played, Josh Donaldson, last year’s MVP, despite hip issues, sprinted home from second on an attempted double-play against Texas to clinch the series victory in the ALDS. So we know he can run at a decent clip.

With Donaldson on first in Cleveland, Edwin Encarnacion hit a double to the gap. To ensure Donaldson should score on the play, the ball stuck in the bottom of the wall, creating more time for him to cross the plate. Instead, third-base coach Luis Rivera held Donaldson with one out instead of putting pressure on Cleveland to throw him out at the plate (where they may have been too late with the perfect relay anyway).

Rivera made an ultra-conservative call and threw up the stop sign, thereby trusting the hitters behind Encarnacion to drive in Donaldson, which they did not. If Rivera sent Donaldson, it would show the Jays are capable of playing small ball. That would have set the tone for the series and changed the narrative on the Jays, which may have forced Cleveland to adjust their gameplan.

From the first inning of that series to the second last one. Dioner Navarro gets a hit off the unhittable Andrew Miller. Navarro, a bigger gentleman is not what anyone would call fleet of foot. So, one would think, manager John Gibbons would put in a pinch-runner for him. Dalton Pompey was on the roster just to run, yet Gibbons didn’t insert him.

What happened? A slow roller in the hole past the shortstop. Indians’ Francisco Lindor made a good play just to get to the ball, but luckily for him, he had time to throw to second because it was Navarro running to second. If it was Pompey (or even Ryan Goins), Lindor would have had no play. Then having two runners on with no outs, the possibilities are endless.

The crazy part of not running for Navarro is that he would have had to come out of the game anyway. In the AL Wild Card game, a huge uproar was made when Buck Showalter wasted using the best closer in the game, but did Gibbons not waste the fastest guy on the team on the bench. Gibbons was out-managed in this series.

Now, the macro rationale. First, the simple: Cleveland is a team that plays small ball as good as anybody. The Jays, plainly, were not built to. They hit the long ball and when that’s working it’s great. But when it’s not, you get results like most of the five futile games against the Indians (on the other hand, their pitching — starters and especially the bullpen — came through amazingly well).

Now the other macro reason that the Jays went down hard is more psychological. Isn’t it plausible that the Jays blew their excitement during their series against Texas? After a dramatic sweep of a team whom you have much bad blood with, they had nothing left in the tank. The Blue Jays put all their stock into beating Texas and they couldn’t bring it together with the bats when they faced the Rangers — the momentum was gone.

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And it just so ends up that Cleveland is just killing Toronto in sports lately. In the last two major league semi-finals, Cleveland has ousted Toronto. First, the Cavaliers beat out the Raptors en route to their championship in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, and now the Indians have beat out the Jays. I guess the Maple Leafs are just lucky Cleveland doesn’t have an NHL team anymore.