One of the things I like to do at about this point in the season is see how teams are doing against good and bad starters. Have they faced more than their share of good or bad pitchers, and have they taken advantage of their opportunities? I did this with the Rockies on Purple Row on Friday and noticed they had faced more than their share of bad starters, which is likely keeping them around .500 instead of a handful of games below it.
With the Blue Jays sitting right at .500 entering play Sunday, I decided to dig up the same numbers for them. So in the table below, we have all the starters the Blue Jays have faced this season, the OPS hitters have recorded against those pitchers this season (in generally about 150 plate appearances), and if the Blue Jays won or lost the games these pitchers started against them (this is written out and color-coded in red and green).
Note: In instances where the Blue Jays have faced a pitcher more than once, they are listed twice to maintain the visual aspect of all the games in the table.
Pretty standard breakdown. The Blue Jays have faced 17 starters who have held opposing hitters below the average MLB OPS this season, and 15 who have allowed opposing hitters to hit above that average. They're 7-10 in the games they've faced the "above average pitchers", and 9-6 when facing the "below average" pitchers.
With the Blue Jays however, the thing that sticks out to me are those red rows at the bottom of the table. Those two losses in games against Miguel Gonzalez and Joe Kelly are the difference between the Blue Jays getting off to a good start this season and a somewhat disappointing one. Both games were at home, both games were started by Marcus Stroman, both games saw the Blue Jays jump out to a large early lead, and both games saw both Stroman and the bullpen come unglued as the offense went to sleep.
Not surprisingly, these two games would get my vote at the two most disappointing losses of the season. The game against Joe Kelly was the home opener against the Red Sox. Toronto jumped out to a 7-2 lead in that one fueled largely by a Josh Donaldson grand slam. For the first several innings, it felt like a big party - But then the offense dried up, and Stroman could get through the sixth inning before the bullpen severed up the game's second grand slam, this one off the bat of Brock Holt.
The Miguel Gonzalez game was eerily similar. In this one, the Blue Jays appeared to be cruising toward victory, taking a 5-1 lead into the seventh inning. But the White Sox got to Stroman, knocked him out of the game, and then made Toronto throw 29 pitches between the second and third out of the inning. By the time it was over, Chicago had the lead.
So the lesson here is that you need to play a complete game when you get the gift of facing a terrible starter. In both contests, the Blue Jays offense did jump on the opposing pitcher, but then they didn't score again after the fourth inning. Throw in Stroman not getting as deep into the game as he wanted to and the bullpen coughing up leads, and you get losses in games the Blue Jays should have won.
How costly are games like this? Well, the Blue Jays entered play Sunday at 16-16; if they had won those two games, they would be 18-14. That's the difference between being on pace to win 81 games and 91 games. In short, good teams convert games where they face really bad pitching into wins. Overall the Blue Jays have still done a decent job of this (as indicated by their 9-6 record in games facing "below average" pitching). However, they could easily be 11-4 in those contests, and that's really the type of mark we're looking for with this team and this offense.
I bring this up because as the Blue Jays head to San Francisco this week, they're getting a big break. They're running into the part of the Giants rotation that includes Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, two of the worst starting pitchers in baseball this season (allowing an 1.109 and .953 OPS to opposing hitters). The Giants are almost two different teams; a really good one when Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija are starting, and a really bad one when anybody else starts. The Blue Jays will be facing the bad Giants team twice in this series, and they need to take advantage of a break like this by pound the starters early, and not letting the lead slip away. If they do a better job of cashing in these games, they should start rolling soon.