After splitting a two game series with the Diamondbacks, the Blue Jays sit at 40-34, 2.5 out of first place in the AL East. After a slow start to the season, they're right back in the hunt after as they enjoy their last day off before 17 straight games leading into the All-Star break. The coming stretch against Chicago, Colorado, Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit does not on its face appear to be especially important to the ultimate chances of contending. But in the recent past, this exact stretch - against many of the same opponents - has proven to be a major pitfall. And that cautionary tale starts exactly three years ago today.
On June 23, 2013, the Blue Jays finished off a sweep of the Orioles to win their 11th straight game. After a disastrous beginning to the season, they had clawed their way back in the playoff hunt at 38-36, five games out of first place. However, it proved to be the equivalent of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, the high water mark of the season. Over the 20 games heading into the All-Star Game, they went 7-13, and though it would take a couple of sweeps right after the break to formally kill their hopes, their season was effectively dead in the water.
On June 27, 2014, the Jays were at 45-36, two games up in the AL East. But 15 games and a 4-11 record later (dropping all four series other than a two game sweep of Marco Estrada's Brewers), they were four games down in the division standings and had done huge damage to their playoff odds from which they did not recover. This can be seen as only the second half of a longer slump that started three weeks before, but they were bound to cool off from the torrid stretch leading into that the initial freefall had been stabilized with the Jays still in strong position.
Likewise, on June 27th last year, the Jays had a record of 40-35, just one game out of the division lead. They closed out the first half with five straight series losses: dropping the last two games against Texas; losing 3 of 4 to Boston; 2 of 3 to Detroit; 3 of 4 to the White Sox; and 2 of 3 to Kansas City, the rubbergame in particularly ignominious fashion. That left them 45-46, 4.5 games behind.
Now, in fairness, I've done a little cherrypicking when it comes to selecting the dates to maximize the extent of the damage done the last three years leading into the All-Star break. But still, if a more objective common date of June 27th is used, we can see the damage the Jays have done in the two weeks and three weekends leading into the Midsummer Classic (which, despite the earlier date, is exactly what the Jays are about to head into):
|Records / Standings||Change to BP Playoff Odds|
|Year||Start||Div.||To ASB||Div.||Division||Wild Card||At least WC|
|2013||38-36||-5||6-11||-5||2% to 0%||10% to 2%||12% to 2%|
|2014||45-36||+2||4-11||-4||53% to 27%||11% to 7%||64% to 34%|
|2015||40-35||-1||5-11||-4.5||24% to 15%||29% to 14%||53% to 29%|
|Avg.||41-36||5-11||26% to 14%||17% to 8%||43% to 22%|
In each of the last three years, the Jays have got to this point above .500, with almost the same average record as they have in 2016. Their estimated playoff odds have varied, but the 26% average for winning the division is similar to their 29% current estimate, though with better fallback odds of grabbing a wild card spot (28% to 17% average).
Their poor play heading into the All-Star break has been ruinous, halving their odds of playing past the end of the season, the hit almost equally distributed between the division and wild card chances. And a similar run in 2016 would almost certainly be equally ruinous, dropping them near the .500 level, as well as burning a significant amount of the remaining season. And they'd do it against, let's be frank, probably the softest part of the schedule.
In the grand scheme of things, this next stretch of 17 games is not any more important than any other ~10% section of the schedule. It is very unlikely to be determinative of the season. But it could go a long way to determining what the Blue Jays do at the deadline, whether they buy or hold (or less likely, sell).
Last year, they were able to overcome the damage done. But in 2013 and 2014, they could not, and teams can't count on winning 75% of games over a two month stretch on a regular basis. The Jays would do well to not lose their focus in what has been a very dangerous part of the calendar in recent years.