In western Asia, along the desolate border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, there lies the Aralkum Desert. It’s a terribly sad place with haunting reminders of what was, and harsh lessons about how fast things can change.
You see, the Aralkum Desert wasn’t always here. Just 60 years ago, it was part of the vast Aral Sea; the fourth-largest Lake in the world at the time (larger than each of the individual Great Lakes, except Lake Superior). But after the second World War, the Soviet Union began diverting its main tributaries for irrigation projects elsewhere, and over the following decades, over 90 percent of the once mighty lake dried up, transforming the landscape into a lifeless, toxic desert.
Thriving fishing villages which once stood on the edge of the prosperous waterfront now sit as ghost towns over 100 miles from the nearest body of water. Even stranger are the ships that sank all those years ago. They now sit almost paradoxically in the boiling sand, painfully serving as the best reminder of the existence of the sea that once swallowed them. It’s hard to believe it could happen this fast, but the Aral Sea is almost gone.
Sadly, the Blue Jays lineup might as well be baseball’s Aral Sea. Just two years ago, they boasted an unstoppable array of sluggers that not only led the league in runs, but managed to put a Grand Canyon sized gap between themselves and the second best offensive team. The details are as follows: The 2015 Blue Jays scored 891 runs, 127 more than the Yankees who plated the second most at 764.
Everybody knew this lineup would regress as Bautista, Donaldson, Tulo and others aged, but nobody could have predicted it would dry up this fast. The 127 run cushion they had over the Yankees in 2015 felt like a buffer. The idea was that even if they fall back to the group, they should still rank among the best lineups in baseball, or at worse, blend into the middle of the field.
That just hasn’t happened. Instead they’ve gone on a free fall over the last two years, and in terms of pure runs scored, they now rank second to last in the American League. Through 80 games, they’ve only plated 334 runs, which puts them on pace to score just 676 runs over the course of the season.
But it’s even worse than it sounds, because while the Blue Jays have spent the last two years regressing offensively, the rest of baseball has been moving in the opposite direction. In 2015, the average MLB offense scored 688 runs. In 2017, the average MLB offense is on pace to score 755 runs. So the Blue Jays went from scoring 203 runs more than the average team in baseball to now being on pace to score 79 runs less than the average team.
Bottom line: They’ve lost 282 runs to the pack in just two years. How could it disappear that fast?
Even scarier is that they still appear to be getting worse. This is the runs scored leader board for the American League in month of June:
Not only did the Jays come in last, but there’s a 27 run gap between them and the next worst team for the month. That’s with only 36 runs separating the second and 14th place teams.
Near the end of the month, the Jays faced the Orioles for a three game series at home. This is a team that allowed five or more runs in 21 of their last 22 games before visiting Rogers Centre. They were the perfect get well medicine for this offense, and the Jays only managed to put up a total of five runs during the entire three game series. When you can’t hit the Orioles at home, sirens should be going off.
Sure, the Jays aren’t that bad, but a good offensive team doesn’t spend a month undershooting the rest of the league by this many runs. The bounce back will only take them so far. Bautista and Tulowitzki are shells of their former selves, Donaldson is still a great player, but he’s coming down off his MVP productivity, Edwin Encarnacion is gone, and second base will continue to be a black hole with Travis on the DL.
It’s also worth noting that the Blue Jays are even worse at scoring runs than they are at batting. Usually the difference between those skills as a team are minimal, but not with the 2017 Jays. Toronto has grounded into more double plays (84) than any team in baseball. They’re awful at taking the extra base on a hit, and they’re second to last among all 30 MLB teams in Fangraphs’ BsR stat, which tries to measure all facets of base running.
In short, if this team isn’t hitting the ball over the wall, they’re not producing runs. They do rank a little better at hammering the long ball - Their 106 home runs puts them seventh in a AL - but that’s just not anywhere near good enough for a line up that has a .315 on base percentage, hits into double plays, and often needs three non home run hits to get around the bases.
Despite what the names on the back of the jerseys say, this just isn’t a good offense anymore. The trends are unmistakable, and the sample size is getting too big to ignore. Like the Aral Sea, the once proud Blue Jays lineup has all but completely evaporated.