The Cleveland Indians have been running on teams all season long, something Toronto has
failed to pick-up on during the ALCS (Photo courtesy of Erik Drost)
After Game 2 of the American League Championship series which saw Cleveland go up 2-0 in the series with a 2-1 win over the Blue Jays, Toronto manager John Gibbons, when asked about his struggling offense stated that “the Blue Jays are a power team, that’s what got us here, and we aren’t going to waiver from that approach.” What Gibbons fails to realize is that Toronto’s over dependency on the power game is exactly the reason why they lost to Kansas City in the 2015 ALCS, why they’re down now to Cleveland in the 2016 ALCS, and why Toronto almost failed to make the post-season this year as their offense lacked any kind of punch down the stretch.
People often complain about old school baseball…hit and run, sacrifice bunts, stealing bases, but whether you like it or not, this is the proper way to play the game, because it’s the easiest and most fundamental way to win a ball game. It’s understandable that the Blue Jays of the past few seasons may have convinced some (Perhaps even Gibbons) that the long ball is the way to go, but it most certainly is not. And where Toronto has come up short in both 2015 and 2016 has been on account of their inability to generate runs in ways other than hitting the ball out of the park.
The Blue Jays of 2015 and 2016, with a dependency on the home run is not the natural way to play the game. How can a team possibly expect to win a 7-game series when the bulk of their line-up is trying to do something they have a 1 in 20 chance of accomplishing when they step-up to the plate?
The only thing worse than Toronto’s refusal to change their approach at the plate is their inability to counter how Cleveland is going about generating their runs. With some of the best base runners in the game, including Coco Crisp, Raijai Davis, and Francisco Lindor, it’s no secret that when any of these players make it to 1st base, that there’s a pretty good possibility that Terry Francona will either be bunting them over or asking them to steal. Considering how aggressive and predictable Cleveland has been with their base running during the championship series, it’s hard to understand why Toronto hasn’t been doing more to deter the Indians from running so much. I can’t even recall the last time Toronto attempted a pitch-out, or whether they’ve even attempted a single one all season long. Other than a few weak pick-off attempts, Toronto has done far too little to stem Cleveland’s aggressive base running, and until they do so, the Indians will continue to run on Toronto and continue to push runners into scoring position with ease.
Francona, anticipating close games in the post-season (as any good manager would), does whatever he possibly can to move a runner into scoring position. The Blue Jays on the other hand continue to search in desperation for the long ball. As Gibbons said in his press conference a few days ago, Toronto’s a team that lives and dies with the long ball, and that’s not going to change. What’s most disappointing for me, other than Gibbons actually believing that Toronto is solely a power team, is that I’ve seen the Blue Jays at times throughout the regular season move away from the long ball and focus on getting base hits and moving runners over one base at a time. And you know what, it’s incredible to watch and a friggin’ effective means to generate offense. Sure the Blue Jays can hit home runs with the best of them, but when they want to, they can also hit for average with the best of them also if they simply chose to do so.
Unlike what Gibbons mentioned earlier about the Jays not changing their style, if Toronto is to have any shot of getting back in this series, they’ll need to take a page from Terry Francona’s book, and hope they might just be able to beat Cleveland at their own game.