The standings don’t make sense – and neither do the New York Yankees.
They are running away with the American League East – and really, running away with the entire American League.
They are romping at around 120-win pace heading into Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. They are nine and a half games better than the Blue Jays, who are on pace themselves to win 95 games: The Jays have never won more than 99 games in any season and that one happened some 37 years ago.
So what’s happening now is rather historical and yet disappointing from a Toronto perspective as July beckons in a season in which four teams from the American League East could well wind up in the playoffs in October.
This is a great Blue Jays team, as good a roster as they’ve ever had, that hasn’t yet played really great. This is a better roster than any Jays team in my mind, a more exciting group, man by man, than the Yankees, but you can’t play baseball on paper or computers – you play on the field and that is where the Yankees are doing miraculous things this season.
They lead the American League in almost everything. Runs scored, runs allowed, first in OPS, in slugging, in home runs, in on-base percentage. First in earned run average, in shutouts pitched, with the second-most strikeouts and the least amount of walks allowed.
And all of that – the win-loss record, the discrepancy between first and second in the AL East, the wait for all the Blue Jays to come together in a way they haven’t yet – makes this weekend series with the Yankees rather significant.
It’s not about making up ground in the standings. That may not be possible for a while. It’s about showing up when it matters, not necessarily with your best pitchers lined up, about looking at the team you might have to beat to win the American League or get to the World Series, if it comes to that: This is a best of three playoff series in mid-season that all of baseball should be paying attention to.
And this is about an MVP battle that never really took off – the pending free agent Aaron Judge as the clear favourite now in the AL. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is not in the running.
Judge has 25 home runs. Guerrero has 16. Judge has knocked in 49 runs. Guerrero has 39. Judge has a league-leading OPS of 1.067. Guerrero sits at .866, well below expected numbers. Both are the offensive leaders of their teams – and the offences are surprisingly similar in terms of production.
New York leads the AL in home runs. Toronto is third. The Yankees lead in runs; Toronto is third. Here’s one that can confuse you: The Jays have 34 more hits than the Yankees and haven’t scored nearly as many runs. Yankees are first in the AL in OPS; Jays are second. Yankees are first in slugging; Jays are second.
The two teams are tied in on-base percentage.
Those numbers are close – which makes the nine or 10 game bulge in the standings all the more confounding.
“That’s the American League East,” said Charlie Montoyo pre-game, before his Jays were blasted by the Orioles. “You have to keep playing and not worry about anybody else. You can only control what you do.
“We’re playing good and so are they. Happened last year too. Everybody was over 90-something. You can’t worry about anybody else – and you have to keep playing your team.”
The Jays struggled recently in winning games in Detroit and didn’t look sharp in what should have been an easy four-game home series against Baltimore. And when they beat the Orioles in the 10th inning Wednesday night, you might have thought they won the World Series. The celebration after Guerrero’s walk-off RBI was a touch over the top.
That’s what makes this team both fun and baffling: They celebrate everything. It also makes me wonder what happens when they’re playing an equal – or in this case, this weekend, a superior team.
The historically high-spending Yankees made two rather invisible deals in the off-season that have helped this team dramatically. They sacrificed some offence for defence in moving Gary Sanchez and improving their play at catcher. They also picked up Isiah Kiner-Falefa – yep that guy – to play shortstop and suddenly the infield defence, so much a problem last season is not so much of a problem anymore.
It’s like the Montoyo the manager says over and over: Pitching and defence wins. And sometimes defence and pitching wins. And the Yankees may not have a lineup with sexy names like Guerrero and Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman and an outfield of George Springer-Teoscar Hernandez-Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Alejandro Kirk’s magic bat.
They happen to know how to win. With all this talent and all these expectations, the Blue Jays are still figuring that part out.