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Blue Jays Are Too Comfortable With 50/50

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Statistically, the Major League Baseball season is one-third over; but to baseball writer Mike Rutsey, for the Blue Jays, the season is virtually 100 per cent over. Kaput.

Rutsey's reaction to pitcher Brandon Morrow's possible season-ending injury to his oblique muscle (whatever that is) after one pitch against the Washington Nationals on Monday, was that it ended the Jays' hope for a playoff spot.

And the Nats didn't even have Alexander Oveckin in the line-up! I fear Rutsey is more right than wrong. What is it about these Blue Jays?

I don't pretend to be a baseball expert, but I'm a fairly consistent fan. As such, I tend towards the over-optimistic while being ever-aware that the team (my team!) works diligently at disappointing people like me.

I get uneasy when the Jays do well in Spring Training games that mean nothing -- as happened this year. I should have seen it coming. With 10 straight wins in spring training, it should have been obvious that disappointment and frustration lay ahead.

Not only were fans dazzled by spring training success, but the team seemed persuaded that it was better than was warranted. I worry that at best, the Jays are a .500 team. If Leafs, or even the Argos, had a .500 record we'd be cracking open champagne. But at this one-third mark of the season another .500 finish looms -- if they're lucky.

Last season they ended 81-81 in wins and losses.

This year, brainwashed as I was by the Spring Training heroics, I thought 90 wins was possible. What a dreamer! Sad to say, but maybe congenitally the Blue Jays are a .500 team. Always respectable in a tough division, but always a bridesmaid.

Curiously, when the Jays economize with salaries, they wind up around 50/50 in wins and loses. In years when they splurge on salaries, again 50/50 in wins.

The potential for this year's Jays was (still is if they're lucky) exceptional.

They started the season stealing bases like mad -- then drifted back to waiting for the long ball. Fielding is as good as any, with only first base a bit iffy. Acquiring Omar Visquel, at age 45 the oldest infielder in baseball, was inspired. He's destined for the Hall of Fame and is so reliable that we can forget John McDonald as a fielding virtuoso.

Jays hit pay dirt in centre field with Colby Rasmus whose deer-in-headlights demeanor is a contrast to his splendid fielding and surprising bat. Brett Lawrie is the most exciting player who inspires and radiates aggression in the field on and on bases.

Encarnacion filled the gap of Bautista's slow home run start, but now that Bautista seems back in mode, that's another positive. But what's gone wrong with Blue Jay bats -- not one .300 hitter among regulars. It's a feast-or-famine hitting. One game with 10-plus hits, the next game with five hits or fewer. Why?

In short -- this is a good team with considerable potential that is not being tapped. The management is arguably the best in baseball, the players excel at every position, and they are exciting to watch -- but frustrating.

What's puzzling to us fans is when the Jays are three or four games above .500 they go into a dive and lose three or four. Their comfort zone is .500. Some of us fans are weary of our endless optimism being replaced by pessimism

Winning 90 games, or even 85 for a shot at making the playoffs, seems to drift further away, even though the Yankees, Red Sox and Tampa Bay have had lapses this season. Baltimore is hard to take seriously so I don't -- unless they are playing the Jays.

Is it real or my imagination that the Jays play better against "good" teams than they do against "mediocre" teams? If so, it's because they lack a killer instinct.

I find myself despairing when they get four home runs in a game -- on four hits. That sort of production bodes ill over the season.

Pitching invariably dictates success or failure. This season the Jays have fared well with starters, but the bull pen continues to frustrate. If it were me, I'd be wary of any player with "Francisco" as either a first or last name. And for the life of me, I don't understand why at this stage of the season the manager worries about his "over-worked" bullpen, when over two months of baseball a bull pen pitcher may have worked 22 innings. That averages out an inning every three days. And these guys are exhausted? Tell that to a hockey player.

I await a manager who discovers that starting pitchers don't need a five-day break. It used to be four days, and a long time ago three days. Those of a certain age can remember the Boston Braves chant: "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."

Warren Spahn pitched 20 years for the Braves and in his lifetime won 363 games and won over 20 games a season 13 times. For most of that time his ERA was under 3.00.

Of Johnny Sain's 11 years in the Majors, seven were with Boston Braves. He won 139 games and in 1948 won 24 games.

If you think outside the box, you occasionally wonder why a team wouldn't use its four best pitchers every game -- each going a couple of innings. Then you wouldn't need a huge bull pen, and would have your best ones ready every day.

Right now the Blue Jays have 12 pitchers, four of whom have winning records. Why not relay your four best in every game? I know this is nuts, but why not try it?

Anyway, it's Blue Jay bats that are frustrating this season. They splutter or splurge -- rarely a solid average. Maybe they'll come alive July. If not, another .500 season beckons -- if they're lucky.

Once again it'll be "Wait 'till next year!"