By Matt Antaya / @selfcynic
After a weekend of walk-off celebrations against the Detroit Tigers (including a 19-inning marathon on Sunday), the Jays flew to Seattle and were reminded why the baseball season is long and hard. Dropping all three games against the Mariners, the team must now sweep themselves up off the floor and climb back into the race.
At one time this season, the Jays lead the AL East division by as many as six games. Now they have fallen to 7.5 games behind the leading Baltimore Orioles and just half a game up on the third-place Yankees. As August turns to autumn, the Jays have little time to waste before the math becomes their enemy; before there simply won’t be enough games left to play.
Adam Lind returned to action this week after a month on the disabled list. Lind, who broke a bone when he fouled a ball off his foot back on July 8th, may need a few games before he resembles the dependable hitter we know. But just his presence in the lineup will hopefully signal a sea change for the team – as the time for merely treading water is over.
Assisting with that mental shift is the news that Edwin Encarnacion should also be back in action Friday. Though Edwin hasn’t played since July 5th, he still ranks near the top of many offensive categories in the American League including 5th overall in home runs with 26. He will be a welcomed addition to the lineup, especially given the Jays’ recent lack of offensive production.
The Jays begin a three game series with the White Sox in Chicago this weekend. Marcus Stroman, Mark Buehrle, and Drew Hutchison are scheduled for the starts. The Jays then have Monday off and travel to Milwaukee for a quick two-game set against the Brewers. This is a week for our boys to lock up some extra wins, as the remainder of the season’s calendar consists of mostly division rivals – games that will ultimately spell life or death for their playoff dreams.
The Major League Baseball owners elected a new commissioner on Thursday. After several rounds of voting, Rob Manfred, a high-level MLB executive, was elected by unanimous vote. He will replace the outgoing commissioner Bud Selig, who has held the office since 1992. After several failed attempts to retire, the 80-year-old Selig announced during last season that 2014 would be his last – “for reals.”
Manfred served as outside counsel to the owners during the 1994 strike and joined MLB in an official capacity in 1998 as Executive Vice President of Economics and League Affairs. These past few seasons Manfred held the position of Chief Operating Officer for MLB, and many believe he was the inevitable choice to replace Selig.
Manfred is often credited with the labour peace that has existed between the MLB owners and the player’s union since the 1994 strike. However, the new commissioner will have several hot button issues to address in his first year on the job – these include further improvements to video replay, clarifying the home plate collision rule, addressing the evolving TV contract dilemma faced by some teams, and trying to reign in the ever-expanding duration of games.
Congratulations, Rob. Time to get to work.
Buzzword of the Week: Wild Card
Originally, both the American League and National League consisted of two divisions each, the East and the West. At season’s end, the two division winners from both AL and NL would play each other in a league championship series to see who would advance to the World Series. It was a simple format that worked for decades.
Then, in 1994, both AL and NL were reorganized into three divisions each – East, Central and West. While this created new excitement and new rivalries, it also caused a dilemma – how to have a playoff series with three division winners? The concept of the ‘wild card’ was born. In addition to the three division winners, a fourth team will also advance to the playoffs – whichever second place team has the best record. Logistically, the division winner with the best record will play the “wild card team,” while the other two division winners play each other. (It’s interesting to note that, given a competitively weak division, it’s actually possible that a wild card team could have a better record than one of the division winners).
In order to further increase fan excitement (read: tickets sales and team revenue), in 2012 MLB added a second wild card. Under this new format, the two teams with the best records (aside from the three division winners) will play each other in a one-game elimination. Essentially, it’s a ‘playoff’ before the playoffs. The winner from the wild card game will advance as the fourth team, as described above. While most cynics would agree that the strategy is about ticket sales and broadcast rights, if it’s your team that makes the playoffs because of the extra wild card, you’re unlikely to complain.
So what have you learned?
The Jays went from walk off heroes to being senseless in Seattle. They must now reignite their offensive engines. The return of Lind and Edwin should help. MLB’s new commissioner, Rob Manfred, has much to do about fixing baseball’s recent fixes. And the Jays hope to close the gap on division-leading Baltimore – or at least secure one of the wild card spots. This weekend’s games in Chicago will all be broadcast; unlike some teams, the Jays won’t experience any TV contract woes (after all, Rogers Communication owns the team). We suggest you tune-in and we’ll regroup next Friday to discuss all the happenings on the best damn (and only) ball club north of the border.