The 2008 Blue Jays: A Change in Mentality
It was the seventh inning of the final game in the Toronto-Texas series. There were two runners on first and second, and that’s when it happened.
Aaron Hill, one of the team's best hitters to date, sacrificed down the third baseline. This moved David Eckstein over to third, where he would later score on a sac-fly by Alex Rios to tie the game.
After seeing that, fans, media, and other teams could all conclude one thing for certain: the Jays’ new game plan is here to stay.
It’s just over half way through April and more and more the Toronto Blue Jays are looking like they belong in the National League, instead of the vaunted American League East Division. So far this year, the Jays have been playing a little more small-ball by dropping sac bunts, double steals, and pinch running like there’s no tomorrow.
Normally this wouldn’t really be a big deal. But the Blue Jays play in the AL—and more specifically the AL East. Here, playing without power in your lineup is about as safe as wearing a Derek Jeter jersey into Fenway.
Now realistically, the Jays’ still have a pretty solid offense and enough power hitters to stay competitive with the big bats in the AL. Frank Thomas and Vernon Wells each have three home runs, while driving in 10 and 13 RBI respectively.
Nevertheless, watching the Jays so far this season has been nothing short of surprising. Many fans expected the same old conservative game plan from John Gibbons—which saw little action on the basepaths and rare sacrifices.
So far this year, the Blue Jays have stolen 13 bases, fifth in the Majors. Compared to their 57 steals last season, the 2008 Jays appear to have a new clubhouse mentality.
Why is this change happening though?
Well, so far there’s no real solid explanation from any of the Jays’ staff. Manager John Gibbons has simply stated that he’s always loved this style of game.
Brian Butterfield was moved from third base coach to bench coach. It was his call to set up Hill’s straight steal of home last year against the Yankees, so maybe his mentality has rubbed off on Gibbons (who played far more conservative baseball last year).
Whatever sparked the change, though, it certainly seems to be helping the Jays’ cause. Their record as of now is 7-6, which includes sweeps of Boston and Texas.
It's still far too early to really know anything for certain, especially after watching the same Jays team swept by the perpetually rebuilding Oakland A’s.
However, if the Jays keep playing this aggressive hybrid of AL and NL styles, made popular by Mike Scioscia’s Angels team, then who knows? Maybe they’ll follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned Angels and bring the World Series trophy back to Toronto.
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