Maybe the pessimists about the Toronto Blue Jays had a point. Maybe the Jays have trouble winning the games that count. These include some that count for double, like games against key division rivals.
After winning the first game of a three-game series against the Yankees, the Blue Jays went 0-2 in the remainder. Thus, they didn't exactly fail my "litmus test" (like the 0-3 Pittsburgh Pirates), but they didn't pass it with flying colors either.
They still have their lead in the AL East, but their air of invincibility is gone. The past series wouldn't have mattered if the Blue Jays' hometown were say, Vancouver, meaning that they were in the AL West. Then they would still be easy division favorites, with Kansas City and Boston being the other ones, and with the Yankees and Rays fighting for the wild card.
But the truly troubling thing about the Blue Jays is not that they have lost two series, but that their two series losses have come against the two teams that they have played so far that really matter: the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees, both plausible contenders for the postseason. (I don't put any of the American League West teams in this category, even though one of them will be awarded the division title by default.)
The good thing about the Blue Jays is that if you remove their 2-5 record against the above two teams, they are 21-9, or .700, against the rest of the American League. That is awesome by any standard. It means that the relatively young Blue Jays are playing with a consistency that would put more experienced teams, like the Yankees, to shame.
Basically, the Jays are "destroying" less than top-flight competition to a greater degree than the Yankees, Rays, or Red Sox.
Within the series, the most encouraging thing was the tight third game, which, unlike the first two, could have gone either way. Maybe the Blue Jays will win the next similar game, suggesting that they could go about .500, give or take a game or two, against the Yankees. If they manage this (and similar results against the Rays and Red Sox), they're "fine": no worse than wild card.
Brian Tallet, a "converted" long reliever, arguably outpitched Cy Young winner CC Sabathia (one run yielded in six innings versus two in eight for Sabathia). Makes one wonder what will happen when more established starters like Ricky Romero and Jesse Litsch return.
The seeds of defeat in the third game were sown in the second, when the Blue Jays used five relievers to bail out Scott Richmond in the second inning. One of them, Jason Frasor, blew a save last night, and others were basically not available for duty. It would have been much better if the debacle had happened the first game, followed by a Roy Halladay gem, giving the relievers two days' rest.
Here, "creativity" in the second game could have saved the day. I'm going to advocate a practice used by one manager last year: Keep your pitcher in the game by making him a position player, and do this with Scott Richmond. You can do this easily because you have "platoons" at first and third base, and in left field (where the other manager "parked" his pitcher).
There was little to lose: FanGraphs estimates (based on similar games in the past) that there was only a 14 percent chance of winning when Richmond was pulled with a 5-1 deficit with two outs in the second. Let Brian Wolfe fix the problem. Then put Richmond back on the mound in the fifth. If he can pitch three more innings, you've saved yourself three relievers, assuming you let Bill Murphy "close."
More to the point, consider forfeiting or resigning the second game in order to save the third. Maybe you don't do this in the second inning, when you still have a chance. By the end of the fifth, after the Yankees have made it 8-2, and you've done nothing in your half of the inning, your winning chances have dropped to two percent.
Maybe you have to play this long for the sake of your fans. But resign then and save three relievers for the next game.
Even if the Blue Jays are worse than the Yankees (and the Rays, and the Red Sox) heads up, they are still favorites to win the wild card, as long as they aren't "too much worse." Not "too much worse" is what the series suggested.
It's no longer "who will win e.g. the wild card, starting from scratch?" It's now more like, are the Blue Jays good enough to beat the spread? The "spread" is now a meaningful one, not so much against the Red Sox, but certainly against the Yankees, and even more so against the Rays.