And then there were four in the Blue Jays rotation: Griffin (Toronto Star)

August 16, 2015

By Richard Griffin  

The Blue Jays have won six straight games that right-hander Drew Hutchison has started since a no-decision loss on July 8. The Jays are 17-7 in his 24 starts, but he clearly is considered the fifth starter in a five-man rotation. Hutchison might not think it fair. Hey, isn’t baseball supposed to be about winning? The Jays are 48-47 when anyone else starts.

The Jays have not yet made it official, but Hutchison is not on the schedule for any of the eight starts on their upcoming road trip. They are apparently ready, willing and able to cut back to just four starting pitchers, which is easily done over 11 calendar days when three of them are off-days.

In fact, another decision may already have been made, internally, that for Hutchison’s own good and the good of the suddenly contending Jays that he be briefly optioned to Triple-A Buffalo for the 11 days, rather than using him in long relief on this trip to Philadelphia (two games), Anaheim (3) and Texas (3). If that is truly the case, the announcement will be made before they leave Toronto, Monday afternoon.

Hutchison swears he does not follow social media or the regular media and has no idea, but he clearly wasn’t happy to be asked about any future starts. In his brief presser following a 3-1 victory over the Yankees on Sunday, he cut a TV reporter off in the middle of questions, not once, but twice.

The trip begins with R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle in Philly. Then after an off-day, an important series against the AL West contending Angels will feature David Price, Marco Estrada and Dickey. With yet another travel day on August 24, it allows for the trio of Buehrle, Price and Estrada. That works, because Hutchison on the road this year is 2-1, with a 9.00 ERA and a 2.000 WHIP. The Jays have scored 84 runs in 11 road starts, but his road ERA is the worst in baseball.

Why send him out? If Hutchison was to stay on the major-league roster, he would work in long relief, because his next start would likely be at home on Aug. 29. But he can’t pitch for the next three days or for the four days prior to what would be a start against the Tigers. By sending him to Buffalo, he could make a start for the Bisons, stay in turn and the Jays could add another, fresh, relief arm while they are on this important trip. Oh, and they also need a position player for Philadelphia.

Since Aaron Loup was optioned following the game Sunday, if Hutchison was to join him with the Bisons for the next 11 days, then one of the two replacements could be an outfielder. Loup will likely remain with Buffalo until rosters are expanded on Sept. 1.

So what should be fan expectations for the road trip?

One should always be capable of learning from history, whether in life or sports, and the history of the 39-year-old Jays franchise hints strongly that in the wake of any long win streak, in that 11-game follow-up stretch following the club’s six longest runs — all of 10 games or more — they have never been capable of rebounding with another positive, short-burst, follow-up streak.

The Jays emerged from the huge three-game weekend series with one win and should consider themselves fortunate to have salvaged the finale on Sunday. The winning rally started with a two-out routine flyball to right by Troy Tulowitzki in the third that Carlos Beltran, the hero of each of the first two Yankee wins, lost in the brutal outfield sun. The ball glanced off his upper body as he shied away, resulting in a Tulowitzki double. Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista made the Yankees pay.

The Jays are back to a half-game behind, which is still unbelievable considering the organization’s philosophy when they were eight back. They preached shaving one game off the lead per week until they could pull even. Now the fan base, with four straight home games sold out, has become greedy and is disappointed to be in second place, heading out for eight on the road. They shouldn’t be.

Here is the history lesson:

  • June 2-13, 1987. The Jays won 11 in a row, to move into first place in the AL East by three games. In the ensuing 11 games, they went 5-6, dropping to a one-game division lead.
  • Aug. 27 to Sept. 7, 1998. The Jays won 11 in a row, in third place, 23 1/2 games behind the Yankees. In the next 11 games, the Jays went 4-7, dropping to 25 games off the pace.
  • Aug. 30 to Sept. 9, 2008. The Jays won 10 in a row under Cito Gaston, who had replaced Gibbons in June. The streak moved the Jays to third place, 8 1/2 games out. In the next 11 games, the Jays were 5-6, falling 10 games off the pace.
  • June 11-23, 2013. The Jays won 11 in a row, moving to fourth place, five games out. That streak lent hope, because this was the squad that was supposed to run away with the AL East. But over the next 11 games, the Jays went 3-8, dropping to last place.
  • June 2-14, 2015. The Jays won 11 in a row to move to third place, one game behind in a bunched-up AL East. Over the next 11 games, the Jays were 6-5 and remained in third place, trailing by a game. That is the only 11-game mark above .500 out of the five.
  • Thus, the Jays have followed up five previous streaks of 10-plus wins with a 23-32 record — an average of 4.6 wins in the after-streaks. The Jays are already 1-2 vs. the Yankees, meaning that they’re historically likely to go 3-5 or 4-4 in this three time-zone excursion.