If you flip your television over to FS1 right now, you’ll the Blue Jays doing what the Yankees couldn’t do: They’re hosting Game 1 of the American League Division Series. That could have been the Yankees if they’d held onto the seven-game division lead they had at the end of July. But, as we’re all aware, the Blue Jays took completely control of the division after the trade deadline. The quick-and-easy analysis is that the Blue Jays big moves for Troy Tulowitzki and David Price turned the tide, but were those moves really the difference makers?
1. Troy Tulowitzki — This was stunning opening salvo, but Tulowitzki was largely a disappointment both in terms of production and playing time. He wound up hitting just .239/.317/.380 while playing just 41 games because of that weird back injury suffered at Yankee Stadium. During the same time frame, Didi Gregorius hit .276/.335/.393 while playing in 63 games. Ultimately, the Yankees were better off sticking with their own shortstop.
2. LaTroy Hawkins — Included in the Tulowitzki deal, Hawkins was the Blue Jays’ first attempt to add bullpen depth. His WHIP and strikeout rate were each worse in Toronto than they’d been in Colorado, but he had a 2.76 ERA and didn’t let any inherited runners score. His WHIP with the Blue Jays was basically the same as Branden Pinder’s and Caleb Cotham’s, but Hawkins also handled a lot of late-and-close situations and kept runs off the board. Can’t necessarily say the same for the Yankees’ young relievers.
3. David Price – This is when the Blue Jays went all in by giving up their version of Luis Severino to land Price. The former Tigers’ ace went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 10.5 strikeouts per nine. He was incredible. A week after the Blue Jays traded for Price, the Yankees called up Severino, who went 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 8.1 strikeouts per nine. Severino was great. Price was better.
4. Mark Lowe – A relatively under-the-radar acquisition from Seattle, Lowe added more depth to the late innings and pitched to a 0.84 WHIP upon getting to Toronto (that’s basically the same as Andrew Miller’s WHIP but without nearly the same strikeout rate). Despite allowing so few base runners, Lowe had a 3.79 ERA that was the product of three bad games. Otherwise, he was terrific.
5. Ben Revere – Adding some left-handed balance to the lineup and giving the team a new leadoff hitter, Revere was excellent with a .319/.354/.381 slash line with the Blue Jays. He filled a need in Toronto. I suppose the closest the Yankees came to something similar was finally letting Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder takeover at second base down the stretch.
6. Cliff Pennington – After the deadline, the Blue Jays made a small trade to add light-hitting Pennington for some additional infield depth (Devon Travis was and still is hurt). Pennington wound up playing quite a bit when Tulowitzki was hurt and he hit .160/.270/.280. The Yankees got better than that out of Brendan Ryan. The Blue Jays wound up needing Pennington. The Yankees wouldn’t have.
In the end, I’m not sure the Blue Jays’ biggest moves — for Tulowitzki and Price — were the biggest factors in making the Blue Jays so much better than the Yankees in the second half. They made a difference, but in an attempt to rank the most important factors in making the Blue Jays better in the second half, I think I’d put them in this order.
1. The Blue Jays stayed productive in the middle. Carlos Beltran was terrific late in the year, and Greg Bird was a big boost to the Yankees’ offense. Otherwise, after the trade deadline Mark Teixeira got hurt, Brian McCann hit .199/.312/.398, and Alex Rodriguez hit .191/.300/.377. No chance the Yankees were going to trade for someone to replace one of those three, and each one hit a wall of some sort. For comparison, here’s what the Blue Jays’ big hitters did after the trade deadline: Edwin Encarnacion hit .344/.434/.749, Jose Bautista hit .283/.403/.624, and Josh Donaldson hit .301/.393/.602. The Blue Jays run producers stayed productive. The Yankees did not.
2. The Blue Jays got better at the top. No way the Yankees would have traded for Revere as a replacement for either Gardner or Ellsbury, but he so thoroughly outplayed them down the stretch, that he certainly made a big difference in making the Blue Jays so much better. After the trade deadline, Ellsbury hit .227/.277/.324 and Gardner hit .203/.288/.290. The Yankees lineup would have been much better off with Revere’s .319/.354/.381 in the leadoff spot.
3. The Blue Jays bullpen got deeper. The Yankees tried to make a trade for an impact reliever, including a significant offer for Padres closer Craig Kimbrel. Ultimately, though, they added no one to the bullpen and then had no way to make up for Chasen Shreve’s sudden decline, Adam Warren’s move back into the rotation, and Bryan Mitchell struggling after that line drive to the face. The Blue Jays didn’t trade for a huge name reliever, but both Hawkins and Lowe pitched well and made the Toronto bullpen quite a bit deeper than the Yankees’ bullpen.
4. The Blue Jays added a Cy Young winner. I have a hard time saying the Blue Jays’ trade for Price was the biggest difference maker in the division. He was a huge help in Toronto, but Severino was a big help in New York. He might not have kept pace with Price, but if you’re comparing rotation upgrades, Severino kept the gap relatively small. Price, though, did win three of four starts against the Yankees, and the Blue Jays won nine of his 11 starts overall. I don’t think Price was the single biggest difference maker, but he was incredibly good. Did his job and then some.
5. The Blue Jays stayed healthy (and got help off the disabled list). Obviously the Blue Jays did face one massive injury late in the season when Tulowitzki went on the disabled list, but he hadn’t been nearly the impact player the team envisioned, and that injury came on the same day that the Blue Jays brought Marcus Stroman back into their rotation. In terms of health, the Blue Jays essentially swapped Tulowitzki for a guy who won each of his four starts down the stretch while pitching to a 0.96 WHIP. The Yankees, on the other hand, lost their cleanup hitter to injury, lost their wins leader to injury, and briefly lost their ace to injury. The one key player they got off the disabled list was Michael Pineda, who pitched to a 5.48 ERA after his return.
6. The Blue Jays gained an insane amount of confidence. As a team with a lot of veterans in the lineup — and as a team with a lot of players who learned from Derek Jeter to hide their emotions — the Yankees don’t show their confidence in the same way a team like the Blue Jays or Astros might show it. I’m not sure the Yankees lost confidence when the Blue Jays made their trade deadline splash, but I’m sure the Blue Jays’ confidence jumped to a new level. They were very nearly out of the race at that time, but beginning with Tulowitzki’s arrival, the Blue Jays became a bunch of scrappy fighters who clearly believed they could knock the Yankees out of first place. The Yankees, on the other hand, kept falling apart.
Associated Press photos