Red Sox of 2004 still stand alone, Blue Jays lose in 5 games

The Boston Red Sox are still the only franchise in baseball history to complete the 0-3 comeback in the playoffs. The 2016 Toronto Blue Jays are out.

Yesterday, the Blue Jays could not mount the comeback against the Cleveland Indians, losing 3-0 in the fifth game of the American League Championship Series. Toronto was also 3-0 down in the series itself, leaving some people north of the border to question whether they would match the 2004 Red Sox in winning the next four games and punch their own ticket to the World Series.

Even though Game 4 saw Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez dominate over Cleveland, the hitting was the part of the script that differed this season from the year that the Red Sox overcame the curse of the Bambino. In Game 5, the story was the same: the Blue Jays just couldn’t buy a hit when they needed one.

The Blue Jays went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, leaving four runners on base. That performance already has harsh judgement written all over it, because the first 4.1 innings of yesterday’s game was started by Cleveland’s pitcher Ryan Merritt, a 24-year-old lefty with a decent cutter and only 11 frames of MLB experience. Yes, Cleveland’s excellent bullpen carried the ball the rest of the way to the World Series bid, but the fact that Merritt was able to stifle one of baseball’s most potent lineups this year is staggering, considering his lack of experience.

Flashing back to 2004, the Red Sox had a pretty decent lineup of their own. They ranked first in on-base percentage (.360), slugging (.472), total bases (2702), doubles (373), and runs scored (949), while ranking second in the A.L. in batting average (.282). The team’s pitching staff, which included the likes of Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and closer Keith Foulke, posted a 4.18 ERA in the regular season.

When the Red Sox got to the brink of elimination against their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, Boston was much more likely to have pulled off that comeback than these Blue Jays. Not to say any other team, including those Red Sox could actually beat the 2016 Cleveland roster; heck, the current Red Sox team bowed out to those same players in three straight games in the ALDS a week earlier. However, the Blue Jays had a bit of momentum with the ALDS win over the Texas Rangers. That’s it.

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) reacts to striking out during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) reacts to striking out during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians in game five of the 2016 ALCS at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, the Blue Jays limped into the playoffs in the first place. Right, so did the 2004 Red Sox. Well, the Blue Jays had some big hitters like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Oh yes, the Red Sox had David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, legends in their own right. Hmm. There was the Blue Jays’ deep pitching staff. Darn, the Red Sox had future baseball hall-of-famers on their team.

What made Toronto fans think that they were the same, again?

The 2016 Blue Jays, in the regular season, posted a weak .248 team batting average, a .330 OBP, a .426 SLG, 276 doubles, 759 runs scored, and 2333 total bases. Not only did the 2004 Red Sox have impressively better stats than this year’s Blue Jays, the current Red Sox led both majors in each of those categories. The Blue Jays did top the 2004 Red Sox pitchers with a lower team ERA (3.78), but it wasn’t enough to stop Cleveland in the postseason, let alone their struggling offense.

In fact, the combined postseason numbers for 2016 have the Blue Jays pitching staff posting a 2.52 ERA and a .173 opposing batting average; however, it still didn’t factor into the outcome of the ALCS. Toronto had, as a pitching staff, a 2.30 ERA and a .168 batting average, which was beaten soundly by Cleveland’s 1.43 ERA. Cleveland only scored seven runs to Toronto’s 11 earned runs, but it was when the runs were scored that determined the outcome of the series.

The 2004 Red Sox cashed in runs when it counted in the last four games of that ALCS, before eventually winning the World Series. The Blue Jays looked like they were each swinging for the fences, leaving their pitchers hanging out to dry as Cleveland avoided giving up too many big hits. Cleveland’s starters lasted just long enough for their bullpen to dominate the Blue Jays lineup. The 2004 Yankees were not as fortunate.

When one tries to win ballgames, the 2004 Red Sox knew how to extend innings when it mattered the most. The 2016 Blue Jays could not do the same. So, for now, the Red Sox will still own that little tidbit of MLB postseason history.

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