The Blue Jays and the curse of .500

Heading into the 2017 season, the Toronto Blue Jays were considered one of the top threats in the American League.

The team had been to each of the past two American League Championship Series, and while they hadn’t broken through with a pennant just yet, the team was returning a large chunk of its core and was hoping for more time from players like Devon Travis. They had added Kendrys Morales to replace Edwin Encarnacion, and things were looking good.

Things didn’t go as planned in April, to say the least. The club got off to a 2-11 start to the season, and they were 10½ games out of the lead in the AL East by May 9. The team suffered injuries to key players like Josh Donaldson and severe struggles from players like Jose Bautista. This was a roster that had looked like it didn’t have any holes before the season began, and by the middle of May it looked like a slice of Swiss cheese.

Slowly things began turning around for Toronto, however. Donaldson came back from injury in late May; Jose Bautista posted an OPS over 1.000 for the month of May; and the Blue Jays started chipping away at the once-massive deficit they faced. A quick look at their FanGraphs’ playoff odds graph is telling.

The team bottomed out with just an 11.3 percent chance of making the playoffs on May 4, but they climbed back to near 50/50 odds by mid-June, as they hit 45.1 percent on June 12. However, as can be seen in the graph, they haven’t been able to crest the 50 percent boundary despite playing much better in recent weeks.

Part of that is because of a strange affliction the club has called “fivehundredphobia.” (That’s the official Latin name.) There have been nine different games this season in which the Blue Jays have had a chance to reach the arbitrary-but-still-telling .500 winning percentage cut-off. In all nine games, the team has lost. Nine tries to reach the mystical .500 number, and each time the Blue Jays have taken the field they have taken the L.

There have been blowouts (12-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on June 1); tight losses (3-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles way back on April 5); and everything in between. Clearly there is some sort of Jack-Donaghy-Devon-Banks laser shield action going on here, with the Blue Jays simply being taunted by the idea of .500 at this point.

Now the Jays have done good work to get themselves even back into the playoff picture, and the five-game deficit they now face in the AL East (and just 2.5 in the Wild Card race) is far more manageable than the double-digit deficit they faced earlier this season, but their playoffs odds still sit right around one in three.

And we’ll be honest, if they truly do face some sort of mystical inability to reach .500 (which is clearly the logical conclusion to this story), there’s no chance at all that our neighbors to the north will be on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2017 MLB postseason.

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