I'll preface this by saying I'm a Blue Jays fan. A recent fan, perhaps, as I only took an interest in baseball during the 2015 postseason, but I've followed the Jays since then, and even took my pen name from the organization. Just kidding. Jay is a derivative of my full name and is not affiliated with any baseball or ornithological groups.
Names aside, I've spent significant chunks of time watching baseball games and getting emotionally invested in the Jays' success. They were smoking hot up until the All Star break, and then things fell off the track a little bit. The hitting dropped off, home runs in particular, and if you're a home run team and you're not hitting home runs, you're probably not winning games. Throw in all the drama about whether or not Sanchez could pitch as a starter into the postseason, the late season bullpen struggles, and the disaster that was the six-man rotation, and the Blue Jays barely scraped into October baseball. But after the walk-off homer in the Wild Card game and the sweep of the Texas Rangers, it seemed like they'd hit their fabled stride again, the one John Gibbons swore was coming.
It didn't last.
As a former competitive athlete and current professional coach, I get how hot streaks work. Some days everything you touch is magic, and other days it all turns to shit. It's part of sport, and I think it's a mistake to get hung up on this game or that series and try to make generalizations about whether the club's on the right track or not. At the same time, I think it's a mistake to cling to the same course when it's clearly not working, especially in the do-or-die situations the Blue Jays found themselves in during the ALCS. Yes, Cleveland had some clutch hitting and great defensive plays. Yes, they had Andrew Miller. That's no excuse not to play smart baseball, and that was the real problem. Double plays and dropped balls and strikeout after strikeout are all symptoms of the underlying issue, which cost the Blue Jays the series.
The refusal to make a change.
Whether in sport or writing or just in life, people have the tendency to try and re-tread familiar ground. I did this thing that worked out before? I should do it again! It worked for me then, why shouldn't it work for me now?
I think that's a fallacy. While there's always an argument for returning to fundamentals, you can't step in the same river twice. You can't put all your eggs in the home run basket and hope for the best, especially when, game after game, it proves to be a mistake. You have to be willing to try something new: cut down your swing, lay down a bunt, rack up the pitch count, cover the plate, take the walk, whatever it takes to get something going. I watched plenty of games during August where the Jays were down late in the game, and somebody came to the plate with a look in his eye that said he was getting on base no matter what, and most of the time he did. Josh Donaldson did this a lot, including in the postseason. He calmed himself down, took his time, and had smart at bats. But he's only one guy in the batting order, and when you've got players striking out on three pitches because their emotions are getting the better of them, it's tough to win a game. You've got to get yourself in the right head space and take it one pitch at a time, or one out at a time, because otherwise it's just too overwhelming. Ultimately that's what the ALCS boiled down to. Cleveland played great baseball and the Blue Jays were overwhelmed.
Creating a successful mindset is one of those intangible things that can make or break you, whether you're an athlete or a writer. It doesn't matter how good your stuff is if you can't learn how to make adjustments when things get tough. I haven't really gotten into sabermetrics, but I take issue with any measure that uses past performance to predict future success. Things change, and you have to adapt. You can't hold the same course and expect it to take you somewhere different. Sometimes the same course won't even take you where you've already been. You have to grit your teeth, suck it up, and make a change. Then evaluate the change, of course, because you may not have gotten it right the first time. But it's death to get stuck in the mud.
I'm working on the last revision of my soon-to-be-released novel, Along Came December, and boy did I have to make changes. When it's finished, the novel will sit at about 140,000 words, which is already a lot, but it took me about 900,000 words to get to that 140,000 word final draft. As I wrote more and more and got better at the craft, I was able to recognize mistakes I'd made in early drafts and go back and correct them. It was a process, though. It took time for me to be able to look at the writing objectively, and it took practice for me to learn to analyze the problem and identify the solution. Spoiler alert: not everything I write is gold. I'm not batting a thousand. But with smart practice, continuous evaluation, and deliberate changes, I'm getting my average up. But I'd never have gotten better if I'd buried my head in the sand and just held the course.
The ALCS was a tough loss for the Jays, especially with so many players approaching free agency. Many people think this was their year. I hope that the players and management will be willing to evaluate what went wrong and implement changes for next year. Because it sucks to watch your team lose, even if they didn't deserve to win.