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How much trouble are the Blue Jays in, anyway?

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The Toronto Blue Jays are 2-10. That’s not good. Let’s see if they’ve already lost their shot at the postseason.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays are 2-10. That seems bad. Is that bad? That’s probably bad. For context, the horrible Astros teams of recent vintage never started 2-10. The Angels have never started the season 2-10 or worse, and neither have the Mariners. The Dodgers and Giants haven’t started a season 2-10 or worse since moving from New York.

It’s bad. The next question is: should the Blue Jays panic?

There are a couple of ways to answer that question. The first is that, no, it’s early. It wouldn’t take a 10-game winning streak to get them back above .500, just a couple of regular hot streaks. And this team shouldn’t be this bad, of course. For starters, they’re already two wins behind their Pythagorean record, which means they’ve scored their runs in the games where they were going to lose anyway, not in the close, low-scoring games. Not only that, but you can make a laundry list of what will absolutely get better:

  • Russell Martin isn’t going to finish the season with a 411 OPS
  • Devon Travis isn’t going to finish the season with a -27 OPS+
  • Steve Pearce isn’t going to finish the season with a 4 OPS+
  • Jose Bautista isn’t going to finish the season with a 446 OPS
  • Josh Donaldson isn’t going to be hurt all season
  • The bullpen is going to convert more than half of its saves ... probably

If you want to get granular, note before this year’s Blue Jays, 76 teams in major-league history had started with a record of 2-10 or worse, and every single one of them improved on that .167 winning percentage by the end of the season. Every single one.

The Blue Jays will not finish the season with a .167 winning percentage. So they have that going for them, which is nice.

The second way to answer the question about the right time to panic is to look at those 76 other teams and see how their seasons ended up. Did any of them make the postseason? Are there success stories?

There are success stories! There are also a lot of absolutely lousy teams. There are also a lot of cautionary tales that are more important than the raw count of postseason teams that started 2-10.

There were two postseason teams out of the 76 that started 2-10 or worse. The first team to do it was the 1951 Giants, who won the pennant, won the pennant, won the pennant that year. The second team to do it was the 2001 A’s, who ended up with 102 wins (and finished 14 games out of first place). Those were excellent teams that started poorly for whatever reason, then rallied.

There were also teams that didn’t make the postseason, but only because they didn’t have the safety net of the wild card. The 1947 Cardinals fought their way to second place in the National League, and the 1982 Orioles ended up second in the AL East with a 94-68 record. Both of those teams would have made the postseason under the current format, which is what the 2017 Blue Jays should be concerned with.

So that’s four teams out of 76. Not impossible. To give you an idea of just how possible it is, Hoyt Wilhelm was 4 for 76 at the plate in 1959. Whenever he got a hit, it was like a team with a 2-10 start making the postseason.

Now for the bad news: 64 of those 76 teams finished under .500. It makes sense that so many of them did, because it isn’t just bad luck that made most of these teams start 2-10 or worse. Most of them were awful teams, too. The 1962 Mets and 2003 Tigers, for example, were famously bad.

Before we get to the most important takeaway for the Blue Jays, and why they should be worried, I’ll let you sift through the sortable table. Here are all the teams that started the season 2-10 or worse:

Teams that started 2-10 or worse, MLB history

Year Team Record Made postseason? Winning percentage after 2-10 start
Year Team Record Made postseason? Winning percentage after 2-10 start
1998 Diamondbacks 65-97 No .420
1990 Braves 65-97 No .420
1988 Braves 54-106 No .351
1919 Braves 57-82 No .433
1988 Orioles 54-107 No .362
2010 Orioles 66-96 No .433
1982 Orioles 94-68 No .613
1984 Orioles 85-77 No .553
1907 Browns 69-83 No .479
1935 Browns 65-87 No .450
1927 Red Sox 51-103 No .345
1996 Red Sox 85-77 No .553
2011 Red Sox 90-72 No .587
1925 Red Sox 47-105 No .321
1997 Cubs 68-94 No .453
1944 Cubs 75-79 No .521
1981 Cubs 38-65 No .407
1983 Cubs 71-91 No .460
1968 White Sox 67-95 No .440
1986 White Sox 72-90 No .467
1922 Reds 86-68 No .592
1955 Reds 75-79 No .514
1953 Reds 68-86 No .465
1931 Reds 58-96 No .401
1969 Indians 62-99 No .409
1987 Indians 61-101 No .393
2005 Rockies 67-95 No .433
1953 Tigers 60-94 No .408
2008 Tigers 74-88 No .480
2002 Tigers 55-106 No .362
1959 Tigers 76-78 No .528
2003 Tigers 43-119 lol .280
1920 Tigers 61-93 No .430
1983 Astros 85-77 No .553
2006 Royals 62-100 No .400
1992 Royals 72-90 No .473
1918 Dodgers 57-69 No .482
1906 Dodgers 66-86 No .457
1927 Dodgers 65-88 No .447
1931 Dodgers 79-73 No .550
1907 Dodgers 65-83 No .467
1998 Marlins 54-108 No .353
2013 Marlins 62-100 No .400
2015 Brewers 68-94 No .440
1904 Senators 38-113 No .271
1964 Mets 53-109 No .340
1962 Mets 40-120 No .264
1912 Yankees 50-102 No .343
1913 Yankees 57-94 No .396
1966 Yankees 70-89 No .463
1935 Athletics 58-91 No .409
2001 Athletics 102-60 Yes .667
1946 Athletics 49-105 No .331
1998 Athletics 74-88 No .480
1965 Athletics 59-103 No .380
1966 Athletics 74-86 No .486
1951 Athletics 70-84 No .486
1883 Quakers 17-81 No .174
1938 Phillies 45-105 No .312
1994 Padres 47-70 No .429
2013 Padres 76-86 No .493
1987 Padres 65-97 No .420
1896 Giants 64-67 No .521
1951 Giants 98-59 Yes .662
1916 Giants 86-66 No .600
1892 Cardinals 56-94 No .391
1919 Cardinals 54-83 No .416
1947 Cardinals 89-65 No .613
1902 Cardinals 56-78 No .443
1898 Browns 39-111 No .268
1973 Cardinals 81-81 No .533
1987 Rangers 75-87 No .487
1962 Senators 60-101 No .389
1970 Expos 73-89 No .473
2009 Nationals 59-103 No .380
2004 Expos 67-95 No .433

It’s that last column that’s the most important one when considering the future of the 2017 Blue Jays. Some of these teams improved tremendously. Most of the time, though, even a tremendous improvement wasn’t enough.

Consider the 2011 Red Sox. After their miserable start, they rallied like few teams in history, winning 27 out of their next 39 games to move into first place. They’ll be remembered more for the September collapse, but just getting into postseason consideration was a major accomplishment. After the slow start in their first dozen games, they played at a .587 clip, which is the equivalent of a 95-win team. That might have been their true talent level the whole time.

Except it wasn’t enough. In order to make the postseason after the slow start, they couldn’t play like a 95-win team. They had to play like a 100-win team. And it’s extremely difficult for a team that has a 100-win-level roster to lose 10 out of their first 12 games, so we can probably assume the Blue Jays aren’t one of those outliers.

If you spot a 90-win team just two wins out of their first dozen games, they’re suddenly an 83-win team. A 95-win team becomes a 90-win team, which is perilously close to being a team that misses the postseason entirely.

In other words, jot down your best-case scenario for the Blue Jays before the season started. Was it 100 wins? Well, if they play at a 100-win level for the rest of the season, they’ll win about 92 or 93 games, which should be enough for a wild-card spot. Anything less than that, though, puts them in serious jeopardy.

That’s what the Blue Jays need, then. They need to play like their best-case scenario for the next 150 games. It’s certainly possible. Two teams have done it and made the postseason, and two more would have made it under the current setup.

It’s just not likely, though. You knew that, but here are some cold, hard numbers to make you remember just how difficult it’s going to be.