It was actually kind of amusing to read the stories this week about the Toronto Blue Jays and their conversations with the Phillies about trading for a closer -- namely a fellow named Jonathan Papelbon. After all, what would the Blue Jays even require a closer for?
Seriously. No need. They haven’t had any pitcher on their roster save a game -- or even head for the mound in the ninth with a save opportunity -- since May 4. That was more than five weeks ago.
Well, streaks like this don’t come around a whole lot, for obvious reasons. So how rare is it? Glad you asked.
• Heading into Friday night, the Blue Jays had gone 34 consecutive games without a save. Over the past 28 years, according to baseball-reference.com's fabulous Play Index, there has been only one other team that had a save-less streak that long within a single season. That was Jorge Julio’s 2002 Orioles, who saved none of the last 36 games of their season. Of course, there was a good reason for that. They pretty much never won. They went 4-32 in those games.
• But the Blue Jays are a very different kind of team. They actually have a winning record in their streak (18-16) and a winning record for the season (31-30). And to find the last team to have a streak that long and finish with a winning record, you have to go all the way back to Dave Tobik’s 1982 Tigers, who went 36 games without a save in June and July and still managed to finish the season at 83-79.
Then again, can we slap an asterisk on this? We’d rule that 1982 predated the era of modern closer usage. Sparky Anderson managed that team and used eight different pitchers to save at least one game. But nobody on the roster even saved 10. And the rotation racked up 45 complete games. So while this streak qualifies technically for inclusion, it’s only because the modern save rule was in effect. It just hadn’t been popularized by Tony La Russa yet.
• And that applies to our next tidbit, too. The Blue Jays have now won 18 games since their last save. Which seems almost impossible, right? And to find the last team that won that many games in succession while saving none of them, you have to go all the way back to the 1979 Yankees, a club that went 38 games in a row without a save -- and won 20 of them.
The funny thing there is, not only did that Yankees team have a closer, it had a Hall of Fame closer: Mr. Richard “Goose” Gossage. But his work late in the games wasn’t required at that particular time -- because he was on the disabled list. So the Yankees just dispensed with the whole closer concept entirely while he was out (just about).
• In case you were wondering (and of course you were), in this time that the Blue Jays have been saving zero games, Mark Melancon (Pirates) has saved 14. And six other closers (Trevor Rosenthal, Zach Britton, Glen Perkins, Drew Storen, David Robertson and Santiago Casilla) have each piled up at least 10.
• And all told, 61 different pitchers have saved at least one game in the time that the Blue Jays have been saving no games. That’s a distinguished list that includes Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Oberg, Luis Garcia and Austin Adams -- again, in case you were wondering. (And yeah, you know you were.)
So the next time you read about the Blue Jays theoretically trading for not just a closer, but the closer with the highest annual salary for his position in the history of baseball -- feel free to chuckle along with us. At some point, obviously, they’ll need somebody to save a game. But in the meantime, winning by five runs a night is way more fun.