When we look at where the Jays currently sit in the standings, at 17-20 and tied for last in the AL East, we don’t get an overwhelmingly positive feeling. But, when we consider all of what the Jays have been through to get to this point, we get a sense that the best is yet to come. The Jays are still only 4 games out of the Wild Card, and 5 games away from the AL East lead, well within striking distance for each title.
Why do I believe this to be so? Well, when we line up all of the events that have led us to this point, the Positives far outweight the Negatives for the Jays. Here’s a list of what I mean:
- The Record: Yes, it’s below .500, but not far enough to worry about. With the number of 1 run games the Jays lost early on in the season, it could easily be the other way around at 20-17. Will it be hard to make up ground on the Beasts of the East? Yes, but for once, the Jays have the potential to do just that.
- Health: it’s been pretty bad lately, and the strange thing is that for the most part, it’s an accumulation of small injuries across the board, nothing major. This is a bad thing for what has transpired thus far and may help explain a sub .500 performance by the Jays, but overall, it actually becomes a positive since it means that if players get healthy the Jays should be in for a good time. It’s a big if, but it’s manageable.
- The Rotation: With no ace, and I would argue that no Jays starter has performed better than what would be expected of a #3 to this point in the season, the Jays are VERY lucky to be where they are in the standings. Without a strong pen to back them up, Jays starters may not have half the wins they currently are credited for. None of them are working deep into games consistently, and most nights the Jays are lucky to get 6 strong innings from their starters. But, if last season is an indication of the potential of the rotation, it shouldn’t be long before Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are pitching well into the 7th and 8th innings. Add in the learning being done by Drabek, which should result in longer outings as well, and the pen may be in for a little less work in June-July than it will have experienced in April-May. That bodes well for keeping them fresh, and also for getting the Jays more QS from the rotation which should translate to more wins.
- Travis Snider: Everyone has an opinion about The Franchise, but nobody argues his talent. If he can change his approach at the plate enough to make better and more consistent contact, the Jays could be the recipients of a major boost in LF very soon. On the flip side, if he doesn’t figure it out, the Jays may be looking at the biggest wasted – and mismanaged – talent the franchise has ever held. I vote for the latter, as a huge and dedicated lunchbox45 fan.
- Juan Rivera: Sure, some will point to better performances of late, but the Jays need more from Rivera if they’re going to go on long winning streaks. He’s close to unmovable, and will frustrate fans and team mates with long stretches of hacks and misses. He needs to go ASAP if the Jays are going to win in 2011. Mid-June at the latest.
- Jo-Jo “call me winless” Reyes: With 24 winless games in a row, Jo-Jo can’t help but get picked on for being known as, well, a loser. It won’t help any that he’s now on the hot seat, and the fact that AL teams are accumulating scouting on him as the season wears on may spell the end of his tenure with the Jays. He’s grown on me a little in his latest starts, which could have easily been wins if he had focused a little more in the later innings and kept the ball down, but I still expect him to move to the pen or be moved fairly soon.
- Small-Ball Leaders: The Jays have proven that they can play small ball with the best of them and that they very well could be the best in the AL at doing so. At least 3-6 of their wins have come as a direct result of grinding out runs in such a way. From taking the extra base to being aggressive on the bases, and bunting runners ahead when it makes sense to do so, the Jays have really learned how to manufacture runs in 2011, something that was non-existent under Cito Gaston’s watch.
- Wins Despite Injuries: The Jays earned 17 wins despite missing their core lineup guy – Jose Bautista – for much of it, and others who dealt with injuries at some point (Adam Lind, Rajai Davis, Jayson Nix, Aaron Hill, and Edwin Encarnacion in particular). They also did it without any help from Travis Snider who was supposed to take a step forward this season. And finally, they did it despite getting no wins from Jo-Jo Reyes and lackluster outings from all of their starters at some point or another.
- J.P. Arencibia: The Jays have to be VERY happy with the way J. P. Arencibia has acclimated to the majors. He calls great games, has shown patience at the plate, and definitely has 30+ HR potential at the plate. He looks like the real deal and other than learning to block the plate a little better, he has done everything he possibly can to prove he deserves to play as often as possible. His crushing LHP to the tune of .370/.452/.630 is the most positive offensive stat I can find of all Jays offensive stats thus far in 2011. If he continues to do that, he’ll become a staple as DH if not catching vs lefties.
- Johnny Mac Attacks: John McDonald has been stellar when needed and has shown surprising power and definite clutch abilities in 2011. His defensive abilities are off-the-charts, so if he keeps proving himself offensively capable, the Jays will benefit from having him play all over for the remainder of 2011.
- Adam “4-Hole” Lind: Adam Lind, before getting injured, was getting so very hot that the thought of him returning and hitting behind an equally hot Bautista is very exciting. Add in the possibility of getting better 1-2 performances from some combination of Yunel Escobar, Rajai Davis, and Corey Patterson, and you can see how the Jays should be able to manufacture a ton fo runs once everyone’s healthy. The key to the Jays success lies in having Lind hit behind Bautista, which keeps opponents honest in the same way Matt Holliday performs the duty for Albert Pujols. Having voiced his reluctance to become the 4-hole hitter in the past, it’s very nice and encouraging to see him become comfortable and successful in the role….whether he likes it or not!
- O Reinforcements: Offensive reinforcements are going to be able to be called on in the forms of Brett Lawrie, Eric Thames, and others without worry of their becoming Super 2 status players very soon. Having these players as backups to what has been a decimated lineup is very important as the season wears on. Even some hitters that are a little further off like Michael McDade, Anthony Gose, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Travis d’Arnaud seem to be maturing and are actually becoming possibilities for September or early 2012.
- P Reinforcements: Pitching reinforcements may soon be ready to make the jump to the majors. SP/RP Zach Stewart, RP Luis Perez, and SP Brad Mills, amongst others, are doing well enough to put themselves at the forefront of the next wave to take over when and if required and are doing well in the minors. Stewart in particular could help take the rotation to a new level if he makes the jump successfully.
- The Dominant Pen: The absolute most positive thing to consider as we move on this season, however, is just how dominant the Jays pen has been as the one steady force on the team. With continued performances like this from the pen, and depth in the minors to support it, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Jays will knock out a few great winning streaks once the bats and health come around. It’s just a matter of time.
- Managing + Coaching: John Farrell has impressed thus far and although some may argue about if and when he should be pulling pitchers off the mound, I entirely agreed with all of his pulls thus far. If a pitcher isn’t getting the job done and has velocity falling off a cliff, get him out of there. If it pisses him off, good! Maybe next time he’ll do better. What a thought! Meanwhile, the lineup juggling that Farrell has had to do due to the rash of injuries has been impressive, and there are only a few things – all minor – that he has done which surprised a little. Coaches have done a great job managing the small ball aspects of the game, while some players are still getting used to signs and signals. Overall, the managing, and the coaching, all deserve above-average marks.
- Yunel Escobar and Jose Bautista: Quite possibly the most important duo the Jays have had in their lineup for a very long time, these two players have breathed and bled the Jays motto of Hustle and Heart. Their poise, professionalism, and outstanding play have led the Jays to the point their are now, and each deserves a huge round of applause as we head into the 2nd half of May.
In my estimate, that makes a ton more Positives for the Jays than Negatives. Don’t count the Jays out of anything yet. The best is yet to come, as Franky Sinatra would say.
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