Jays Fall Below 500, Fail to Meet Expectations

 Let’s set the record straight about what’s been happening for the Jays of late: no matter who it is they’re facing, they are starting to come well short of playing to their full potential. Between Jose Bautista‘s temper tantrums about strike calls and frustrations over Adam Lind‘s lack of production in the 4-hole, the Jays have looked like a team that is asking more of itself instead of just going out there and playing the game to their potential.  Who do I blame for this? Jays brass, John Farrell and his staff, that’s who.

When the Manager comes out and sets undue expectations on his squad, it can either lead to a team that is focused towards a goal set by their fearless leader, or, it can place a ton of pressure on kids and stars on that team which winds up suffocating them at the plate and on the mound. Last week, John Farrell decided to set the goal of 88 wins, and it’s been down hill ever since as players have increasingly slumped as their series against the Royals and Rays continued and are now 3-7 over their last 10 games. Now, in order to reach Farrell’s lofty expectations of 88 wins this season, the Jays would have to win 22 of their last 29 games of the season. Trust me folks, that’s not going to happen.

In fact, I’d dare to say that the Jays may fall as much as 10 games below .500 this season. They’re left facing the Yankees and Red Sox 6 times a piece in September, and still have to face the Angels 4 times and the White Sox 3 times. The only sub .500 team the Jays will be facing from here on out are the Baltimore Orioles, which they face 6 times (4 times in September). To say that the Jays have a tough – if not the toughest – road ahead is about as accurate as you can get. At this point, if the Jays finish with 81 wins, well short of Farrell’s expectations, I’d be ecstatic.

When players press, they swing at wrong pitches, they miss their spots when they pitch, and each time those things happen, the performance is normally lower due to the cummulative frustration that player faces. Instead of trying to get a hit, a player tries for a double. Instead of moving up one base, they get thrown out at 3rd, and instead of inducing a ground out, they allow a walk. In any case, it usually involves a “let down” that weighs heavily on the shoulders of the players in the clubhouse.

Although, I must admit that the chances of the Jays getting a better draft position are somewhat enticing. If you’re going to be out of the playoffs anyhow, it might as well have some benefits! The Jays were able to grab someone like Deck McGuire 11th overall because they finished with 75 wins in 2009. I’m not saying they’ll fall that far back (although it is feasible), but, if they can land in the top 15 rounds of the draft it does have its benefits throughout the 2012 draft.

 So, what it is that has changed in the Jays clunhouse and on the field of late which has caused this slide in play – and in attitude I may add? Well, first, you have the pride of the leaders on that team. Jose Bautista is someone who takes everything he does seriously and demands perfection from himself, others on the team, and the umpires as a result. Since he cares so much about his performance and that the Jays play 100% hard every single pitch, AB, game, and series, he winds up getting emotional when things do or don’t go his way. I, for one, don’t mind one little bit and actually enjoy the fire and spirit it brings to the club. Do I believe it’s professional behaviour? Not at all, but, if he can inspire the young players on the team to care nearly as much as he does about the game, I’m all for it!

In my eyes, it’s uch better than watching what the old leaders on the team used to do (Vernon Wells, Adam Lind, and Aaron Hill), which was/is to put their heads down and suck it up. Players don’t get energized from that. They don’t build a fire to compete or to do better the next time out.

Between Jose Bautista’s rants and Brett Lawrie‘s refreshing energy and abilities, we see the future of the Jays organization as one that one take no for an answer. They want to win at all costs. The problem? It’s too late in the season for a run, and they’re still missing 1 or 2 pieces that will enable them to put it all together. I’ll get to those pieces below.

The Jays can’t expect Jose Bautista, Yunel Escobar, and Brett Lawrie to do everything on their own. Yes, they are 3 very impressive pieces to the puzzle that should be joined by an improving duo of Colby Rasmus and J. P. Arencibia in 2012, but, there still remain a few issues with the lineup overall. Kelly Johnson struck out 4 times in 4 ABs last night, showing his most glaring weakness. Edwin Encarnacion continues to show his streakiness by hitting a lowly .179 over his last 10 games, and Eric Thames still has to learn to play the field a whole lot better because his bat may not be good enough to warrant being a full-time DH (although he has shown impressive power with 28 extra base hits in only 252 ABs). If he, Travis Snider, or even someone from the minors (Moises Sierra comes to mind) can provide the Jays with some offensive output from LF, the lineup as a whole will become much better.

As it is, the Jays are only getting steady production at the plate from Escobar, Lawrie, and Bautista. You know what, that’s not good enough.

So, what do the Jays do to help the chances of those 3 players when Colby Rasmus goes down to injury? They claim Dewayne Wise. I’m sorry, but as soon as I saw that happen, I felt disgust. Adam Loewen deserves a shot a whole lot more than Wise, even if he would be one of the worst CF in all of MLB. What about Darin Mastroianni or even Ricardo Nanita? Whichever player the Jays would decide on out of these 3 is fine by me. Why? Because each one actually has a shot at being part of the organization in 2012 and needs to be tested to show the Jays what they’ve got on hand. Acquiring Wise tells me, and Jays players, one thing: they’ve given up on the season and are not looking to push their players ahead.  

So with that in mind, why wouldn’t Jose Bautista throw a tantrum when he’s getting close calls that go against him at the plate? He’s got 2 consistent players in the lineup with him and is trying to produce enough to not only support the pitcher of the day, but also to reach Farrell’s lofty projection of 88 wins!! That needless projection and the acquisition of Dewayne Wise do not match. Either go for it and play the best talent you’ve got, or don’t make any projections and deal with the remainder of the season as what you are: a 4th place team in the A.L. East.

Here’s my list of what needs to happen in 2012 for the Jays to take that next step:

  • 1 – Replace Adam Lind in the cleanup spot. He was hot there for a short stint, but he has never been nearly consistent enough to hit there full time. As much as I like Jose Bautista in the 3-hole, he needs to get lower in the lineup for 2 reasons: to allow the lead off hitter to use his speed once he gets on base, and to get more RBI opportunities.
  • 2 – Brett Lawrie needs to take over in the 3-hole. It’s a lot of pressure to put on this kid, but it’s where he belongs. With Jose Bautista hitting behind him, there’s no way he won’t see some great pitches to hit, and with his speed he can still distract pitchers when Bautista’s AB.
  • 3 – Adam Lind needs to hit 5th or 6th, depending on whether the Jays are facing a lefty or a righty. The alternative being having Edwin Encarnacion in his place. Frankly, I actually hope the Jays pick up Prince Fielder and deal Lind for some pitching, whether it be pen help or a starter. That shouldn’t be hard given his team friendly contract, and who knows, maybe the Brewers would be willing to pick Lind up! The truth of the matter is that Lind has no developped into a hitter that pitchers fear, and to win in the A.L. East, you need that kind of hitter- or moreso those types of hitters – in the core of your lineup.
  • 4 – Return Yunel Escobar to lead off and leave him there, and have Colby Rasmus (when healthy) hit 2nd while allowing him the opportunity to let it fly when he sees fit.
  • 5 – Have Kelly Johnson, or Adeiny Hechavarria in 2012, hit 9th. It’s obvious that both of these players are likely to struggle in batting average in 2012, but whichever one the Jays decide to roll with should provide at least some pop and some good base running. J. P. Arencibia has much more potential to hit for average in 2012 than either of them, and has a ton more pop, and so belongs in the 7th or 8th spots in the lineup.
  • 6 – Once Anthony Gose proves ready, bring him up to be the top of the lineup terror we all know he can be. His arrival would shift Colby Rasmus down to the 6th or 7th spot (which he may be better suited for). In total, this would result in the following lineup for mid-to-end of 2012: Anthony Gose (CF), Yunel Escobar (2B), Brett Lawrie (3B), Jose Bautista (RF), Adam Lind or Prince Fielder (1B), Edwin Encarnacion (DH), Colby Ramus (CF), J. P. Arencibia (C), and Adeiny Hechavarria (SS).

Why do I have Hechavarria listed in this lineup? Well, from everything I’ve seen Kelly Johnson do since his arrival, one thing is certain to me: the Jays have a much better shot of competing in 2012 with Hechavarria’s defensive abilities and his bat potential than with Kelly Johnson’s frustrating approach at the plate and mediocre defensive abilities. With the start Aaron Hill is having in Arizona, I do believe he may remain there for a few years yet, which would leave the Jays very few options for 2B. If true, this leaves the best option of all as Yunel Escobar shifitng to 2B and Adeiny Hechavarria playing SS and batting 9th. The Jays may bring back John McDonald and have him play either SS or 2B for the 1st month or 2 of the season, in order to provide Hechavarria with some more seasoning in AAA. But, if Adeiny has a strong spring, I don’t doubt for one second that the Jays would be open to beginning the season with him as their SS.

There is some hope at the end of the tunnel, as you all know that the Jays have a bevy of pitching coming up the pipelines and a few very special position players (Gose, Hechavarria, and Travis d’Arnaud in particular). Once those pieces begin to impact the daily operations of the Toronto Blue Jays, the franchise will finally be able to lead the way in terms of talent on the field in most cases, and will get a whole lot better as a result.

If John Farrell wants to project more than 88 wins at that point in time and the organization backs him up with the right moves, such as signing Prince Fielder and fixing the pen, then I’ll back up his play 100%. But, don’t sit there and throw sand in my eyes by setting an 88 win objective and acquiring Dewayne Wise, because when that happens, I can’t believe for one second that winning as many games as possible this season is the goal of the franchise. Better draft position, as it seems, may be the intended target.

– MG

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