After 1 month into the season, with a team full of promise and high expectations, it’s easy to quickly push the “panic button” when things don’t go according to plan. Here at Jays Journal, we haven’t tried to hide our sarcasm for fans that already have. As of today, the Toronto Blue Jays are coming off of a rough series sweep at the hands of a beaten and battered New York Yankees ballclub. The Jays currently sit at 9-17, last place in the AL East, and out of 15 American League clubs, they are the 14th best team. To further hammer the point home, out of 30 Major League Baseball teams, the Jays are the 28th best team… That’s not very good.
With not just playoff, but World Series aspirations for this club, it’s also easy to be negative right now. I’m here to tell you today why you shouldn’t. Even in spite of the fact the Jays pitching staff has given up 130 runs (2nd worst in MLB) to only scoring 95 runs (worst in the AL East). Even in spite of displaying some of the worst fielding in all of baseball (0.62 errors per game*, T-18th MLB.) Yes, I’m here to tell you today that with a little more than 5 months left to a season, there’s still hope. “How is that possible?” Glad you asked!
PITCHING! It’s pretty obvious by now the Jays pitching staff has not met our expectations. The team bottom line overall is a 4.46 ERA with opposing teams hitting a robust .263 BAA, placing the Jays 13th and 11th in the AL in the respective categories. Starting pitching has caught most of the flack, but maybe it shouldn’t.
Over the last 2 weeks, the Blue Jays have actually received decent, to somewhat excellent, starting pitching. Have a look!
R.A. Dickey (Last 2 weeks)
Brandon Morrow (Last 2 weeks)
Mark Buehrle (Last 2 weeks)
Josh Johnson (Last 2 weeks)
J.A. Happ (Last 2 weeks)
Combining these stats (not including Aaron Laffey‘s laughable spot start for Johnson), Blue Jays pitchers have started 15 games, giving the team 10 “Quality Starts.” What does a Quality Start mean? A Quality Start is the modern day pitcher’s baseline in terms of grading their performance for each game they pitched. It’s now widely understood in baseball that allowing 3 runs or less while pitching 6 innings or more, is something of which today’s pitcher should strive to accomplish. This basically means the starting pitcher did his job and gave his team an opportunity to win the game. Over the last 15 games, Blue Jays pitching has held up its end of the bargain 66% of the time.
The bullpen has also looked solid throughout most of April. However, the high early season work load might be getting to them as of late. Despite the good starting pitching, the bullpen has allowed several inherited runners to score during the 6th and 7th innings. From April 13-28 (again, excluding Laffey’s spot start), Blue Jays pitching has given up 62 total runs. Of those runs, 20 of them came during the 6th and 7th innings of the ball game, when a relief pitcher would replace a starter. Often lately, the move has cost the team the game. So where’s the silver lining? During this same time frame, the Jays lost 11 games. Of those 11 games, 9 of those losses were by 2 runs or less. I think it’s safe to say that Blue Jays’ management will figure out how to effectively use its bullpen over the next 5 months.
“But what about the poor hitting?”
Keep those questions coming! The Jays are currently sitting 28th in the MLB in Team BA (.229) and 27th in Team OBP (.291.) I’m not going to deny that this is bad, but I don’t believe it will stay this way either. Edwin Encarnacion has hit .318 over the last week with 5 HRs and 8 RBIs. Adam Lind has been hitting .421 with a ridiculous .607 OBP over his last 8 games! He’s had 29 plates appearances, 9 of which, resulted in walks to 1B. And while Jose Bautista has only hit .200 in his last 12 games, he’s got 5 HRs (only 7 RBIs) with a 6:13 BB/K ratio. That’s more inline with his career numbers. Melky Cabrera has also been showing signs of life. He’s had a hit in 8 of his last 10 games.
The hits are coming. They’re not timely hits, but they are there. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you see the Jays start to make a run in May, despite what looks to be a harder schedule. The bats in this line-up are too good not to heat up at some point. Jose Reyes will be back before you know it. During his time away, we fans have discovered current SS Munenori Kawasaki. If he continues to swing even a remotely decent stick, he could move to 2nd base when Reyes returns, solidifying one of the Blue Jays more glaring problems: DEFENSE!
The Blue Jays are right in line this seasons as to where they were last season defensively. At 0.62 errors/game, fielding clearly has been an issue. Of those 12 glove-challenged teams, 9 are at or below .500. So this is kind of a big deal. If you’ve been watching the games, then you know Emilio Bonifacio (4), Maicer Izturis (3), and Brett Lawrie (3) have been the main culprits with errors on D. I’m giving Lawrie a pass however, because, if you REALLY have been watching, then you understand that he has made some ridiculously good plays on balls that most humans wouldn’t be able to grab (that’s right… I’m saying Lawrie isn’t human.)
Bonifacio, however, has looked lazy getting to the bag at 2B at times. He’s made routine errors while in the field. He also hasn’t shown much plate discipline. While his speed makes him an asset to the team, his poor fielding cannot be overlooked, often making an error at critical points in the game. Making Kawasaki the everyday 2B would instantly upgrade the defense as well as bringing a patient approach to the line-up… both of which the Jays desperately need to break from this early season swoon.
But lift your heads up Jays fans! It’s better to slump early in the season than late. Judging by what’s been happening these last couple of weeks, the Jays starting pitching has been good enough to win! The Jays bats seem to be waking up! Now all the Blue Jays need is a little luck (Did I mention the Blue Jays BABIP? No? It’s 0.262… it’s NOT possible for it to stay THAT low) and this team could very well turn the corner! Being from the Boston area, I hope it starts tonight against the Boston Red Sox. ::Breaks out the pom-poms:: I’m overdue for some good smack-talk anyway! I believe in the Blue! They’re not going to continue to let us down! Me and my 6-pack of Labatt’s says that it just won’t happen!
*Fielding stats were found at http://www.teamrankings.com/mlb/