As I sit here embarking on a mid-season review and second half preview of the Toronto Blue Jays, I realize I could sum both up in one word each: disappointment and hope. Both are a far cry from the two words I would have used prior to the start of the season: excitement and eventuality.
Alas, it would not be fair to the team, or you the reader for that matter, to simply scale down the first 94 games and the remaining 68 games into 2 piddly words.
You have to draw out this level of punishment.
And that is what the first half (plus) has been for the Blue Jays, a punishment. It was a karmic boomerang, evening out the universe after the team created such excitement over of trades and free agent signings that signaled that Toronto not only intended to contend, but had their sights on a pennant. It was retribution for the cries of postseason and World Series from pundits and fans alike.
The Winter Spree
Toronto got everyone’s attention early in the winter, using the farm system they had built up in recent seasons in order to seed a contender. First came the trade with the Miami Marlins that brought Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Buehrle, and John Buck (later traded). Then came the Melky Cabrera signing. Finally, the Blue Jays landed their ace when they reeled in R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole from the New York Mets.
The trades cost Toronto some of its prized prospects, including top pitching talent in Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony Descalfani, their top outfield prospect in Jake Marisnick, and their overall top prospect in catcher Travis d’Arnaud. However, it created a buzz around the team that it badly needed, and it gave the impression that the Blue Jays were serious about fielding a winner rather than perpetually developing talent.
The moves addressed a number of needs, including shoring up a pitching staff that badly needed some solid arms, adding a proven lead-off man, and creating some bench depth along the way.
The pieces were all in place.
Wins Are Hard To Come By
The reality of the season came crashing down on the Blue Jays hard right out of the gate. Toronto would 2 out of 3 in each of their first three series of the season before finally winning their only series in the month of April, taking 2 out of three against the Royals from April 12th-14th. Unfortunately, the injury bug tempered that series win, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Overall, the Blue Jays finished April with a 10-17 record and were already 8.5 games out of first place in the American League East.
May would not spark much retribution for the Jays either, as they finished the month 13-15 in the second month of the season. That helped Toronto maintain its weak hold on the last place spot in the division.
June saw the Blue Jays rebound slightly. After a tough start to the month, the team went on a tear to close out June, including a club-record tying 11-game win streak. They finished the month with a 17-9 record and managed to climb to within a game of .500 before the end of June, but still 8.5 games out of first place.
July has been more of the same, with the team hovering close to the .500 mark, but unable to make a significant move in which to bolster their meager playoff hopes.
The Injury Conundrum
Injuries have become a way of life for this team, despite its efforts over the winter to prevent a repeat of the 2012 squads health issues.
Third Baseman Brett Lawrie started the season on the 15-Day DL with a rib cage strain, suffered at the World Baseball Classic. He would finally return to the team on April 16th, but would only stay on the field through May 28th, when an awkward slide twisted his ankle and kept him out until July 13th.
Lead-off man and starting shortstop was Toronto’s hottest hitter out of the gate, but he rolled his ankle while stealing second base against the Royals on April 12th and was placed on the 60-day DL due to the severity of the sprain. He finally returned to the Blue Jays on June 26th.
Reliever Sergio Santos followed Reyes to the 60-day DL on April 14th and has yet to emerge from it since, although he is currently on a rehab assignment as we speak. All told, Santos has managed to pitch in just 11 games for the Blue Jays, finishing 6 of them and posting an unsightly 5.79 ERA.
That’s when the real pitching injuries struck Toronto. Josh Johnson would make his yearly trek to the DL on April 29th with right triceps inflammation. J.A. Happ would get struck in the head by a line drive on May 7th against Tampa Bay. Darren Oliver strained his pitching shoulder and was placed on the 15-day DL on May 19, Brandon Morrow would strain his right forearm and hit the 15-Day DL on June 1st. Even feel-good story Ramon Ortiz went down via a right elbow strain, effectively ending his season.
Despite their best laid plans over the winter, the team has had to roll out reserve after reserve to populate what has basically been a MASH unit on the field.
Issues Start At The Top
The injuries have not helped matters, but the true root of Toronto’s struggles in 2013 has been the absolutely abysmal starting pitching the team has received. Overall, Toronto has used 13 different starting pitchers in the team’s first 94 games, and the results have not been pretty.
R.A. Dickey – 8-10 W-L, 4.69 ERA, 20 HR Allowed, 1.96 K/BB Ratio
Brandon Morrow – 2-3 W-L, 5.63 ERA, 12 HR Allowed, 1.491 WHIP
Mark Buehrle – 5-6 W-L, 4.89 ERA, 16 HR Allowed, 1.371 WHIP
Josh Johnson – 1-4 W-L, 4.62 ERA, 1.508 WHIP, 13.1 HR/FB %
J.A. Happ – 2-2 W-L, 4.91 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 1.37 K/BB Ratio
Ricky Romero – 0-2 W-L, 12.46 ERA, 2.77 WHIP, 0.80 K/BB Ratio
Ramon Ortiz – 1-2 W-L, 5.51 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 0.73 K/BB Ratio
Chad Jenkins – 1-0 W-L, 3.60 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 1.50 K/BB Ratio
Aaron Laffey – 0-0 W-L, 6.75 ERA, 16.9 BB/9 Ratio
Esmil Rogers – 2-2 W-L, 3.27 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 2.5 K/BB Ratio
Chien-Ming Wang – 1-1 W-L, 7.13 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, 1.38 K/BB Ratio
Sean Nolin – 0-1 W-L, 40.50 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, 6.8 BB/9 Ratio
Todd Redmond – 1-0 W-L, 5.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.50 K/9 Ratio
As you can see, the Blue Jays pitching staff has fallen far short of expectations. In fact, the team ranks 29th in starters ERA at 5.07, with only the Minnesota Twins to rank behind them. Toronto’s starters also ranks 2nd in home runs allowed, second in runs allowed, 8th in walks, 25th in strike-outs, and perhaps worst of all, 29th in innings pitched. That has out a huge burden on the bullpen, which leads all of baseball in innings pitched at the All-Star break. They’ve responded well, ranking 3rd in reliever ERA, but that’s a model that cannot be sustained for long.
With the pitching staff struggling as much as it has, the offense has had to carry a massive weight throughout the season. The team has responded somewhat, ranking 9th in baseball in runs scored, but that is misleading. Toronto has average 6.67 runs per game in the 45 games the team has won. In the team’s 49 losses, the Blue Jays have averaged just 128 runs, good enough for an average of 2.612 runs per game.
The usual suspects of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are holding up their ends of the bargain, and the team has gotten a huge rebound season from Adam Lind and even Colby Rasmus is contributing. The problem lies in the bottom of the order, where the likes of Maicer Izturis, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark DeRosa, Brett Lawrie, and J.P. Arencibia have been toiling. Arencibia is contributing the home runs, but has an unsightly .256 on-base Percentage. Bonifacio has been worse with a .246 mark, which really negates his speed as a drawing factor. And that says nothing of the regression of Lawrie, who when on the field, has been atrocious with a .206 batting average and a .261 on-base percentage.
It’s hard to get the offense going when the team cannot roll over the bottom of the order consistently.
The Not-So Final Word
At 45-49, the Toronto Blue Jays have a long way to go if they want insert themselves into any sort of playoff race. However, at 11.5 games back in the division and 8.5 games behind the nearest wild-card with only 68 games remaining, this team needs not only a win streak, but a sustained run.
That’s a lot to ask from a team with so many injuries to the pitching staff. They need to add another arm, but given the plethora of moves this winter, it is hard to justify putting another dollar into a sinking ship. If Toronto makes a move, it will be in respect to correcting problems for next year’s club, when the board can be reset and the team can put this mess behind them.
Still, we have seen this team make an 11-game run and tease contention for a few days. Could it be in the cards again?