Blue Jays could be vulnerable from the left side

Apr 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) takes out relief pitcher J.P. Howell (56) during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) takes out relief pitcher J.P. Howell (56) during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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After losing Brett Cecil to free agency in the offseason, the Blue Jays will need one or both of J.P. Howell and Aaron Loup to step up and fill his shoes.

Let me start by saying that I think it’s foolish to panic after 4 games. We don’t really know what we’re going to get from the Toronto Blue Jays yet this year, and to be fair, we’ll need to give them a couple months before we’ll really start to see the 2017 season with a clearer lens.

That said, there’s one area of the club that I’m already concerned about, and judging from what I read on Twitter these days, I’m not alone (though you never are with anything negative). I love the rotation, I believe in the offence, and I’ve always been a supporter of Gibby (sue me). It’s the bullpen that frightens me.

And it’s not even the entire bullpen either. Once healthy, Roberto Osuna will assume his place as one of the top closers in the game, and I have total faith in him. Joe Biagini has a ton of talent, Ryan Tepera looks great, Jason Grilli should have enough left in the tank for the season if used properly, and even Joe Smith has pleasantly surprised me thus far.

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However, there’s one thing in common with each name I mentioned above: they’re all right-handers.

Aaron Loup likely made the team because he was out of options, otherwise he likely starts the season in the minors. He’s looked okay in his two appearances thus far, but he’s got some work to do before he’ll earn the trust of Blue Jays fans again. Thus far, he’s allowed 5 hits and 1 earned run in his 2 innings pitched, but opponents are hitting .455 against him in limited action.

Loup will have to prove he can contribute in the pen, otherwise he’ll likely face an early demotion, whether he’s out of options or not. If he’s not performing well then he’s much more likely to pass through waivers, if the Blue Jays remain worried about that.

The more concerning thing is the performance of J.P. Howell thus far. In two appearances, he’s recorded just 1 out, giving up 2 earned runs, on 2 hits and 2 walks. In extremely limited action, batters are hitting .667 against him.

Normally I would brush this off as early season rust, but Howell didn’t look very good during the Grapefruit League season either. He only threw 6.1 innings and his ERA of 4.26 isn’t atrocious, but it’s not terribly inspiring either. Again, the sample size is small, but the role Howell is being asked to fill is pretty significant.

The AL East and the American League in general is filled with talented left-handed hitters. A guy like Brett Cecil had a ton of value late in games, as the Blue Jays knew they could call on him to take on the David Ortiz‘s, or Chris Davis‘ of the world. Now, that role will likely fall on Howell, at least in the immediate term.

Again, we’re not even through the season’s first week, so it’s entirely possible I could look back at this article next month and scoff at my own impatience. It’s just that I think this Blue Jays roster has a lot of potential, and the loogy situation strikes me as the Achilles heel of the club.

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Fortunately it’s a very long season, and if there’s one area in baseball that produces surprise performers, it’s in the bullpen (see: Joe Biagini’s unexpected performance last year). Here’s hoping Howell and/or Loup can get things on track, and if not, the Blue Jays can find a viable solution, sooner than later.

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