Blue Jays’ hitting with RISP the biggest early issue

Apr 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) reacts as he strikes out and walks back to the bench during the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) reacts as he strikes out and walks back to the bench during the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Blue Jays are off to a 1-5 start, and are already 4 games behind the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles.

Well, it’s hasn’t been the type of start we all dreamed of for the Toronto Blue Jays. After being swept in Baltimore in a short two game series, the Jays dropped 3 of 4 in Tampa, giving them a 1-5 record as they head to the Rogers Centre for the home opener on Tuesday.

There are plenty of reasons for early concern too, among them the health of Roberto Osuna, who still resides on the DL for the time being, and now the balky calf of Josh Donaldson is flaring up again as well. We learned on Sunday that J.P. Howell was also hitting the DL, further testing the bullpen in the early stages of the season.

Despite all of that, there are several positives to point to, even if the Jays are 1-5. With the exception of Sunday’s 7-2 drubbing, every loss has been a game that could have ended differently, if only one or two plays had gone the Jays’ way. Leaving out Sunday’s game, they’ve lost 4 games by just 6 runs. That’s a pretty slim margin.

Marco Estrada didn’t have his best day on Sunday either, but he looked great in the Opening Day start, his first of his career. Francisco Liriano‘s start was a disaster, but otherwise the rotation has looked very strong, which is an obvious key to success for John Gibbons’ ball club this year.

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As was often the case last year, the biggest problem for the Blue Jays has been hitting with runners in scoring position. Granted, the sample size is small, but thus far the team has a .162/.304/.297 slash line with runners in scoring position. In fact, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Steve Pearce are a combined 0-18 in those situations.

It doesn’t matter how well your starters pitch, or what the bullpen does, if you’re not scoring runs, you’re not going to win many ball games. Thus far, that’s been the problem, with the exception of scoring 8 runs during Friday’s loss, when they also allowed 10 runs.

There are valid reasons for concern, but I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button just yet. The rotation is healthy and even Liriano, despite his horrific first start, should inspire some confidence after the Grapefruit League performance he had. This is one of the best rotations in baseball, and so far they’ve mostly looked the part.

And the offence will eventually wake up and start performing on a more consistent basis. In 2016, they hit .249/.342/.428 with runners in scoring position, which is probably a reasonable expectation for this club in 2017. The difference between .162 and .249 likely turns a couple of those one or two run losses into wins, and then we’re not having this conversation at all.

For now, the Blue Jays will have to make sure they get on track sooner than later, if for no other reason than to not bury themselves early in the standings in the competitive AL East. The Red Sox should be contenders, and each of the Orioles, Yankees, and Rays have reason for optimism as well, so it’ll be important to get a few more notches in the win column when they resume play on Tuesday.

But equally as important is to remember that there are 156 games yet to be played, and a season is never lost in the first week. This is a talented roster, despite being the oldest one in the majors, and they’re going to have their ups and downs throughout a long campaign.

Next: Blue Jays Trade History, Part 6: Tony Fernandez

Unfortunately, the boys decided to start the season on a downswing. Hopefully Tuesday will bring a healthy Donaldson, Osuna, and the start of new streak for the Blue Jays, one of the winning variety, preferably.

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