The Blue Jays are off to a horrendous start, but the biggest problem has been the struggling offence. Several veterans are struggling to open the season, but none more than 2 time MLB home run champion, Jose Bautista.
There are so many things about the way the Blue Jays’ season has started off that seemed impossible a couple weeks ago. A 7 game losing streak in the first 9 games, and a franchise worst 3-13 start were not in the plans for the Blue Jays brass, and yet, here we are.
What’s been equally baffling has been the performance of several Blue Jays’ veterans, especially at the plate. Combing the production of Steve Pearce, Russell Martin, and Devon Travis, you get 15-126 (.119), with all three collecting hits in the last two games to boost their weak averages to where they are. Each player will need to contribute in order for the Blue Jays to be true contenders this year.
Even more crucial is the need for Jose Bautista to get things going at the plate. While the 36 year old looked outstanding throughout the spring schedule and World Baseball Classic, he’s been anything but so far in the MLB regular season. Thus far, Bautista is just .109/.242/.145 with no home runs and 1 RBI.
Believe it or not, it actually gets worse when you take a closer look. Long known for his plate discipline and ability to take a walk, Bautista has struck out an alarming 22 times in his first 55 at bats, including 4 times on Thursday. If you bet on Bautista having a 40% strikeout rate, you are a very rich person.
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Of course, that isn’t going to last for the 6 time All-Star, mostly because he’s just too talented to continue to perform this way. Even in a season that saw him fight injuries in 2016, he still hit 22 home runs and had a .366 OBP. The expectations were high for him as he entered this season as a healthy man, and even showed off a strong arm in right field, something that seemed to have escaped him over the last couple seasons.
There isn’t much to speculate about when it comes to his struggles, except that he’s likely pressing as much as he has at any point in his career. He knows the club is struggling, and he knows that he’s a key part of the offence that has floundered out of the gates.
Add the fact that he’s working on essentially a one year deal and has to re-prove himself all over again, and Bautista wants to perform as badly as anyone in the MLB this year. Obviously things aren’t going the way he planned for either the team, or for his own stat sheet.
To complicate things even further, he’s keenly aware of how things played out this offseason, and that he was the second choice to bringing back Edwin Encarnacion. He’s never come out and said it, but you can almost guarantee that he would like to outperform his long-time friend, and prove that he was undervalued for the umpteenth time in his career.
It’s entirely likely that he’s “in his own head” at the moment, overthinking his plate appearances and pressing too much to try to make something happen for the last place team. When you have the long track history of someone like Bautista, it’s just a matter of time before the confidence returns and he starts to produce. He may not challenge for the MVP award, but there’s no way he continues to struggle the way he has thus far.
Until then, we’ll wait to see how long John Gibbons sticks with him in the top third of the order, or if he can find his stroke before he ends up moving down, as Gibby did with the struggling Travis earlier in the week. Being a veteran and leader of Bautista’s ilk may stave that off for a little while longer, but he’ll need to get things going sooner than later or he’ll likely see a similar fate.
And that wouldn’t be good for Bautista or the Blue Jays, so here’s hoping “Joey Bats” finds the stroke he had as recently as last month, and starts to strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers once again.