The first half is the in rear view mirror, and the Blue Jays are facing an uphill climb to get back into contention in 2017. With that in mind, there are several questions the team and the front office must be asking themselves.
The Blue Jays finished the first half with a record of 41-47, and currently sit in last place in the AL east. In today’s Wild Card version of the MLB playoffs, they’re not completely sunk, but they’re certainly facing an uphill climb.
They are 8.5 games behind the AL East leading Red Sox, who they’ll play four times in their first ten games after the break. They’re just 5.0 games back in the Wild Card, but they’ll need to leapfrog seven teams to get in that position. The Jays open with a three game set in Detroit against the Tigers, before heading to Boston for four games at Fenway, and finishing the trip with three games in Cleveland.
Now that the second half is here and we’ve had a break for a few days, I feel like I’ve got a bit more perspective how things have gone, and where the club might be headed. Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of variables that could change everything in a hurry, but I don’t think many writers or fans expected the Blue Jays to be this far behind at the All-Star break.
Can they come back and be contenders?
Yes, it’s still mathematical possible (Fangraphs gives them a 3.2% chance of winning the AL East), but the Blue Jays will really need to get hot, and in a hurry. The trade deadline looms and the front office may decide to sell off a few significant pieces, so they’ll need to show they’re serious about contending in the immediate future.
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I don’t claim to know what Ross Atkins or Mark Shapiro are thinking, but I would bet that as things stand at the moment they’ll be shopping players like Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, Joe Smith, and Jose Bautista (assuming he would approve a trade), who are all on expiring contracts. A sweep of the Tigers in Detroit could change that thinking, and taking three or all of the games against Boston would make an even bigger impact.
Will Aaron Sanchez stay healthy?
The budding ace has had a difficult 2017 season, but Aaron Sanchez was able to return to the rotation prior to the All-Star break. He’s had never every treatment you can prescribe to deal with his pitching hand, dealing with a variety of ailments including blisters, and split fingernails.
He looks to be healthy as the team enters the second half, and will obviously represent a big key to the immediate, and long term success of the Blue Jays. He lead the American League in ERA last season and the team had hoped to cut him loose of innings restrictions this year. That obviously won’t be an issue for him now, so as long as he can put the ailments behind him, look for the former first round pick to make a big contribution.
Will they trade Josh Donaldson?
I’ve addressed this indirectly with the answers above, but a lot depends on this next 10 game road trip. If the Blue Jays tank, they’ll have about a week to field offers for anyone they decide to put on the market. If that includes Josh Donaldson, then the Blue Jays will surely have a lineup of suitors.
The 31 year old third baseman has a year left of control before he becomes a free agent in 2019, so plenty of pundits believe the Jays should shop him now and maximize his value. It’s hard to imagine the team dangling him in trade if they still believe they could be contenders, so again, this road trip is huge.
That said, the front office could have a plan in place for the 2015 MVP whether they win or lose. They should still be able to get a gigantic return in the offseason as well, or they could decide to keep him and take another run at contention in 2018. With a few tweaks and plenty of money coming off the books again, it’s not out of the question.
Who could have a big second half?
Most of the offensive side of the team disappointed in the first half, save for the All-Star performance of Justin Smoak. Some were better than others, and injuries surely played their part as well, but for the most part the team isn’t performing the way they had projected to.
With that in mind, there are plenty of candidates to improve in the second half. The two I would highlight in particular are Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, who both missed significant time in the first half due to injury.
The infielders were both heating up as the team hit the break, with Tulowitzki being 9-20 before an 0-3 performance in the last game, and Donaldson finishing 6-10 over the final four games. While they’ve both been back in the lineup for awhile, it appears that they might be getting close to 100%. The All-Star break couldn’t have been bad for either of them either, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them continue to heat up at the dish.
Will we see Devon Travis again this year?
Honestly, who knows? There have been reports that Devon Travis is working towards the goal of returning this season, but it’s probably in his best interest to take all the time he needs and try to get to 100% before playing again.
With the mystery around the latest knee issues for the talented second baseman, one has to wonder if he came back a little too quickly this spring from last season’s knee injury. Of course, if the Blue Jays are in contention, the incentive to get back will only increase, so once again, we’ll see how the club is doing. He’s shown a great deal of potential at the plate in his young career, so hopefully he and the Blue Jays will look at the big picture when planning his return.