The Blue Jays had a dreadful start in April of 2017, which lead to a franchise worst 8-17 month. This April’s been a different story, and that’s incredibly important to how this season will play out.
I don’t mean to state the obvious, but we’re seeing a much better start for the Blue Jays to the 2018 season than we watched in the opening month last year.
The Blue Jays were terrible to begin the 2017 season, starting 1-9 in their first ten, and 3-12 in their first 15. The end of the month was slightly better, but it still equated to a franchise worst 8-17 mark to start the year. The injuries had already started to pile up, and the good feelings about the 2015 and 2016 playoff appearances had all but disappeared.
This year has been a different story for the Blue Jays, and while we’re just seven games in, there’s a quiet optimism building around this slightly different group. Many of the key faces remain like Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Russell Martin and more, but there are also some new faces already making a difference. Curtis Granderson looks like he has plenty left in the tank, and both Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz have already been called into action on a regular basis. Randal Grichuk hasn’t hit a whole lot just yet, but he’s done a lot of little things well in this small sample size, and looks poised to get going at the plate.
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While it’s just seven games we’re talking about, the importance of the positive start can’t be overstated for John Gibbons’ club. The first half of this season will go a long way toward deciding what the future might look like in Toronto’s clubhouse, with several key veterans on expiring contracts. If this year’s team is competing for a playoff spot then they’ll be retained, but if not, they could be used as trade bait later this summer.
The season isn’t won or lost in the season’s opening month, but 2017 taught us that you can build a hole that is nearly impossible to dig out of. Try as they might last year, the Blue Jays were unable to get over .500 at any point during the campaign, and never became serious playoff contenders, even in the era of the second Wild Card spot.
Whether this team can prove themselves as playoff contenders will go a long in determining whether Josh Donaldson wants to stick around beyond this contract, and whether or not the Blue Jays decide it’s worth it to pay him to do so. The same could be said for veteran starters like J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, who could choose to re-sign and stay in Toronto, or move on to another destination with a shot at World Series glory. Players near the end of their careers offer prioritize winning, and even though they’ve each done that in Toronto, neither was able to pick up a ring. Happ did get one with the Phillies back in 2008, but if you ask me that would only make him want to win another all that much more before hangs up his spikes.
Whether or not the Blue Jays can compete will also go a long way toward whether the Rogers Centre is full like it has been for the last 2.5 seasons, or if it’s a little quieter like we’ve seen in the more recent games. After a difficult 2017 season, this team will need to win back the excitement from a city that loves a winner. Right now Toronto has just that with the Maple Leafs and Raptors on the verge of their respective playoffs, so the Jays have competition, especially in the short term.
However, if the Blue Jays can prove there is something to be excited about at the ballpark, the fans will come out. They’ve shown just that when the team has built a winner, and even lead the American League in attendance last season. Having a full house is important for a number of reasons beyond just supporting the team, as revenues often reflect payroll, and that could obviously have an effect on a lot of decisions made in the next couple of seasons.
This conversation could completely change a week from now, but for now the vibes around the Blue Jays are pretty positive. Winning four straight games, mostly in dramatic fashion, will do that for a fan base, and hopefully they’ll be able to carry that positive momentum into Texas against the Rangers.
For what it’s worth, the Blue Jays didn’t win their fourth game until game 16 of the 2017 season, so they’re already far ahead of where they started out last year. As I said above, it might be really early to think too much about it, but being above .500 and more importantly, not in a hole, was incredibly important for the Blue Jays, and their fan base.