Toronto Blue Jays: Mid-Term Report Card

May 25, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette (11), first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) and second baseman Marcus Semien (10) at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette (11), first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) and second baseman Marcus Semien (10) at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports /

The All-Star Break is traditionally seen as the midway point of the season, and that’s always a good time to take stock of a team’s first half with a mid-term report card.

The Blue Jays are 44-41 after the first of a big three-game set in Tampa to close out the first half. Their run differential was +79 headed into the series, which is actually 3rd-best in the American League, and tops in the AL East. The number crunchers translate that +79 into an expected record of 50-34. So what happened to those missing six wins? (I think we all know the answer, but let’s play along anyway).

Class is in session.

Offence: A

There’s no doubting the offensive abilities of this team. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better batting order in the league, though the Houston Astros, with a ridiculous +140 run differential can certainly make a case, as can the Chicago White Sox.

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Top to (almost) bottom, the Toronto batting order has been terrifying opposing pitchers all season long. From Marcus Semien’s remarkable return to the All-Star form he flashed in Oakland, at the top of the order, to the superstar breakout of Vlad Guerrero Jr., and the All-Star seasons of Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez, the bats are formidable.

The only thing preventing them from getting an A+ is the lack of production from third base and catcher. Third basemen this season (a combination of Craig Biggio, Santiago Espinal and the departed Joe Panik) have provided only a .700 OPS, which is 21st in the majors.

Espinal has helped with his recent production (.788 OPS in his last 70 at-bats), but Cavan Biggio is still getting the majority of starts at 3B, and his .235 batting average and .668 OPS over the last couple of weeks is still dragging them down here.

Catchers have been another weak spot in the lineup, where the collection of Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Riley Adams and Alejandro Kirk has provided a mere .210 batting avg., and .628 OPS which places them 23rd overall at the catching position.

Defence: B-

Let’s just put it out there: Vlad Jr. has been a revelation at first base. He’s digging balls out of the dirt, leaping high to prevent sailing throws from getting beyond him, and doing the splits with regularity to snag throws while keeping his foot on the bag.

The downside, however, is that Vladdy is being forced to perform all those acrobatics because the throws coming from the left side of the infield are, shall we say politely, not right on target.

Bo Bichette is clearly an All-Star at the plate, but he is still a work-in-progress at shortstop, in particular with the accuracy of his throwing arm. He currently ranks 24th among shortstops (who’ve started at least 10 games) in Defensive Runs Saved Above Average.

Third base has also left the Jays in a below-average position league-wide when it comes to most defensive metrics.

Left field has been a bit of a challenge at times for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., though he can make up for it occasionally with his arm.

Starting Pitching: B+

This area of the team has been the biggest surprise of the season. Heading into 2021, heads were scratching over how the Jays would be able to piece together a legitimate starting rotation after ace Hyun Jin Ryu.

Three months into the season, and we’re calling this a position of strength. That’s not to say that one more elite starter wouldn’t be welcomed for a playoff push down the stretch, but the performances of Robbie Ray, Alek Manoah, Ross Stripling, and, at times, Steven Matz, have been eye-opening.

The lack of any type of contribution from top prospect Nate Pearson has been disappointing, but the robust performance of the rookie Manoah has made up for it. Manoah may very well have his innings restricted as the season rolls along, so adding another solid major league starter at the trade deadline would be on everyone’s wish list.

Relief Pitching: F

Ok, show of hands: who’s surprised by this mark? The only thing preventing this grade from dropping out of the alphabet completely has been the strong performance in the late innings by Jordan Romano.

But let’s be honest here: those six wins that we were wondering about at the outset of this report? The blame all rests here. With the beleaguered bullpen. The Jays are tied for last in the American League with the Baltimore Orioles with 15 total saves.

Injuries and unexpectedly poor performances from the likes of Rafael Dolis and Tyler Chatwood have forced GM Ross Atkins into the trade market early (some would say not early enough) to bring in a couple of decent arms in Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards, but more is needed.

When this group returns to class after the All-Star Break recess, or shortly thereafter, they are desperately in need of a proven true closer to take some of the burden off Romano at the end of games.

Next. The Jays Should Trade For One of These Closers. dark

In summary, the main lesson to be taken away from the results of this mid-term report, is that, while the offence continues to take other teams to school, the Toronto bullpen cannot continue to play hooky and squander those leads, or this season will ultimately end in failure.