Toronto Blue Jays: Pitching help can’t come soon enough

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 30: Yusei Kikuchi #16 of the Toronto Blue Jays has a meeting on the mound in the fifth inning of their MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on June 30, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 30: Yusei Kikuchi #16 of the Toronto Blue Jays has a meeting on the mound in the fifth inning of their MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on June 30, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

Last night, the Toronto Blue Jays took on the Seattle Mariners and the pitching was once again a sore spot for the club. Having to use an opener due to Kevin Gausman missing his start because of an ankle injury, the Mariners rallied through the first three innings to the tune of seven earned runs. Anthony Banda allowed two in the first inning while Casey Lawrence gave up five through 2.2 innings, seeing his ERA balloon up to 8.04 on the season.

This game was a bit of an anomaly given that this would normally be Gausman’s start but the Jays had to get crafty given he wasn’t able to go. What this game did however exposed that the Blue Jays’ internal starting depth lacks in a situation such as Gausman not being able to make his scheduled start, in that Lawerence has struggled through his last two outings and Montoyo decides to utilize Max Castillo out of the bullpen rather than the rotation (at least for right now).

Overall, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff has been lacklustre to start the season minus a few outliers. Both Gausman and Alek Manoah have been the team’s best starters while Ross Stripling is quietly having a nice season, owning a 3.32 ERA on the campaign through 19 appearances (11 starts). Those three pitchers are the only ones with an fWAR over the 1.0 mark, while the rest of the Jays staff sits below. Hyun Jin Ryu is done for the year (and possibly next year) after undergoing Tommy John surgery last month. Jose Berrios continues to have an up and down campaign where you are not sure what version you are going to get while Yusei Kikuchi cannot locate his fastball and struggles to get deep into games, resulting in a phantom IL stint (neck strain) where he can hopefully figure things out away from the real game scenario.

The Blue Jays’ pitching staff is struggling at the moment and with the playoff race tight in the AL this year, they need every win they can get.

Considering the Jays had what one would consider as a more well-rounded rotation entering the season, the Jays starters currently sit at a 4.06  ERA and rank 16th in the league, which isn’t the worst by far but is below where fans were hoping considering the pitchers at their disposal. The relief corps owns a 4.32 ERA and rank 23rd in the league, which makes sense considering there are only four to five members Montoyo can really trust in high leverage situations whereas the rest of the group has ERAs above the 4.00 mark and keep bouncing between the Minor Leagues and MLB.

We all knew that the bullpen needed another arm or two in order to create a stronger relief corps to finish out the season but it now appears the club may need to shift priorities to also acquire another starter, which may be easier said than done when looking at the current crop of potentially available pitchers. The standouts are Luis Castillo and Frankie Montas but there are some other options the front office could consider like Jose Quintana and Merrill Kelly, however, both Castillo or Montas would be the “big fish” candidates similar to the Berrios deal last season.

So why hasn’t a trade been made yet?

Well, that’s a good question, and considering we can’t see behind the scenes in the Jays’ front office, we can really only speculate.

Looking at the Blue Jays’ front office

I would like to think that Ross Atkins and co. are laying the groundwork and not sitting on their hands, mostly because they have been active at the deadline in years past and I wouldn’t expect this season to be any different. They are obviously aware that their pitching needs to improve but could be hitting snags in getting deals done. We are still weeks away from the August 2nd deadline and teams might not be willing to deal yet, especially with the expanded playoff format creating a few additional buyers this season. Looking around the league, there haven’t been any real blockbuster trades yet, so it’s not like the Blue Jays are sitting on the sidelines doing nothing.

If the deadline passes and the Blue Jays are still with the same pitching staff, something I highly doubt, then we have every reason to be upset but until then, we have to trust that the front office is setting up deals and putting in the work to make this team better because right now they are trending in the wrong direction on the west coast.

"Players that could lose their 40-man spot if/when the Blue Jays make trades"

One thing I would like to see is the front office migrate away from picking up DFA pitchers, as it looks like the club is trying to find a “diamond in the rough” or a “fix-it” project when the reality is that rarely happens, especially with the Jays. I will say Sergio Romo has been solid so far but I would hope the Jays have higher ambitions for improving the bullpen via the trade deadline, which I am sure is in the works (or at least hope so).

It will be interesting to see what the Blue Jays do on the trade front over the next few weeks and whether they are willing to dive deep into their prospect pool in order to get deals done. They weren’t afraid to do so last offseason in Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson as well as Gunnar Hoglund in Spring Training but they weren’t willing to include Gabriel Moreno or Orelvis Martinez in any deals, leaving only a select few top prospects like Jordan Groshans and Otto Lopez which may not persuade teams to trade their pitchers unless part of a greater prospect package.

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The Blue Jays’ core is a group that could and should make the playoffs but unless they bring in some outside reinforcements over the next month, especially in the pitching department, that task will get more difficult as the season wears on, especially if Berrios and Kikuchi continue to struggle. It’s time to migrate away from the bargain bin DFA finds and trade for an impact reliever because the Jays fanbase really doesn’t want to fall short again this season with such a talented group of players in Toronto.