3 early red flags for the Blue Jays that must be addressed before it’s too late
By Edward Eng
After a hot start to the 2023 season by the Toronto Blue Jays, it had dampened slightly from their cold stretch this week. From this losing stretch, certain team flaws became more evident and must be something the Jays need to fix before they end affecting them more crucially down the stretch. Here, we look at three early red flags that the Jays must address before it’s too late.
RISP isn’t so crisp
The Jays from years past haven’t been always a productive team when it comes to hitting with runners in scoring position. This year was expected to be different, with the mentality of getting away from the long ball to drive in runs and moving towards using small ball to help move runners over and scoring runs with timely hits. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case after five weeks into the season.
The Jays currently rank 16th in MLB with a .251 average with runners in scoring positions and 27th in the league for runners left in scoring position per game at 3.79. The growing frustration in both the fans and the players is becoming more evident and must be something that should be rectified before the Jays find themselves being on the wrong side of the scoreboard in more ballgames.
Last season, the Jays had some games that really stood out where they had some untimely errors and baserunning blunders that ended up costing them the win. For the early part of this season, they have cleaned their play nicely and it was reflected in their successful month of April in the end. However, this past week, some of that sloppy play has crept in again, as they committed eight errors in a span of just seven games, after only 11 in the first 27 games. Even the usually sure-handed Daulton Varsho and Santiago Espinal were at fault, too, recently.
More worrisome is that with the Jays supposedly improved defense this year compared from previous years, some players are already on pace to surpass their error totals from last year. Espinal has three already when he had only six all of last year, and Alejandro Kirk has already tied his mark of three from last year just one month into this season. The Jays will need to focus on cutting down the frequency of such mistakes, as giving their opponents extra outs, along with extra bases and runs will become a recipe for disaster, just like in previous years.
Both the hitters and pitchers from the Jays need to provide more consistency in their offense and pitching respectively. For the batters, other than the consistent trio of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Matt Chapman who have been fueling the offense for much of the season with 19 home runs, 64 runs scored, 64 RBI and hitting above .330 collectively, the rest of the lineup (including bench production) has combined for 18 home runs, 99 runs scored, 88 RBI, with a batting average below .225 collectively. More players will need to step up their game, otherwise opponents will be able to focus on shutting down the big three and the Jays will eventually have more trouble scoring runs as the season progresses. The good news though is it appears a few of them have already started to pick it up in the past few games, so hopefully the boost is here to stay.
With regards to their pitching, it had also been inconsistent so far for both the starting rotation and the bullpen, fluctuating between superb and super poor outings, including the normally consistent Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Jordan Romano, Yimi García and Adam Cimber. Collectively, they have a team ERA close to 4.20, a WHIP close to 1.27, and ERA+ close to 100. Pitching was believed to be an area of strength for the Jays coming into the 2023 season and it will be heavily relied upon in particular if the offense begins to have its issues, as mentioned above.
What can be done?
All of these current flaws can be corrected if presented with the right mindset and mentality. The Jays’ teams from the previous years were faulted for having too much fun and not enough seriousness, leading to their recent acquisitions of key veteran team leaders so that they could lead by example. Added to the change in managerial duties last summer, it is about time for all of them to step up and provide the much needed team focus, motivation and leadership from here on out for the team to ultimately be successful in reaching its goal at the end of the season. How they deal with adversity and their issues, how they come together as a team to persevere, and how they bounce back from any setbacks will be the key to a winning culture in the clubhouse.
Without it, we could soon be looking at another disappointing season despite the current strong core of players. Hopefully, the Jays’ nice bounce back from their five-game losing streak with back-to-back wins against the Pittsburgh Pirates is the first step in the right direction.