What a month of baseball, and an interesting one for the Toronto Blue Jays. There was a great deal of build up in this city during the offseason; Toronto was hungry for the Jays to not only compete, but end the longest playoff drought in Major League history. One may say that this committed city has been starved for a team like this since 1993.
Toronto finished the first month of the season 2.5 games back of a wild card spot and with a 11-12 record. Now, this isn’t the best start to a promising campaign, but it could be worse. There are always ups and downs in an 162 game season, and some fans seem to forget that. People who are supposedly in the Blue Jays’ corner are so quick to jump ship and talk about how this season is already a failure, or how they should fire John Gibbons. With all the off-season hype surrounding this team, sure it is somewhat of a disappointing start, but Toronto is still establishing different roles with their players, and will hit their stride sooner rather than later.
Here’s some of the good and bad from the month of April.
Devon Travis – I talk about him a lot, but what is not to love? What an unbelievable start to a promising young career. Nobody knew what to expect from Devon when he was acquired in a trade for Anthony Gose; certainly not Rookie of the Year mentions. Since his first Major League at-bat, Travis has looked comfortable and confident in his abilities. He has the talent to spray the ball all over the ballpark and the mental approach of a veteran.
He stays compact on the inside pitch and is able to barrel the ball with almost every swing he takes. Most importantly, when Devon gets injured, he is back in the line up the next day – this kid is durable. In April, Travis slugged six bombs (good for third in the AL), hit for a .325 AVG, and had 19 RBI. Devon also finished the month with 26 hits; one short of what Eric Hinske did in April when he won the Rookie of the Year award in 2002. Currently, Travis leads the Jays in average, home runs, RBI, and OBP (.393). The young second baseman has also played his part when it comes to defense, and has yet to make an error.
Kevin Pillar – Like Travis, Kevin Pillar has been a wonderful surprise for the Blue Jays. His defense has been heard all around North America, and his case for a Rawlings Gold Glove award becomes stronger with each game. If you have failed to see his expertise, take a look at Josh Sadlock’s article, “Kevin Pillar is Good at Catching Things,” to get you caught up.
Now that you have picked your jaw up from the floor, Pillar has also done his job with a bat in his hands. After heavy criticism for being a free swinger and his inability to take a free 90 (walk) in the first half of the month, Pillar has been seeing more pitches. He has managed to work his way on three times in the past 11 games, which is a big improvement. Couple that with a .273 AVG, 11 RBI, and 13 runs, Pillar is having a successful start.
Roberto Osuna – The young 20-year-old stud has been the go-to-guy for John Gibbons and the Blue Jays out of the bullpen. Through 10 appearances, Osuna posted a team low (aside from Estrada who has 6 appearances) 1.38 ERA and a team-high four holds. Roberto has been a bright spot in a bullpen that has been very mediocre in the first month. He has also been hitting his spots, surrendering only four base-on-balls, and has a bullpen-leading 15 Ks. Through the first month, it seems that age is just a number for this young pitcher who shows no sign of slowing down.
Starting Pitching – The Blue Jays starting pitching has simply not been getting it done. If it wasn’t for Toronto leading the league in runs with 122, the record for the club would be much different. Rookie Daniel Norris leads the rotation with a 3.86 ERA. The biggest problem for the Blue Jays has been the inability to go deep into ball games. Here’s a look at what the starters did in the month of April:
R.A. Dickey (0-3) : 31 IP 29 H 18 ER 13 BB 20 K 5.23 ERA
Mark Buehrle (3-1): 23.2 IP 36 H 13 ER 5 BB 10 K 4.94 ERA
Drew Hutchison (2-0): 27 IP 30 H 20 ER 11 BB 21 K 6.67 ERA
Aaron Sanchez (1-2): 19.2 IP 19 H 11 ER 14 BB 16 K 5.03 ERA
Daniel Norris (1-2): 23.1 IP 23 H 10 ER 12 BB 18 K 3.86 ERA
Norris was relieved of his duties last night against the Indians after 3 innings and 78 pitches. Now, he has had some dead arm issues in the past, but it didn’t seem to be anything major other than him taking 6 of 8 batters to full counts. Daniel has most recently been sent down to the minors to reset, and work on his consistency, leaving Marco Estrada to fill in.
Closers – A point of concern for the Jays in the month of April. Cecil blew his first outing as a closer because of missed time during the Spring, leaving young 20-year-old Miguel Castro with a big role to fill. After going 2-for-2 in save opportunities and shutting the door in his first six appearances, Castro hit a bit of a rut, which is normal for a young pitcher put in a veteran-type role. Miguel has allowed a run in four of his past five appearances, prompting Gibbons to go back to Cecil for the late-inning role. Cecil has since been perfect, but will work on a shortened leash.
Close Games – The Blue Jays are 3-7 when it comes to games decided by two runs or less. Regardless what the issue is, Toronto needs to find a way to steal these tight games if they want a chance of playing meaningful baseball.
THINGS TO NOTE:
The bullpen has been progressing. Two times in the past three games a starter has failed to pitch into the 5th inning, forcing the bullpen to pitch lights out. Estrada/Loup/Hendriks/Cecil pitched five strong innings on April 28th in an 11-8 win. Francis/Osuna/Loup/Cecil pitched six solid innings while allowing one run yesterday, in a 5-1 victory.
Josh Donaldson continues to do Josh Donaldson things. Lead the Jays in hits with 29 in the month of April and holds a .319 AVG.
Bautista has yet to make another team hate him as much as the O’s do. Refresh your memory here.
Buehrle and the Blue Jays take on the Indians in Cleveland tonight at 7:10 pm. Cheers to a strong May.