If you want to take the easy route, you can say that this year will be a total disaster, that Toronto failed in acquiring the necessary means in order to be a contender. Well, the most recent string of games may suggest otherwise, especially with a weak AL East.
I’m approaching this article in a glass half-full kind of way; a glass with some blemishes on it, but nonetheless, half-full.
The Blue Jays can finally take a breath as they get their first day off in 20 days, which is their longest streak of games without a break this year. The rest will finally give them a chance to re-group and get ready for a six game road trip after going 8-12 during this stretch. Now, what fans have been up-in-arms over is the pitching staff. However, the starters are beginning to throw deep in to ball games and continue to twirl quality outings. One can argue that Aaron Sanchez has set the bar for the rest of the group after posting a seven inning shut-out against the Red Sox in game 1 of the 20 game stretch. Since then, the youngster has pitched well enough to win in two out of three starts. The main thing that I have been encouraged with is his ability to throw first-pitch strikes. It is imperative to start ahead of the hitter and Aaron has been doing so; his walks-allowed have been declining because of this.
Drew Hutchison has also been a rock in the rotation over the 20 game span, lowering his ERA from 7.47 to 5.12 over four starts. Capped off by throwing a nine inning, four hit shutout with eight strikeouts, Hutch is beginning to show the type of talent we all thought he had at the start of the season.
Mark Buehrle has started to come around lowering his ERA from 6.00 to 5.13 during the span and, like Hutch and Sanchez, has been able to pitch deep into ball games, going at least six innings in his last three outings.
Even the fifth guy down the list, Marco Estrada, has been throwing above expectations. In an interview with the Fan 590, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons had nothing but praise for the righty. “I don’t look at it any differently than that [him staying in the rotation] everyday he’s going out there and giving us a shot. He’s proven to be a reliable guy and that’s what veterans are, they don’t implode. He’s our guy now and don’t really have any second thoughts.”
The Blue Jays skipper also commented on the possible return of Daniel Norris. “He really has to pitch well and show some consistency before we consider bringing him back up.” It looks as though Toronto will be sticking with Estrada as the fifth starter. In 39.1 IP so far this season his ERA sits at 3.89 (5.02 as a starter) and served up a solid outing against Chicago yesterday, pitching seven strong innings in a game that would have put another W on his record (and 4 straight wins for the club) if not for Ezequiel Carrera losing a battle with the sun, costing Estrada two earned runs.
Meanwhile, RA Dickey: “I’m still taking baby steps. Through the first 10 starts I feel like I’ve been the weak link in the chain.”
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) May 27, 2015
He may be right, after allowing an average of eight hits and six earned runs over his past four starts. Not all is bad in the world of Dickey, who did throw a complete four-run game on May 21st against the Angels. The best outing of the season could have been even better if David Freese hadn’t hit a two run bomb in the 9th. The knuckleball is a baseball horror story, a sequence of flat pitches can ruin a solid outing, which is a fine-line to walk considering the Blue Jays early season struggles. Aside from a few hiccups, the rotation has begun to stabilize itself, numbers are ascending to career norms, and the staff is staying healthy.
I wish I could say the same for the offense. Over the past 20 days, Gibbons has been backed into a corner with injuries and has been forced to put out Spring Training-esque line-ups.
This was their May 24 card against the Seattle Mariners during which point Reyes was set to come back from the DL the next day, Bautista had a day off due to his shoulder injury in which he now has received a cortisone shot for, Devon Travis was on the DL due to shoulder soreness, and Michael Saunders was on the DL with knee issues. Now, the Blue Jays did actually win this game 8-2, thanks to some timely hitting from Goins (1-2, HR, 3 RBI) Colabello (2-4), and Encarnacion (2-4, HR, 2 RBI), but this is just an example of what the club has been dealing with in the past couple of weeks.
Going into tomorrow’s series against the AL Central-leading Twins, Toronto is slowly but surely becoming a healthy ball club again. Manager John Gibbons sees this and believes the Jays can make a dent in the AL East when the team is back to normal. “Reyes came back the other day, which gives us a different dynamic in the lead-off spot. Travis is going to play this weekend hopefully, he was off to a tremendous start as a rookie, he has had some huge hits for us. Goins will be a utility guy when he comes back, Navarro is not too far off either. [This] brings back the original team, we learn to accept injuries, we will try and make our run with a full squad and see where it takes us.”
Bautista is nearing a return to right field as well, something that has left a massive gap in the Blue Jays defense since injuring his shoulder against Baltimore. “Maybe he’s out there Sunday, hopefully Monday,” Gibbons said. “I know he’s been throwing the ball and has felt pretty damn good.”
The manager also offered some thoughts on struggling Kevin Pillar. “He’s in one of those unforgiving stretches right now, he’s scrambling and doesn’t have a whole lot to fall back on. The kid is working at it and helping us win games in other fashions. He snuck one through yesterday and hopefully that sets him in the right direction, there’s something about baseball that sometimes you get in that big time rut and you have to ride it out.” Pillar is now 5 for 39 in his last 10 games and continues to be a free swinger at the plate.
Despite the troubling record (22-27) and nagging injuries, the Blue Jays continue to rack up the numbers offensively. They lead the majors with 255 runs scored, the next is Washington with 219. They also lead the majors in doubles, RBI, and are in the top 5 for HR, Slugging Percentage, and OPS. The offence is potent, arguably the best 1-5 hitters I’ve ever seen wear a Toronto uniform. They have single-handedly stole wins away this year. Exhibit A was two days ago against the White Sox where Bautista went 3-4 with 5 RBI and Josh Donaldson capped off a 4-4 night by doing this.
Donaldson also hit a solo shot in the first inning, and then another one in the following game to tie things up in the 9th inning.
The rotation is coming around, and sure, the bullpen has some work to do, okay, maybe A LOT of work to do; look no further than the game pictured above where Liam Hendriks blew a 7-6 lead. It is almost time to swallow their pride and bring up Randy Wolf, who has been somewhat dominant in Buffalo. Despite all the issues, I still see this team being right in the thick of the AL East come crunch time. With all the injuries, blown leads and the fact that they are 2-10 in one run games and 8-12 in the last 20, Toronto is still only 4.0 games back of first. If they can stay healthy, I believe the best is yet to come.
Bautista has an OPS around 1.300 in Minnesota.
Toronto is the ONLY team in MLB that has yet to be shut-out.
With all the negatives with the bullpen, there are still some bright spots. We all know what Roberto Osuna has been able to do, being the youngest pitcher in major league history to record a win on May 18. On the other hand, Steve Delabar has picked his game up tenfold. His dip in velocity and inconsistency was a target of discussion last year. He has been picking the strike zone apart since being called up this season, boasting an ERA of 1.17.
Raise your hand if you thought Colabello would be one of the hottest hitters in the AL since being called up. Nobody? Okay. He is currently riding an 8-game hitting streak and is 13-31 over that span.