Pressure Mounting for Struggling Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays were already off to a sluggish start to the 2016 season prior to Rougned Odor’s overhand right to the chops of Jose Bautista. Since then things have gone from bad to worse as the Blue Jays have now dropped four out of five games and continue to fall further down the standings in the American League East. Thus far in 2016, the Jays haven’t been able to build on last season’s second-half run and are now staring at the stark possibility that last season’s playoff berth was a mere blip on the radar of long-standing mediocrity.

After ending a 21-year playoff drought last year, hopes were high for Canada’s lone major-league franchise as they entered this season. Optimism is also combined with the fact the Blue Jays are in win-now mode as they are facing the pending free agency of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion at season’s end. Toronto has struggled out of the gate and now is facing an uphill climb the rest of the way if they hope to return to the playoffs. Surprisingly the Jays are four games under .500 at home and the supposedly high-powered offense has been downright sluggish for long stretches this year.

The two biggest concerns on offense are also the two highest paid players on the team. Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin have started the season in dreadful fashion as they are each batting under the Mendoza line as we close in on the final week of May. In order for the Blue Jays to make a charge up the AL East standings both players will need to pick up their offensive production dramatically. Martin in particular has been a black hole in the lineup, accounting for a grand total of one extra-base hit while batting .171 on the season. One has to wonder if the wear and tear over their careers, combined with the effects of playing on turf for close to 90 games has finally caught up to them.

Manager John Gibbons has done everything in his power to kick-start his struggling offense. It seems as if he shuffles his lineup on a nightly basis, even going so far as to place Jose Bautista in the leadoff spot in last night’s game. The fact still remains it’s a player’s game and his players simply aren’t producing. Bautista himself has struggled to the tune of a .223 batting average, though he does sport a respectable .374 on-base percentage. Reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson is also markedly behind last year’s pace, currently owning a .247 batting average with his slash line numbers lagging behind as well. While one could not expect Donaldson to match last year’s ridiculous numbers, his relatively modest start has been further magnified by the rest of the team’s offensive woes.

Blue Jays backers can take some solace in the fact the starting pitching has been solid to start the season. The starting rotation has held steady while being led by Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez. New general manager Ross Atkins has to be especially pleased to see Sanchez begin to deliver on some of his immense talent. Marcus Stroman has had an up-and-down start to the season, but he should be able to at least replicate last years numbers. J.A. Happ has also been able to build on his strong second half numbers from last year and leads the team in quality starts. Another bright spot for the team has been young fireballer Roberto Osuna taking the reigns in the ninth inning while posting a 1.50 era and closing out eight of nine opportunities. Pitching has not been the problem for Toronto as they own a respectable 3.64 team ERA.

The Blue Jays do not have a lot of starting pitching depth, and they are walking a fine line with a struggling offense and a rotation perhaps pitching above expectations. Most have predicted the American League East to be a dogfight all year, but as it stands now the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles have separated themselves a bit from the pack. The Blue Jays certainly do not want to fall any further below their current standings and have to worry about catching at least two teams ahead of them in the standings in the second half.

There is no denying the Blue Jays have the talent on their roster to make it back to the playoffs in 2016. However as the losses keep mounting, so does the pressure for a team with such high expectations and several offseason questions looming. The time is now for their high-priced offense to kick it in gear and perform up to their capabilities. The longer the offense continues to sputter the more last season’s joy ride becomes just a fleeting memory.

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