The Toronto Blue Jays are in Major League Baseball Purgatory

Imagine having an aging franchise player who is in the final year of his contract, an underachieving starting rotation, a mediocre lineup, and being six games under .500; you’d be a team in purgatory. And the Toronto Blue Jays resemble just that.

Remember when the Blue Jays made it to the American League Championship Series in 2015 and 2016? They were considered one of Major League Baseball’s most formidable ballclubs from top to bottom. Whether it be their offense’s firepower or well-balanced rotation, the Blue Jays were a team firing on all cylinders. Two years later, they’re one of the worst teams in baseball.

The power-hitting Blue Jays of the past are no more. While they were 12th in runs scored (329) going into Thursday night, the Blue Jays were also 24th in team batting average (.235). They’re winning games, or keeping it close, via the home run (which they were seventh in going into Thursday night with 94). It’s a formula that is dangerous and one that doesn’t always translate to success — hence their 34-40 record. Outside of Yangervis Solarte (who was hitting .260 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs going into Thursday night) and Teoscar Hernandez (who was hitting .263 with 12 home runs and 32 RBIs going into Thursday night), the Blue Jays, as a whole, have immensely struggled to put runners on base. Franchise third baseman, Josh Donaldson, was hitting just .234 going into Thursday night, has been hit by the injury bug, and is worsening his potential free agent value in the process (Donaldson is an unrestricted free agent after this season).

Behind Donaldson, first baseman Justin Smoak has not duplicated the power surge he provided the Blue Jays with last season, Kendrys Morales was hitting just .232 going into Thursday night while Russell Martin slumped at .163, Kevin Pillar was hitting an underwhelming .250, and Randal Grichuk was hitting a whopping .202. At the same time, while they’re not producing at a reliable level offensively, the Blue Jays starting pitching is doing their bats no favors.

Going into Thursday night, Toronto was 23rd in team ERA (4.59) and sixth in hits surrendered (656); the struggles are coming from all facets of their pitching staff. After an encouraging 2017 campaign, the MLB-world was expecting righty Marcus Stroman to finally have that breakout Cy Young Award caliber season, but the 2018 season has been anything but that for the 27-year-old. Currently owning an abysmal 7.71 ERA and 1.71 WHIP, he’s struggled to simply keep the Blue Jays in games. He’s getting hit hard, doesn’t appear to have his command, and is nursing a shoulder injury in the process — which has limited him to just seven starts this season.

Source: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America

Much like Stroman, the 25-year-old Aaron Sanchez has struggled to take the next step in his development into a reliable frontline starter. Currently owning a 4.52 ERA and 1.51 WHIP, he’s been unable to keep runners off base and be a potent force at the top of the Blue Jays rotation. And given where he was two years ago (Sanchez was a finalist for the American League Cy Young Award in 2016), Sanchez is taking several steps back in his growth — which is discouraging for the Blue Jays, especially after the righty started just eight games last season due to injury. Veteran righty Marco Estrada also owns a 4.66 ERA.

Lefty J.A. Happ has been the one silver lining in the Blue Jays rotation this season. He currently owns a team-best nine wins, as well as a 3.56 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. At the same time, given that the southpaw is hitting free agency after this season and is attracting the interest of other teams, Toronto may feel compelled to trade him — which would further their pitching woes.

When you read names like Donaldson, Smoak, Pillar, Solarte, Stroman, and Happ, among others, a rebuild, or a team below .500, is not what you would expect. And it’s probably not what the Blue Jays expected themselves. But the reality is that this is a team who’s likely poised to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season and lose some household names in the process.

Donaldson is 32 and on the back nine of his career in terms of both production and durability. This past offseason, management had the chance to deal the third baseman for a reasonable haul when teams were interested in trading for him to be the missing piece to the puzzle. But based on how the 2018 season has gone for Donaldson, why would a contending team try to revive those trade talks?

The Toronto @BlueJays have a bright future ahead of them, but for now, they're trapped in baseball purgatory.Click To Tweet

Sure, the Blue Jays have some intriguing players in their farm system such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — who will likely succeed Donaldson — and Bo Bichette, but by misguiding how competitive they’d be this season, Toronto missed out on the chance to deepen their farm system and brighten the future.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has a healthy balance of youth and proven commodities in his rotation, but they, collectively, are below-average, to say the least. Their lineup has been swimming in mediocrity since they lost Edwin Encarnacion to free agency after the 2016 season, and Toronto is simply a team that is years away from contending again. To make matters worse, they have to deal with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the American League East — who are just beginning to come into their own as AL powerhouses.

The Blue Jays didn’t choose a direction in the offseason, and it’s holding them back to this day; they’re a team in MLB-purgatory.

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