This week in Blue Jays has been, quite plainly, miserable.
After being swept in a two-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers to begin their season at home, the Jays dropped three of four to their division rivals, the Baltimore Orioles, culminating in a 11-4 drumming on Sunday in where fans witnessed some of the worst baseball this team has played in a long time.
To add injury to insult, starting pitcher J.A. Happ removed himself from the game in the fifth inning after experiencing what has been described as “elbow soreness” and will undergo an MRI today. This came mere hours after the announcement that last year’s American League ERA leader Aaron Sanchez had been placed on the ten-day disabled list to address a blister problem that has been plaguing him for the last two seasons. And that’s without mentioning that Josh Donaldson – who began the season with a slash line of .310/.429/.586 and a blistering wRC+ of 190 – re-aggravated a calf injury that had caused him to miss the majority of spring training, landing him his own ten-day DL stint.
Clearly, there is never a good time for a team to lose its top offensive player and two-fifths of its rotation, but considering how badly the Jays have been scuffling as a whole, any and all news that is negative is magnified under the lens of being a team in a deep last place hole.
Offensively, the Blue Jays, save for Donaldson, Kevin Pillar and Kendrys Morales, appear to be utterly lost at the plate, ranking dead last in the majors in batting average (.200). on-base percentage (.272), slugging (.290), runs (30), wRC+ (59) and WAR (-0.9). Five of their ten losses featured stellar pitching performances, allowing three runs or fewer, only to be wasted on an anemic offense.
All of this has left Jays’ fans shaking their heads with understandable frustration, trying to reconcile the fact that this team should be contenders for a wild card spot with what they are seeing on the field. This has left some fans asking “is it time to panic yet?” while others are wondering aloud “where does the team go from here?”
All this, just twelve games into the season.
The truth of the matter is this: too little of the season has transpired to determine in which direction this ship is going to ultimately sail. It is entirely possible that they will somehow turn their fortune around and look every bit the playoff contender that many pundits predicted them to be prior to the start of the season – these are, after all, good hitters with proven track records backed by one of the best starting five in baseball.
Conversely, it is also entirely possible that this lineup is not as good as it appeared on paper. Age-related decline is certain to be a factor, as is the fact that the roster provides little flexibility. Add in the extreme lack of starting rotation depth, and this could very well be a long and arduous season.
Whichever course this team ultimately takes, at this point in the season I know two things to be true: it is not yet time to panic and yet, the situation needs to turn around in a hurry.
Some fans have lamented the loss of Edwin Encarnacion, suggesting that his presence in the lineup would somehow bolster this offense. This ignores the fact that Encarnacion is traditionally a slow starter, as evidenced by the fact that he is batting .200/.333/.300 and has struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances with Cleveland. There’s no doubt we would all rather have him in Toronto than playing for the team that denied the Jays a trip to the World Series, but to suggest his presence at this point would somehow magically mean the Jays’ would be better than 2-10 is a complete fallacy.
Others have suggested that the way to shake up the offense is to call up first baseman Rowdy Tellez, whose offensive prowess was on full display last season with the double-A New Hampshire Fishercats and who made a name for himself at spring training. That would be a tremendous amount of pressure put on a still-developing player who has had all of nine games in triple-A and who thus far is batting just .206/.270/.382. It would not be fair to Tellez, both in terms of his development and his mindset, to put that kind of pressure on him.
There are, of course, those who want a pound of flesh; namely, the firing of manager John Gibbons or hitting coach Brook Jacoby. Frankly, I cannot fathom how one can blame Gibbons for his team collectively hovering around the Mendoza line. One can draw more of a straight line between Jacoby and the team’s hitting woes but, in truth, a hitting coach’s greatest influence is on younger players. This is a team of veteran hitters who already have a well-established approach. They are who they are at the plate – a change in philosophy will not undo years of learned behaviour, particularly when it has proven to be successful in the past.
So, what is it that this team can do to right this ship?
They can get out of their own heads and get back to why they love the game of baseball. Loosen their grip on the bat, stop rushing defensive plays and slow things down. Because, right now, the frustration on the field is palpable, and that makes breaking out of a slump all the more difficult. We’ve seem them play some fundamentally bad baseball, but we’ve also seen some bad baseball luck – this team could easily be 6-6 had a few bounces gone their way. It may take one lucky bounce to set the ball rolling in their favour.
As for fans – I’m not here to tell you what to do with your fandom. You should be frustrated; you should be disappointed. It is possible to both support your team and talk in “what-ifs”; the two are not mutually exclusive. Depending on what transpires the next few weeks, it’s possible that we, too, will need to remind ourselves of why we love baseball. For it’s possible that what’s yet to come will be tough to take.
This team is better than what we’ve seen. We simply have yet to see it. Here’s hoping.
Lead Photo © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports