Lofty preseason expectations and dreams of October baseball were the talk of the town before April 2nd. With all the wheeling and dealing done in the offseason, it wasn’t just assumed that the Jays would make the playoffs; it was all but a guarantee. Even the sports book(s) in Vegas had the Jays as a favourite to win the World Series. There hadn’t been this much hype in Toronto since WAMCO was headlining at the Dome. Even the city’s beloved Maple Leafs were taking a backseat to all the hype surrounding the Blue Jays… you know… the only Toronto team that’s won a championship in the past 40 years. This was of course before April 2nd… Opening Day.
It’s now the end of April and an all to familiar scent is wafting through the city. The kind of stench that only rears it head when a team starts to piss and squander away leads and when they start to give starts and innings to the Aaron Laffey’s and Robert Coello’s of the world. It’s the end of April and the Toronto Blue Jays are 10 – 17. No Blue Jays team has ever lost 18 games in April, but this version sure tried to. 10 – 17. That’s good enough for 5th place in the always tough AL East; 8.5 games back of the John Farrell’s 1st place Boston Red Sox. Speaking of the AL East, the Jays went 4 – 10 against AL East opponents in April; the highlight being a 4 game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in New York. The Jays currently sit with the 4th worst winning percent (.370) in all of MLB. How bad is that? Well, they are only ahead of the surprisingly bad Angels, and annual cellar dwellers the Marlins and Astros.
It’s amazing how much difference one month can make. Fans went from planning the parade route and dusting off the mantle, to pulling out their Leafs jerseys and dreaming about a cup run. That’s how quickly things change in Toronto. It doesn’t help that the Blue Jays haven’t really given their fans a whole lot to cheer about and have looked pretty awful in general. The funny thing is that there isn’t just one glaring reason why the Jays have looked so spectacularly bad; in fact it honestly seems that they really do find new ways to lose games and blow leads.
So what went wrong? Where and when did the train jump the tracks?
If you’re a Jays fan and unfamiliar with why and how the Jays have looked so bad so far, please allow me to invite you to crawl out from under the rock you live and give you a refresher on why the panic button may soon be pressed.
Opening Week Struggles
The opening season of the year brought the Cleveland Indians to town where they went on to take 2 of 3 games; including the Home Opener. The Blue Jays only win in the series came in the 3rd game, a 10-8 affair that saw the Jays blow multiple leads. Throughout the series not one of the three Toronto starting pitchers made it out of the 5th inning, and both RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle looked mediocre at best
Following the Indians departure the Blue Jays looked forward to welcoming the Boston Red Sox and former manager John Farrell to town. The Red Sox series had WAY more hype than the opening series with the Indians. This was in large part to both John Farrell returning, and the Red Sox having become a so called “after thought” in the AL East. Newly acquired Josh Johnson toed the rubber in the opener and looked ho-hum through 5 innings, but left with the lead. Unfortunately Esmil Rogers and Jeremy Jeffress decided to take their gas cans to the mound. The Jays lost 6-4, and Jeffress was Designated For Assignment (DFA) after the game. JA Happ would deliver both a gem and a W for the hometown crowd in a 5-0 victory. Unfortunately for those who went to see RA the Knuckle Man pitch the tiebreaker on the Sunday, the Red Sox would pound the Blue Jays to the tune of 13-0.
Jose Reyes’ Ankle and why Jays fans can’t have nice things
Although the Jays offense was struggling to begin the season, it didn’t show with Jose Reyes. Reyes was the key piece in the blockbuster trade between the Marlins and the Jays in the offseason. He was something the Jays hadn’t had since the days of Devon White, or more recently Shannon Stewart; a legitimate leadoff hitter. He’s a sparkplug, an energy guy. The kind of guy who just loves to play the game. Reyes got off to an incredibly hot start in spring training and rode that right into the World Baseball Classic where he helped lead the undefeated Dominican Republic to a championship.
Once the regular season started; Reyes didn’t miss a beat. Through the first 10 games he was hitting .395 with 5 RBI, 5 SB, 4 BB, and a homer. He was as good as advertised and more. All he did was get on base (.465 OBP)….
and then… it happened.
It was a steal attempt following a single. Jose looked like he could breeze into the bag, and then at the last possible second he decided to slide feet first. POP. That was the feeling that Jose felt in his ankle. POP. We all knew we wouldn’t get a FULL 162 games out of Reyes, I mean he is injury prone to a degree. BUT TEN GAMES IN!?!!?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!?? And wow did it look bad. The guy had tears in his eyes and had to be carted off, that is never a good sign. Then the wait for the dreaded MRI results. Is it a break or a sprain? A sprain means he comes back this season but when and to what capacity? Where a break may actually be better because it can allow for a better and more true heal. The diagnosis… severe ankle sprain… out 1 to 3 months. Jose Reyes is currently on the Blue Jays 60 Day DL.
Strengths as Weaknesses
It’s been well documented that the Toronto Blue Jays made a transaction or two over the offseason. They did so in an “all in” mentality, as they saw a window to win in the always crowded AL East. But they also did so out of necessity. The 2012 edition of the Blue Jays saw their starting rotation get absolutely decimated with injuries. Young impact arms like Drew Hutchinson and Kyle Drabek were forced to make the dreaded trip to Dr. James Andrews where it was revealed that Tommy John surgery was the answer to their ailments. Throw in the riddle that is Ricky Romero and pitching prospects that were a good year or two away and the Jays were entering 2013 with a paper thin rotation. Enter newly acquired NL Cy Young winner RA Dickey, potential ace Josh Johnson, and the savvy lefty Mark Buehrle. Now match them up with Brandon Morrow, JA Happ, and the aforementioned Romero, and the rotation went from an area of weakness to one of strength (at least on paper that is).
Well one month into the season and the area that was thought to be a strength sure looks a lot like a weakness. Here are the Jays starting pitchers lines through April:
RA Dickey: 2 – 4 4.50 ERA 1.30 WHIP
Brandon Morrow: 0 – 2 5.27 ERA 1.50 WHIP
Mark Buehrle: 1 – 1 6.35 ERA 1.52 WHIP
Josh Johnson: 0 – 1 6.86 ERA 1.89 WHIP
JA Happ: 2 – 1 3.86 ERA 1.25 WHIP
Ok, so JA Happ gets off the hook on this one, but the other four… WOW! Now you could make the argument that the 3 National League pitchers are just getting use to pitching in the AL, but unfortunately for Mark Buehrle he should be WELL ACQUAINTED with the AL, seeing as how he was a White Sox for 12 seasons! Dickey has looked both mediocre and awful thus far. He was on the receiving end of the Boston beatdown (13-0) and has been victimized by the long ball on a frequent basis. Now it is coming out that Dickey has been fighting through back and neck issues, something I’m sure every Jay fan wants to hear about their 38 year old ace. I still believe that Dickey will be a success in Toronto, it just better come sooner rather than later if the Jays still plan to contend. Josh Johnson and Buehrle have been brutal. Buehrle can be seen serving up taters for opposing batters to mash out of the park, where JJ can be seen trying to figure out how to hit the strike zone on a consistent basis. The lowlight for Johnson was the 1/3 of an inning pitched in miserable weather in Detroit. In that 1/3 of an inning Johnson was tagged for 7 runs. Patience is key in this situation… Unfortunately patience is also running thin.
You may have noticed that there was no mention of the 2012 ace Ricky Romero. Well that is because poor Ricky is still trying to find both himself, and the strike zone. Romero lost the 5th spot in the rotation to JA Happ who out pitched Romero in the spring. The Blue Jays then thought it best to have Romero figure things out in the minors, but not AAA Buffalo, no not even AA New Hampshire; but Class A Dunedin. As of the end of April Romero is still in Dunedin. He made his first start back on the 27th and looked good. Alex Anthopolous says that it’s up to Dunedin’s manager whether or not Romero gets promoted following another minor league outing. Perhaps Romero will get a call from the big club if the current rotation keeps sputtering.
Jays Fans Blood Alcohol Currently Higher Than Team Batting Average
Alright so that’s not completely true, but it is a tad honest. It has come out recently that Toronto fans may be the rowdiest and most belligerent in the game. I don’t think that is completely true. I think there are a fair amount of clowns and FIRST TIME DRIN-KERS out there that tend to have a few too many $12 pints and make youtube highlight reels of their antics. I think its RIDICULOUS to throw garbage and paper airplanes from the 500 level, especially while the game is on. But this is a SMALL SAMPLE SIZE of Jays fans, and a lot of those clowns are bandwagon fans to boot. Please don’t lump all Jays fans together, we’re not all ass clowns.
That being said, I don’t blame the crowds for booing and getting on the hometown team. The Jays have given the Rogers Center crowds very little to actually cheer for. The Jays offense looks to be all about the home run… AGAIN… and very little about timely hitting. This month alone Jays batters have looked completely lost when batting with two strikes. Instead of shortening up and looking for a cheap hit or just plain contact, they look long in their stride; still swinging for the fences. This approach, or lack of it, has resulted in absolutely no sign of timely or clutch hitting and a ton of runners left on base. Seeing as how the Jays have already lost 8 games by 1 run, perhaps a different approach at the plate could lead to more runs, and subsequently more wins.
Just Shut Your Mouth Jose
Last year while watching a game, a buddy and I were talking about how much Jose Bautista whines about an umpire’s strike zone. Granted, sometimes he does have a legitimate qualm with a strike call, but for the most part he is just bitching. Now most people would want their leader and captain to be fiery and competitive, but Jose has to pick and choose when to share his discrepancies with the man in blue. Personally, I believe that Bautista’s antics with the umps is what led to Lawrie’s tantrum at home plate and subsequent suspension. Perhaps if Jose had more tact, so would the younger members of the Jays. Now fast forward to this season. We’re one month in and Jose is back at it. Once again, granted that he is getting squeezed more often than most hitters, but do you ever consider that maybe that is because of him whining in the first place?! I can guarantee you that umps KNOW that the Jays bitch WAY more than any other team, and they come to town with that chip on their shoulder and lawn mower waiting to get started up. Jose, I implore you… please be more respectful to the man behind the dish, set an example… and good things may happen.
The Corpses of Blue Jays Past
I always thought Vernon Wells got a raw deal in Toronto. Okay, he got a sweet deal from JP Ricciardi and the Blue Jay brass, one to the tune of 7 years/$126 million (vomits), but from Toronto fans he got a raw deal. Once he inked that contract the spotlight focused squarely in VW. Unfortunately he did not perform the way that was expected of a player who commanded that type of salary and he was soon seen as a liability, or at least his contract was. This is the same thing that happened to Bryan McCabe with the Maple Leafs, a good, but not great player who had some good seasons but was paid to have GREAT or HALL OF FAME seasons. Both players would draw the ire and hatred of their respected fan bases. Both seemed unmoveable. McCabe because of a no trade clause and VW because of the absurd contract, but both did move on from Toronto. To this day, no one is sure how AA convinced the Angels to take on Vernon Wells contract, plus give back players, but they did. Since that trade, VW has been a baseball afterthought. He lost his starting role to uber phenom Mike Trout, and would rot on the pine if not for his contract status.
Amazingly, the Angels would also be able to trade the albatross contract that is Vernon Wells. This time the team (sucker) getting Wells was the injury depleted New York Yankees. Wells wouldn’t be the only former Jay headed to the Bronx as Lyle Overbay had also signed with the Bronx Bombers following his release from the Red Sox. Sure enough the Jays and Yankees were slotted to play each other 7 times in April. Sure enough the Yankees would not only win 6 of the 7, including a 4 game sweep, but Wells and Overbay would prove to be the reincarnate of Ruth and Gehrig against the Blue Jays. Wells would hit 2 homers against the jays and hit just over .500 in the 7 games, where Overbay would hit a game winning homer off Dickey and hit .333 in the 7 games. Because not only is it possible for the Blue Jays to get kicked while they’re down, but they also get pissed and defecated on as well.
Has There Been Any Reason To Cheer?
Fear not Blue Jays fans. There have been some silver linings to the nightmare month that was April. Now I am not here to kiss your boo boos and tell you all will be ok, because I honestly don’t know if it will be ok, I really don’t. But there are some positives that we can take away from April:
• JP Arencibia was the Blue Jays best and most consistent hitter in April. Although he hit for a low average (.240) his power numbers were very good with 8 HR, 2 2B, and 15 RBI. Now his naysayers will point out the low average and low OBP, but that is nothing new with JP. You should know by now that JP is a guy who will have minimal walks and swing and miss a lot, but he is also the guy who will MASH the ball all over the yard. I’ll take the power number and production any day from the catchers position in the lineup. If he does manage to become more selective at the plate, he will only see his offensive numbers and value go up
• I don’t think any Blue Jay has had more of an impact on the fan base than Munenori Kawasaki. When Reyes went down with the ankle injury instead of panicking and trading for the John MacDonald’s of the world, Alex Anthopolous just calmly called down to Buffalo and purchased Kawasaki’s contract from AAA. Anthopolous has signed Kawasaki to a minor league deal back at the start of spring training, hoping to use him as a stop gap until Ryan Goins stepped into take the fulltime SS job at Buffalo. Then Reyes ankle went pop… enter Kawasaki. Now Kawasaki is not going to win any batting titles, but he is going to bring a level of intensity that Blue Jays fans haven’t seen in years. He’s from the light hitter, decent defender school of shortstops. A guy who shouldn’t hurt you in the field, and who most likely wont help you at the plate. But man is he fun to watch. The way he goes all out for a grounder, how he runs a foul ball into the stands, and I haven’t even mentioned the borderline racial bow. I love it. I’m all in for the Munenori Kawasaki era no matter how brief it is.
Where do we go from here?
I don’t quite think it’s time to push that panic button, but it sure is coming close. What gets me to sleep at night is the fact that teams like the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, and Rays are all underperforming. I tell myself that it is STILL ONLY APRIL… then cry a bit more. But it is only April and the Jays haven’t looked like complete garbage. We’ve lost 8 games by 1 run and 5 games by 2 runs and our offense is showing signs of life. Edwin Encarnacion has been tearing the cover off the ball in the past week and some of the other components have shown signs of waking up. I believe that the Jays still have both the time and team to turn this season around.
Tonight’s game saw them take a 3 run lead on an Edwin BOMB to the 500 level only to give it right back to Boston. Instead of just sputtering and dying, the Jays managed to get a runner on and Edwin did it again. The Jays won on the long ball and a little timely hitting. I strongly believe that it is these type of games that propel a team into a hot streak and allow them to rattle off a few wins in a row. If this happens, April will just be an afterthought… after all…. April showers apparently bring May flowers.