Toronto Blue Jays: Team and Fans Need to Remain Optimistic


Toronto Blue Jays: Team and Fans Need to Remain Optimistic

May 4, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays team celebrate at end of game against New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Blue Jays beat Yankees 3 – 1. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

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The Toronto Blue Jays season has provided people with many things to discuss – some good, some bad – but it has been difficult to judge where this team is going. As a result there has been some unease with fans and the organisation, because everything has not gone according to plan.

The important thing for the team and the fans to realize is that this team needs time to get in sync and that there are reasons to remain optimistic moving forward. Here is a recap and things to keep in mind as the season goes on.

Starting Pitching Off to a Shaky Start

Sep 20, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher

Marcus Stroman

(54) pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Jays were all set to move forward with their young pitchers to carry the team, so fans would have to be patient with that choice. Marcus Stroman‘s injury was a major loss to the pitching staff when the diagnosis was revealed.

It will continue to haunt the Jays, especially with the ups and downs this pitching staff will go through. There will be times that fans will say “imagine how much better the Jays pitching would be with Stroman” or “the Jays could really use Stroman right now”.

Mar 10, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher

Daniel Norris

(32), relief pitcher

Aaron Sanchez

(41) and pitcher

Drew Hutchison

(36) in the dugout against the Minnesota Twins at a spring training game at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The loss of Stroman opened the doors for Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez to step in and try to fill the void. While it is good to see two young pitchers capable of being in the starting rotation, there are going to be times where they have to overcome adversity.

Norris was dynamite in spring training – in seven games (27 2/3 innings), he posted a 2.93 ERA while walking only eight and striking out 30. However it seems like the pressure to maintain that pace has been a frustrating task for the 22 year old, who complained about going through a “dead arm phase”. In five starts this season, Norris has struggled to pitch deep into games (only one start with 7.0 IP) and the Jays decided it would be best for him to return to Buffalo.

In response to the demotion, Norris had this to say:

It is encouraging to see Norris remain focused on what he has to do moving forward, because there have been instances involving the Jays and pitchers losing their way after a strong start. Ricky Romero is the first player to come to mind after the Jays decided to cut ties with him, following a mysterious drop off in production.

Another example is with former All-Star reliever Steve Delabar, who has found himself stuck in the minors because of his struggles. What the Jays have to ensure with Norris is that there is a clear dialogue, so he knows what he has to do to get his job back.

The other issue the Jays are dealing with is the inconsistency from Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. During a time when the younger pitchers are trying to find their groove, Buehrle and Dickey need to provide a calming presence. So far, that has not been the case.

Buehrle got off to a decent start in April with three straight victories, but in his last two starts he has allowed 10+ hits and more than five earned runs. In his first five starts last season Buehrle went 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA and only one game where he allowed 10+ hits and more than five earned runs. During the month of May in 2014 Buehrle continued his hot streak, going 5-0 with a 2.46 ERA.

May 4, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays opening pitcher

R.A. Dickey

pitches in first inning against New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Dickey has had a tougher go to start this season and while the Jays can rely on him to get at least 200 IP, so far it has not been what the Jays need from him. In his last season with the New York Mets, Dickey was dominant in the first three months of the season, losing only one game. In the month of June 2012 he went 5-0 with a 0.93 ERA, three complete games, and only eight walks.

Fast forward to April 2015 where in five starts he has a 0-3 record, 5.23 ERA, and 13 walks. Dickey realizes he has not been great to start the season, but maybe expectations were too high when he came to Toronto after that breakout season in 2012. He is also being payed $12 million dollars this season and has a $12 million club option in 2016 with a one million dollar buyout.

He did pitch well against the New York Yankees in his first start in the month of May, where he went eight innings and gave up only three hits. Once he starts to get more run support and more confidence, he should be able to provide more for the Jays moving forward.

Apr 17, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher James Shields throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

It goes without saying that if the pitching does not improve in the month of May, the Jays may have to look for a more reliable option, hence why there names have been linked to a pitcher like Cole Hamels. Can the Jays afford his $22.5 million salary? They did not make a strong push for James Shields, who leads the MLB in strikeouts with 48 and has a 3-0 record in six starts.

The current pitching staff is second in walks allowed with 103, tied for second in home runs allowed with 33 and near the bottom in team ERA with a 4.97 ERA. Luckily the Jays have a top 10 offence, which has afforded the pitchers time to get back on track.

The Young Prospects

Apr 13, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Roberto Osuna (54) and Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Miguel Castro (51) walk to the bull pen before the home opener against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre. The Tampa Bay Rays won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of the young prospects have earned an opportunity with the big club like Dalton Pompey, Devon Travis, Sanchez, Norris, Roberto Osuna, and Miguel Castro. All these players were born in the 90’s and it was a big risk by the Jays to rely on young players in key positions. However, for the most part it has worked out so far. Travis, Osuna and Castro have been the bigger surprises, while Pompey, and Norris and Sanchez have had their ups and downs. Both Pompey and Norris were demoted recently, but it seems like that will be a temporary move, once both of them get back to their spring training success.

Apr 6, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis (29) hits a home run to left during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Travis leads the team in home runs (seven) and RBIs (23) while batting .318. Will this last? There is a chance he could cool down, but at the moment he has been one of the most surprising younger players on the team. Osuna and Castro were the bigger surprises, because neither of them played higher than AA last season and were immediately placed in important roles in the bullpen. While they have not been perfect they will get more comfortable hopefully with more experience. This is an element the Jays have been missing over the years, but they have to expect some growing pains with the younger players – just hopefully not too many.

Offseason Acquisitions

May 4, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays pinch hitter Russell Martin (55) hits an RBI single to score two runs in the eighth inning against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre Blue Jays beat Yankees 3 – 1. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Many people were worried when Russell Martin started the season with an .043 batting average. However he has slowly made progress offensively, raising his batting average to .227, hitting five home runs, committed only one error, and managing a .522 stolen base percentage. Hopefully he continues to get better and tries to help the starting pitching, because he has a big influence in that regard.

Apr 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) hits a double to drive in a run against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

For the people that miss Brett Lawrie they must love the going away present he brought to the Jays. Josh Donaldson has lived up to his twitter handle @BringerOfRain20 so far as the Jays second best offensive player, combined with reliable defence. The main reason why his addition to the Jays will be another added bonus, is because of his durability. In his last two seasons with the Oakland Athletics he played in 158 games each season, and has a career .270 batting average. He also had a lot of praise for the younger players as well.

Injuries Still an Issue for the Team

Apr 30, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Michael Saunders (21) hits an RBI single during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It is expected for players to suffer with injuries, but some of the early issues for the Jays have been a result of freak accidents. Stroman injured his knee during a bunt drill, Michael Saunders stepped in a sprinkler hole, Maicer Izturis pulled his groin after he slipped on stairs and Kevin Pillar missed time in spring training after a sneeze strained his oblique muscle. Luckily, Pillar and Saunders have returned, but it was not the best way for the Jays to start the season.

Apr 10, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes (7) throws to first base for the force out of Baltimore Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph (36) (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Toronto Blue Jays defeated Baltimore Orioles 12-5. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Reyes will always have to deal with some sort of injury, and this time it is a cracked rib that has sidelined him. There was an article recently published that compared Reyes and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul in terms of their unfortunate injury history. The main reason why the comparison can be made is that when both players are present they provide a boost for their respective teams, but they have been labelled as unreliable because of their injuries.

AL East a Wide Open Division

Jul 20, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; A general view of the left field scoreboard showing the American League East standings prior to a game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The best chance for the Jays to make it to the postseason is by winning the AL East division, because clinching one of the two wildcard spots is really hard to do in the American League. Many expected the Tampa Bay Rays to take a step back after Joe Madden’s departure and the Yankees were not supposed to be a strong team. leaving left the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles as the main competition in the division.

Right now the Yankees lead the division with Tampa Bay and Baltimore right behind, followed by Toronto and then Boston in last place. Now that will most likely change as the season progresses, but it will not be an easy year for the Jays to try and claim the division.

Apr 6, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (13) stands ready at first during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees pitching is among the top 10 in the league, even though C.C. Sabathia is 0-4 to start the season. They lead the MLB in strikeouts, and are among the top 10 in runs allowed and ERA. Plus, Alex Rodriguez has provided offence as their DH.

The pitching for the Orioles and Rays has been average, while the Red Sox have been worse than the Jays. So really it could be the Yankees that provide the biggest challenge for the Jays. So far this season, Toronto are 3-1 against the Yankees, so there is hope in that regard. The biggest mystery has to be the inability to beat the Rays. So far this season the Jays are 1-6 against Tampa Bay which is not a good sign, because wins against teams in your division are important early in the season.

The Kevin Pillar Highlight Reel Show

Apr 12, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) makes a diving catch during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Blue Jays won 10-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Seeing a Jays game live or on TV this season has been a real treat, because of the outstanding defensive play by Pillar in the outfield. It seems like every night he is a candidate for the highlight reel on TSN and Sportsnet. Another incredible part about Pillar is the fact he was selected in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft, where those players are seen as after thoughts.

Michael Grange from Sportsnet wrote a piece on Pillar back in 2013 which talked about the first contract he signed with the Jays, where he received a $1.000 signing bonus, which he used to buy an iPhone. Unfortunately, after taxes he needed to ask his mother for the rest of the money for the phone. In that piece Anthopoulos also noted you do not wait until the 32nd round to draft a player like Pillar.

Pillar has provided the Jays with an opportunity to be patient in the outfield with Jose Bautista and Saunders trying to get healthy again and Pompey struggling out of the gate. Pillar is not a big home run hitter, but can drive in runs and puts his speed to good use both offensively and defensively.

He leads to team in stolen bases and innings played in the outfield, so hopefully he is able to keep playing the way he is. If he does, then there is no reason why he cannot play a majority of the games in center field, and give Pompey a chance to get back on track.

A lot of optimism moving forward

There is not a big sense of panic coming from the organisation, because they understand it will take time for the team to come together. Bautista, Encarnacion and Reyes (when healthy) were the only regular starters that returned this season.

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Donaldson, Travis, Pillar (full time duty), Saunders and Martin were not with the Jays last season and it has taken time for them to get acquainted with the system in Toronto.

Once the starting pitching gets they confidence back, this team has the potential to be a contender in the AL East. As long as everyone remains optimistic and patient with the process, it could finally end the Jays postseason drought.

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