The Week That Was: Week 7

Weekly Things 24 May 2016 | 0 Comments

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Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 7.

Week 7: May 16 – 22

Record: 3 – 4

Season-to-date: 22 – 24

AL East: 5th, 6 games behind Baltimore/Boston

Wild Card: 4 games behind Texas

  1. Down to the Cellar

The Jays officially passed the quarter mark of the 2016 season last week, and they find themselves in a position they certainly were not expecting: last place.  After being thoroughly throttled by Tampa Bay at the beginning of the week, the team rebounded nicely by taking 3 of 4 from the last place Twins, but it wasn’t enough to stay ahead of the Rays and the red hot  Yankees.  If this story sounds familiar it’s because it should.  After the games of May 22nd last season, the Jays were also in last place in the AL East, 5.5 games back of first and 6 games under the .500 mark.  With the way that this club is constructed, it’s hard to imagine staying in last place much longer.  But until they shake off the offensive rust and start hitting like they did last year, last place seems like a fitting position.

  1. Bautista Loves Minnesota

Jose Bautista has not been his mighty self thus far in 2016.  His numbers are down across the board, including a sub-.800 OPS just a week ago.  But there is a cure for what ails Joey Bats – Target Field.  In four games in Minnesota against the Twins, Jose went 5 for 17 with 3 HR and 6 RBI, raising his season OPS from .832 on Wednesday to .870 today.  In 21 career games at Target Field, Bautista is now hitting .349 with a 1.324 OPS and 14 HR.  14 HR!!!  That would be a full season pace of 108 dingers!  Needless to say, Jose circles these visits on his calendar.  Unfortunately for the Jays, they don’t visit Minnesota again until next year.

  1. Bullpen Disasters

The struggles of Toronto’s bullpen are now bordering on the absurd, both in the magnitude and in the regularity of its collapses.  After another spectacular meltdown on Saturday (5 runs surrendered in the 8th against the woeful Twins), the Blue Jays bullpen continues to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.  Toronto has now lost 12 (12!!) games when either tied or ahead in the 7th inning.  Even holding on to win half of those contests (hardly unreasonable) would put the team at 28 wins and tied for first place.  And it’s not just one person doing most of the damage either.  Other than Osuna and Biagini (who has looked brilliant), everybody is struggling.  Storen has a 7.80 ERA; Floyd and Chavez have combined to allow 7 HR; Cecil has an ERA of 5.23 and will now miss a month leaving Chad Girodo as the lone lefty.  As a group, Toronto’s relievers have allowed 43% of inherited runners to score, the second worst mark in all of baseball.  In other words, they are doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing.  With a very difficult stretch of games upcoming, the Jays need the ‘pen to rectify itself very quickly.

Player of the Week

Jose Bautista, OF

That’s a bit more like it: 7-for-23, 5 R, 4 HR, 9 RBI, .304 / .448 /  .826 / 1.274

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 22 – 22, 5th place, 3.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 20 – 22, 4th place, 8 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 19 – 26, T-4th place, 9 GB

A – Lansing: 22 – 20, 5th place, 4 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Big week against the AL East.

May 24 – 26 at New York

May 27 – 29 vs. Boston

Rock Bottom

Upper Deck Insight 18 May 2016 | 0 Comments

Rock Bottom

Surely this it.

Surely this team can’t sink any lower.

A lot of people (myself included) truly believed that Sunday’s brawl in Texas would galvanize this team.  Nothing brings a group together like a good old fashioned fight.  We all thought (hoped) that such a bonding experience would wake the boys up from their early season doldrums and get them rolling back towards the top of the AL East.

Sadly that hasn’t happened.

Not even close.

The Jays welcomed Tampa Bay to Toronto Monday night for a three game series, and, to be blunt, it has not gone well.

Coming into the series, the Rays had a losing record (16-19), they couldn’t score (only 128 runs, 3.65 per game), and they couldn’t hit (.221 average, dead last in the AL).  But they seemingly love the crisp Canadian air.  The Rays suddenly look nothing like their weak hitting selves.  In two games they have scored 25 runs and hit .395 as a team (34 for 86).  And they aren’t just hitting cheap singles either.  Tampa has crushed Blue Jay pitching for 5 home runs, 9 doubles, and 1 triple.

More worrisome is who it was that Tampa Bay rocked – Happ and Stroman, Toronto’s two most consistent pitchers to date.

Hopefully this is just a one-off, a few bad games in the midst of an emotionally draining stretch for the team.  Not only was there the fight with Texas, but the Jays are in the middle of a bizarre stretch on their schedule.  After a 7-game homestand to start May, they traveled to San Francisco for 3, to Texas for 3, back to Toronto to 3, and then will follow this up by heading to Minnesota for 4 and New York for 3.  Not an easy travel stretch.

The biggest concern that many fans now have is what this all means to the job security of John Gibbons.  He is (for the most part) well liked by fans, and it certainly isn’t his fault that the hitters aren’t hitting.  But there are three things working against him: 1) managers always take the fall for underperforming teams; 2)he is, and will always be seen as, Anthopoulos’s guy; 3) Cleveland Indians Toronto GM Ross Atkins and President Mark Shapiro already have an in-house replacement that they hired: Eric Wedge.

Of course, the team can make all of this speculation and worry go away by stringing some wins together.  They can lessen the pressure (real or not) on their skipper by scoring some runs.

They certainly haven’t looked good the past few days, but that’s the good thing about hitting rock bottom:

You can’t get any lower.

 

The Week That Was: Week 6

Weekly Things 16 May 2016 | 0 Comments

Blue Jays Rangers 0515 1

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 6.

Week 6: May 9 – 15

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 19 – 20

AL East: 3rd, 5.5 games behind Baltimore/Boston

Wild Card: 3 games behind Seattle

  1. Melee in Texas

To quote Ron Burgundy: “Well, that escalated quickly.”  If there were hurt feelings, tension, and bad blood between the Rangers and Jays as a result of Jose Bautista’s bat flip, it appeared that nothing was going to happen.  Through six full games and seven innings of the seventh (and final) game, both teams had taken the high road, content to let things play out on the field.  And then everything exploded.  Bautista, archenemy #1 in Texas, led off the 8th and was immediately drilled by a pitch thrown by Matt Bush.  The HBP was clearly intentional, was clearly ordered by Texas management, and was incredibly cowardly in its nature.  The Rangers were obviously afraid of retribution – why else wait until Bautista’s last at-bat of the season?  That doesn’t excuse Bau’s dangerous slide into Odor on the ensuing double play ball, but his anger is clearly justified.  What followed was one of the wildest scenes I have witnessed in years.  The Odor sucker punch, the Donaldson spear, Odor hiding behind his entire team, Gibbons returning to the field after being ejected, the Fielder HBP, and on and on.  Hopefully the Jays can use this as a turning point and start playing like the team they should be.

  1. Back From the Dead

The Jays slow start has been wearing down even the most optimistic fans, but it has sadly galvanized an awful sub-set of Blue Jays supporters: the social media haters.  These are people who delight in trashing struggling players on Twitter, letting everybody know that specific players are awful, overrated, and should be released.  For some reason, the two Blue Jays who are targeted the most are Troy Tulowitzki and R.A. Dickey.  Both got off to terrible starts this year – of that there is no question.  And that is why last week was so satisfying.  In six games, Tulo went 9-for-24 with 3 2B, 3 HR, and 7 RBI.  He saw his batting average rise from .162 to 200 and his OPS jump from .572 to .698.  Dickey pitched an absolute gem on Friday night, tossing 8 shutout innings and allowing only 3 hits with 6 strikeouts.  In his past three starts he has posted a 1.27 ERA in 21.1 IP.  Now if only those two could rub off on Russell Martin….

  1. Struggles, Struggles, and More Struggles

Last season, the Jays were widely criticized for their record in one run games.  The team went 15-28 (.349), and we heard time and again that teams that struggle in one run games won’t stay competitive for long.  The Jays, obviously, won the division and the ALDS.  But this season has started the same way.  After three more one run losses last week, Toronto is now 3-10 (.231) in such contests in 2016, and the criticisms have only increased.  But what’s of a bigger concern (at least to me), is their inability to win games when allowing runs.  In 2015, allowing their opponents to score a bunch of runs wasn’t necessarily sure death for the Jays.  Thanks to their incredible offense, they won 37% of games when allowing 4+ runs (33-56 record).  However, due to their offensive struggles this year, that number is way down: 0%.  That’s right – Toronto is an incredible 0-16 when allowing 4+ runs, mind boggling for a team with Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Martin, and company in the lineup.  Surely this is just an aberration and when the offense picks up the wins will start piling up.  But if you want one specific stat that is a microcosm of Toronto’s 2016 season, this is it.

Player of the Week

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

He’s starting to heat up: 9-for-24, 7 R, 3 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, .375 / .407 /  .875 / 1.282

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 17 – 20, 6th place, 3.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 18 – 17, 4th place, 5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 15 – 22, 4th place, 9 GB

A – Lansing: 18 – 16, T-4th place, 3.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Finally some games against sub .500 teams.  It’s time to heat up.

May 16 – 18 vs. Tampa Bay

May 19 – 22 at Minnesota

The Angel and the Devil

Upper Deck Insight 13 May 2016 | 0 Comments

401749-bruce

It’s May 13th.  We are 36 games into the 2016 season, and we have absolutely no idea who the Toronto Blue Jays are.

With 18 wins and 18 losses, the Jays haven’t exactly been bad but they certainly haven’t been good either.  In fact, they have basically been behaving exactly like a .500 team should – great stretches followed by bad stretches.  Days when the starting pitching has been great, the bullpen has been awful.  Days when the hitting catches fire, the pitching lets them down.  Nothing is clicking.

So just who are these guys?

This situation reminds me of an old cartoon, one where a guy has an angel sitting on one shoulder and a devil on the other.  The angel is inherently optimistic, believes things are OK, and wants to look for the light.  The devil is a pessimist, looking for danger and trouble.

So what would the angel and the devil have to say about the 2016 Jays so far?  Let’s find out.

The Devil

(I imagine him with a raspy voice, smoking a huge cigar, and spitting)

Things are not looking good and they will not get better.

First you have the offense.  In this day and age, the mid-30’s (typically 33 or 34) is when a player begins to decline (or sees his decline accelerate).  The Jays have a bunch of these guys who are struggling mightily:

– Jose Bautista (35) is off to a miserable start to the season, hitting .208 with a .789 OPS, and is on pace for 135 strikeouts which would shatter his career high.

– Edwin Encarnacion (33) is hitting .245 with a .739 OPS and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.62, far and away the highest since his rookie season in 2005.

– Russell Martin (33) has an abysmal .160 average and .391 OPS (dead last among all AL players with 100 plate appearances), and he has struck out 39 times to only 6 walks.

Are they all just slumping badly at the same time or is the start of an inevitable age-driven regression?

Then you have Troy Tulowitzki, who is a shell of his former All-Star self.  He is hitting a mere .173, has an OPS+ of 70 (meaning he is providing about 70% of the offense of an average player), has 39 strikeouts, has failed to come through in a bunch of clutch situations, and his defense has dropped off tremendously of late.  He is on pace to commit 27 errors, which would nearly triple his career high.  He is only 31 years old, so it might not be age regression, but perhaps his injury history has finally caught up to him – or maybe his amazing career numbers were fully due to the Coors Field effect.

In terms of pitching, the bullpen outside of Osuna is terrible.  Brett Cecil looks lost, Drew Storen looks horrendous, and it’s only a matter of time until the chronically injured (Gavin Floyd) or the kids with no experience (Biagini, Girodo) falter.

And seriously – how long can J.A. Happ keep this up?

The bottom line is that the offense is permanently broken, the bullpen is a mess, and the rotation is bound to come back to earth soon.  An under .500 season is inevitable.  Sell everybody while you still can!

The Angel

Not so fast.

There are many, many reasons to be excited about this team.

Yes, it’s true – there’s no denying that the hitting has been bad.  The Jays have scored 145 runs.  Through 36 games last season they had already scored 189.  They are also striking out a ton.  As a team the Jays have struck out 324 times, which puts them on pace for 1,458 (as compared to 1,151 in 2015).

And yes it’s also true that the bullpen has been responsible for losing 7 games in which the Jays were tied or ahead in the 8th inning.  They have looked shaky at best.  And yes R.A. Dickey has been quite bad (to put it mildly) through the first six weeks.

But despite all of that, Toronto is a .500 team.  If you were to tell me on Opening Day, that come mid-May Bautista, Edwin, Tulo, Goins, Martin, Cecil, Storen, and Dickey would be struggling mightily, Colabello would be suspended for half the year, and that team defense would be responsible for several losses (errors, passed balls, etc.) I would have bet that the Blue Jays would be in dead last, at least 6-8 games below .500.

Yet here we are, 18-18, third place in the AL East and not far behind the leaders.

That alone is reason for optimism, but there’s more.

Bautista is going to hit.  For a guy that takes such good care of his body and has a six year track record of success, he suddenly won’t hit near the Mendoza line.  Plus, with both he and Encarnacion in a contract year, huge second halves are possible, if not likely.

Before this season, Russel Martin had a career OPS of .757.  Even if we factor in regression due to age and wear and tear, an OPS of .650 is reasonable.  His current OPS is .391

Tulowitzki might be feeling the effects of leaving Colorado.  Maybe his body is breaking down due to years of injury.  Maybe he misses his old glove.  Whatever the case, he is not a .174 hitter.  A closer look at his batted ball stats tell a similar story.  His line drive % is down significantly (from 22% to 7%) and his fly ball % is up significantly (from 37% to 50%).  On it’s own that is not great news, but his infield fly ball rate is actually down materially from previous years (from 13% to 5%), and his soft hit ball rate (balls that are classified as coming off the bat at soft speeds – think infield dribblers, flares, or lazy pop ups) is right on par with his career rate (around 15%).  So while he’s not exactly scorching the ball and is a victim of bad luck, he’s also not completely whiffing either.  All of which suggests that better days should be ahead.  We might not see the 2014 version of Tulo again (.340 AVG, 1.035 OPS) but we should at least see a non-corpse version of Tulo.

Drew Storen has a track record that suggests he isn’t as bad as he has shown, and Brett Cecil had similar struggles last year early in the season before turning things around significantly.  Dickey is a proven second half pitcher, and while it’s very likely that Happ / Sanchez / Estrada won’t keep up this early pace, if their regression is timed with the turnaround of the bullpen, it might work out well.

And we haven’t even mentioned the imminent return of Devon Travis, whose bat should be light years ahead of Goins.

All in, about 50% of the Blue Jays roster has played like garbage, but the team is not dead and buried.

In fact, they are very  much alive.

I don’t know about you, but I’m listening to the Angel.  Things will be fine.

The Week That Was: Week 5

Weekly Things 9 May 2016 | 0 Comments

estrada

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 5.

Week 5: May 2 – 8

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 16 – 17

AL East: 4th, 3.5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 2.5 games behind Texas

  1. One Step Forward…..

The Jays squared off against the Texas Rangers in a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s thrilling ALDS.  For Toronto fans hoping that the much hyped series would breath some life into the moribund Blue Jays, they certainly got their wish.  After losing a tough one on Monday, the Jays bounced back with two straight walk-off wins.  On Tuesday, Justin Smoak tied the game with a HR in the 9th and then won it with a bomb in the the 10th.  On Wednesday, Edwin Encarnacion tied the game with a 2-run shot in the 6th before Russell Martin delivered a walk-off single in the 9th.  Then on Thursday, finally, at long last, the bats awoke.  Toronto pounded Derek Holland, tagging him with 11 ER in only 2.2 IP, and finished the game with 12 runs on 15 hits – both season highs.  For the first time in 2016 the Blue Jays resembled the team that dominated baseball last season.

  1. ……Two Steps Back

And then, just as quickly as the 2015 offense re-appeared, it vanished.  The Dodgers came to town and held the Jays to only 9 runs and 14 hits over the three game weekend series.  With Clayton Kershaw starting on Saturday afternoon, offensive struggles would have been expected in one game, but the vaunted Jays offense was thoroughly held in check on Sunday by rookie Ross Stripling.  But what’s of a bigger concern has to be Toronto’s bullpen.  Nursing a 2-1 lead in the 8th inning, Drew Storen entered the game and promptly gave up a walk and a double.  Not even the great Osuna could escape that jam.  LA took the lead before padding it in the 9th off of Chavez, Girodo, and Floyd.  Toronto has now lost seven times when leading or tied in the 8th inning, a terrible and unexpected result when considering the revamped bullpen.  Now with Brett Cecil heading to the paternity list, things might get worse before they get better.

  1. Estrada to the Rescue

Lost among the scuffles of the bullpen and the offense is the incredible start to the season by Marco Estrada.  Thought by many to be a prime candidate for regression, Estrada has instead started the season even better than he finished last year.  In two starts last week he was electric.  Against the Rangers he went 6 innings and allowed only 1 run and 2 hits.  Then yesterday afternoon he dominated LA for 7 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits with 8 strikeouts.  For the season, Estrada is sporting a tidy 2.39 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, and has 36 strikeouts in 37.2 innings.  In short, he has been dominant.

Player of the Week

Marco Estrada, SP

He seems to keep getting better: 0-0, 13 IP, 11 K, 1.38 ERA, 0.62 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 13 – 17, 6th place, 4.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 11 – 17, 5th place, 9.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 13 – 16, 4th place, 6 GB

A – Lansing: 16 – 11, 3rd place, 1.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Heading west for the first time.

May 9 – 11 at San Francisco

May 13 – 15 at Texas

Blanche Showalter Strikes Again!

Upper Deck Insight 21 April 2016 | 0 Comments

blanche showalter

Incredible.  Absolutely incredible.

No, I’m not talking about Josh Thole’s passed ball and Toronto’s brutal loss to Baltimore.

I’m not talking about any moves John Gibbons did or didn’t make.

I’m talking about the brilliant, top-shelf, gold medal performance by Baltimore manager Buck “Blanche” Showalter.

During the 5th inning of last night’s game, Blanche actually fell asleep in the dugout.

Asleep!

This is not Tom Hanks from “A League of Their Own”.  This is not a man who is 85 years old (though he looks like he is).

This is a major league manager.

Incredible.

Stay classy Blanche.

 

The Week That Was: Week 2

Weekly Things 18 April 2016 | 0 Comments

sanchez

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 2.

Week 2: April 11 – 17

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 6 – 7

AL East: 4th, 3 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 2 games behind Detroit

  1. Aaron “Ace” Sanchez

Remember in Spring Training when many were calling for Sanchez to pitch in relief because he would be more effective?  Yeah, about that….  While Marcus Stroman is the unquestioned ace of the staff (and he proved it further by dominating the Yankees last week), there is very strong evidence that Sanchez is making a push to be considered a co-ace.  Yes it is very early in the season and things can change in a hurry, but the numbers don’t lie.  In three starts Sanchez has thrown 20 IP, allowed only 3 ER, struck out 20 while only allowing 7 walks (and some of those walks can be considered “smart” walks, such as walking David Ortiz twice).  For comparison, through three starts last year he walked 12.  This past week, facing two of the top teams in the AL East, Sanchez was electric.  He surrendered a mere 5 hits and 2 ER against New York and Boston, keeping hitters off balance with a 98-MPH fastball and a devastating curve.  The key concern the Jays have is whether he can hold up over a full season.  If the answer is yes, the rest of the AL East should feel very, very afraid.

  1. Uneven Offense

Through two weeks of the 2016 season, one portion of the Jays lineup is hitting like the offensive juggernaut we expected.  Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion have combined for a .315 / .392 / .616 / 1.008 slash line, 10 HR, 32 RBI, and 28 R.  All three are hitting for power, getting on base (Bautista’s .473 OBP leads the AL), and driving in runs, exactly like they did in 2015.  Unfortunately, the rest of the lineup is not performing.  Actually, not performing is probably an understatement.  Everybody else has combined for a .181 / .247 / .263 / .510 slash line, 4 HR, and 91 strikeouts.  Martin, Colabello, Tulowitzki, and Smoak have been particularly bad, with Tulo’s .128 average leading the pack.  As a result of this, Toronto is only averaging 4 runs per game, a mark that is actually below league average.  If there is any comfort it’s that most of these guys have a long track record of success, so they should (hopefully) be breaking out soon.  After all, it’s not all that early anymore…

  1. Strikeouts Galore

The Blue Jays set a record yesterday, and it’s not one they wanted.  Blue Jay hitters struck out 136 times through the first 13 games of the season, a major league record.  For a team that struck out the fifth fewest amount of times in the AL in 2015 this understandably a concern.  And it’s not just one or two guys – it’s a concern up and down the lineup.  The big 3 (Josh, Jose, Edwin) have struck out 45 times.  Martin and Tulo have combined for 35 K’s in only 84 official at-bats, a whopping 42% K rate.  Justin Smoak struck out four times on Saturday alone.  Logic suggests that as the bats heat up (and they will) that the strikeouts will go down.  Hopefully that happens sooner rather than later.

Player of the Week

Aaron Sanchez, SP

Just a dominating week: 1-0, 13 IP, 12 K, 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP

Kevin Pillar Walk Counter

A new feature that will track how many times new leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar walks in 2016

He is no longer hitting leadoff, but we’ll still track it anyways.

Last week: 0

Year to Date: 0

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 4 – 7, 6th place, 3.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 4 – 5, 5th place, 3 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 6 – 5, T-2nd place, 1 GB

A – Lansing: 5 – 3, 3rd place, 1.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Finally a non-AL East team!

April 18 at Boston

April 19-21 at Baltimore

April 22-24 vs. Oakland

Baseball Is Fun Again

Upper Deck Insight 15 April 2016 | 0 Comments

stromanstart

Fact: I love baseball.

I love to play baseball, whether it’s on my weekly beer league team, a simple game of catch, or through my fantasy leagues.

I love to watch baseball.  I watch virtually every regular season Blue Jays game.  I watch a healthy amount of other teams.  I watch the playoffs and World Series, regardless if the Jays are involved.  I even watch classic games.

In short, I am a baseball junkie.

But here is a second fact: for 20 years, Toronto Blue Jays baseball has not been a whole lot of fun – even for a junkie like myself.

Don’t get me wrong: we have had great moments and great players.  Roger Clemens won back-to-back Cy Young awards here, Roy Halladay was sensational, we got to see Carlos Delgado and Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion destroy baseballs.  But every year ended the same way, with me watching the Tigers in the playoffs, or the Yankees, or the Cardinals.  It ended with the Jays either being long out of contention by August (most of the time), or hanging around the fringes of the Wild Card race in early September.

Sure April brought hope, but nobody really, truly believed that Toronto was a contender.

Until now.

Last season’s playoff run was the most excited I have been about baseball in years, and was only surpassed by Opening Day of this year.  This Jays team as currently constructed is very, very, very good, and watching games has become fun again.  There is no longer the feeling of dread hanging in the back of our minds when the Yankees come to town, or when the Jays take a 2-0 lead into the 8th, or when they fall behind early.  Because unlike in years past, we can now beat the Yankees, our bullpen holds that 2-0 lead, and early deficits mean nothing.

Take this season so far.

Toronto’s vaunted offense, expected by many to once again lead all of baseball in runs scored by a healthy margin is scuffling:

– 4.2 runs per game (7th in the AL)

– .224 average (11th)

– .383 slugging (8th)

– .684 OPS (8th)

– 100 strikeouts (2nd most)

– Pillar, Tulowitzki, and Encarnacion each have an OPS of under .600

– Martin and Colabello each have an OPS of under .200

But that’s not all that’s wrong:

– R.A. Dickey is sporting an 8.10 ERA

– Cecil and Storen (two thirds of the back-end shutdown bullpen) have allowed 6 runs in 7 IP

– With Loup and Morales injured, the Jays might be forced to give switch pitcher Pat Venditte high leverage innings

Yet despite all of the above, the Toronto Blue Jays are 5-5, and have actually had a lead in all 10 games thus far.

Think about that.

The team is firing at maybe 50% of it’s full strength, and there is a very reasonable chance that they could be 10-0.

And after the last two games, there are signs that the bullpen (non-Osuna division) is shaking the rust off, and that Martin and Tulowitzki and Pillar are waking up.

So if you think that baseball is fun now, just wait.

Things might be about to get crazy.

The Week That Was: Week 1

Weekly Things 13 April 2016 | 0 Comments

Dickey April

photo from mlb.com

 

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 1.

Week 1: April 3 – 10

Record: 3 – 4

Season-to-date: 3 – 4

AL East: 4th, 3 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 1.5 games behind Chicago

  1. Firing On Less Than All Cylinders

The 2016 season is underway and things didn’t quite get off to the start that the Blue Jays were hoping for.  And for a team that was supposed to slug its way back to the playoffs, it was the offense that was mostly to blame for the rough start.  The Jays managed to score 29 runs in 7 games, but the underlying numbers do not look good.  Toronto left 44 runners on base, went a meager 12-for-54 with runners in scoring position (.222 average), struck out 71 times (10.1 per game), and scored 62% of their runs via the long ball.   For context, last season the Blue Jays hit .286 with runners in scoring position and struck out only 7.1 times per game.  Individually, Tulowitzki, Colabello, and Martin are all off to ice cold starts.  Obviously it is an incredibly small sample size and there is nothing to worry about.  In fact, fans should be encouraged.  The team still managed to win three games with numbers that poor.  Imagine what will happen when the bats wake up!

  1. Rotation Thriving

While the offense is off to a tough start, the same can’t be said for the starting rotation.  Stroman, Dickey, Sanchez, Happ, and Estrada had a very positive first week, pitching deep into games and giving the team a chance to win.  On the surface the numbers might not look great (4.15 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) but they are inflated by one rough start each for Stroman and Dickey.  But even in those games, there were encouraging signs.  At Friday’s home opener, Stroman was electric in the first few innings but was undone by a bad fifth.  On Saturday, Dickey probably had the best knuckleball of his Blue Jays tenure, evidenced both by the 9 K’s he recorded, and the fact that Josh Thole missed several pitches badly.  Even more encouraging for the team was the incredible starts turned in by Sanchez and Estrada, arguably the two biggest questions marks heading into the season.  We all know Stroman will be great and Dickey and Happ will be serviceable.  If Sanchez and Estrada can replicate their first week success all year, things will turn out very well for the Jays.

  1. Bullpen Woes

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the bullpen.  Roberto Osuna was tremendous in three appearances, but everybody else?  Yikes.  Drew Storen looked erratic, Brett Cecil brought back memories of April 2015 with his struggles, and Arnold Leon was downright ugly.  All-in the ‘pen combined for a 5.92 ERA in 13.2 IP, and was tagged for three losses.  More troubling is the fact that they coughed up a lead in the 8th inning in back-to-back games, especially since the back-end of the bullpen was supposed to be a strength.  But it’s not all doom and gloom.  Toronto’s non-Osuna relievers struck out 17 batters and walked only 4, showing their ability to miss bats.  Once the offseason rust is shaken off, expect a recovery and a return to form (well, maybe not for Leon….).

Player of the Week

Josh Donaldson, 3B

Despite a calf strain Donaldson picked up right where he left off last season: 9-for-29, 2 BB, 8 R, 9 RBI, 1 2B, 4 HR, .310 / .355 / .759 / 1.113

Kevin Pillar Walk Counter

A new feature that will track how many times new leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar walks in 2016

Last week: 0

Year to Date: 0

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 3 – 3, 3rd place, 1 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 2 – 2, 5th place, 1 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 3 – 3, T-2nd place, 2 GB

A – Lansing: 2 – 1, T-2nd place, 0.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Nothing but the AL East again…

April 12-14 vs. New York

April 15-18 at Boston

Not A Bad Start!

Upper Deck Insight 5 April 2016 | 0 Comments

Pillar Catch

photo Chris O’Meara / AP

 

The 2016 season is underway, and the Blue Jays are off to a great start.  Two games, two wins – you can’t ask for much better than that.

I know that two games in a 162-game season is peanuts, but keep in mind that the last time Toronto started a season 2-0 was 2012, meaning it’s not something that happens very often around here.

It’s OK to be excited.  After all, this is a team that faced a difficult offseason, was given a bit of a bad shake in terms of travel (they spent Thursday in Florida, Friday and Saturday in Montreal, then back to Florida for a Sunday afternoon opener), and had to kick off the season in Tampa Bay, their personal house of horrors.

2-0 should be seen as an accomplishment, and here are two things that really impressed me about the opening games.

1.  The Jays won both games by a score of 5 – 3 punctuated by a strong 9th inning from Osuna, but that is where the similarities end.  The wins were two completely different ball games.  On Sunday afternoon the Blue Jays jumped out to an early lead and were never really challenged.  Yes Chris Archer kept them off balance with 12 strikeouts, and yes it was only a 3 – 1 game into the eighth inning, but you never got the indication that Tampa Bay was close.  That’s how good Marcus Stroman was.

Last night, however, was a different story.  The Rays threatened early, took a lead, and even after falling behind 5 – 1 kept chipping away.  They left nine runners on base, finished 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position, and wasted some golden chances in the 6th and 8th.  It looked like a game the Jays really had no business winning.

Last season Toronto finished 30-42 in 2-run games.  They are already 2-0 in 2016.

2.  The Jays won both games despite arguably not playing very well.  Stroman looked incredible, Osuna is dealing, and Saunders is off to a terrific start.  But look at everybody else:

– Martin, Colabello, Goins, and Tulo are a combined 2 for 25

– Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion have one extra base hit

– As a team the Blue Jays have struck out 25 times and only drawn five walks

– They are batting .176 (3 for 17) with runners in scoring position

– Defensively they have already committed three errors

– On the pitching side, Dickey looked wobbly, both Storen and Chavez looked a bit shaky, and Cecil was saved from trouble by another Superman style catch by Pillar.

To see all of the above, and then realize that Toronto actually won both games?  All you can do is laugh.

Because here we are, 2-0.

Just wait until they really get going.

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