69 Down, 93 To Go

As passionate sports fans, we are often times guilty of losing ourselves in the daily drama of our teams.  Win a few games in a row?  Suddenly your team is unstoppable!  Surely the playoffs are just around the corner! 

But lose three or four straight?  What is wrong with the team!  Break them up!  Trade the best players!  Start from scratch! 

Or if you live in Vancouver, burn the city!

When I started this blog last May (Happy belated one year birthday 500 Level Fan!!) I did so because I love the Jays and I love writing.  And as a bonus, I thought this hobby would also help to keep me grounded, to distance myself from the ups and downs, the emotional rollercoaster of being a diehard fan.  It would force me to be a bit more objective.

Well, it has worked….a little bit.  I still get overly excited when things go well, and overly upset when they don’t, but maybe a tiny bit less than I used to.  But if Twitter has taught me anything, it’s that I am definitely not alone.  There is an unbelievable amount of Jays fans on Twitter who get inredibly high in the good times and incredibly low after bad games.

So what I thought I would do today is attempt to take an objective (or as objective as possible) look at Toronto’s first 69 games.  Our team is one game below .500, but should they be better?  

Record: 34 – 35, .493 winning %

Standings: 4th AL East, 7.5 GB

Just looking at those numbers alone makes me ask one question: why all the hate?  I don’t think I’m alone in saying this, but I didn’t expect the 2011 Blue Jays to make the playoffs.  I think most people expected a .500 team and a 4th place finish.  Yet with the team currently just about .500 and in 4th, the fan base is upset.  Hmm…

At 7.5 GB of Boston, it’s not like Toronto is dead and buried.  With Boston having put together a supposed super-team, the Jays should be 10, 12, 15 games back by now shouldn’t they?  But no, they’re not.

And to me, that is the most impressive part of this season.  Here’s why:

Injuries

You want injuries?  We got ’em.  The Blue Jays have been hit hard by the injury bug this year – and no part of the team has been spared. 

Toronto has lost outfielders – Rajai Davis hit the DL and Bautista missed a few games.

They have lost infielders – Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Yunel Escobar, and Edwin Encarnacion.

They’ve lost starting pitchers – Jessie Litsch and Brandon Morrow.

They’ve lost relief pitchers – Frank Francisco, and now Casey Janssen.

They’ve lost bench players – John McDonald and Jayson Nix.

It’s even been so bad that they’ve lost minor leaguers on the verge of being promoted – Brett Lawrie.

And yet, the Jays are one game below .500.

The Woes of Youth

2011 was supposed to be the beginning of a new generation for the Blue Jays.  The offense would be lead by J.P. Arencibia and Travis Snider.  The pitching would be lead by Ricky Romero, with Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil close behind.

Um…not quite.

Arencibia is holding his own at the big league level, and before a recent slump, was heavily in the mix for AL ROY.  The other three are still teammates – but in AAA Las Vegas.

Snider had a decent first few games, but went badly downhill, racking up a .184 AVG and .540 OPS before being demoted.  Cecil was lit up in four starts (1-2, 6.86 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 11 BB:15 K), and Drabek seemingly lost the ability to throw strikes (an AL leading 52 walks before his demotion) not to mention his 5.70 ERA and 1.79 WHIP.

Heading into the season, Toronto was counting on those three not to be just bit players and minor contributers, but to be a major force on the big league club.

They were not.

And yet, the Jays are one game below .500.

No Relief

For a brief moment in April, Toronto had the American League’s best bullpen.  That seems like a long, long time ago.

As it stands now, the Jays are ranked 8th in the AL in terms of bullpen ERA.  But that doesn’t really tell the story, as a good portion of that can be attributed to Carlos Villanueva, who is now a starter.  Frasor, Rzepczynski, and Janssen have been good, but the three-headed closer – thought to be a great strength back in spring training – has been bad.  Real bad.

Octavio Dotel has a 5.19 ERA and can’t get left handed hitters out.  Jon Rauch has a 4.50 ERA, 3 losses, and 2 blown saves.  Frank Francisco has a 5.21 ERA, a whopping 1.74 WHIP, 3 losses, 3 blown saves, and a stubborn refusal to throw a 1-2-3 inning.

It’s gotten to the point where on some days Toronto fans openly long for the days of Kevin Gregg.

And yet, the Jays are just one game below .500.

Lineup Shuffling

When the Jays broke camp to kick off 2011, I would have expected their daily lineup to start with Davis / Escobar / Bautista / Lind, and then finish with any combination of Snider / Rivera / Arencibia / Hill / Encarnacion.

Except for the Bautista / Lind combination, things have not worked out like that one bit.  Snider is gone.  Davis can’t get on base and is therefore not a leadoff hitter anymore (.277 OBP is the lowest on the team for players with > 150 AB).  Hill seems to only hit the ball in the air (50.3% flyball ratio – a large amount of those popups).  Encarnacion has 2 HR.  Nobody can play third. 

Eleven Jays have over 90 plate appearances so far this season.  Of that total, eight are hitting below .260, and seven have an OPS < .700.   That partly explains why John Farrell has used so many different batting orders – it’s tough to set anything in stone when so many players are struggling badly.

And yet, the Jays sit just one game below .500.

Schedule Nightmares

The schedule was always going be tough for Toronto.  It is every year, with Boston, New York, and Tampa in the same division.  But it seems like this year it has been extraordinarily difficult. 

The Jays started the season by playing only 11 home games in April.  They have already been on two 10-game road trips.  Just under half of Toronto’s games (34 of 69) have come against the top-5 teams in the AL (not including sliding Cleveland) – 9 vs. Boston, 8 vs. NY, 8 vs. TB, 5 vs. Detroit, and 4 vs. Texas.  To this point, Toronto has only played 12 games against last place teams (Minnesota, Baltimore, Oakland, and Houston).

And yet, they are only one game below .500.

So at the end of the day, the bottom line is this:

Do I wish the Blue Jays were in first place right now?  Yes.

Do I sometimes get irrationally mad when Frank Francisco blows a save?  Of course.

But do I really think the Jays should be in contention and ready to win NOW?  Absolutely not. 

If anything, when looking at the above factors, the Jays should be closer to last place and dead and buried than they actually are.

So – biased opinion or not – one game below .500 seems pretty damn good.

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