Three Things From Week Fifteen

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The first half of the season came to an end on Sunday with – of course – another Blue Jays loss.  Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and the Orioles beat up the Jays 7-4 to take the series, dropping Toronto to an AL East worst 45-49 record. 

At this point, what you see is what you get.  Once thought to be a World Series contender, the 2013 Blue Jays will be lucky to finish the season with a winning record.  For everything good that happens, it seems like two bad things follow, a classic one step forward, two steps back scenario.

At least there is finally some good events to look forward to this week.  On Tuesday, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Cecil, and Steve Delabar will suit up for the American League and try to win home field advantage in the World Series.  And, more importantly for Blue Jays fans, on Sunday the club will welcome Carlos Delgado to the Level of Excellence.

See – it’s not all bad…

Here are three things from week 15:

Week 15: July 8 – July 14

Record: 2 – 4

1. It Is Finally, Mercifully Over

I’m talking about the first half.  Though the first half technically ended a few weeks ago, the All-Star game has always been the unofficial breaking point of the baseball season.

And what a strange first half it’s been.  Go back and read any preseason predictions, and you’ll see that a lot has gone awry.  Toronto (45-49) and the Angels (44-49) were supposed to rule the AL.  Detroit was supposed to run away with the AL Central, but have only a 1.5 game lead.  Washington (48-47), the Dodgers (47-47), and San Francisco (43-51) were supposed to dominate the NL.  Kansas City (43-49) and San Diego (42-54) were supposed to have turnaround seasons.  And Boston (58-39), New York (51-44), Arizona (50-45), and Pittsburgh (56-37) were supposed to be too old/slow/young/depleted/bad to compete.

The Jays have been beyond disappointing.  The marquee offseason acquisitions have all fallen well below expectations.  Jose Reyes was affected by injury, but Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, R.A. Dickey, and Josh Johnson have all alternated between inconsistent and just plain bad.

For all the talk about how 2013 was going to be different, this marks the seventh consecutive year Toronto has won between 43 and 47 games at the break, ranging from 4 games under .500 to 1 game over.  With a top heavy American League, it might take 95 wins to sniff the playoffs, meaning the Jays will have to go 50-18 (.735 baseball) the rest of the way.  Not even the Oakland A’s team that became red hot last year pulled off a stretch like that. 

In other words, don’t hold your breath.

2. Brett at Second

After a 41 game absence, Brett Lawrie returned to the lineup on Saturday, but in an unfamiliar place on the diamond – second base.  With a .209 average and .642 OPS, Lawrie was one of the most disappointing Blue Jays of the first half, and the decision to rush him back two days before the All-Star break after he struggled in his minor league rehab stint was curious to say the least.  Lawrie then promptly struggled in his two game return, going 1 for 8 with a strikeout.

The decision to move him to second base is also a rather curious one.  It definitely improves the defense up the middle, giving the Jays a lethal double play combo in Lawrie and Reyes.  But it also weakens the infield D at third – Izturis looked a bit shaky there on the weekend.  The move does raise a lot of questions.  Are the Jays after a new third baseman at the trade deadline?  Are they after a new outfielder, and planning on shifting Bautista back to third? 

Or maybe it’s just an attempt to get more offense out of the 2B position.  As we hit the All-Star break, Toronto has received the worst production in the entire American League out of its second basemen: .215 average, .555 OPS, 4 HR, 26 RBI.  And it wasn’t as if Bonifacio, Izturis, DeRosa, and Kawasaki were making up for it with spectacular defense either.  It’s been a black hole all season long, so if Lawrie can improve it, why not? 

3. Josh Johnson – Down and Out?

If you’re looking for first half disappointments, the Blue Jays have plenty to choose from.  Dickey, Melky, Emilio, Lawrie, and Morrow are right up there, but for me the biggest by far has been Mr. Johnson.  With staff ace-like potential, Johnson has been awful: 1-5, 5.16 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and an average of only 5.5 innings per start.

With a chance to give the team a little bit of momentum heading into the break, Johnson instead pitched the team right out of the game in the first inning on Sunday.  The righty gave up four runs on five hits, and before the offense had a chance to recover, he allowed two more runs in the third.  His line of 7 runs allowed in 6 innings was just as bad as it looks.

Johnson is set to be a free agent after this season, and it was always thought that he would provide a solid fall back option for the team.  If the year didn’t go as planned, they could always move him at the deadline for some assets to help them in 2014.  But with his erratic and mostly putrid performance, even that line of thinking is likely shot.  If there is any good news, it might be that he is pitching himself out of a lucrative long-term deal, and may end up in Toronto next year by default.

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