When I woke up this morning, the calendar said May 1, 2015, and I immediately broke into a smile.
Not only does that mean that summer is one day closer and the weather is getting warmer, it also means that finally, mercifully, April is over.
To many Jays fans, the turn of the calendar will be celebrated. After all, by reading comments on the internet, following certain people on Twitter, and listening to callers on Jays talk, one thing is obvious: April was the worst month in the history of the franchise. There was widespread panic, fans were jumping off the bandwagon left, right, and centre, and the team was on the verge of a last place finish, deep in the basement of the AL East. The only thing left to do was fire Gibbons, fire Anthopoulos, and trade everybody with any value. Start over.
Now, this kind of talk seemingly happens every year when the club goes through a bad stretch, but for some reason it seemed especially exaggerated this year. And the fans do make some valid points: the bullpen looks thin and often overmatched; the health of the team is once again in question, with Navarro and Reyes on the DL and Bautista missing a few games; the rotation has been wildly inconsistent; the team is striking out a lot and not scoring runs at a consistent rate.
But there is one very important number to remember: 2.5.
That is the number of games back that Toronto is of the first place Yankees. Despite all of those issues, the Blue Jays are 11-12 and right in the thick of things. Compare their fortune to other teams and the news gets better. Preseason darlings like Cleveland, Seattle, and Washington are each already 5 games back or more in their respective divisions. Defending champion San Francisco sits dead last, 4.5 games back of the Dodgers.
The fact that the Jays are where they are goes to show that a) it is very early, and b) there is no need to condemn the team to death.
But I am glad that the calendar has turned and the weather is getting warmer, because April was a very up-and-down, all-or-nothing type of month.
With 122 runs scored, Toronto leads the entire major leagues in offense, scoring three more runs than second best Kansas City. However, they have allowed 115 – only Boston and Milwaukee have surrendered more.
But that league-leading 122 runs is a little bit misleading. In 23 games, the Jays are averaging 5.30 runs per game, a total that should have them at least a few games above .500. The problem has been consistency. The team has scored 3 runs or fewer 10 times, including four games in which they only crossed the plate once. On seven occasions they have scored 7 or more runs, including five times reaching double digits. The same can be said for hits. With 190 hits on the season, Toronto is averaging 8.26 per game. But they have exploded for 10 or more hits 7 times and been held to 5 or fewer hits 6 times. That is the very definition of an all-or-nothing offense.
Last night’s game was the perfect example of Toronto’s April rolled into nine innings. The team scored 5 runs on 7 hits in a tidy 5-1 victory in Cleveland. However, four of the hits and all five runs occurred in one inning. That’s one inning of an explosive offense, and eight innings of futility.
Looking at the American League as a whole, Toronto ranks 4th in team OPS (.741), but also 4th in strikeouts (178). They rank 4th in HR (28), but also 5th in grounding into double plays (18). The good and the bad.
On an individual basis, the Jays have two players in the top-10 in WAR (Devon Travis, 1.3 T-6th and Josh Donaldson, 1.1 T-8th), and two players in the bottom 35 (Michael Saunders, -0.3 and Edwin Encarnacion -0.5). They also have two regulars batting over .300 (Travis at .324 and Donaldson at .319), and four (!) batting under .210 (Encarnacion at .205, Pompey at .203, Martin at .197, and Bautista at .164).
You can see similar patterns on the mound as well. For all relief pitchers with a minimum of 10 IP, the Jays have both a good and a bad. Marco Estrada ranks 6th with a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 IP, and Aaron Loup ranks 5th-worst with a 4.91 ERA in 11 IP. Brett Cecil and Miguel Castro have taken turns looking nasty and downright unhittable, to looking pedestrian and awful. It truly is back and forth, game-in and game-out.
But again, despite the wild inconsistency that April brought, the Blue Jays are only one game under .500 and within 3 games of first place. Fans can take heart in knowing that Martin, EE, and Bautista will not continue to flounder around the Mendoza line. They can take heart that the inconsistency shown by both Sanchez and Norris is because they are both under 22-years old, and not because they can’t pitch. They can take heart in knowing that for his career R.A. Dickey has a 4.94 ERA in April, and a 3.84 ERA in all other months.
But most of all, fans can take heart in the fact that the team has done this before. It was only last season that a wildly inconsistent Blue Jay club finished April with a losing record of 12-14, and found themselves near the bottom of the division trailing the first place Yankees.
That team responded with a 21-9 May.
With 16 of 29 games in May scheduled to be played at home, I wouldn’t count out this years team doing the same.