After almost six consecutive months without baseball, the first off-day of the season is always jarring. We’ve just started getting back into the groove and suddenly the Jays have Thursday off? Bummer.
But what yesterday’s off-day did do was allow us to reflect on the first week of the season. To this writer, Toronto’s first seven games have to be qualified as a success. First of all they are over .500, something that hasn’t happened since 2016. Second of all the 4-3 record is much, much better than last year’s 1-6 mark through seven games. Finally, they have picked up win #4 already, something that didn’t occur until April 21 last season.
Obviously the offense has been great. After finishing dead last in the American League in runs scored last year, the Jays have plated 36 thus far, good enough for T-4th. They also sit 5th with 10 HR and 5th with a .760 team OPS.
But this is not a long-ball hitting team. Gone are the days when Donaldson, Encarnacion, and Bautista could mash opponents into submission. The long balls will occasionally dry up, like we saw on Wednesday.
Instead, if the Blue Jays are going to keep this nice start up they will need to rely on pitching. And while we all know that the rotation should be solid, it is the bullpen that thus far has been the most impressive.
Toronto’s bullpen was actually quite solid in 2017 but they simply pitched too much. They averaged 3.68 innings per game, the third highest amount in all of baseball. The fact that they finished with a 4.21 ERA (15th overall) and 1.26 WHIP (7th) is actually quite impressive.
So the key this year is to keep the number of innings down and subsequently, hopefully, the effectiveness up. Through one week, it’s been job well done.
The starters haven’t been pitching super deep into games, but that is par for the course in the early stages of the season. Overall the Jays bullpen has thrown 3.3 innings per game, down from last year and only the 20th highest total in the game. As a result, their 2.31 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 3.71 K/BB ratio are all outstanding and much better than last season.
Obviously it is still very early but the signs are encouraging. Ryan Tepera, John Axford, Seung-hwan Oh, and Danny Barnes have all looked good. Roberto Osuna has looked absolutely incredible. Hell, even Aaron Loup has been sharp.
Yes, the play of Donaldson, Martin, Smoak, and Travis will dictate how successful this team will be, but the longer the bullpen performs like this the better they will be able to withstand the inevitable offensive dry patches that will come.
Through seven games I think we can safely say mission accomplished.