All posts by 500LevelFan

The Week That Was: Week 6

Every Monday during the 2017 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 8 – May 14

Record: 6 – 1

Season-to-date: 17 – 21

AL East: 5th,  6.5 games behind New York

Wild Card: 3 games behind Cleveland

  1. We’re Alive!

That is more like it!  After five purely awful weeks, the Toronto Blue Jays finally showed up for the 2017 season, stringing together five straight wins to finish off a 6-1 week.  The Jays began the week by taking two of three from the Indians before sweeping the Mariners.  The week had a little bit of everything.  There was offense, with the team scoring 7 runs or more three times.  There was pitching, with the Jays surrendering 2 runs or less four times.  There were blowouts, with three games decided by four or more runs.  And there was plenty of drama.  Ryan Goins played the hero on Wednesday, providing the finishing touches on a comeback win:

And Kevin Pillar played walkoff hero yesterday:

  1. Welcome Back Edwin

Monday saw the return of former Blue Jay hero Edwin Encarnacion to Toronto.  Though some (including Edwin himself) were worried about how he would be greeted by fans after what happened in the offseason, Toronto fans quickly showed that concerns weren’t warranted.  Edwin was greeted with several long and loud ovations, and appeared to be genuinely moved by the reception.  And though he is not performing to his normal level of dominance, he showed Jays fans that he still has life left by going 3 for 9 with 4 walks against Toronto pitching.  But the Jays got the last laugh, taking two of three and gaining ground on the Indians.  Regardless, it was great to see Edwin back.  A spot on the Level of Excellence should be his in the not-too-distant future.

  1. Welcome Back Jose!

After welcoming Encarnacion on Monday night, Blue Jays fans also welcomed back iconic slugger Jose Bautista this past week.  While it’s true that Jose has been playing with the Jays the entire 2017 season, he has been such a shell of his former self that he might as well have not been here at all.  After an 0-for-3 on Monday vs. Cleveland, Bautista was hitting a woeful .169 with a .550 OPS, one of the worst hitters in the American League.  But all of a sudden….boom.  The prodigal son returns.  Jose went deep in the first inning on Wednesday to give the Jays a 3-2 lead.  He went deep on Friday to extend a 1-run lead to 3-runs.  And he went deep again on Saturday, breaking a 2-2 tie in the 7th inning.  In six days he raised his average 13 points to .182 and his OPS 92 points to .642.  Dare we say…..he’s back?

Player of the Week

Kevin Pillar, CF

Several outstanding catches to go with his walkoff bomb, Pillar has been unreal in 2017:  8 for 25, 5 BB, 1 2B, 8 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 SB, .320 / .419 / .480 / .899

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 18 – 16, T-3rd place, 4 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 12 – 24, 6th place, 9.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 20 – 17, T-2nd place, 2 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 19 -14, 4th place, 4.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

A home-and-home interleague set before another series against Blanche and the Orioles

May 15 – 16 vs. Atlanta

May 17 – 18 at Atlanta

May 19 – 21 at Baltimore

Strength of Schedules: Where We Stand

Last season, while watching the Jays try to chase down the Orioles in the middle of the season, something struck me as rotten: the timing of the schedule couldn’t be more different.  While Toronto was constantly facing teams that were red-hot, the Orioles had the benefit of facing teams and players in deep slumps.

For the most part, teams in the same division play very similar schedules.  They all play each other 19 times, and play equal amounts of games against teams in other divisions.  What is vastly different, however, is when they play those teams.  For example, a matchup last season against the Yankees in the early part of the season was a much different task than playing a New York team that went on an absolute tear in August.

To try and quantify those differences I created a very simple, rudimentary formula, applied it to each team in the AL East, and sized up which team had an easier run.  This year, I thought I’d expand that thinking to the entire American League, with a goal of publishing a summary each month.

The formula for Strength of Schedule is easy:

Season Wins – Season Losses + Wins in Last 5 – Losses in Last 5 + Wins in Last 10 – Losses in Last 10 + Current Streak

The calculation is as at the opening game of each series.  So with Cleveland in town for a three game set this week, their score would be calculated as of Monday May 8 as follows:

Cleveland

Season: 17-13    L10: 6-4    L5: 3-2    Streak: W2

Total Points = 9    (17-13+6-4+3-2+2)

By no means is the formula complex or exhaustive.  It doesn’t include individual player projections, park adjusted stats, weather effects, or injuries.  But it is fairly effective at rewarding teams that are hot, and giving a fairly true picture of the impact of playing a team at the wrong time.

So how does the AL look as of Monday May 8?  Let’s take a look at four different charts: Strength of Schedule, Opponents W-L Record, Series vs. 1st Place Teams, and Series vs. Last Place Teams:

Strength of Schedule (SOS)

Opponent W-L Record

Series vs. First Place Teams

Series vs. Last Place Teams

Observations

  • Man, the AL East is tough.  In terms of SOS and Opponent’s W% the four hardest schedules have been played by AL East teams…..
  • ….except for Tampa Bay.  While the rest of the East has been bashing each other, Tampa has played our woeful Jays three times, the last place Royals, an under .500 Marlins team, and got the benefit of playing the Yankees back in early  April when they were struggling.
  • Speaking of the Yankees, they have the best record in baseball and have piled up the wins against quality teams, with +48 SOS, the toughest by far.  They have also played five series against first place teams, including this week against the surprise Reds.  They also had the misfortune of playing the Rays back when they were 3 games over .500, and the Jays when Toronto was red hot (2 straight wins).
  • The Astros are running away with the AL West, having played the league’s easiest schedule by a significant margin.  Their -61 SOS includes five series in which their opponent entered on a losing streak of three or more games, including this week vs. Atlanta (11-18, L4).
  • To date, the most difficult series in terms of SOS was a +20 when the White Sox played a red hot Yankees team beginning April 17.  The Yanks were 8-4 and riding a 7 game win streak.
  • To date, the least difficult series in terms of SOS was a -31, also by the White Sox when they played the Royals beginning May 1.  KC was 7-16, losers of 9 straight entering that series.

Blue Jay Summary

The Jays have played a tough schedule to be sure, with three series against first place teams (April 13 v Baltimore, May 1 v New York, May 9 v Cleveland), and just one against a last place team (April 11 v Milwaukee).  But let’s be honest – the team is in shambles and have been playing poorly regardless of the opposition.  Hopefully a turnaround is forthcoming and some more meaningful analysis will be necessary.

Check back in a month or two for another installment.

The Week That Was: Week 5

Every Monday during the 2017 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 1 – May 7

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 11 – 20

AL East: 5th,  10 games behind New York

Wild Card: 6 games behind Boston

  1. Signs of Life

It has been a miserable start to the season for the Blue Jays.  The team sits in dead last in the AL East, already a whopping 10 games back of New York.  But for the first time this year the club showed some signs of life last week, with the offense finally deciding to show up.  Entering the week, Toronto was averaging 3.56 runs per game through the first 25 games of the year, a far cry from the lofty heights set in 2015.  But in six games last week they scored 29 runs, an average of 4.83 per game.  What was more promising was who was doing the damage.  Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales, the two key offseason signings, combined for 5 HR, 11 RBI, and a .342 average, and Kevin Pillar continues to torch the baseball.  With Donaldson and Tulo due back soon, the Jays lineup might once again look a little imposing for opposing pitchers.  Now, about Bautista…..

  1. Rotation In Flux

This was not supposed to happen.  Toronto’s starting rotation was expected to be the main strength of this team, but instead it has become a daily adventure.  Happ and Sanchez are on the DL.  Stroman left his start on Wednesday with tightness in his throwing arm.  Liriano is about as erratic as they come, dominating at times (30 Ks) but also struggling mightily (just over 4 IP per start, and 20 walks).  With the injuries the Jays were forced to ride three starts from Mat Latos, who looked serviceable in his first two before getting lit up by the Yankees on Tuesday.  He was released afterwards with Mike Bolsinger taking his place.  Joe Biagini looked great in a shortened spot start yesterday, but his appearance in the rotation taxes an already overworked bullpen (2nd most innings in the AL).  It remains to be seen how long Happ and Sanchez will be out, but the Jays need them healthy and back ASAP.  There’s no telling how much longer this patchwork rotation can last.

  1. Osuna Matata

After a disastrous start to the season, it appears that all is (thankfully) well with Roberto Osuna.  He put up dominant numbers in 2015 and 2016, but was knocked around in his first several appearances this year, uncharacteristically blowing saves.  But he looked like his normal self this past week.  In three appearances, he pitched three innings, allowing only one hit and one walk while striking out six, notching his fourth save in the process.  With so much uncertainty in the lineup and in the rotation, it helps a ton to have Osuna back in his rock solid form.

Player of the Week

Kendrys Morales, DH

Finding his footing after a slow start: 8 for 25, 2 2B, 3 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI,  .320 / .320 / .640 / .960

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 16 – 11, 1st place

AA – New Hampshire: 10 – 19, 6th place, 8.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 17 – 14, 3rd place, 3 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 16 -12, 4th place, 3 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

The return of Edwin Encarnacion highlights the start of a 9-game homestand.  Time to start winning some games.

May 8 – 10 vs. Cleveland

May 11 – 14 vs. Seattle

The Week That Was: Week 4

Every Monday during the 2017 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 4.

Week 4: April 24 – April 30

Record: 3 – 4

Season-to-date: 8 – 17

AL East: 5th,  8 games behind Baltimore/New York

Wild Card: 6 games behind Chicago

  1. Streaking!

For the first time in 2017 the Blue Jays are on a winning streak!  After coming back in the 8th inning yesterday to defeat the Rays 3-1, Toronto has now won consecutive games for the first time since the 2016 ALDS against Texas.  Yes, the overall numbers still look ugly, but as somebody said on Twitter yesterday, you can’t win 10 straight without winning the first two.  Also along those lines, while it certainly is discouraging to see the Jays with a .320 winning percentage, you can’t reach the .500 mark without first reaching .350, .400. and .450.  In keeping with the baby steps theme I wrote about last week, the Jays are slowly turning things around.  With yesterday’s win they moved ahead of Kansas City and out of dead last in the AL, and also clawed to within 3.5 of the Rays for 4th in the East.  Hey – it’s better than nothing.

  1. Feast or Famine in Relief

If you like rollercoasters, and up-and-down thrill rides, then the Blue Jays bullpen is the thing for you!  Seriously, what a week!   On Monday, three relievers combined to pitch 2.2 perfect innings in a 2-1 loss.  That was followed up by a pathetic performance on Tuesday and Thursday’s first doubleheader game, with Toronto RP combining for 11 earned runs, 17 hits, 3 walks, and 3 blown saves.  After a decent performance in the back-end of the doubleheader, Grilli and Leone allowed 5 runs on 3 HR to blow another game on Friday.  Then from seemingly out of nowhere the relief corps turned in a lights out weekend, allowing only 1 run in 12 innings of work, highlighted by a dominant performance by Tepera after Aaron Sanchez was forced to leave after a single inning.  Will the hearts of Jays fans be able to take this for another 137 games?

  1. Superman

Even if the Jays lose every game the rest of the way, we will always have this:

Player of the Week

Russell Martin, C

Turning his season around in a big way: 7 for 17, 3 BB. 1 2B, 3 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI,  .412 / .524 / .824 / 1.347

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 14 – 8, 1st place

AA – New Hampshire: 8 – 14, 6th place, 6 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 13 – 11, T-3rd place, 3 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 13 -10, 4th place, 1.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Another tough AL East slate.

May 1 – 3 at New York

May 5 – 7 at Tampa Bay

Baby Steps

Finally.

For the first time in 2017 people are talking about the Jays in a good way.

All it took was Chris Coghlan to channel his inner Willie Mays Hayes, Marcus Stroman to come off the bench as a pinch hitter, and Ryan Tepera to actually hold on to a lead for Toronto’s bullpen.  Yes, Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals seemingly had it all, and most important of all it ended with a Blue Jays win.

Through 20 games, the Jays sit dead last in the AL East with a record of 6-14, matching the worst 20-game start in franchise history originally set in 1979.  None of the numbers look good.  The club has a team OPS of .639, second worst in the AL.  They are scoring 3.50 runs per game, second worst in the AL.  They are hitting .181 with runners in scoring position, second worst in the AL.  They are hitting .172 with a runner on third and less than 2 out, worst in the AL.

It goes on and on, but that is not what this post is about.  The Jays are off to a bad start – we all know that.  But that doesn’t matter anymore.  What matters is what they do from this point on.

Open your eyes wide enough and it’s easy to see that things are slowly starting to turn around.  In the past week things are actually looking up.  Toronto has put together a 4-3 record, and some of their hitters are slowly but surely coming to life.  Russell Martin is hitting .438 with 2 HR.  Jose Bautista finally went deep, as did Devon Travis.  Justin Smoak is actually looking like a serviceable big leaguer.  On the mound, Marcus Stroman continues to impress, and it seems as if Liriano has shaken off his awful start.

What is important for fans to realize, and what is sometimes difficult to accept, is that a turnaround takes time.  The Jays aren’t going to win 10 games in one night, and aren’t going to win the next 10 games in a row.  If they are going to turn it around, it is going to be a slow and steady crawl back to respectability.  The first goal on that trek back up is the .500 mark.

Baseball is a game of seemingly arbitrary endpoints, so let’s make one up here: game 62.  That is when Toronto realistically needs reach .500.  If they can get to 31-31, that leaves 100 games left – a nice round number – to do some damage.

To see why that milestone is important, I took a look at every single playoff team in the wild card era, which began in 2012 – a total of 50 different instances.  Through 62 games, the average record of the 50 playoff teams was 35-27, with 88% being .500 or better.  That means only 6 times in the wild card era has a team with a losing record at the 62 game mark rebounded to make the playoffs.  The worst teams in that stretch?  The 2013 LA Dodgers and the 2012 Oakland A’s, both of which were 27-35.

Does that mean reaching .500 guarantees a playoff spot?  Not even close.  But what it does mean is that failing to reach .500 will make it very difficult to qualify for the postseason, especially in a division as tough as the AL East.

For the Jays to reach that magical mark, they will have to go 25-17 in the next 42 games, just under .600 baseball.  For context, the 2016 Jays went 25-17 or better in 58 different 42-game stretches.  The 2015 Jays did so 51 times.

Including today’s doubleheader in St. Louis, Toronto plays 20 of those 42 games on the road, and only 15 are against teams that are above .500 as of right now.  The team will conceivably be getting Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Josh Donaldson, and maybe Troy Tulowitzki back.  All good news.

There is still a long way to go, but there is hope it can be done.

The baby steps have started.  The just need to keep on coming.

The Week That Was: Week 3

Every Monday during the 2017 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 3.

Week 3: April 17 – April 23

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 5 – 13

AL East: 5th,  7.5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 5.5 games behind Boston

  1. Progress

For the first time in 2017 the Jays finished a week with fewer than five losses.  After back-to-back 1-5 weeks to start the year, Toronto split six games against the Red Sox and the Angels to push its winning percentage above the .200 mark.  It certainly wasn’t pretty, but there were some signs of encouragement.  For the first time all season the Jays showed some fight, twice coming from behind in the 8th inning to win on Friday and Sunday.  They also battled back on Thursday with a 9th inning HR by Kendrys Morales off of Craig Kimbrel to force extra innings against Boston.  Jose Bautista finally hit his first HR of the season on Friday, Devon Travis broke out yesterday, and Russell Martin pushed his batting average to .149.  Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done but at least we are finally seeing some steps in the right direction.

  1. Bullpen Woes Continue

While the team as a whole is making forward progress, the same can’t be said of the bullpen.  The Jays have already used 13 different relievers and most of them have looked really, really bad.  As a unit, Toronto’s ‘pen ranks 10th in the AL with a 4.40 ERA.  and 10th with a 1.32 WHIP.  They have walked 26 batters (fifth most in the AL), and converted only 3 of 7 save opportunities.  Most concerning is that Roberto Osuna hasn’t looked right and Jason Grilli has looked awful with a 7.11 ERA.  Thank goodness for Joe Biagini (0.69 ERA in 13 IP), Danny Barnes (2 baserunners allowed in 3.2 IP), and Joe Smith (12 K in 7.2 IP).  Hopefully their success will rub off on the rest of the guys.

  1. The Stro Show

Much was expected from Marcus Stroman this year, especially after his dominating performance in the World Baseball Classic.  After a solid start to the season, Stroman was absolutely crushed by Boston on Tuesday night ,surrendering 11 hits and 6 runs in less than 5 innings.  It left many wondering if that start would cause an early season regression for the streaky pitcher.  Well Stroman answered his doubters in a huge way on Sunday by throwing his second complete game of the season against the Angels.  He needed only 99 pitches to get 27 outs, allowing only 7 hits and a walk.  He was also able to keep his composure despite a couple of egregious decisions by home plate umpire Ramon De Jesus.  Stro’s performance has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing start for the Blue Jays.

Player of the Week

Kevin Pillar, CF

He extended his hitting streak to 11 games after a huge week: 10 for 27, 3 2B, 4 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 SB, .370 / .393 / .704 / 1.097

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 11 – 4, 1st place

AA – New Hampshire: 7 – 9, 5th place, 3 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 9 – 9, 4th place, 3 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 9 -8, T-2nd place, 1 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Pitchers get to hit!

April 24 at LA Angels

April 25 – 27 at St. Louis

April 28 – 30 vs. Tampa Bay

The Week That Was: Week 2

Every Monday during the 2017 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 10 – April 16

Record: 1 – 5

Season-to-date: 2 – 10

AL East: 5th,  6.5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 5 games behind Minnesota/Boston

  1. Nightmare

The Toronto Blue Jays are currently the worst team in baseball.  It is still early.  There are still 150 games to play.  But nothing about this early season performance is inspiring hope for the near future.  Many baseball pundits pegged the Jays as contenders this year as long as they stayed relatively healthy and the veteran hitters returned to form.  So far….no dice.  You want health?  Well, the closer has already been on the DL.   Last week, the team MVP and last year’s ERA champ were placed on the DL, before J.A. Happ – a 20-game winner in ’16 – left his start with an injury.  How about those vets?  Well, Russell Martin is hitting .097, Bautista has a .446 OPS with 15 strikeouts, Tulowitzki has a sub-.300 OBP, and newcomer Steve Pearce is hitting .156.  With little to no depth and a tough schedule ahead, there is a very real chance that things get worse before they get better.

  1. Situational Blues

The Jays are struggling to score runs, and one of the biggest contributors is their continual failure to come through in certain situations.  The most glaring example is with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs.  In these circumstances a batter doesn’t need a HR or a double to drive the run home.  In most cases, a fly ball to the outfield will suffice, and many times the opposing team is willing to concede a run on a ground ball to the middle infield.  Yet the Blue Jays constantly fail to drive that runner home.  In fact, they are the worst team in the American League at doing so….by far.  Blue Jay batters have come to the plate 22 times with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs, and that run has scored only 8 times, for a 36.4% success rate.  The AL average is 60.6%, the next worst team (Minnesota) is scoring that runner 42.9% of the time, and the Yankees are getting that runner home 91.7% of the time.  Toronto’s main problem?  They have struck out in 31.8% of their plate appearances compared to an AL average of 20%, led by Bautista’s 3 K’s in 5 chances.  Are Blue Jay hitters trying to do too much, maybe swinging for the fences when a lazy fly would do?  Sure seems like it….

  1. Silver Lining

It’s hard to find a silver lining in a 2-10 start with some of the top players on the roster on the DL, but here’s something the Jays and the fan base can look at for encouragement.  This has been a bad start, but the magnitude is likely exaggerated because it’s early in the schedule.  If this stretch happened later in the season the impact would be muted.  Last year, for instance, the Jays went 3-9 with a -32 run differential in September, and while it still caused concern, the fact that they were already 19 games over .500 softened the blow.  No team is immune from these stretches.  Even the mighty Cubs went 1-9 with a -32 differential last year between June 30 and July 9 and they overcame that and won the World Series.  One look at the standings can also assure Jays fans that they’re not alone.  Preseason favourites Cleveland, Seattle, Texas, St. Louis, and San Francisco are all under .500 and in last place or second last place in their divisions.  While things don’t look good, it’s certainly not over yet.

Player of the Week

Marco Estrada, P

Nice rebound for Estrada after a rough first week: 1 start, 7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8 K

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 7 – 3, 1st place

AA – New Hampshire: 5 – 4, T-2nd place, 1 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 6 – 5, T-3rd place, 2 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 6 -40, T-2nd place, 1 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

It doesn’t get any easier

April 18 – 20 vs. Boston

April 21 – 24 at LA Angels

So What Happens Now?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: solid preseason favourite gets off to tough start, fans panic.

If it sounds familiar it’s because it should.  Every year, in every sport, at least one of the supposed contenders seems to hit the skids immediately.  Last season, preseason darlings Houston, Arizona, and the Mets combined for a 9-19 start, with each club sitting in last place in mid-April.  In 2015 the same thing happened to the Yankees, National, Pirates, and Giants, as they combined for a 12-25 record.

The only difference this season is that it’s the Blue Jays who are stinking up the league.  At 1-7 they are off to the worst start in franchise history.  But this is a team that isn’t far removed from having solid World Series odds by bookmakers, and being a trendy playoff pick by sports sites.  So what happened?

The easy answer is that the team is simply not hitting.  And that’s true.  The Jays are dead last in the AL in runs scored with only 23 in 8 games.  They sit dead last with a .190 average, second last with a .272 OBP, and dead last with a .276 slugging percentage.  A team that seemingly lives and dies with the long ball has hit only 4 HR so far, or less than the Orioles hit in the first two innings alone last night.  Toronto is averaging just over 6 hits per game, and has only tallied 15 extra base hits all season.  They also have 0 stolen bases and are hitting a dismal .143 with runners in scoring position.

In short, the bats are cold.  Ice cold.

But trust me: things aren’t as bad as they seem.  It struck me yesterday how unlucky the team has been.  We have seen Tulo hit ropes that find gloves.  We have seen Morales crush line drives that are knocked down by diving infielders.  Bautista has hit the ball very hard only to have it travel directly at an outfielder.  Meanwhile we watched Ray and Brewer hitters find holes with little dribblers, and hit flares that just drop in.  In fact, an inch or two here and there and it’s not inconceivable that the Jays could be 7-1 instead of 1-7.

The data backs this up as well.  According Fangraphs, the Jays are in the middle of the pack in both line drive percentage (9th at 19.9%) and hard hit ball percentage (8th at 30.5%).  They also rank in the middle of the pack in both strikeout and walk percentage.  This tells us that aren’t striking out a ton, still reaching base, and aren’t simply hitting weak ground balls and pop-ups.   In fact, the two teams with profiles most similar to Toronto’s are the A’s and Yankees, each of whom are .500 or better.  This simply isn’t the profile of a 1-7 squad.

There’s always the possibility that every single one of Toronto’s veterans (Bautista, Tulowitzki, Morales, Martin, Pearce) have started to suddenly and sharply decline at exactly the same time.  But more likely is that players are battling both bad luck and bad starts.  With track records like these guys have, it should only be a matter of time until balls start finding holes.

And as a Jays fan if it makes you feel any better, they are asking the same questions in Boston, Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle, Texas, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, where those preseason contenders are a combined 21-38.

Look, with 4.9% of the schedule played, Jays have played the equivalent of 0.79 games of an NFL schedule and 4 games of an NHL schedule.  Nobody wrote off the Falcons or Cowboys when they started 0-1, or the Ducks (0-3-1) or Flames (1-2-1) for their slow starts.

If the Blue Jays are still sporting a sub-.200 winning percentage in mid-May, then we can worry.

But on April 13th?

Forget about it.

The Week That Was: Week 1

Every Monday during the 2017 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 – April 9

Record: 1 – 5

Season-to-date: 1 – 5

AL East: 5th,  3.5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 2.5 games behind Detroit/Boston/Houston

  1. Rough Start

Oh boy.  That is NOT how we drew it up.  The 2017 MLB season kicked off last week with the Jays dropping five of six to sink to dead last in the AL East.  The 1-5 start was the club’s worst since 2004, a season in which the Jays lost 94 games.  Absolutely nothing went right for Toronto, on either side of the ball.  The pitching staff as a whole surrendered 7 HR.  The starting rotation posted a 4.83 ERA.  The bullpen was tagged with three losses, including one via bases loaded walk.  The hitters only managed a .201 average and .576 OPS, while striking out 50 times.  They only hit .150 with RISP, failing to come up with key hits several times.  But if there is a silver lining it’s this: for as bad as the Blue Jays played, they had a chance to win four of the five games they lost, and are a couple of breaks away from being 5-1.  Bottom line – this is a good team.  Don’t panic.

  1. Bullpen Woes

It seems like every single season the Toronto Blue Jays are in a constant battle to improve their bullpen.  Players shuffle in and out with hopes of creating an airtight relief corps to make late-inning leads automatic.  More often than not, the ‘pen seems to scuffle.  Sadly, after six games 2017 is no exception.  Already thin due to the DL stint of Osuna, Toronto’s RP were battered around last week.  Grilli surrendered a walkoff HR to Trumbo on Opening Day.  Tepera and Howell failed to hold a 7-6 lead on Friday, before Casey Lawrence walked in the winning run in extra innings on Saturday.  All eight of Toronto’s relievers surrendered at least one run during the season’s opening week.  It’s still early, but these signs are worrying.

  1. Where’s the O?

It’s not only the relievers who are struggling: Blue Jay batters have been nowhere in sight.  Russell Martin, a notorious slow starter, is off to yet another slow start, going 0 for 14 to start the year.  Devon Travis is 3 for 23, Tulo is 3 for 24, Morales is 5 for 24, and Bautista is a mere 3 for 22.  Combined, that makes five of Toronto’s key offensive cogs 14 for 107.  Josh Donaldson has picked up right where he left off and Kevin Pillar is off to a nice start, but when the third highest OPS on the team belongs to Justin Smoak, things aren’t right.  Let’s just chalk this off to opening week jitters.

Player of the Week

Josh Donaldson, 3B

Great start for the perennial MVP candidate: 8 for 23, 1 2B, 2 HR, 5 R, 3 RBI, .348 / .444 / .652 / 1.097

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 3 – 0, T-1st place

AA – New Hampshire: 1 – 2, T-4th place, 2 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 2 – 2, T-2nd place, 1 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 4 – 0, 1st place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

The Home Opener, plus a chance at revenge against the O’s

April 11 – 12 vs. Milwaukee

April 13 – 16 vs. Baltimore

Relax Kids

 

“Relax, kid.  We got 162 of these games to go.” – Jake Taylor

It’s not often that I get to open a post with a quote from Jake Taylor.  For those who aren’t aware, those words were spoken by Taylor, a grizzled veteran on the Cleveland Indians, to rookie pitcher Rick Vaughn minutes before Opening Day in 1989.  Vaughn, sitting near his locker,  was visibly nervous before being reminded: it’s a long season.

Of course, neither of those players are real, that quote being from Major League the greatest baseball movie of all time.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the words are 100% accurate., and that today seems like a very opportune time to state them.

Social media is a great and very useful thing, but it also has the ability to rile people and start mass panic.  Case-in-point the hours immediately following Mark Trumbo’s walkoff HR that gave Baltimore an Opening Day victory over the Blue Jays.  Suddenly, any excitement that was generated from the return of the Jays and having baseball back after a long winter was gone.

Instead?  How about:

  • The Jays can’t hit with runners-in-scoring position just like last year.  This will be an issue all season long.
  • After seeing Edwin’s performance with Cleveland and Bautista’s performance it’s clear that Toronto re-signed the wrong free agent.  Bautista’s days of being an elite slugger are gone.
  • Russell Martin still strikes out way too much and looks past his prime.
  • Tulo is on the decline.
  • Grilli is too old and is not a viable late-inning relief option.  With Osuna on the DL the bullpen is screwed.
  • It’s clear that Donaldson is hurt.
  • Releasing Upton was the worst move Atkins could have made, leaving the team without an OF replacement and no speed on the bench.

Does that about cover everything?

At this point in my life, after years of running this blog and of following fans on Twitter, I shouldn’t be surprised.  Yet somehow I continue to be.  Within hours the Toronto Blue Jays went from a solid contender to winning the AL East to a team that looks finished in the eyes of many.  Not in the eyes of everybody, but in a staggeringly high number of people.

Relax.  Seriously – there are 161 more games to go.  The season is 0.62% complete.  By my best guesses, even the very best team in baseball will lose at least 55-60 games this year.  Even the very best teams in the game will lose a game they probably should have won, or lose a few games in a row.  No team is immune.  Baseball is a marathon.

Do you know who else lost on Opening Day?  The Cubs.  The Giants.  The Yankees.  The Rangers.  The Mariners.  Each of those teams is expected to challenge for a postseason spot as well.

I feel like a broken record pointing this out year after year, but it bears repeating: it’s one game.  The Jays will be fine.

And if you won’t take my word for it, at least listen to Jake.