All posts by 500LevelFan

Nearly There…..

What.  A.  Turnaround.

The crazy 2017 season continued its crazy ways this afternoon as the Jays, featuring Chris Coghlan, Ryan Goins, and Luke Maile at the bottom of the lineup and Mike Bolsinger on the mound, completed a three game sweep of the Reds to creep to within a single game of .500.

That’s right.  This team that started 1-9 overall, 2-8 at home, and at one point was 6-17 – good for dead last in baseball – is now 26-27.  This team that at one stretch was missing Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales (for a few games), J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Francisco Liriano, is now only 6 games behind the Yankees for top spot in the AL East.  This team that on top of all the injuries saw Devon Travis and Jose Bautista batting under .150, Roberto Osuna blowing every save chance he could find, and Grilli / Howell / Leone and co. giving away runs like candy on Halloween is now suddenly only 2.5 games back of a Wild Card slot.

It’s crazy.

On the morning of April 27th, with the Jays sitting with a record of 6-14 and looking rather hopeless, I wrote that it was important for the team to reach the .500 mark by game 62.  That would leave them with a nice round 100 games remaining to make their move towards October.  At the time of that post, Toronto needed to go 25-17 in the next 42 games to reach the .500 mark.  Did I really believe they could do it?  I’d like to say yes.  But let’s be honest.  They still had to go to New York to face the red hot Yankees.  There was still a home and home series with Tampa, a visit to Baltimore, and series against two 2016 playoff teams in Cleveland and Texas.  Then, immediately after writing that article Toronto lost three straight games (including an embarrassing doubleheader sweep in St. Louis) to fall to 6-17.

The season was horrid.  And getting worse.

But what has transpired since then has been simply magical.  Bautista and Travis have started hitting.  Players have started returning to health.  Stroman turned into a slugger and an ace.  Estrada is suddenly a strikeout artist.  Osuna regained his 2015/16 form.  And the most unlikely players have taken turns as hero’s.  Goins, Carrera, and Barney of all people took turns carrying the offense.  Joe Biagini of all people stabilized the rotation.  Joe Smith, Ryan Tepera, and Danny Barnes of all people suddenly morphed into Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, transforming Toronto’s ‘pen into a fortress.

Even better, during Toronto’s 18-10 month of May, the rest of the AL East has stayed stagnant.  Tampa, New York, and Boston are each 3 games over .500, and Baltimore has lost significant ground at 11-16.  The division is essentially up for grabs.

The Jays have now collected 20 of the 25 wins required to reach .500 by game 62.  A 5-4 record in the next 9 games is all it will take.  With a four game set at home with the Yankees, and then a west coast trip to Oakland and Seattle upcoming, it definitely won’t be easy.

But I like our chances.

The Week That Was: Week 8

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 8.

Week 8: May 22- May 28

Record: 4 – 1

Season-to-date: 23 – 27

AL East: 5th,  7.5 games behind New York

Wild Card: 3 games behind Cleveland/Baltimore

  1. They’re Back!

Friday night brought with it a most welcome sight for Blue Jays fans.  No, I’m not talking about Rougned Odor and the Texas Rangers coming to town for their annual spanking.  I’m talking about the return of Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki to the Jays lineup.  After missing over four weeks of action, the pair returned Friday and immediately transformed Toronto’s lineup from pedestrian to terrifying.  It didn’t take long for both to announce their presence either, with Donaldson ripping a double in his first at bat and Tulo reaching base three times.  With news that Francisco Liriano and possibly J.A. Happ might both return this week, the Jays are coming agonizingly close to being able to field their full team for the first time in 2017.

  1. Stay Hot Devon

April was a miserable month for the entire Blue Jays roster, but it was downright awful for Devon Travis.  The second baseman hit .130 and posted a .388 OPS in 83 April plate appearances putting him among the worst hitters in all of baseball.  But then the calendar switched to May and something clicked.  Travis has been tearing the cover off the ball, putting up video game numbers.  He is hitting .360 with a 1.010 OPS, and has set a Blue Jay record with 15 doubles in the month.  He is now tied for the major league lead with 17 doubles.  He also hit safely in all five games last week, extending his hitting streak to 12.  With Tulo and Donaldson back, Bautista and Morales heating up, and Smoak and Pillar still hitting well, Travis gives the Blue Jays an incredibly long and deep batting order, one that should have the rest of AL shaking.

  1. Barnes to Tepera to Osuna?

Nearly every good bullpen has a hierarchy cemented by a dominant back-end.  In 2015, the Jays ‘pen featured Cecil to Sanchez to Osuna to finish off games.  Last season saw Biagini to Grilli to Osuna, and that same combo was expected to close things out this year.  But Biagini has moved to the rotation, and Grilli got off to a terible start, forcing the Jays to improvise.  And suddenly it seems like they might be onto a new combo.  With apologies to Joe Smith, the Danny Barnes – Ryan Tepera – Roberto Osuna trio has been lights out recently.  Barnes has a 2.33 ERA with 21 strikeouts and has allowed earned runs in only 3 of his 15 appearances.  Tepera hasn’t been scored on since April 27, and has a 0.00 ERA, .102 BAA, and a 0.64 WHIP in May.  And Osuna, after a rough start, is back to his old self, posting 3 saves in 3 scoreless appearances last week.  The development of this newest lockdown trio has been a huge key in Toronto’s 2017 turnaround.

Player of the Week

Jose Bautista, RF

His 3-run HR off Yu Darvish was just another one of his huge hits recently:  6 for 17,  2 BB, 4 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB, .353 / .400 / .706 / 1.106

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 26 – 21, 3rd place, 7 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 19 – 29, 6th place, 13 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 29 – 22, 1st place

A – Lansing: First Half: 27 -20, 4th place, 6 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

The 10-game homestand continues with a visit by the Yankees and Toronto’s own Joey Votto.

May 29 – 31 vs. Cincinnati

June 1 – 4 vs. New York Yankees

Fun With Early WAR

It’s hard to believe, but the 2017 regular season is close to 30% complete.  That means it’s time for an annual post here on 500 Level Fan where we take a few minutes to have fun with early season stats.

We are approaching June and the standings are starting to become established.  While things look as expected for some teams (Astros and Nationals are good, Padres and Phillies are not), the league is still full of surprises.  The Yankees, Twins, and Brewers at the top?  The Rockies dominating?  The Jays, Royals, Mariners, and Pirates in last?  Fans everywhere are scratching their heads, wondering if down is up or if up is down.

But the one thing we keep hearing, the one universal caution about assessing performance at this time of year is this: it’s still relatively early.

But it’s never too early to have some fun with stats. Let’s take a look at some early season WAR stats and assess which players may have staying power (both good and bad).

Player WAR

The above tables show the best players in baseball in terms of WAR, and the leaderboard is a healthy mix of guys you would expect to see there and guys you wouldn’t.  To the surprise of nobody, Mike Trout is once again dominating the league, and guys such as Goldschmidt, Freeman, Harper, and Arenado are mainstays.  Judge, Cozart, and Conforto have been talked about as having the talent so their names aren’t overly shocking.  But what about Corey Dickerson and Eugenio Suarez?  Crazy.  In terms of defensive WAR, the usual suspects are all there, so no real surprises.  For Jays fans, the shock has to be Kevin Pillar.  To see him leading the team in dWAR is no surprise, but in total WAR?  It speaks to how great he has been, but also to how disappointing the rest of the team has been.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10: Trout, Goldschmidt, Harper, Arenado

Most Likely to Drop Out: Suarez, Cozart

Two names jump off the list of worst players in terms of WAR: McCutchen and Ichiro.  It wasn’t long ago that both were perennial MVP candidates, but now they both seem like shadows of their former selves.  The biggest shock on the list has to be Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs.  Many were expecting a huge year from him, and I think he still ends up producing.  Maikel Franco is also off to a horrendous start in Philly.  To the surprise of absolutely nobody who watches the Blue Jays, Ezequiel Carrera is ranked as the second worst fielder in all of baseball.  He has a knack for turning every fly ball into an adventure.

Most Likely to Stick in Bottom-10: Hernandez, Revere, Asche

Most Likely to Climb Out: Schwarber, Franco

Pitcher WAR

For the most part, the list of top WARs is a who’s-who of stud pitchers.  Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Zack Greinke, and Yu Darvish were all expected to do well, and all have met expectations.  But then there is the rest of the list and….wow.  Mike Leake is baseball’s top pitcher?  Ervin Santana dominating?  Dylan Bundy and Ivan Nova?  It will be interesting to see if these guys are legit.  Over on the other side, Sam Dyson sucks.  But sadly, so does Jason Grilli.

Most Likely to Stick in Top-10 / Bottom-10: Sale, Kershaw, Keuchel, Greinke, Carraso, Dyson, Weaver

Most Likely to Drop Out / Climb Out: Bundy, Glasnow

As always, we’ll check back on these lists later in the season to see if things become “more normal”.

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