Early in the season? Yes. Small sample size? Mhmm. Probably going to jinx it? You bet. Doesn’t matter though, these Blue Jays are pretty damn good! With four series now gone, the Toronto Blue Jays have yet to lose a series this season and possess an unlikely 8-5 record.
What makes this more impressive is the competition they’ve played against – two divisional rivals in the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, another rival in the Texas Rangers, and the Chicago White Sox. So how have the Jays been winning games?
Always believed to be the Jays strength, their starting rotation has been pretty impressive. Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Jaime Garcia have been next level, with Stroman and Estrada looking just okay.
Sanches: 19.2 IP, 13 SO, ERA 3.66, Games Started: 3, Wins: 1, WHIP 1.424
Happ: 16 IP, 23 SO, ERA 3.94, Games Started: 3, Wins: 2, WHIP 1.313
Garcia: 11.1 IP, 12 SO, ERA 3.18, Games Started: 2, Wins: 1, WHIP 1.147
These three have been stellar, all with double digit strike outs and registered wins. Their ability to go deep in games allows for micromanaging of the bullpen as well, limiting the overuse of the reg-tag relievers the Jays have assembled.
In game two of the Baltimore series Aaron Sanchez carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning. His control was on display, and ability to mix speeds to keep hitters guessing multiple times through the order was exciting to see. Hopefully the blister issues are behind him now (knock on wood) and the Sanchize can return to form.
For Happ and Garcia it is just business as usual for two veteran guys. Locate pitches well, use that lefty starter advantage, and when hit keep the ball on the ground of popped high to get outs.
Unlikely Offensive Production
The Jays have also benefitted from getting offence from all over their order. Only one player, Gift Ngoepe, has yet to register an RBI, while ever rostered played has a hit.
Home Runs, an area thought to be dominated by Smoak and Donaldson does feature the two offensive giants at the top, however they have some unlikely company. Donaldson is tied for the team lead with three home runs with Steve Pearce and Aledmys Diaz. Yes you read that correctly. Pearce, who went back-to-back-to-back games with home runs has given himself a chance at capitalizing on the revolving door in left field. When not relied upon (see 2017 Blue Jays) he is a great bench player with utility defence and pop in his bat.
Diaz, who is likely to be the Blue Jays starting shortstop for the majority of the season, has been a solid surprise this season. With his latest home run coming in the last game against Baltimore, he has spread out his long balls this season. He is only hitting .206, but did see some time off due to an injury knock. The Jays don’t need him to be a .300 hitter if their big guns keep up their production, which does take pressure off of him to perform.
Another offensive surprise has been Luke Maile. The backup catcher has strung together some nice offensive numbers this season in limited at bats (15). With six hits he sports a .400 batting average, with three doubles and four RBI’s. This eases the pressure on Martin to play every game, as Maile has shown early that he can be relied more so than last season.
Despite the early season success there are a few areas that may become bigger issues for the club.
Brought in via trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for two pitchers, Grichuk has struggled MIGHTILY at the plate so far this season. Like, he’s been really really bad. In 39 at bats he has three hits, a .077 BA, and a .140 On Base Percentage. He was never brought in to be a bog production guy, but rather a solid defensive right fielder. He has been fine defensively, but with numbers this bad he has become a liability in the line up.
Baltimore pitchers originally targeted his inability to hit the high fastball, this quickly devolved into ‘just throw the ball down the middle and see if he can hit it.’ He could not. He was given a game off to mentally rest. This resulted in a long double to centre field, but he has gone cold again since then. The Jays need to get their right fielder’s bat sorted soon, or he will not be able to recuperate his numbers this season.
This one is two-pronged. The all-star third baseman has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the field. Offensively his is on a great pace for the season – three home runs, eleven hits, nine RBI’s, and a .352 OBP. But, defensively his is a shell of his former self. He blew Aaron Sanchez’s no hitter with a ground ball that bounced through his legs, and on top of that, cant seem to throw to first base.
The “dead arm” incident is also still ongoing. Post Baltimore series, which saw Donaldson sit the last game, Donaldson said there has been no improvement in his arm despite still playing third base. He was initially transitioned to DH as it didn’t effect his swing, but after returning to 3B it was assumed it was better. Wrong-o.
Donaldson is going to be a problem for the Jays this season. He knows they aren’t going to sign him, but that doesn’t mean they are going to trade him either. It is a worst case scenario, really, but it seems likely if the team keeps playing as well as they are. If they Jay’s remain a fringe playoff team fighting for a wildcard spot then they can’t trade away one of their offensive leaders. But, if the Jays struggle it will likely be on the back of Donaldson not being able to produce. If that is the case he won’t get any sort of return to help the Jays rebuild quickly.
What a conundrum.
Despite the weariness of two key players who feature for the team regularly, the team is still doing really well. And that is really the most important part when trying to understand the success the Jays have had this season so far – its a team effort. Not Bautista’s team, or Edwin’s team, but just a team effort. Yangervis Solarte and Kevin Pillar supporting the likes of Smoak and Donaldson offensively. While Granderson improves the clubhouse filled with youth players, and produces on the field as well.
If the Jays are destined to be a successful team this year it will be on all of their backs, not individual players. They have shown resiliency this season so far, scoring the most runs from the 7th inning on in the MLB, not quitting when behind and closing out winning games.
It should be interesting to see how it plays out, but one thing is for sure, this team is a lot better than the 2017 Blue Jays.