After an AL beat down streak, Blue Jays smack back at Twins

With the series finale slated for a matinee affair on May 2nd, the Toronto Blue Jays have seemingly bounced back after getting taught some tough lessons against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, against the Minnesota Twins.

Resilience will need to be a a key factor in the Blue Jay’s character this season if they want to hang around in the playoff race. But, as it stands the Blue Jays are doing what playoff contenders do – beat the mediocre teams and hang with the good ones.

The once thought to be strength of the Jays, the pitching rotation has shown a few chinks in the armor so far. Marco Estrada and the long ball, a tale as old as time, has been an issue this season.As well, Jaime Garcia looking for consistency in his pitching, especially against players who will make you pay. But both are nothing in comparison to the often outspoken and now under performing Marcus Stroman.

He just doesn’t have it this year – yet. Five games started, three loses, and no wins to show for it this season, Stroman is sporting a pretty damn bad ERA: 8:88. Maybe an Eric Lindros fan but more likely just an under performing pitcher, Stroman brings the heat on himself in this situation constantly talking about himself on social media. I’m not condemning the use of social media for athletes, I actually love it, but there is an expectation when you’re on it constantly talking yourself up – walk the walk, now Stroman.

I do think he’ll get it figured out, he’s simply too good not to, but the longer he takes to get his head on straight, the longer the Jays will have to wait to take another step forward.

For positives, the Blue Jays have a legit Cy Young contender on the team (so far this season, obviously). J.A. Happ, maybe the quietest player on the Jay’s roster has, quietly (how apropos) strung together ELITE numbers this year. 4-1 in 6 games started, 3.50 ERA, 12.5 strike outs/nine innings, 1.028 WHIP, and a total of 50 strike outs. Happ is pulling his weight in the rotation and setting a terrific example of veteran talent making an impact.

To go along with team resiliency, the Blue Jays have plugged players in for injured or under performing starters and had really positive results. Donaldson on the DL, Grichuk on the DL, Travis demoted to the minors, Gift Ngope not earning his spot on the bench, all have been mitigated by squad players stepping up and producing.

The infield is comfortably being patrolled by Smoak a stalwart and everyday first baseman, 2nd base covered by rookie call up Lourdes Gurriel jr. who is comfortably settling in the big leagues, Aledmys Diaz playing almost everyday at SS, Yangervis Solarte being a productive and serviceable 3rd baseman, while Teoscar Hernandez, another young call, up has cemented himself on the big league club.

They Jay’s aren’t bad – a point I will continue to stress as long as they keep proving me right. I never thought they would be, but I did think that they would have had to rely on three players to have big season: Travis to reestablish himself after injury layoff, Donaldson to prove himself in a contract year, and Grichuk to prove the Cardinals wrong for moving on from him. All three have been bad, or injured… or both, and yet, the Jays keep producing.

Until they stop acting like they’ve been here before, the Blue Jays are ready to continue shocking the league – the most recent lesson they have learned is the importance of resilience, and at the poor old expense of the Twins, too!

 

Jays Lose First Series Of The Season

The bubble has popped, the bandwagon is losing members, and the season is over – The Toronto Blue Jays have lost their first series of the season.

Wait. Its just April, and its still five full series that they hadn’t lost. Things are actually pretty damn good in Blue Jays land right now, and the problems they have should be reasonable enough to over come!

The Jays had two issue that rared their head in this second four game series against the Yankees, one a surprise and the other a condition of their random offence: starting pitching, and men left on base.

As far as pitching goes, Toronto is missing a big piece of the puzzle which is Marcus Stroman. Yet to win a game this season, Stroman is taking a lot of heat for being more focused on his personal brand over his pitching abilities. Sure, height doesn’t measure heart, but earned runs will kill a starting pitchers confidence – and Stroman is leading the team in earned runs and has posted a 8.55 ERA.

He looked better in his last start but ‘looked better’ isn’t providing results for the Jays. Stroman is the ultimate competitor and wants to be winning baseball games, but until he starts doing that he isn’t going to be playing on a playoff contending team.

Outside of Stroman, Estrada has been a concern. He has a 5.32 era and has the narrative of nagging back issues constantly being brought up. He has been saved in his win/loss record by late game pushes by his teams offence, but hasn’t given his team a chance to win on a regular basis. Biagini was solid in his spot start and provides the Jays an option if Estrada’s back issues flair up, but a good Marco is better than a good Biagini.

As far as offence goes, Toronto has nothing to complain about from their team. No one really thought they would be playing for much this season, but now it seems like the Jays want to make it to the post season. The biggest issue that should get rectified sooner rather than later is men left on base. The Jays rank 6th in men left on base with a per-game average of 6.76. In their last three games against the Yankees this bloated to 7.67.

It’s an issue that has seemed to follow the Jay’s around in recent years. It was a symptom of the home run dependent offence they had relied on for so long. That is why I am not too too concerned about it at this point. The home runs will still come, but the success Toronto has had this season was around getting on base, and getting clutch hits. Not to mention taking walks, stealing bases, and moving runners forward. To remedy the men left on base stick to what you know – hard hit balls and not trying to push everything out of the stadium. Capitalize on the damn shift, too!

Two big ole’ bright spots are Teoscar Hernandez (yes, still), and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Teoscar has improved his HR count to three in just eight games this season, and has 10 RBIs. He is really really potent right now for the Blue Jays and adds pop to the #2 spot in the order with Donaldson out. No chance he gets sent down when Donaldson gets back off the DL – looking at you Randal Grichuk.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr., a name few are too familiar with is the brother of the Gurriel in Houston who just won the World Series. The 24-year old infielder from Cuba was nestled right behind Vlad jr. and Bo Bichette on Toronto’s farm system rankings and got the call up in game two of this series. Hitting in the nine spot, Gurriel nabbed two hits and three RBIs in his first game. He is hitting .273 avg in eleven appearances. Yet another bright spot in the youth department for Toronto.

Almost a month into the season Toronto sits second in the AL East with a 13-6 record, 1.5 games up on the Yankees. With some stable performances Toronto can absolutely continue on this track of possible post season success!

 

Blue Jays: What We Learned From a Series Split With The New York Yankees

Colour me surprised with the Blue Jays splitting the opening series against the new age Bronx Bombers, as Toronto hung in there with the predicted playoff squad. Toronto used a few different weapons to get the split, which is promising as the one trick pony Blue Jays of old, are now dead and gone. So what did we learn about the Blue Jays from the opening series of the season?

Kevin Pillar is a bad, bad man.

We all loved Superman in the outfield, but he showed off his multi-faceted offensive approach in this series. Pillar hit .462 in the first four games, with a .500 OBP. He scored the only run for the Jays in their season opener with a solo home run, netting his only RBI of the season.

What was most impressive was his three stolen bases in the series… which all came in the same game… in the same inning… and included a straight steal of home, too.

Pillar’s most enticing asset will always be his defence in centre field, but if he can string together some games with offensive production (1.269 OPS), the Jay’s will be able to surprise a lot more teams with depth offence. What has certainly helped is having Pillar hit later in the order. Previously shoe-horned into the lead off spot, Pillar is much more effective without the pressure to get on base.

Toronto’s Bullpen is For Real

Between Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, and Seung Hwan Oh there have been zero earned runs, only two walks, and a combines six strike outs in seven innings of work. Tyler Clippard, Danny Barnes, and John Axford each have one earned run to their names, inflating their ERA stat, but have been serviceable and added a further eight innings of work out of the pen.

Tepera looks vintage. He delivered his pitches well with great location. Plus, with mid to high 90’s coming out of him, he completely messes with batters after seeing Estrada or Happ through 5+ innings before.

After a bit of a disappointing spring, Seung Hwan Oh has looked great in his two games played and two innings pitched against the Yankees. He has not allowed an earned run, and even has a save to his name following the series finale against the Yanks. He looks like the veteran that the Jays were after in their pen, calm, cool and able to work in versatile situations.

Osuna is great. Not sure why he didn’t get the chance to close when Oh went in the last Yankees game, but regardless he is stellar. In his first games of the season Osuna has not allowed a hit or a walk, adding an impressive strike out against Brett Gardiner. Three consecutive fastballs, three strikes, three different locations, all watched – it was an awesome out for Osuna to secure his first save of the season.

The bullpen will need to keep sharp should the Jays see any sustained success this season. Their starters are good enough to put the team in contention in every single game, but the offence has less pop and will require lockdown pitching to secure games.

Smoak is on Fire

It’s only been four games, but Justin Smoak looks like the same player from his breakout 2017 season. He is currently the owner of ALL Blue Jays offensive stat categories, average (.467), home runs (2), RBIs (8), OBP (.529), and hits (7).

Delivering the offence for a team that has moved out its big boom sticks over the passed two seasons in Bautista and Encarnacion, Smoak is more valuable than just some errant home runs. What has been most impressive has been the spray on his hits; Smoak is using the whole field. A switch hitter by trade, Smoak his both of his home runs from the left side of the plate, and muscles them to opposite centre field. Clearly the big first base man is welcoming the shift defence this season.

A six RBI game is something special, even moreso when you add in hitting the game winning grand slam against a divisional opponent. Smoak will be relied on for his big bat in this line up, along side Donaldson and Granderson who also have some pop. But he truly is a valuable player on both sides of the ball, scooping low, off base throws to first, and ripping line drives out of the air down the line.

 

It has only been four games, I know, but its promising. What was most impressive in the four game series split for the Blue Jays is the adoption of the new culture of the team. They are not relying on three or four players to produce their offence, and are not running off of the idea of outscoring their problems.

The 2018 Jays have taken on a new persona, strong starting pitching, great relief pitching, and manufacturing runs. Sprinkle in some pop from Smoak and Donaldson, and they Jays have the ability to sneak up on teams around the league. The must frustrating part of playing in Toronto, the lack of access and credit just because of geography, may be the key to their success as they will be able to surprise their opponents. One thing is for sure, the Yankees won’t be taking the Blue Jays lightly this season.

Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

With the MLB season just hours away from kicking off lets have a look at what could be in store for the Toronto Blue Jays this year.

The Good

For Toronto the biggest positive is their pitching rotation. Highly touted for the passed two seasons, the five starters of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, and new comer Jaime Garcia combine to make a stout rotation. All Toronto fans can hope for is the shoulder inflammation of Stroman to disappear, and for the blister problems of Sanchez to also be a thing of the passed.

Should the (significant) injury bug stay away from the Jays’ starters there is no reason that they cannot contend for a wild card spot, or take advantage of the divisional super teams (we’ll get to them in a bit) not meshing as a unit.

The new additions to the team are also something shiny and exciting for fans to fawn over. The outfield has two notable additions of different levels, the veteran Curtis Granderson and the everyday youngster Randall Grichuk.

Granderson brought the pop to spring training, hitting a homerun in his first at-bat as a Blue Jay. His spring ended well, putting up 4 homeruns,  a .279 batting average, and .360 OBP. Likely to be used in a committee role in left field, splitting time with Steve Pearce and Teoscar Hernandez. With Bautista now gone Granderson will be a veteran presence and can provide some stability in the clubhouse for the young players on the team.

Grichuk should be Toronto’s everyday right fielder for the season. A new face in right field after long standing fixture and club legend Jose Bautista parted ways with the club, Grichuk adds more athleticism and youthful competitiveness to the outfield. While he wont overwhelm with his power at the plate he can provide middle of the road offence with the upswing of better defence.

New infielders Aledmys Diaz, Gift Ngoepe, and Yangervis Solarte create a new, deep crew to bail out the oft injured duo of middle defenders Devin Travis and Troy Tulowitzki. Diaz should see starting time at SS with Tulo likely to start the season on the DL, but the versatility of all three players will allow for matchup play to maximize their effectiveness.

The bullpen also got a facelift for the Jays following the moving out of the surprising Dominic Leone (along with prospect Connor Greene) to get Grichuk. The Jays added Seung-hwan Oh, and veterans John Axford and Tyler Clippard to fill out the reserves. While not star studded, the Jays bullpen is strong and with the young talents of Osuna, Mayza, and Barnes in the mix they should be deep and economical this season, although another lefty couldn’t hurt.

The Bad

The Yankees and Red Sox are done messing around.

I could honestly leave it there, but we might as well embrace and explore the probably outcome of the season with these two monsters in the mix divisionally.

New York is fully embracing the Bronx Bombers title as they added Giancarlo Stanton to their impressively powerful team. Stanton will bring his explosive bat alongside Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez who, when combined in the 2-3-4 slots in the line up, will create a baseball Voltron that will not only smash balls out of the atmosphere, but will probably cause a concussive blast radius that will send most of the Jays to the DL.

It’s a horrifying lineup offensively, and if they can get a lead to Dellin Betances in the 8th inning the game will be as good as over as the stone-cold relief pitcher  hands the ball off to flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. Their starting rotation isn’t special but they’ll probably just win game 45-9 or something crazy like that.

Boston, on the other hand, will be a more balanced and therefore more scary opponent for the Jays to come up against. They landed their man in free agency with J.D. Martinez eventually signing, and he joins a team stacked in outfield youth and production.

Whats truly upsetting about the Red Sox is how young their positions players are. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez, and Rafael Devers. Wow. Mix in vets like Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, and Martinez and you’ll get a pretty damn potent team.

Their rotation also features Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello with Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright all starting the season on the DL. Boston is my pick to win the division this season. They are young, balanced, and have had time to marinade as a unit more so than the Yankees.

Toronto will be duking it out with Baltimore for the third division spot this season, with Tampa Bay falling behind yet again. The Orioles are a lot like the Jays, and not just in an aviary sense. Both teams have good starting rotations, good closers, and can play solid defence. Hopefully these two will be going head to head for the second wildcard spot, to add more intrigue to an already fiery division.

The Ugly

It’s pretty obvious, but when will Josh Donaldson leave the Blue Jays.

He has brought so much excitement to Canada’s team over the passed few seasons and took the team from playoff maybe, to contenders. It’s an ugly situation because it appears to only be a matter of time before he gets shipped out to a team looking to become World Series favourite. Even more ugly is the face that that is probably the best thing for the team.

With Encarnacion a year gone now, the Jays are essentially playing out Donaldson’s contract before cashing in on him. What helps this situation is that prospects in the Jays organization, like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, are apparently on the cusp of the big leagues. With young pitchers on the team and high level prospects close, a Donaldson deal could be for prospects rather than draft picks to speed up this process for Jays fans.

Regardless, the day Donaldson leaves will be a sad one. He has been the focal point of the “new” Jays (despite what Bautista may think) and has brought the joy back to being a Blue Jays fan.

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are all out there now, the only thing left is to play. A strong start, opposite of last season, would certainly make the Jays a more watchable team, not to mention would justify the moves made by Shapiro and Atkins in the Jays front office. I think they could surprise some teams this year, but ultimately will end their own season by dealing Donaldson to a World Season contender.

Only time will tell, and boy of boy am I ready to welcome back the Boys of Summer into the TV rotation!