Jays Beat Nats, Nats Beat Yanks = Jays Best Team in AL East?

I’m just asking for a friend, but I think that the Jays may be the best team in the American League based off of the transitive property – don’t blame me, blame science! But seriously, what is going on with the Blue Jays? It’s a small sample size but the Jays have gone 7-3 in their last ten, sweeping the Orioles and Nats, while getting swept by the Rays in Tampa (obviously).

A few reasons that the Jays have had a recent turn in form are: Devon Travis, Randal Grichuk, Yangervis Solarte, and Marco Estrada.

Devon Travis, a career bandaid player, was recalled from a minor league rehabbing stint on may 22nd. A man possessed since returning, Travis has been hitting .538 avg. in his last seven games, including two home runs and five RBIs in that stretch. This brings his season average to .238 and home runs to four with 11 RBIs, emphasizing the impact his most recent 13 at bats have had on his season total 122 at bats.

Yangervis Solarte has just been more of the exciting, electric player he has been since coming to the Jays. His average is sitting at .258 with a .310 on base percentage, virtually mirrored in his last seven days at .286 avg and .286 obp (all evens out, right?). He is handling the job of team slugger, with three home runs, even if they are coming with no one on base, four RBIs. He seems to be the pulse of the team and has now officially surpassed Ace as team mascot – just watch the dug out when anyone hits a bomb, their hands up dancing just like Solarte was doing in April! He may be an important piece for more than just his on field performance as any contending team could use his switch hitting bat, and infield utility defence.

Randal Grichuk, MY GUY. Since coming off of the DL on June 1st he has been more than advertised when he was brought in to the Blue Jays fold this off season. In June, fresh off the DL, Grichuk has been hitting .326 avg. with 3 home runs and 5, yes 5, home runs. He has been lights out and seems mentally refreshed since coming off his injury rehab. Is it sustainable, well I previously say no, but I guess we’ll see, won’t we! Grichuk is up to .196 .avg on the season, and 7 home runs. He has turned his game around and as long as he can keep it close to this form for the rest of the season, Toronto and the fans are the real benefactors of his improved and exciting play.

Marco Estrada has been a real mixed bag as a pitcher this season, and it has been a mix of “what type of bad is Estrada going to be?”, not “will he be good or bad?”. However, the former pitching ace has seemingly turned his form in June, posting a 1.45 era and going 2-0 in 3 starts. It’s hard to say what has been effecting Estrada’s game last season and leaking into 2018, however whether it is mental clarity or mechanical reworking that has settled him down in June, Estrada is finally pitching like he can and is actually helping his team get closer to winning.

A few shoutouts for great play are J.A. Happ and Teoscar Hernandez. Happ has been great as he has been all season, locating his fastball and mixing pitches like the vet he is. Teoscar on the other hand, always seems to have a homer run or timely hit loaded in his bat for Jays fans to get excited about. Outside of these two, and another plus to the Blue Jays is the long coming return of Marcus Stroman. It will likely see Sam Gaviglio sent back to the minors, but that may be for the best as he has struggled in his last two starts.

Any way you cut it, the Blue Jays are playing some exciting ball right now and giving the fans something to stick around for. I’ll gladly take a team that can sweep elite and terrible opponents while mystically being befuddled in the league’s shittiest stadium for no apparent reason. As long as they win some game and crank some dingers, that all we want for this season now!

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!

 

Don’t Look Now, But The Blue Jays Aren’t Terrible

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?

Starting Pitching 

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.

Randal Grichuk

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.

Josh Donaldson

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.