To say this season hasn’t gone as planned would be an understatement…of epic proportions.
The bad luck that the Jays have had, injury wise, has been terrible.
At no point during the season have they been able to field their best starting 9 defensively or their top pitching rotation. If you’re looking to wager some money, there’s a good chance that we won’t see their best every day lineup a single time this year.. That’s not just disappointing; that’s downright sad and depressing.
Before we get into what has gone wrong, however, first we need to rewind and look back at what was supposed to go right.
You got this JD!!!
Heading into the season the Jays management and some fans believed that if everything broke right this year for the team, there would be a very good chance that this team could contend for a wild card spot. To be perfectly honest; there was a reason for optimism: Josh Donaldson. Our star third baseman who had been hurt for a portion of last season came back with a vengeance and had a monster August and September in which he looked every bit like the MVP he was in 2015. From August 1st until the end of the season in 2017, he managed to hit .300 with an OPS of 1.108 with 22 homeruns. That pace was better than his 2015 MVP season and yes; I understand just how hard it is to maintain that pace over a full season, but it gave fans hope for the 2018 season. When you add in the fact that this season was going to be his first chance at free agency in his career and might be his one shot at a long-term deal; the prevailing thought was this year was going to be a huge season for him.
The team was also returning what was considered one of the top pitching staffs in the majors. Marcus Stroman took a big leap in 2017, Aaron Sanchez was coming back from a blister issue, Marco Estrada and JA Happ were about to test free agency and were very reliable and good veterans to have on the team. Throw in the sneaky signing of Jaime Garcia and the consensus around baseball was that this teams starting rotation matched up well 1 through 5 against the rest of the league. The bullpen was anchored by Roberto Osuna, who was regarded as one of the best closers in the game. The rest of the bullpen had a few returning faces and some new additions like Tyler Clippard, John Axford and Seung-wan Oh to stabilize the middle innings. These were all seen as upgrades on the cheap but could pay big dividends if they worked out.
We’ve got a plan!
Management also talked about raising the talent level floor this past offseason. They wanted the depth of this team; which was extremely exposed last year due to injuries and having guys like Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney playing every day roles. Don’t get me wrong; both are nice bench pieces but if you’re expecting them to play every single day they will get exposed and they did. That’s why management made trades to bring in Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz and Randal Grichuk. All three trades shored up potential holes, given the injury history of players like Tulo and Devon Travis in the infield, and the lack of a right fielder for the Jays with the departure of Jose Bautista.
Actually Stuart; it needed to be perfect…and it’s not ok.
As you can see when we look at the additions; there is a bit of a reason for optimism. I mean…it had to get better when you compared the roster for 2018 to that of 2017 right? Wrong. Spring Training started with Josh Donaldson playing very few games but insisting that he didn’t need a ton of games to get going and that he was fine. Then the first game of the season started and on the first ground ball hit to him, his throw to first base (to put it kindly) had about the same amount of velocity behind it as a little leaguer and it two hopped into Smoak. The next throw he made was much of the same. A few games later he was on the disabled list. This has been the story of his season thus far. He’s played 36 of the Blue Jays games this season and the timeline for his return is still unclear. The issue is threefold: first their top player being out for ¾ of the games means the big bat in the lineup that helps stabilize and protect other hitters is missing. Secondly, it’s causing players who shouldn’t be batting 2nd and 3rd taking their cuts and getting exposed. This also happens on the defensive side. Let’s take a look at the players that have played 3rd base for the Blue Jays this season. Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz, Russ Martin, Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela, Kendrys Morales…. I’m stopping there and I know I’m missing a few players. If Kendrys gets a shot at third base that means any one with a heart beat has a shot at playing there this year. That is not a good thing. Finally, the biggest issue with this is the Jays management were hoping for a big season from Donaldson because if they found themselves out of the hunt for the wild card; he was a prime candidate to be traded. That trade could have been extremely beneficial for the team and future aspirations when the team of Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette eventually come up. These injuries have all but torpedoed any value he had and if he doesn’t come back before the end of August; he’s stuck with the Jays and the Jays are stuck with him until the end of the season.
This is the exact reaction of every Jays fan when they look at the DL and see JD on it.
Onto the rotation.
What if I told you at the start of the season that Tyler Clippard and John Axford would have made starts for the Jays this year; what would your reaction be? I’m guessing it’s somewhere between “Holy hell; what went wrong?”, “Is Gibbons trying to get fired” and “My God this season has gone off the rails.” And to be honest; each of those reactions is fair. This is what happens when what was supposed to be your strong suit becomes one of your weakest. Stroman and Sanchez have spent significant time on the DL this year. Stroman missed a month at the start of the year and Sanchez has been out for since June 21st. Marco Estrada spent almost 3 weeks in July on the DL and hasn’t been anywhere close to the guy that was our playoff ace just a couple of years ago. Jaime Garcia got sent to the bullpen because he was that bad. The only consistent starter we had was JA Happ and he was traded to the Yankees at the deadline because he was the only player on this team with value. Here’s the biggest problem with the starting rotation. Quality starts. For those of you that don’t know what they are; a quality start is when the starting pitcher goes at least 6 innings and allows 3 or less earned runs. The Jays rank second last behind the Kansas City Royals with a grand total of 41 quality starts. How awesome is that? I hope you picked up on the sarcasm. To put that in comparison; the Houston Astros have exactly double the amount of quality starts and not surprisingly find themselves in first place.
That’s far from good…that’s horrible.
What this has done is tax the relief pitchers. Most of these guys are good for an inning or two. When your starter can’t make it through the 6th; you’re now asking these guys to do one of two things: 1) Pitch multiple innings or 2) Not pitch on proper rest. Neither one of these ends very well; and that’s exactly what has happened. I’m not even including how our former closer got charged with domestic assault and given a 70-game suspension before being traded. All that did was put guys in roles that they weren’t accustomed to or suited for. That shows with the 19 blown saves between Oh, Clippard, Barnes and Tepera. That number is painful to type, let alone read over multiple times.
It has been that type of season.
The best part of this article is that I have dedicated very little space to not having Troy Tulowitzki on the active roster at any point during the season. He’s been around the team only twice this year in Tampa Bay and then in Oakland when the team had a closed-door meeting and that’s it. At this point in time there is no timeline for his return and counting on him to play any games this year is getting less and less likely by the minute. Again; we acquired players to fill in for him while he was down. The plan was to have them spelling each other and give JD some time off to rest. When they’ve both been asked to play every day because both Tulo and JD being out for a long stretch of time they’ve been exposed and struggled at times much like their predecessors in Goins and Barney. Unfortunately; it is what it is and sometimes it happens to your team.
It’s actually baseball…but ya; it happens.
Is there an end in sight this season? Will our fortune change? The answer for this year: No chance. This team is bad. Our best players aren’t playing every day and aren’t taking their turn in the rotation every 5th day. So, this year is essentially written off. That’s ok. All you have to do is look down the road to Buffalo for a reason to be excited. Vlad Guerrero Jr. isn’t far away, same goes for Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio. Look at the young players already getting playing time with the current team. Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Ryan Borucki, Sam Gaviglio, Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone are all starting to get some reps in at the big-league level and have shown some flashes of greatness and also had some of the expected rookie growing pains. Yes; it’s not going to be easy to watch a team struggling like the Jays have been all year but the future is coming and it’s looking brighter with each passing day.