Early in the MLB season, the common message to panicked fans is, “don’t worry if you’re team starts slow.” But, for fans in Toronto, watching the sluggish Blue Jays open the season 2-10 is cause for concern, and with good reason. Have the back-to-back playoff team simply bad or just unlucky? Right now, it’s a bit of both.
Entering 2017, Toronto appeared to be slightly above average. Possessing an impressive 1-5 rotation and a meaty lineup (sans Edwin Encarnacion), the only real concerns were the bullpen and depth within the organization. If the team could remain intact, competing for the AL East title would be a real possibility. However, injuries have hampered Toronto’s season early.
In less than 15 games to start 2017, Toronto lost its best position player (Josh Donaldson/right calf) and best starting pitcher (Aaron Sanchez/blister). Donaldson, the middle of the lineup motor, is a plus on both sides of the ball. Sanchez, meanwhile, is an All-Star ace who limits hitters from hard contact. A short stint on the disabled list may not seem problematic in the grand scheme of things, but the problem is who is replacing Sanchez and Donaldson.
With second baseman Devon Travis ailing, Toronto fielded a lineup on Sunday, featuring Ezequiel Carrera hitting second in right field, Ryan Goins at second base and Chris Coghlan at third. Collectively, those guys have little power and are below replacement level at each position. Counting on them to replace Travis and Donaldson’s production? Good luck.
Plus, if things couldn’t get worse, Sunday’s game saw J.A. Happ leave with elbow discomfort. Without Happ and Sanchez, two of T.J. House, Joe Biagini, Matt Latos or Casey Lawrence are likely to step into the rotation. None of those guys should even be an option at this point in the season.
General Manager Ross Atkins and President Mark Shaprio played with fire by failing to address depth concerns in the lineup in the offseason. Sure, the injuries have come fast and furious, but the more regulars get hurt, the more inadequate, non-MLB roster guys Toronto will have to depend on.
And just like that a #BlueJays team with very questionable SP depth has lost two of its starters on the same day.
— Gregor Chisholm (@gregorMLB) April 16, 2017
Injuries aren’t Toronto’s only issue.
The Blue Jays rank dead last with a team .200 batting average and a downright abysmal .272 on-base percentage. Jose Bautista and Russell Martin have combined for just nine hits all season, three of which have been extra-base hits (no home runs). With Donaldson on the mend, the duo should be at least staying above water. Instead, they’ve drowned, sinking the Blue Jays’ entire middle of the order.
Hitting struggles mean that Toronto’s pitching has to be impeccable for the team to win. Unfortunately, with Happ and Sanchez going down, it’s hard to count too much on a severely taxed bullpen. Guys like Ryan Tepera (four earned runs in 1/3 of an inning) and Matt Dermody (five earned runs in 1/3 of an inning) were destroyed against Baltimore in Sunday’s 11-4 loss. Again, these are guys who need to step up but haven’t. Thankfully, closer Roberto Osuna has returned from a stint on the DL.
I’m not ready to throw in the towel on Toronto’s chances, but with each day, their goal of turning their season around lessens. With all the injuries, the Blue Jays need to, at the very least, stay afloat in April to keep their playoff chances alive. Can they do that? With Donaldson, Happ and Sanchez injured, the jury is out.
Due to a severe lack of luck, poor play and apparently being cursed by the Baseball Gods, Toronto’s in catch-up mode. The question remains: can they make up the ground? Fortunately, the baseball season is very long. But, the clock has officially started.