Weak starting pitching and inconsistent hitting have conspired to bury the Toronto Blue Jays in last place in the American League East with a 45-49 record. (All statistics before Friday night’s games.)
Before the season, Las Vegas oddsmakers made them a favourite to win the World Series, but now the Blue Jays face overwhelming odds against making the playoffs as the second half started Friday.
To be in wild-card contention, they’ll likely need to win 90 games, which would require a 45-23 record the rest of the way. That would equate to a .662 winning percentage. The St. Louis Cardinals lead the majors with a .613 winning percentage, while the Boston Red Sox sit on top of the AL East at a .598 clip.
The Blue Jays’ best opportunity to climb into the playoff race comes immediately, with a 10-game homestand against a pair of streaking teams, the Tampa Bay Rays (55-41) and Los Angeles Dodgers (47-47), followed by the sad-sack Houston Astros (33-61). Afterward, the schedule becomes daunting, with four of six weeks on the road, including a 10-game West Coast swing bridging the July 31 trade deadline.
Following an 11-game win streak, the Jays lost 13 of 20 games going into the all-star break. An all-or-nothing approach at the plate leaves the team vulnerable to such slumps. The Jays are tied with the Seattle Mariners for second in the AL for home runs, behind the Baltimore Orioles. But the Jays are only eighth in runs scored, and 10th of 15 for a .316 on-base percentage, which is four points below the league average.
“When you look at it, when we win, we hit home runs,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons says. And when they don’t hit home runs, run production tends to decline.
With left fielder Melky Cabrera coming off the disabled list, Gibbons will have the option of leaving all-star Jose Bautista in the second spot in the batting order, or placing him in a more favourable RBI position, third or fourth.
Hitters in the bottom portion of the lineup, those ahead of Jose Reyes and Bautista once past the first inning, have especially hobbled run production due to lowly on-base percentages – second baseman Brett Lawrie at .261, catcher J.P. Arencibia .256, utility player Emilio Bonifacio .248, infielder Maicer Izturis .297.
Infielder Munenori Kawasaki was all the rage in the first half for his antics and enthusiasm. He received less notice for providing some gritty at-bats in the bottom of the order with a willingness to be patient and an ability to foul off tough pitches. His batting average was only .213, but he had a .319 OBP. He was sent back to Triple-A Buffalo last week to make room for Lawrie, who, along with Colby Rasmus and Arencibia, strikes out at a high rate.
The hitting from four positions has come up short of expectations: catcher (Arencibia, Josh Thole), left field (Cabrera, with 18 extra-base hits in 79 games), shortstop (due to Reyes missing 2 1/2 months with injury and Kawasaki filling in), second base (Izturis, Lawrie, Bonifacio) and third base (Lawrie, Izturis). Only designated hitter-first baseman Adam Lind has surpassed projections.
In the starting rotation, the Jays should first have left-hander J.A. Happ, then right-hander Brandon Morrow coming off the disabled list, though neither was especially effective before his injury. Along with Happ, Kyle Drabek, Sergio Santos and Drew Hutchison are pitching in the minors on rehab assignments. Morrow is likely several weeks away from returning.
So there are pitching options. With the club wanting to bring enthusiasm to the Rogers Centre in September, general manager Alex Anthopoulos will need to decide whether to plug holes in the batting order by making a deal or two, or asking Gibbons to make do.