Rely on their bats and patchwork rotation until injured starters Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ return. Bonus: left-hander Ricky Romero recovers his early-2012 abilities, when he started 8-1 before disintegrating.
Get shortstop Jose Reyes back in the lineup in July.
Reinforce the bullpen and rotation with Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan and Sergio Santos coming off the disabled list.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Injuries and defence
The adage goes that injuries can’t be used as an excuse, yet in Toronto’s case they were at the root of offensive and defensive lapses resulting in many a loss. In particular, third baseman Brett Lawrie was hurt (oblique strain) prepping for the WBC, missing the balance of spring training and the first 14 games of the season. On April 12, Reyes tried to cruise into second base standing up at the end of a steal and sprained his ankle severely with a last-second decision to slide feet-first rather than head-first as usual. The leadoff hitter and former NL batting champion, Reyes was averaging .395 at the time.
Result: At the outset, Gibbons tried to use Izturis at third, causing a double-whammy effect. Third base is Izturis’s worst position in terms of career errors per fielding chance, and transferring him across the diamond left Emilio Bonifacio (obtained from the Miami Marlins) adjusting to both the American League and to Toronto’s artificial turf at second base. Izturis, a free agent from the Los Angeles Angels, was often overwhelmed, and a non-confident Bonifacio bumbled routine plays. At shortstop, the Jays turned to subpar Munenori Kawasaki out of Triple-A Buffalo, then rushed Lawrie back from his rehab stint.
The Blue Jays are in the middle of the pack for fielding percentage, but that stat doesn’t reflect the number of potential double plays the Jays have failed to execute, by a conservative estimate 15 to 20. Each failure results in extra outs for opponents and puts extra pressure on the pitchers. Likewise, many of the grounders that leaked through the Jays’ defence for hits would have been turned into outs by top-notch infields. One statistic measures the number of runs above or below average a team’s defence is worth, based on zone coverage and other categories. On this scale, the Jays rate worse than all AL teams except the Angels and Astros, as tabulated at baseball-reference.com.
Consequence: After much experimentation, arguably indecision, Gibbons has settled on using Izturis and Kawasaki as regulars at second and shortstop, respectively. DeRosa and Bonifacio are rotating through second base and Izturis through shortstop to create favourable hitting matchups. Lawrie, a plus-defender while still raw fundamentally, has only recently started to find his timing at the plate, his batting average flirting with the Mendoza Line of .200. He is replaced occasionally by DeRosa.
All hitters except Reyes and J.P. Arencibia had slow starts. In Reyes’s absence, Gibbons has used five players in the leadoff slot, settling in these past four games on Cabrera, who’s hobbling on a strained hamstring. In total, the Jays’ on-base percentage for leadoff hitters has just started to brush up to .300, and that includes Reyes’s .465. Outside Cabrera, the OBP for the other four ranged between .105 and .286.
Meantime, the 3-4 hitters, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, slumped at the outset of the season. Bautista, impaired by ankle and back problems, was at .195 with seven homers through May 1, Encarnacion at .197 with two home runs through April 21.
Izturis, Bonifacio and Kawasaki struggled to either get over or avoid the Mendoza Line, .200.
Result: The lineup as a whole was hitting .225 with a .291 on-base percentage and .384 slugging percentage until May 5, when a 10-2 win over Seattle seemed to kick it into gear. The numbers stood at .245/.310/.416 heading into Friday.
“There’s a track record with these guys in this clubhouse,” Arencibia said. “There are too many guys that have done a lot of good things offensively for a long time to have that happen for an extended period of time.”
Consequence: The record in games decided by one or two runs is 10-13.