Who are these guys?
Assembled with two major trades plus several free-agent acquisitions during the offseason, the Blue Jays reached the halfway point of the season characterized by unpredictability.
In June, the pitching staff led the major leagues by holding opponents to fewer than three runs per game and the club won a league-high 17 games; in April, the rotation had trouble making the sixth inning and the staff ranked near the bottom of the league in numerous statistical categories. Offensively, at times their all-or-nothing ‘aggressive’ approach results in game turning hits, as exemplified by Jose Bautista’s two-run shot to win Saturday’s against the Red Sox; and other times the consequence is to squander scoring opportunities due to lack of basic fundamentals, as in the sixth inning on Sunday when they failed to score after loading the bases with none out, leading to the “most frustrating” loss of the season, according to manager John Gibbons.
Watch: Red Sox beat Blue Jays late
Seen by Las Vegas oddsmakers as World Series contenders, the Jays started the season slowly and nearly fizzled out altogether with a 10-21 record through May 4. The team clawed back into contention with an 11-game win streak through last Sunday’s sweep against the Baltimore Orioles, only to drop five of seven games on the road against Tampa Bay and Boston. That stretch left their record one game under .500 at 40-41 with 81 games to play, and 17-25 against the AL East -- in either case, a doomsday pace for a team bent on making the playoffs.
Heading into the all-star break, the Jays play 10 games against AL Central opponents before a three-game stretch at Baltimore. Will GM Alex Anthopoulos be a buyer or a seller at the July 31 trade deadline? Who knows?
Here’s how they’ve shaped up so far:
Says it all that, at this point of the season, Esmil Rogers is the club’s most effective starter; Rogers started the season in the bullpen. The rotation features three starters with ace credentials – R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle – and arguably a fourth in Brandon Morrow, but none has performed statistically better than a No. 3 in a contender’s rotation. Of 15 American League teams, the rotation ranks 14th in innings pitched, 14th in earned run average, and 13th in batting average against. Dickey and Buehrle have fulfilled every scheduled start, otherwise injuries have resulted in 11 different pitchers starting a game to date.
The team’s supposed black hole entering the season, the bullpen proved to be a season-saving strength through the first half. The relievers have compiled a 19-14 record, and their 2.90 ERA ranks second in the AL. In June, the ERA was at 1.00 going into the weekend games against the Red Sox. Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil have been lights-out, in front of efficient closer Casey Janssen.
The Jays rank second among AL teams in homers, eighth in runs, 10th in on-base percentage. Leadoff hitter Jose Reyes (ankle) went down on April 12 and Gibbons eventually settled on Melky Cabera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion 1-2-3 in the batting order, each up one slot, and Adam Lind began getting regular playing time in the 4-slot in late May. Reyes returned last week but Cabrera (hamstrings) went on the 15-day DL, and Lind’s recurring back spasms caused him to be removed from Sunday’s game. It is to be seen whether these events cause Gibbons to reset the order for the second half.
Bautista, his potent bat unsuited to the classic No. 2 hitter’s duty to move along runners, lost his timing at the plate and had a .280 on-base percentage with a .435 slugging percentage in June, each a monthly low for the season; at the same time, he delivered seven homers, including game-turners against Chicago, Baltimore and Boston, with 21 RBIs, the latter a monthly high.
Lind and Encarnacion have turned in all-star calibre performances these past two months.
The offence has been hindered by lack of production from traditionally productive positions: third base (Brett Lawrie, Maicer Izturis, Mark DeRosa), second base (Emilio Bonifacio, Izturis, DeRosa), and left field (Cabrera, Rajai Davis).
All second basemen are hitting .219 with a .252 on-base percentage, .319 slugging percentage and 22 RBIs.
Third basemen are .215/275/.404 with 36 RBIs, and that’s with contributions from Encarnacion in 10 games.
Left fielders are .287/.332/.370 with 29 RBIs.
In the mid-order, CF Colby Rasmus (.242/15/36) and C J.P. Arencibia (.218/14/38), with long swings, are trending toward top-10 strikeout totals in the league with producing sporadically.
With Reyes returning to shortstop, the Jays can be tight up the middle with Gold Glove-calibre play in right (Bautista) and Rasmus in centre.
In Reyes’s absence, infield lapses, trouble turning double plays, and lack of range conspired against the pitching.
Gibbons gave regular playing time at second to Bonifacio to boost his confidence and offence, but while his defence has improved since April his bat remains suspect, and the question is whether they stay with him in the second half. Fan favourite Munenori Kawasaki played second on the weekend, and Izturis’s bat is coming around after a slow start.
At third, Lawrie (.209 with 36 strikeouts in 37 games) has missed most of the season with a pair of injuries and should be ready to return soon from a high ankle sprain.
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