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Jays head into home opener struggling after 10-game road trip

Bo Bichette Toronto Blue Jays Bo Bichette - The Canadian Press

The Toronto Blue Jays had a difficult 10-game stretch to open their 2024 season, with road series against the Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros and New York Yankees.

As they welcome the Seattle Mariners to Rogers Centre for their home opener Monday night, the Jays’ 4-6 record feels as much like good fortune as it does a slow start considering their struggles at the plate and on the mound.

The Blue Jays have not passed the eye test so far in 2024, and the numbers back it up. The inconsistent offence from a season ago seems no better through the first 10 games, coming into play Monday 29th in batting average (.193), 28th in hitting with runners in scoring position (.197) and 23rd in runs per game (3.6).

Despite two home runs, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is slugging just .378 with three RBI and a .189 batting average, slowing optimism of a bounce-back 2024 season after a strong spring. Bo Bichette has yet to go deep, slashing .194/.306/.290 and having already missed two games last week with neck spasms.

Offensive coordinator Don Mattingly weighed in on the lineup’s production before Sunday’s game.

“As an offence, to this point, we’ve been a little wavy. We’ve had some games where we score, then other games where we don’t look as good,” he said.

The Jays’ pitching is what kept them afloat last season, with four starters – Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi – making 30 or more starts and finishing with ERAs well under 4.00. The same hasn’t been true so far this year as Jays starters rank 28th in rotation ERA (6.40) and 27th in overall team ERA (5.46).

There’s some cause for concern. Kevin Gausman allowed six earned runs in 1.1 innings Saturday night in the Bronx with his fastball velocity dipping significantly.

According to MLB Statcast, the 2023 Cy Young nominee averaged 94.7 mph last season on his four-seamer. His average Saturday night dipped to 91.4, which raises questions about a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of the spring.

“That’s kind of the running joke, I’m 88 to 98,” Gausman explained regarding Saturday’s dip in velocity. “They don’t know what they’re going to get. I don’t know what I’m going to get.”

Outside of Gausman, Chris Bassitt’s ERA sits at 7.71 through two starts. Bowden Francis, in the starting five in place of Alek Manoah, is even worse at 12.96. And speaking of Manoah, he walked four and allowed seven runs in 1.2 innings for Single-A Dunedin as he tries to work his way back to the big leagues from a shoulder injury this spring and a nightmare season in 2023.

“I felt really good. Everything was coming out really good. I feel like we were around the zone for the most part. But I think the biggest thing is the body felt good, velo was good, [pitches] had movement. So, just got to continue to feel good and continue to attack,” the 26-year-old said, finding optimism.

After Rogers Centre renovations necessitated a 10-game road trip to start the season, the Jays’ schedule does get more friendly. A three-game set with the Mariners kicks off a nine-game homestand, with the 2-8 Colorado Rockies coming to town followed by another matchup with the Yankees. 

The Jays have won their last two home openers, beating the Detroit Tigers 9-3 last season and the Texas Rangers 10-8 the year before.