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Star bats have let Blue Jays down to start crucial campaign

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Blue Jays Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — It’s easy to see how the Blue Jays got here.

As many expected and predicted during an inactive winter, it’s been an anemic offence that’s let them down for a second straight season, and the one objective number that matters isn’t pretty: the club sits 26th in baseball in runs scored at 3.6 per game.

It’s quite remarkable, actually, with the talent on this team, that the Jays are scoring runs at the same clip as the worst teams in baseball.

But the really surprising aspect of all this is the fact that the characters playing main roles in the club’s disappointing 17-20 start are not the ones we expected, which throws a whole lot of confusion into where the Jays sit heading into mid-May.

George Springer, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have not just failed to meet expectations though the first 37 games, they’ve been so far off career norms that they’ve essentially sunk the Jays to the bottom of the AL East standings all by themselves with a lack of offensive production from the top of the lineup.

It’s turned May into must-win time already.

With 22 days remaining in the month, now the question becomes whether or not this trio can turn things around before it’s too late.

Defining when the “too late” date on the calendar is has become harder with the changes to the wild-card structure, leaving more middle ground teams in June and July staying the course and hoping to get hot.

That middle ground is very likely where the Jays will land in July as the trade deadline approaches, which will make for some very tough decisions on a number of assets that could look extremely attractive to true contenders.

It places an extreme importance on the upcoming portion of the schedule, with all eyes on the stars.

They’re all capable of getting scorching hot, but it needs to happen this month before the Jays can even start thinking about adding rather than subtracting.

Bichette has been the most disappointing of the three.

When you consider his career slash line was .299/.340/.487 coming into the year, his .191/.246/.267 output through the first month and change is stunning.

It’s one of the worst months of his career by wRC+ at 68, with his previous low months showing up in 2020 and 2023 when he was dealing with knee injuries, August 2021 (71 wRC+), and March/April 2022 (51 wRC+), showing he’s no stranger to slow starts.

On the other hand, Guerrero simply continues to be a conundrum for both baseball fans and the Blue Jays front office, which banked on him being a generational bloodline star and an MVP-type lineup anchor.

Other than 2021, that has not happened and the 25-year-old first baseman, if we’re being honest, profiles like Kendrys Morales these days, with the Statcast data points and popular exit velocity numbers painting an eerily similar picture of the two.

But thanks to Father Time’s undefeated record, Springer is the scariest one when it comes to hoping for a rebound.

The power started drying up last year and we outlined here how another drop off would really hurt the potential of this club in 2024.

Through 632 trips to the plate since last May 24, Springer has hit just 17 homers and his slugging percentage sits at .383.

He hasn’t looked like a top-of-the-order force in quite a while, a development that does not bode well for the final 2.5 years of his contract, with $45 million in total cash owing for the 2025 and 2026 seasons on the front-loaded $150-million deal.

You can play a similar game with Bichette’s power numbers, as he’s smacked just seven home runs over his last 460 plate appearances since last June.

Not to be left out, Vladdy’s power has been slowly evaporating, too.

Sitting on seven homers last May 5, Guerrero has hit just 23 longballs in the calendar year since, a span of exactly 700 plate appearances heading into Friday’s postseason rematch against the Minnesota Twins.

The numbers paint a picture of the Jays’ three best hitters collectively producing at a slightly below-league-average rate for a full calendar year now.

There’s really no easy answer for how that’s happened or what the fix is — firing coaches is lipstick on a pig in a sport where every swing mechanic is a highly personal journey — but it’s the blatantly obvious reason the underachieving Blue Jays are where they are, both in the 2024 standings and, more importantly, as a franchise that could be reaching a tipping point.