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Blue Jays hoping for better after so-so start

Toronto Blue Jays meet at mound Toronto Blue Jays meet at mound - The Canadian Press

Comme ci, comme ça. So-so. It doesn’t matter which language one speaks, the evaluation of the start of the season for the Toronto Blue Jays is the same: there have been equal parts good and bad.

Their record sits at 10-9 entering play Friday, which is pretty much in line with their performance. They are fourth in the AL East, three games behind the New York Yankees.

The Jays have been outscored by 49 runs in their nine losses and have outscored their opponents by 29 runs in their 10 wins. They have won close games and gotten blown out in their losses. This is indicative of bad starting pitching and a lack of damage control.

He looked a better on Wednesday, but Jays’ ace Kevin Gausman has an 8.18 ERA. Bowden Francis, who won the fifth starter’s role after a good spring training, has a 12.96  ERA in his two starts. Chris Bassitt (4.03 ERA) has had two horrible starts and two good ones. Jose Berrios (1.05 ERA) and Yusei Kikuchi (2.08 ERA) have given the Jays a chance to win in just about every one of their starts. Overall, it’s been a mediocre April for a team built around its starting pitching.

The bullpen has been without setup man Erik Swanson and closer Jordan Romano until this week. They were both activated on Monday and were not great in their debuts. The Jays’ bullpen, which was thought to be a strength, has underperformed early on. It has the 27th-ranked ERA (5.53 ERA) as a group, having given up the most home runs in the league (15). To put that in perspective, the Jays have only hit 16 homers as a team.

The offence has been equally as mediocre, or maybe even a bit worse than that. Despite getting on base more than most teams, the Jays are 21st in runs scored. The power production has been minimal, as evidenced by the 16 home runs. The Jays’ .363 slugging percentage is ranked 22nd.

Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, and Kevin Kiermaier should all be better as the season progresses. A better offence with good timing can get the team back in the divisional race.

Still, it may be good fortune that the Jays are over.500, considering how so-so the start of the season has been. There is hope, but the Rays and Orioles can also play better. I think the Yankees and Red Sox have outperformed their talent levels over the first four weeks and should fall back to the pack. 


Bullpen blues

The Jays’ loss on Wednesday night was unfortunate. They were up 4-2 in the ninth inning, trying to finish off a sweep of the Yankees.

Swanson, in his first appearance of 2024, couldn’t get the job done, giving up three hits and three runs, including a homer. Tim Mayza couldn’t put out the fire and the Jays lost 6-4.

Romano made his season debut on Tuesday, giving up a run while getting the save. Neither Swanson nor Romano pitched well on their rehab assignment at Triple-A Buffalo. Both are vital bullpen arms, but it’s fair to ask if they should have made a couple more appearances in the minor leagues until they were in rhythm and getting outs.

I question bringing relievers back from the injured list and immediately putting them in high-leverage save situations, especially when they struggled while on assignment. I would have preferred them to get their feet wet in lower-leverage innings.

I also don’t understand why they were activated if they couldn’t pitch on back-to-back days. If they are healthy and ready to perform at the major-league level, why wasn’t Romano used on Wednesday in the ninth after only throwing 11 pitches on Tuesday?  

Blame the manager

John Schneider can’t be criticized without also being credited with leading an underperforming team to a winning record. 

Fans want to assign blame on Schneider, and I get it. It is the nature of the job. Plus, nobody wants to boo Bichette, Guerrero, or Gausman.

I’m not suggesting those players should be booed, I just don’t think Schneider deserves to be booed either. He’s not the biggest problem on the Jays right now. Players and managers respond much better to cheering and support.  


Spitting Seeds

- There are three awful teams this year: the Colorado Rockies (4-15), Miami Marlins (4-15), and Chicago White Sox (3-15). The White Sox are in full rebuilding mode, plus they lost three key position players to injuries in 3B Yoan Moncada, OF Eloy Jimenez and OF Luis Robert Jr. 

They are bad and could get worse because these veterans may be traded for prospects to further the rebuilding process. The White Sox have been shutout six times in the first 16 games of the season, joining the 1907 Brooklyn Superbas as the only teams to manage that feat. The White Sox may set a major-league record for losses this year.

The Rockies aren’t rebuilding, they just aren’t trying.  They don’t sign free agents and they don’t develop well.  

The Marlins were a playoff team last season but took a step backward with injuries and an unwillingness to play in free agency in any significant way. They didn’t even make an offer to Jorge Soler, who hit 36 home runs last year.

New president of baseball operations Peter Bendix came from Tampa Bay and wants to do the Rays Way in South Florida. That isn’t an awful plan by any means. I just don’t understand why he didn’t build on the fine job his predecessor Kim Ng did and chose to tear apart her work and rebuild.  

- The Cleveland Guardians are leading the AL Central and it is because of their offence. The Kansas City Royals are right behind the Guardians and it’s because of their pitching. The Red Sox have the best ERA (2.70) in baseball, and the Oakland A’s have a top 10 ERA (3.72). The Pirates (92) have scored more runs than the Yankees (90) and Astros (87).

None of this makes any sense, which is a reminder that we have only played about 12 per cent of the season. Odd things can happen in short spurts in baseball. Things will regress toward the mean as more games get played.

- Of all the accomplishments that Shohei Ohtani has to his name the greatest may be how he has handled the betrayal of his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.  The theft of over $14 million by the person closest to him would crush most mere mortals. Ohtani did not get off to a great start at the plate, but he has rebounded nicely (.360/.400/.640). He has shown extraordinary mental toughness.

- The Houston Astros (6-14) have not been good so far this season, but I am still confident in my prediction that they will once again win the AL West. Much of their struggles have been due to injuries to the pitching staff. Justin Verlander returns on Friday. Framber Valdez will be ready when his 15 days are up on the injured list. Jose Urquidy will rejoin the rotation soon, and Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. will be ready to compete in a couple of months. Jose Altuve is off to a good start but Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez have all underperformed. They will come streaking back soon to the top of the West.