Blue Jays season lost, but hope is alive

Jul 19, 2013 by

Blue Jays season lost, but hope is alive


It’s far too easy to be critical of the Toronto Blue Jays after a disappointing first half of the season with their 45-49 record.  This past offseason general manager Alex Anthopoulos made bold moves to bring in high-end talent like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey and high expectations understandably accompanied this team heading into the 2013 campaign.  On paper the team looked good enough to contend for a playoff position but instead are now more likely to finish where they currently sit – last place in the American League East. In fairness though, some pre-season prognostications were utterly absurd including those Vegas Casinos who made the Jays the favourites to win the World Series.  Rogers media didn’t help matters with their preseason hyperbole lauding the Jays as contenders on every TV channel possible, which may have bolstered season ticket sales but certainly didn’t help the on field performance.

The truth is the Jays never had a realistic chance to live up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon them in the preseason. Teams rarely make the leap from last place to a champion in one season that is unless; they were a contender in a previous season and were devastated by injuries. Generally, teams build for years with a strong nucleus of players in key positions and management tweaks the roster as it goes along looking for the perfect mix of players by making a combination of minor and major acquisitions as a team gets closer to truly contending.  The Jays literally overhauled their roster overnight and the team simply hasn’t played enough baseball together to have formed a winning chemistry. Couple that with the fact that the Jays were a bad team in 2012 and have shown nothing resembling a playoff team since their last World Series championship in 1993. This wasn’t a team on the verge of competing for a playoff spot, if anything this franchise was beginning to look lost and apathetic – content to merely field a team and make a nominal presence in the Toronto sports scene and MLB at large. 

Then something unlikely and magical happened in the offseason and the Jays management awoke from their complacent slumber and revealed a pulse by making a blockbuster deal with the Florida Marlins and by acquiring last year’s National League Cy Young award winner. Almost overnight the Jays became relevant again and even the local hipsters noticed and have built a significant bandwagon to not only house their cool lens less bifocals, mysterious tattoos and plaid bow-ties, but also their freshly purchased Blue Jays paraphernalia. Suddenly a vast array of unlikely citizens has become fascinated with baseball in this city and the Toronto Blue Jays are cool again and that has to mean something in a season that may not have too many silver-linings.  As I wrote at the end of last season the team needed to make the types of dramatic moves Anthopoulos made in the offseason to simply make this team relevant again.  And thus far it has worked (clearly Anthopoulos must have been reading my blog).  The team’s attendance is up by nearly 6,000 visitors per home game this year with the average at 31, 417 per game (versus 25,922 last year).  Having attended three games this year I can say, with my limited sample size, there is a palpable buzz at the ballpark this year that I haven’t experienced in previous seasons. It’s a venue people want to go to now even with the Jays struggling on the field – which is even more impressive when you consider the bandwagon nature of this sports town, Toronto Maple Leafs aside that is.

Thus far the results haven’t matched the expectations generated by the preseason hype, but there have been flashes of exemplary play that suggest this team can contend for a playoff spot in the coming seasons. They had an impressive 11 game winning streak and have played most of the season without their best player Jose Reyes. The relief pitching staff have been among the best in baseball this season and the team had four players represent the Blue Jays at the all-star game.  If not for an underperforming starting pitching staff, the Jays could very easily be five or six games above .500.  Its clear that the starting pitching has held this team back; Josh Johnson cant have one victory through the first half of the season and both Dickey (8-10) and Buehrle (5-6) must have winning records in order for this team to compete for a playoff spot, let alone contend for a championship.  Without starting pitching this team has no chance to succeed and it will be interesting to see how Anthopoulos addresses this weakness in the off season or at the trade deadline.  

Aside from the inconsistency of the starting pitching, where I think the greatest concern lies with the current roster is with the Jays top young starting prospects Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia who have been underwhelming this year.  For years, each has been touted as incredible athletes with tremendous upside potential, but where is it actually being illustrated aside from their large fan-girl and bro-mance twitter followings?   Arencibia has shown a little bit of power with 16 homers this season, but his .221 average, .256 on base percentage and below average defensive play makes him more of a liability than an asset most nights.  The same can be said with Lawrie and his .204 average and .261 on base percentages. These aren’t the types of numbers cornerstone players produce, nor is it close to what has been projected for their potential. 

Making matters worse both players have made headlines for the wrong reasons with Lawrie acting childishly on twitter attacking fans and ex-coaches, while Arencibia publicly condemned local broadcasters for their well-founded criticism of his play.  If these guys are more focused on off field distractions that naturally come with the game we can’t help but question their ability to focus as baseball players on the field.  Their strange outbursts also call into question the leadership in the clubhouse.  Who is responsible for keeping these guys in line and teaching them how to act like professionals on and off the baseball field?  Why are these kids so sensitive?  Where is this culture of entitlement coming from and why isn’t it being kept in check?  These are the types of questions that fans should be concerned about as much as the mounting losses and the failures of the pitching staff. If these two players are key cogs for the future success of the Jays one has to wonder how much success we should expect in the future.  I’m not so sure the absence of Lawrie (on the DL with a high ankle sprain) during the 11 game winning streak wasn’t a coincidence. As a Canadian and a fan of the Jays, its natural to want to cheer for the Langley BC born native, Lawrie, but it’s clear he has some growing up to do if he’s going to channel his raw talent into being a productive ballplayer. At this time neither he nor Arencibia are getting the job done and as a result they are being subject to a high level of scrutiny that is justifiably warranted based on their poor performance.  The question is do they continue to wilt under the pressure or do they overcome adversity and start living up to expectations?  Either way, it’s safe to say that Jays management is not going to tolerate having two hitters in the starting lineup hitting under .220 for too long if they continue to underperform.      

I’m not saying anything shocking here by stating the Jays will not make the playoffs this season.  There are too many good teams ahead of them in the standings and they play in the toughest division in baseball.  The optimists will point to the fact this team is only 8.5 games back from the Wildcard going into the all-star game, but ask yourselves who are they going to beat out to get there?  Which starting pitchers are going to put together eight to ten wins in the second half to help catapult this team over the likes of Baltimore, Tampa Bay or the New York Yankees? It’s not happening this year folks, but that doesn’t mean the season is wasted.  It’s an opportunity for this team to gel and for young guys like Lawrie and Arencibia to work on their trade and show that their developing into professional ball players.  Jays brass will also have more time to evaluate the state of their starting pitching and whether or not players like Josh Johnson deserve a long-term deal or if they need to look outside of the organization for help.  Also, if Colby Rasmus continues to develop into an elite center fielder do the Jays sign him to a long-term contract or trade him before he becomes a free-agent? Is there anyone in the minor leagues ready to compete for a starting position on next year’s team? These are the types of evaluations that will determine whether or not this team contends in the coming year.

Building a winner is a process, despite all the hype surrounding the Jays in the preseason, this team was not going to win overnight. That doesn’t mean a winner can’t emerge next season, 2015 or even 2016 – the point is these things take time.  In the interim, it’s nice to see some excitement surrounding the Blue Jays this year, even if it comes from bandwagon followers.  If people keep going to the ball park like they have thus far, Rogers Media is likely to continue to open their purse strings and bring in high-end talent. That only bodes well for the future of the Jays success. Perhaps a few other positive developments are still to come this year, but don’t expect a playoff spot to be among them.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if top prospects like Lawrie and Arencibia start showing that they belong in the big leagues and the starting pitching has a good second half it wont be too long before the hype machine starts building for next year.  









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