Those who could have predicted before the season that the Toronto Blue Jays would be mired in the basement of the AL East at the MLB all-star break should head straight to their nearest convenience store and purchase a lotto ticket.
With so much hype surrounding their revamped roster this past off-season, many pundits had pegged the Blue Jays as one of the teams to beat in the American League. Las Vegas oddsmakers even had them as high as 7/1 World Series favourites at one point before the MLB season officially opened on March 31.
But the Jays (45-49 coming out of the break) have underachieved so far this season and sit 8½ games out of the AL wild-card lead and 11½ back of AL East-topping Boston.
And with rumours swirling around the future of starter Josh Johnson — whose contract expires at the end of the season —and the MLB non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching on July 31, the debate has already begun as to how general manager Alex Anthopoulos and his staff should be approaching the next couple of weeks.
Optimists may point to the Oakland Athletics' surge to the top of the AL West last season. After trailing the Texas Rangers by 13 games at the end of June, they rallied to capture the division crown.
Some may believe the Blue Jays can do the same. Others may prefer Toronto starting to plan for next year.
What do you think?
Here are some points of interest that may help you decide:
- What once could be considered the Jays' Achilles' heel has evolved into their most lethal weapon. The Toronto bullpen has bailed the starting rotation out of sticky situations all season, fuelled by the pitching of all-stars Brett Cecil (1.94 earned-run average, 0.97 WHIP, had a scoreless streak of 16 straight appearances) and Steve Delabar (5-1, 1.71 ERA, with opponents hitting only .199 against him). Dustin McGowan has also found his niche in his return, with a 1.54 ERA in 11 games, while Casey Janssen has converted 18 of 19 save opportunities.
- All-star slugger Edwin Encarnacion has been lights-out for Toronto over the past two-plus seasons. He's tied for third in the league with 25 home runs and his 72 RBIs are sixth-best.
- Munenori Kawasaki may not put up the strongest numbers (.213 avg.) but what he lacks in offensive punch he makes up for in comedic relief. The fan-favourite Japanese shortstop is known for his ability to make his teammates laugh, something this squad sorely needs.
- Rajai Davis. This speedster makes things happen when he's on the base paths. He's got 24 steals in just 58 games for the Blue Birds this season.
- Esmil Rogers has been a surprise standout in Toronto's rotation. His 3.64 ERA is nothing to scoff at — and it's tops among the team's starters.
- An 11-game win streak in the first half.
- Aside from power numbers (Toronto is tied for second with 115 home runs), the Jays have struggled to find consistency with their offence. They're hitting a dismal .243 on the road (23rd in the league) and are 26th with the bases loaded (.233). What's even more alarming is they're hitting only .248 (19th) against AL opponents.
- Injuries. Some would argue they're unavoidable, but Toronto has suffered some major personnel losses due to various ailments. Starter Brandon Morrow, after a breakout campaign in 2012, has appeared in only 10 games in his injury-limited 2013 and has a subpar 5.63 ERA. Jose Reyes's season was derailed in April and he missed more than two months with an ankle sprain. Plenty more have seen time on the disabled list.
- Brett Lawrie will never be accused of complacency, but he's also had problems keeping his emotions in check. This year, he was ejected after arguing balls and strikes during a game in May, tossing his batting gloves and helmet to the field, and also had a heated altercation with manager John Gibbons. There's also his injury issues and inconsistency at the plate, too.
- It was supposed to be a point of strength, but the Jays' starting rotation has been borderline atrocious this year. A few stellar starts here and there have helped, but a 5.07 ERA among the starters is good enough for second-worst in all of Major League Baseball. Off-season additions Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle have struggled to find their grooves, save for a few dominant performances. Only two pitchers in all of MLB have given up more runs (72) than Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. He's also been tagged for 20 home runs (tied for fifth-most).
- After its 11-game winning streak that helped it climb back to respectability, Toronto has stumbled. Since the string was snapped on June 24, the Jays have gone 7-13.
- Equally as abysmal is Toronto's 18-27 record against the AL East. The Jays' inability to beat their divisional foes with any consistency must turn around if they hope to make a playoff push. It will be a tough test though on Friday when Toronto opens up the unofficial second half of the season against the resurgent Rays.
We want to know what you think. What would be best for the Blue Jays? Vote in our poll and let us know in the comments section below.