Sports·THE BUZZER

Should we be worried about the Blue Jays?

It's still early, but CBC Sports' daily newsletter dives into some of the reasons for the American League-favourite Toronto Blue Jays' sluggish start to the season.

The American League favourites are off to a sluggish start

Jose Berrios has been a bust since signing a seven-year, $131-million US extension with the Jays. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.

An old adage in baseball is that you don't pay attention to the standings until June 1. That's still three weeks from today. But you know what? We're going to do it anyway, because the Toronto Blue Jays are not where they ought to be right now.

About one-fifth of the way into a season they entered as favourites to win the American League and play in the World Series for the first time in three decades, Toronto is a meh 17-15 and sits third in the AL East. Last night's dramatic defeat and this afternoon's 5-3 loss at Yankee Stadium dropped the Jays six games behind MLB-leading New York (22-8) for the division lead. Toronto is currently clinging to the last of the three AL wild-card spots, behind Houston and AL East-rival Tampa Bay. And the Jays are lucky even to be there: their minus-13 run differential suggests they're a sub-.500 calibre team at the moment.

Expectations aside, though, two games over .500 is hardly a disastrous start. Plus, in a 162-game season, 32 games are not enough to draw sweeping conclusions about anyone. Things have a way of evening out in this sport and, barring catastrophe, Toronto's superior talent should shine through over the long run. In other words, don't worry. Yet. But let's take a look under the hood and see what's going on:

Hitting

Last year, the Jays racked up the third-most runs in baseball and smacked 21 more homers than any other team. They also led comfortably in total bases and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Toronto simply overpowered many of its opponents. This year? Not so much. While they ranked a healthy sixth in both homers and total bases heading into today's action, the Jays were down to 12th in OPS and just 16th in runs scored.

So, who's not pulling their weight? Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s numbers are down from last year, when he tied for the big-league lead with 48 homers and topped the AL in on-base and slugging percentage. But scoring in MLB is down by almost a full run per game this year and power numbers have plummeted across the board, with some players blaming a less-lively ball. Despite the drop in Guerrero's raw numbers, his OPS+ (which calibrates for league averages) is down just a touch from last year. So don't blame him for Toronto's power outage.

George Springer has been terrific too, matching Guerrero with a team-high seven homers while posting a slightly better OPS+ and — perhaps most importantly — sitting out just one game so far after missing more than half of last year's due to injury.

The biggest disappointment at the plate so far is Bo Bichette. After leading the AL in hits and smacking 29 homers with 25 stolen bases last year, the young shortstop is batting just .252 with three homers and three steals. The Jays have also missed star outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, who missed more than three weeks with an oblique injury before returning last weekend.

Pitching

First, the good: Second-year starter Alek Manoah had a perfect April, going 4-0 in his first four outings while delivering a quality start each time. The big righty is still winless in May, but he's yet to suffer a loss or give up more than two runs in a game. Meanwhile, big-ticket free agent Kevin Gausman looks to be worth every penny. He's 3-1 with a sparkling 2.13 ERA, has yet to surrender a home run and boasts an incredible 46/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (that is not a misprint). 

The bad: 2020 Cy Young finalist Hyun Jin Ryu made two horrendous starts before a forearm injury forced him onto the injured list in mid-April. The veteran lefty is expected to return this weekend. Toronto's bullpen has been problematic. Closer Jordan Romano is tied for the major-league lead with 12 saves but has not pitched as well as he did the last two years, and the bullpen as a whole ranks 25th in the majors in ERA.

The ugly: Since getting a massive contract extension over the off-season, Jose Berrios has been a disaster. He was knocked around again this afternoon by the Yankees, allowing five runs in just over five innings of work. Over 34 innings this year, opposing hitters have shelled the righty for 42 hits and 22 runs. Berrios is performing at a sub-replacement level. For close to $19 million a year. 

The schedule

It's been brutal so far. This afternoon's game was the Jays' ninth against the MLB-best Yankees already, and they've played reigning AL champion Houston six times. By ESPN's metric, Toronto has faced the second-toughest schedule in baseball.

The good news is that the Jays are done with the Astros and are already about halfway through their matchups with the Yankees. So the going could get easier, which might help Bichette, Barrios and the bullpen come around. Plus, summer is still six weeks away. It's a long season. Plenty of time for the cream to rise to the top.

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