Well, the first week of the 2014 season hasn’t exactly been exemplary for the Toronto Blue Jays. They played the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in their first seven games of the season and are 3-4 at the end of a week. A split in Tampa was somewhat encouraging; a series loss to the apparently over-the-hill-and-lost-their-skills Yankees wasn’t. The Jays also lost Jose Reyes and Casey Janssen to the DL, forcing them to scramble a little.
RA Dickey has been (very) bad once and (very) good once, as has Drew Hutchison, though they did it in opposite fashion. Mark Buehrle was staggeringly dominant. Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan, the feel good story of Spring Training, were eminently hittable. What we saw from two of the starters–Dickey; Morrow–was within expectations. What we saw from another two–McGowan; Hutchison–was a learning experience. What we saw from one of them–Buehrle–will probably never happen again. Interestingly, however, the Jays were #1 in MLB in rotation WAR before the rubber match against the Yankees. Improvement over last season is essential, but do they have the horses?
The bullpen, sans Casey Janssen who is also on the DL, has been its usual self: solid and over-worked. A few blips are expected, as their #13 rank in MLB in ‘pen WAR attests, but overall they’ve acquitted themselves well. In the series finale against NY, for instance, Todd Redmond, Steve Delabar, and Esmil Rogers combined to throw 5.2 IP of 3-hit, no-run ball with 1 BB and 6 Ks against the NYY, allowing the Jays at least the opportunity to get back into the game. This is a good ‘pen that will get better when Janssen returns. In a surprising early move Jeremy Jeffress, who struggled to find the strike zone, was DFA’ed and replaced by Marcus Walden.
Offensively, the Jays have either been brutal or very good. Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, Ryan Goins, Moises Sierra, and Brett Lawrie are struggling mightily and fit the fomer designation. Edwin struggled out of the gate last season, then really hit his stride. Expect that to happen again. Colby’s off to a cold start and Goins/Sierra have little-to-no experience but Lawrie’s struggles are troubling. He came up with a good reputation, but has yet to adjust well to the big leagues. It’s difficult to know what to expect from Brett Lawrie. Sierra’s still looking for his first hit of the season. Goins wasn’t expected to hit.
Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, and Adam Lind are hitting well. Jose looks like 2010-2011 Jose in the early going. A tumour-less Melky is a sight to behold, running hard and pounding balls all over the yard. His 3 HR already equal his total of 2013. Expect a 3.0-3.5 fWAR season from him. Adam Lind and Maicer Izturis are both off to very good starts offensively. Jonathan Diaz, Reyes’ replacement, has contributed positive WAR so far, and reminds some of former super-sub John MacDonald.
The catching trio of Navarro, Thole, and Kratz isn’t a black hole in any way, which is refreshing. Kratz was re-called when Janssen was put on the DL, Thole has caught Dickey twice and Navarro is receiving rave reviews from teammates. He’s contributed offensively, as well, but not enough to be a positive contributor. It’s his defense and game management that’s in focus. Defensively, the trio really needs to work on throwing out base stealers. The trio ranks 10th in MLB defensively, which is a serious upgrade. Interestingly, the teams that rank #1 and #2 in catcher defense this season are the Mets and Texas.
Defensively this team is light years ahead of last year’s squad. Diaz and Goins have been solid up the middle, as has Colby Rasmus. Melky’s covering ground very well for him. We don’t expect a Gold Glove, but we’re being treated to a vast improvement. Melky and Rasmus both have OF assists already. Lawrie’s hitting struggles aren’t affecting his play in the field adversely, while Lind and Encarnacion are passable at 1B. Jose is Jose in RF.
The Blue Jays are 3-4, all against AL East opponents. They have only one off day in April (tomorrow, April 7), and no off days in May. It’s not going to be easy for them but, frustratingly, it’s crucial to get off to a good start in the AL East. Last season the Jays were 2-5 after 7 games, on their way to a 10-17 April record.
This team needs to hold their own for the first couple of months. A .500 record after a month or so is perfectly acceptable, because runs can be made. Digging themselves too deep a hole, as they did in 2013, will result in another sub-par season and, undoubtedly, some significant changes. What I’d like to see is consistency, whether consistently bad or consistently good is irrelevant to me. Either way, they know what they have and corresponding moves can be made.