Guide to the Toronto Blue Jays Stealing the AL East Title
One thing that the Toronto Blue Jays have shown this season is that they are consistently inconsistent. On occasion they have looked like a team equipped to raise their play to a new level—only to follow it up with disappointing stretches against teams they should beat (teams worse than .500) or fall short against teams they are competing with for a playoff spot.
They also haven’t been able to get on a roll. As of May 23, they have gone on five winning streaks of two or more games followed by losing streaks of two or more games.
They began their season alternating wins and losses two at a time—splitting their first 12 games. They then swept the Kansas City Royals (April 20-24) but then lost their next four—bringing them back to .500 (10-10) after 20 games.
Improve Record Within Division
Last season the Jays posted a 33-39 record against their divisional rivals, while the Rays (42-30)—Wild-card winners, Yankees (39-33)—AL East title, and Red Sox (38-34)—third place, posted winning records. They currently have a 7-11 record—including a combined 3-10 mark against Baltimore and Tampa—two teams they are currently chasing.
It will be difficult to make up games lost within the division. They will need to play .500 or better within their division to remain in contention in the AL East.
Play Well Against Non-Divisional Teams
Maintaining a strong record outside the division is essential for success, especially when you consider the AL West and AL Central are not as strong from top to bottom.
For the most part, the Jays have done a good job of that, as they have gone 8-3 against the Central division and 7-5 against the West. Their 15 wins are second most to the Tampa Bay Rays’ 16.
Last season the New York Yankees (45-27) had the best record against both divisions. They were followed by the Boston Red Sox (42-30), the Blue Jays (40-32), Tampa (37-35), and the Baltimore Orioles (34-38).
They also need to improve their interleague record. Historically they haven't fared well since it was introduced in 1997 as they have gone 115-132 (not including their recent series with the Mets).
A strong record against non-division teams could position them nicely for a run at the AL East title.
Figure out What to Do with Travis Snider
If Travis Snider is in Toronto’s plans then he will join the team sometime this season, but if he’s not then it may be time to look into moving him.
In 26 games with the Las Vegas 51’s he’s batted .333 with 5 home runs and 27 RBI, while posting a .411 on base percentage.
At this point there is nothing more for him to prove in the minors.
Can They Continue to Be Patient with Eric Thames?
It’s hard to bring up Travis Snider without mentioning Eric Thames. The two battled each other for the left fielder’s job this spring with Thames coming out on top.
In 40 games (128 at-bats), Thames is batting .258 with three home runs and 11 RBI and is on pace to hit 11 home runs, drive in 43, and cross the plate 63 times. He is also on pace to strikeout an alarming 138 times.
He will need to elevate his game to justify his place in the lineup—otherwise the Jays may be better off giving Snider another opportunity or seek an upgrade via trade.
The speedy Rajai Davis is also a possibility. He's been effective in limited action and Jays' manager John Farrell hinted that Davis will be used more often.
"'Rajai brings a different element than anybody else on our roster,'" stated Farrell via MLB.com. "'He's earning and has earned the playing time to get back into the lineup, and that's not to take anything away from Eric.'"
Spark the Offense
Toronto’s offense has struggled to find consistency for much of the season as they have been held to three runs or less 16 times—winning just three of those games.
The signing of Vladimir Guerrero should help and according to the Toronto Sun the 37-year-old could make his season debut sooner than anticipated as he’s looked good during workouts at the Blue Jays’ spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla.
The Jays’ offense also received a jolt from Brazilian rookie Yan Gomes as he filled in for the suspended Brett Lawrie. With Gomes in the lineup the Jays won three of four as the 24-year-old reached base seven times in 16 plate appearances. He's crossed the plate four times, hit two home runs, and has driven in four. He can also play multiple positions (Catcher,1B, 3B)—giving Jays’ manager John Farrell the option to get him some at-bats while resting his regulars.
Add an Experienced Arm to the Rotation
The rotation is very inexperienced after Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow. How much can the Jays rely on young right-handers Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchison as the season progresses? Will they be able to withstand the grind of a long season? How will they respond down the stretch when games become bigger while the margin for error drops off?
Given the potential uncertainties, the Jays may be wise to look into adding a veteran arm to the staff. Roy Oswalt is an intriguing possibility. As long as he's unsigned, there remains the chance of the Jays swooping in and signing the 34-year-old.
He has pitched in several big games throughout his career and could also be a calming influence on the entire staff.
During the off-season he made it clear that he has no interest in joining the Blue Jays via Peter Gammons.
However, players often change their mind and he may consider the idea of joining the Jays if they remain in contention.
Whether it’s Oswalt or another starter, adding an experienced arm to the staff for the stretch drive will take some pressure off Romero and Morrow, and also provide the club with insurance should an injury take place.