Nobody expected the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays to be perfect. But compared to the teams the Blue Jays have fielded recently, they were close enough as far as fans were concerned.
Before the season, critics would tell you that the Blue Jays had flaws in their lineup. Although fans did not want to hear it, the fact of the matter was that much of their improved lineup came from a struggling 2012 Miami Marlins team that attempted to buy themselves a winning team the year before. The list of teams that have tried to buy themselves a championship and fallen short is lengthy in every sport.
Although optimism was high, there was still the chance they could fall flat. Which is exactly what happened.
But why? What are the flaws in the Blue Jays lineup that have contributed to the slow start this season?
Here are five flaws that are already being exposed. Some of them were concerns when the season began, and some have been developing problems over the first month of the season.
Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com
Maybe the extremely high expectations put on this team have had something to do with it, but the Blue Jays offense has started the season with very little gusto.
At the risk of generalizing an entire roster and 21 games of baseball, the Blue Jays are swinging at everything. Maybe it is a part of John Gibbons’ aggressive strategy, or maybe the players are feeling the pressure to perform, but they are looking to create instant offense a little too often.
Since coming back form injury Brett Lawrie has looked like he is trying to hit the ball to Langley, British Columbia every time he’s at the plate.
The Blue Jays are sixth in the MLB with 173 strikeouts, thanks in large part to JP Arencibia and Colby Rasmus who are tied for second in the league with 32 strikeouts each.
The Blue Jays need to take a deep breath and relax at the plate. The plate discipline that Jose Bautista has developed over the past few years has been a major factor in his sudden home run swing. Pitchers are forced to throw him strikes because otherwise, he will get a free base, and the rest of the batting order should adopt this philosophy.
If the Blue Jays can grind out some lengthy at-bats that run up the opposing pitcher’s pitch count, they could get themselves a few tough walks. Couple that with the odd hit and their fortunes may turn around. It should not be all about the long ball for this team. They have the speed to play small ball here and there in order to get ahead in games. Of course, in order to do so, they need to get on base first.
The Blue Jays have had a hard time scoring runs this season, thanks in large part to their ineffective clutch hitting.
The Jays have hit .206 with runners in scoring position (RISP), which is good enough for a position amongst the leagues bottom-five teams.
The Blue Jays also sit dead last in the MLB with a .170 average from inning seven onward but have hit much better in the first six innings. Although this can be interpreted in many ways, such as a struggle to hit relief pitching, it can also mean that when the games get close and at-bats become more meaningful, the Blue Jays choke.
However, clutch hitting is not something that can be taught. It is more the product of a good player in a fortunate situation. The only thing the Blue Jays can do is continue to get runners in position to score and take it one step at a time.
Maybe a little of that plate discipline will help them out here as well.
One of the most talked about issues this season has been the Blue Jays defense. Before the season began, defense was one of the major concerns for the Blue Jays, and with Brett Lawrie injured to start the year, the Blue Jays suddenly had more questions than answers.
Up until days before Opening Day, who would be catching R.A. Dickey was unknown, and what the strategy to was to fill the void left by Lawrie’s injury was a mystery. There was also some concern that Emilio Bonifacio’s defense was too poor to be the everyday second baseman.
Fast-forward 21 games into the season and those uncertainties have been converted into poor defensive play, as the Blue Jays have committed the most errors in the AL. Bonifacio alone has committed four—or one less than the Detroit Tigers.
Some of the errors have been extremely untimely as well. In the Blue Jays' first game against Baltimore, an error by shortstop Munenori Kawasaki in the ninth inning kept the inning alive and set the stage for Nick Markakis to hit a game-winning single. And two days later Brett Lawrie committed an error that allowed Nate McLouth to advance to third, and eventually score (don’t worry, the Blue Jays won the game in extra innings).
There is a school of thought that believes defense is negligible, and it will even out over the course of a 182-game season. But when the errors being committed are leading directly to runs scored against, it is hard to think that defense has not directly impacted a few games already.
The bullpen was another area that many critics and fans knew would be a bit of a weakness for the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. The offseason saw many new faces in the batting order and starting rotation but did little to help the bullpen.
The consensus among optimistic fans was that the much-improved starting rotation would mean little work for the bullpen, and it would not be a problem.
However, the season has not started that way, and neither group has done much to help the other.
The starting rotation has posted a cumulative ERA of 5.32 and has averaged just 5.4 innings per start. In relief, the bullpen has an ERA of 4.61 and has been charged with six of the 13 losses this season.
Although very few predicted the Toronto Blue Jays pitching would be this categorically bad, it is clearly a fault that opposing teams have had no trouble exploiting.
The Blue Jays came into the season boasting one of the best leadoff hitters in the MLB. Jose Reyes hit .337 as the leadoff hitter for the New York Mets two seasons ago, so needless to say the Blue Jays were happy to have him.
Reyes hit out of the leadoff spot for the first 10 games of the season but sprained his ankle in a game against Kansas City and found himself on the 60-day disabled list. Since then the Blue Jays have given Emilio Bonifacio, Rajai Davis and Munenori Kawasaki a turn leading off, but none have been able to cement themselves at the top of the lineup.
Reyes hit .395 for the Blue Jays during the first 10 games, but since then leadoff hitters have combined for a .182 average.
They have recorded just eight hits in the 11 games since Reyes went down. The leadoff hitter is a crucial piece of any winning team, and this is a need that should be addressed.
It should be noted that in his four-game stint batting leadoff, Davis had six hits and batted .375. But, his numbers were inflated by the fact that he faced three left-handed starting pitchers—an area where he generally excels.
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