Toronto Blue Jays: Biggest Early Season Surprises and Disappointments

Mohammad Arshad@@WahajArshadCorrespondent IApril 16, 2014

Toronto Blue Jays: Biggest Early Season Surprises and Disappointments

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    Ann Heisenfelt

    After being criticized throughout the offseason for not making any major moves, the Toronto Blue Jays have silenced the critics for now after getting off to a decent start in the 2014 season.

    Toronto are currently in first place in the American League East with an 8-6 record two weeks into the new campaign.

    While 8-6 may not seem like an overly great mark, keep in mind that the Blue Jays have played 10 of those 14 games against fellow AL East rivals.

    Another remarkable fact about this start is that the team have played well despite little-to-no production from several key contributors in both the lineup and in the starting rotation.

    But, while these players have had disappointing starts to their seasons, others have stepped up and played a major role in several of the team’s victories.

    Let’s take a closer look at some of the team’s biggest early season surprises and disappointments.

Surprise: Mark Buehrle

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    Before we talk about Mark Buehrle, take a look at these numbers: 3-0 W/L, 21 IP, 0.86 ERA, and a 0.90 WHIP.

    Yes, those ace-like numbers belong to none other than the 35-year-old Buehrle, and the left-hander has easily been the biggest surprise on the team early on in the season.

    Buehrle’s strong start is surprising in more ways than one.

    He’s historically been a slow starter, and Blue Jays fans will be no doubt remember his horrendous start with the team last year, when he posted 6.35 ERA in five April games.

    While Buehrle is well-known for his durability and consistency—last year was his 13th straight season where he pitched more than 200 innings and won at least 10 games—he has never really produced elite numbers in his career.

    His arsenal is a big reason why that is the case. Buehrle has never been a power pitcher and doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff. With a fastball that tops out at 85 mph, he has always pitched to contact and has been hit hard at times as a result, which explains his career 3.82 ERA.

    While his career numbers suggest that Buehrle likely won’t keep up this pace, his dominating performance so far have really picked up a starting rotation that has seen a couple of its other members underperforming.

Disappointment: R.A. Dickey

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Named the team’s Opening Day starter, Dickey has had another poor start to his year.

    In three starts, the 39-year-old is 1-2 with a 5.30 ERA in 18.2 innings pitched.

    This shouldn’t be surprising, considering Dickey’s history of being a slow starter and struggling out of the gate.

    Last season, the knuckleballer went 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA in April and followed that up with a 5.82 ERA in May before finally turning it around.

    Dickey is dealing with two major issues at the moment.

    First of all, he’s having problems throwing his trademark knuckleball in the strike zone, as evidenced by the 10 walks he’s already issued.

    The right-hander has also had problems generating velocity on his knuckleball. It’s no secret that the pitch is most effective when thrown in the 80 mph range, a range Dickey has struggled to reach on a consistent basis.

    Considering his age and the tricky nature of the pitch, it looks like Dickey will need a few more starts in order to get his arm in better game-shape before his control and the velocity improves.

    The good news is that unlike last year, when Dickey was slowed by a back injury during the first half of the season, he should get to full-strength much quicker this year.

Surprise: Melky Cabrera

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    After Jose Reyes went down during the first game of the season, Cabrera has admirably filled the void at the leadoff role.

    The 29-year-old is currently hitting .323/.333/.569 with four home runs, two stolen bases and eight runs scored. He’s also on a 14-game hit streak to start off the season.

    Aside from his effectiveness at the plate, Cabrera has also been moving better on both the base paths and the outfield. He’s stolen bases, gone from first to third on a single, scored from first on a double and chased down several tricky fly-balls in the outfield.

    This is the Melky Cabrera that the Blue Jays thought they were getting last year, when they signed him to a two-year, $16 million deal.

    But a benign tumor in his spine severely hampered the outfielder last season, leaving him unable to run or generate power from his lower-body when at the plate. The injury later caused Cabrera to be shut down for the season after playing just 88 games.

    After undergoing surgery to remove the tumor and then spending the rest of the offseason working on his conditioning, Cabrera looks like a completely different player from last season and is primed to have a huge year in 2014.

    It’s important to note that he’ll also be an unrestricted free-agent at the end of this season and will have further incentive to perform in order to land a new contract.

Disappointment: Brandon Morrow

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Morrow was expected to be one of the front-line starters on Toronto’s staff this season. Instead, he’s been one of the team’s biggest early season disappointments.

    In three starts, Morrow has gone 1-1 and posted an ERA of 5.52—the highest on the starting rotation.

    It’s not pretty whichever way you look at it. Morrow has thrown 14.2 innings and given up 16 hits and six walks during that span.

    Throwing strikes has been the biggest concern for the 29-year-old, and he’s often falling behind opposing batters. Not only does this force Morrow to pitch into hitter counts where he’s most likely to give up hits or walks, but it also raises his total pitch count.

    This was on display during his last start against the Minnesota Twins, when the right-hander lasted just 3.2 innings before being forced to leave the game after throwing 98 pitches.

    While his early struggles are a concern, it’s important to note that Morrow might not be pitching at full-strength right now.

    After he missed most of last season with an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm, the Blue Jays made sure to limit his workload until the final week of spring training this year.

    Therefore, it could take Morrow a few more starts before he starts to get into a groove on the mound.

    Based on his 2012 numbers, when he posted a 2.96 ERA in 124.2 innings pitched, Morrow has shown that he can be a successful pitcher when he’s healthy and in form.

    The Blue Jays will need him to pitch near that level again this season or the starting rotation will suddenly start to look a lot more vulnerable.

Surprise: Drew Hutchison

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Not much was expected out of Hutchison after he missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery in 2012, but the young pitcher has been a pleasant surprise out of the rotation for the Blue Jays early on in the 2014 season.

    In three starts, Hutchison is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA. Not exactly world-beater numbers at a first glance, but a deeper look tells a better story.

    The right-hander has kept his opponents scoreless in two of those three starts, with that 3.68 ERA coming as result of a single outing in which he struggled and gave up six runs in 3.1 innings.

    Hutchison has accomplished this despite the fact that he hasn’t appeared to be as sharp in the regular season as he was during spring training, when he had a 1.80 ERA with 19 strikeouts, eight hits and four walks in 15 innings of work.

    By comparison, he’s issued eight walks and 13 hits in 14.2 innings pitched during the regular season.

    Despite the inconsistency, Hutchison has shown the ability to bear down and get out of jams while limiting the damage.

    His numbers should only go up as the season goes on and his arm gets in better game shape.

    But considering that this is a 23-year-old who hasn’t pitched in the majors for more than a year, the Blue Jays will definitely take his current production.