3 Biggest Takeaways from the First Month of the Toronto Blue Jays' Season
The Toronto Blue Jays went 12-15 during the first month of the 2014 season, and while that's not exactly a great record by any means, it's still an improvement over last April, when the team went 10-17.
With the other teams in its division getting off to slow starts, Toronto remains only a game and a half out of first place in the American League East and is still very much in position to make a run.
Despite featuring nearly the same roster as last season, the 2014 Blue Jays have looked better in several areas that were weaknesses for the team in 2013.
With that being said, however, not all aspects of the team have improved from last season, and it appears that new areas of concern are beginning to emerge.
Let's take a look at the three biggest takeaways from the first month of Toronto's season.
*All stats are from baseball-reference.com
Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera Are Leading a Potent Offense
The Blue Jays offense has easily been the team's biggest strength during the first month of the season.
Toronto scored 120 runs in April, good for fifth place in the American League.
As has been the case for the past few years, the home run continues to be a huge part of the Blue Jays' offensive identity. The team's 31 long balls hit during April ranked second in the AL.
The productive offense is being led by Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera, two players who both had years to forget last season.
Cabrera—who only played 88 games in 2013 due to injury—has been performing at an All-Star level this season. He filled in admirably at the leadoff spot when shortstop Jose Reyes missed time on the DL and has since become a fixture at the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
In 26 games played in April, the 29-year-old Cabrera hit .345/.372/.578 with five home runs, 11 runs driven in and 18 runs scored.
Bautista has easily been the best hitter in the lineup to start off the season.
The 33-year-old slugger hit .295/.475/.614 with eight home runs, 18 runs batted in and 24 runs scored during April.
The Blue Jays offense could get even better as other key hitters in the lineup who have had slow starts to their seasons such as Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus start to get going.
If everyone stays healthy, it wouldn't be a surprise to see this team finish the season with one of the top offenses in baseball.
The Starting Rotation Is Being Led by Two Unlikely Pitchers
Heading into the season, the starting pitching was expected to be Toronto's biggest weakness. But while the team's rotation hasn't been spectacular, it hasn't been completely terrible, either.
The Blue Jays currently rank seventh in the AL with a 4.19 starter ERA. That's a huge step up from last season, when the team finished 14th in that category.
The amazing part about this improvement is that it's not being led by the rotation's ace and Opening Day starter, R.A. Dickey. It's not even being led by Brandon Morrow, the pitcher with the best stuff on the rotation.
Dickey has struggled out of the gate and has a 2-3 record with a 5.01 ERA in seven starts.
Morrow posted a 5.93 ERA in six starts and was just recently transferred to the 60-day DL after suffering a finger injury.
The good news for Toronto is that Mark Buehrle and Drew Hutchison have both stepped up and taken over for the faltering Dickey and Morrow.
Buehrle has gone 5-1 with a 2.16 ERA in his first six starts of the season. The 35-year-old's performance is quite a surprise, considering that he's been a notoriously slow starter throughout his career.
Hutchison has also been a productive member of the rotation. After missing all of the 2013 season following Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old has posted a 4.17 ERA in seven starts.
While these two pitchers have surprisingly kept this rotation afloat during the first month of the season, the Blue Jays will definitely need more from their other starting pitchers in order to have a chance to contend.
The Bullpen Has Been Unreliable
While the offense has been great and the starting pitching has been steady for the most part, it's the bullpen that has suddenly become very unreliable for the Blue Jays.
Toronto's relievers have combined to post a 5.03 ERA, which is third-worst in the AL. They have also already taken eight losses and lead the AL in that department.
Control has been a major issue for many of the team's relievers, as the bullpen has walked a whopping 56 batters in just 107 innings pitched and has a WHIP of 1.51.
This is a huge surprise, considering that the team's bullpen consisting of mainly the same players had put up a 3.37 ERA last season.
But those players who performed so well last year have struggled to replicate that success to start off this season.
Sergio Santos—who was named interim closer following a spring training injury to Casey Janssen—has arguably been the most disappointing pitcher out of that group.
In 9.1 innings pitched, the 30-year-old Santos has posted a 10.61 ERA and has blown three saves already.
The Blue Jays recently removed him from the closer's role and have opted to go with a "closer by committee" approach until Janssen returns sometime this month.
Toronto will need its bullpen to pitch a lot better going forward, or the team will continue to lose winnable games.