Coming in to the season, there was obviously a lot of uncertainty about how the team would perform as a whole. No one knew if the young pitching staff would hold up. No one knew who would end up closing ballgames (they still don’t). No one knew if Jose Bautista would be the same kind of impact player. The list of questions went on and on. After 2 months and 56 games played, some questions have been answered, some haven’t. Here’s how I’ve seen things unfold thus far:
All things considered, a pretty decent start. This is a very young and talented staff that is still learning how to pitch. I know that may sound a bit trite, but it’s really evident if you watch each game. No one is doubting how good guys like Morrow and Drabek will be; but they haven’t figure out how to harness all their pitches and become solid second and third starters. Romero is already there in my opinion; he has the knack for winning. Whether the Blue Jays will be a contender by the end of this season rests on the shoulders of the rest of the staff, and if they’re able to put it all together.
Good and bad. The middle relief has been great. The closers have been awful. This sounds like a broken record for the Blue Jays organization, and you’d think they’d get it right eventually. Between Rauch, Dotel and Francisco there has been no clear winner, and Farrell has been forced to pretty much go with a different guy each night. Who knows, maybe that will eventually become a winning formula, keeping all three guys fighting hard to win the coveted spot. As far as the middle relief is concerned, everyone has pitched very well. To put it into perspective, Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Carlos Villanueva and Marc Rzepczynski have a combined ERA of 2.20 in over 127 innings pitched (as of June 1st).
Can’t complain much. The Blue Jays are in around the top 5 in pretty much every major category, which is kind of surprising when you consider the amount of injuries the team has sustained thus far. Adam Lind, who’s been out for almost a month, was the Jays hottest hitter before he got injured, and is their second best hitter overall. Other key players like Bautista, Hill, Davis and Escobar have all missed time to an assortment of injuries, and Farrell has not been able to pencil in his opening day starting lineup since, well, opening day. Lind has begun a rehab stint in Dunedin, and should be back in the starting nine this weekend against Baltimore. It should be interesting to see how the lineup will shape up with his return. I expect something like this: Escobar-Patterson-Bautista-Lind-Hill-Rivera-Arencibia-Davis-Nix. Thames is swinging a good bat and I think he’ll be in the lineup as the DH against righties, and Rivera against lefties. Encarnacion is the odd man out at the moment, with Nix looking more confident offensively and defensively. I assume that Farrell would rather have Encarnacion at third rather than Nix, but Farrell looks to be a coach that will play the hotter player, regardless of a player’s potential. With Lawrie bound to come up sometime this year, one can only conclude that Encarnacion’s days in the organization are numbered.
If this sounds like the resume of a .500 team, it’s probably because that’s exactly what it is. The Jays currently sit 28-28, 4 games back of first place New York, and 2 games of Boston for the Wild Card spot. No one really expected the Jays to challenge this year, but I wouldn't completely discount their chances from what I’ve seen thus far. I see the offense continuing to produce and I also believe that key starters like Morrow and Drabek will be better as the season progresses. The biggest question mark for me is the closers, as games against the best teams in the AL East will come down to the final innings. If Francisco and Rauch continue to remain inconsistent, I really don’t see how the Blue Jays can compete. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, and who knows, maybe a knight and shining armor will emerge to take over the ninth inning duties, a job that no one has done well in recent memory. At this point I’d probably take back B.J. Ryan. Yeah, it’s gotten that bad…