Temper Expectations: What we learned about the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays from series #1
After a long off-season that left many Toronto Blue Jays fans with tempered expectations, we’re officially one series into the 2019 Blue Jays season. While four games may seem like a minuscule sample size over a 162-game season, we have learned a lot about what to expect from the boys of summer from their opening series with the Detroit Tigers.
They are going to strikeout… A lot…
Throughout any rebuild, strikeouts can be expected as the lineup usually features young hitters who expand the zone and aren’t disciplined enough yet to layoff high fastballs or low breaking balls. With players like Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel and Billy McKinney set to play consistent MLB innings for the first time in their careers, it’s fair to expect a decent number of strikeouts from this group. The problem comes when we look at the more veteran players on the team and their strikeout numbers. The 2019 opening day roster featured only four of the top-10 players in terms of games played from 2018. Those players (Teoscar Hernandez, Justin Smoak, Randal Grichuk and Kevin Pillar) were the top four batters in terms of strikeouts from the 2018 edition of the Jays. This isn’t a recipe for offensive success. Through the first 4 games, the team has 35 strikeouts. In a league where success is measured by putting the ball in play, this isn’t a good sign. Getting the youngsters at-bats will be beneficial down the road, but it may leave the fans frustrated throughout the season.
The offense will rely on one knockout punch instead of one hundred jabs
With the amount of strikeouts the team will experience, it’s going to be difficult to manufacture runs. The Jays are going to have to rely on putting up one or two big innings each game in order to win. They’ll have to try and string together extra base hits in between the strikeouts and when they do hit homeruns (which they don’t have the power to hit a lot of them), they’ll need to make sure they’re multi-run dingers, ensuring the hottest hitters are consistently in front of the few homerun hitters like Smoak and eventually Vlad Guerrero Jr. Through 4 games the Jays have only scored in 4 innings and I expect that to continue throughout the summer.
When they lose, it won’t be because of their defense
The Jays defense was porous last season. The team committed 102 errors, 12th in the American League. The off-season purge got rid of a couple of defensive liabilities and kept a couple of great defenders in Smoak, Grichuk and Pillar. While Hernandez and Gurriel haven’t been strong in the field during their MLB stints, Gurriel will likely spend more time at the significantly easier second-base position, and Hernandez will benefit from playing as the designated hitter on occasion. Bringing in defensive whiz Freddie Galvis will help solidify the middle infield and he should teach Gurriel a thing or two along the way, and Billy McKinney has shown strong defensive capabilities in his limited time with the ball club last season. Danny Jansen has also looked like a much-improved defender this season with better mechanics and set-up behind the plate. The changes are already paying dividends and he’s already picked off a couple base-runners trying to steal and advance on pitches in the dirt this season. More times than not this season, the Jays will have a fielding advantage over their opponents. Through the first four games, the team has committed 1 error, a major improvement over last season.
The team will only go as far as the starting pitching takes them
To say the starting pitching has been incredible to begin the season would be an understatement. The combination of Marcus Stroman, Matt Shoemaker, Aaron Sanchez and Trent Thornton has started the season with 24 consecutive innings of no-run baseball. While the success isn’t sustainable, spring training and their opening starts have shown that if they can gain some confidence, Stroman, Shoemaker and Sanchez can be incredibly dangerous pitchers. The rotation has been dealing with injuries, with Ryan Borucki and Clayton Richard unable to start the season and Clay Buchholz still not ramped up to starting pitching level. While Thornton had a phenomenal start to his career, it’s not fair to expect him to be a world-beater throughout the year and he will likely lose his rotation spot to Borucki. The fifth rotation spot will hopefully be taken over by Buchholz and his 2.01 ERA from last season, but he only pitched in 16 games in 2018. It may be too much to expect a near-full season of starts from a pitcher who hasn’t exceeded 21 starts since 2014. If he deals with any issues, the fifth rotation spot will be a revolving door of Sean Reid-Foley, Thornton, Thomas Pannone and Richard.
All of this to say, there’s a good chance the Jays don’t get a lot from their fourth and fifth rotation spots this season with all the uncertainty surrounding the position. The combination of Stroman, Sanchez and Shoemaker will have to make 85-95 starts and earn 55-60 team wins if the Jays want to have any success in an incredibly deep division this season, but the first series has shown that’s definitely doable.
The path to Giles might get dicey
Ken Giles has looked like an all-star reliever in three scoreless appearances so far this season, but the majority of the bullpen has looked suspect. Daniel Hudson, Tim Mayza, Javy Guerra and Thomas Pannone have all been touched up for runs by the Tigers. The starting pitching won’t be able to go eight strong innings every night and the offense isn’t expected to score a ton of runs, so an inability to get to Giles will be detrimental to the Jays season. Joe Biagini has had a really strong start to the season with three scoreless appearances, so he could slot in as the team’s set-up man, but the relievers will have to be better as the summer nears and the starters inevitably get touched up more than they have been.
Expectations should be kept very low
The starting pitching literally could not have pitched any better than they did against Detroit, Giles and Biagini have pitched 6.1 innings of magical baseball out of the bullpen and the defense has been spectacular. The team still went 2-2 at home against a team that’s projected to be one of the worst in the baseball. If everything goes right, this team still feels like it has a ceiling of .500. There were a lot of positives to take away from this series, but the 2-2 record doesn’t inspire confidence.
Regardless of what happens this season, they’re going to have a lot of fun and be just as fun to watch
Charlie Montoyo has established a new culture in the organization and earned buy-in from all the players. From the beer-shower he received after his first MLB win, to the dug-out celebrations after big moments, Montoyo has the team and his staff playing not only for him, but for each other. There seems to be a sense that while no one else believes in them this season, the team believes in each other. One of the coolest things we have seen this season has been the starting rotation helping each game’s starter warm-up and walking with him to the dugout after his warm-up. The rotation has interacted like one unit and has been sharing tips and tricks with one another throughout the games. With all the youngsters on the team and Vlad on his way up shortly, it may not be for the wins, but there will be good reason to tune in and watch the season unfold.