Dead last! Who figured that for the Jays?

* The Blue Jays 2013 season wasn't going good to start with and then SS Jose Reyes went down with a serious ankle injury ... and now they sit firmly in last place. .... 2013 Top Canadians eligible for draft 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent 2012-13 Canadians at Canadian schools 

By Bob Elliott

What’s wrong with your 2013 Toronto Blue Jays?

Let’s count the problem areas, reasons and examine the theories.

This spring we asked 35 general managers, scouts, executives, former players and agents who would win the American League East.

The Jays received 18 1/2 votes. Tampa Bay was next with 10 1/2 and the division-leading Boston Red Sox had three votes. Others spoke how the division did not have a clear-cut favorite.


Was this and is this an over rated team?

“It’s one of those things, some times things don’t work out,” said one evaluator who tabbed the Jays as the best in March.

Losing a pop up in the sun are things “not working out.”

Sitting dead last in the AL East with a 9-17 record, the 28th best record, better than only the Houston Astros and the Miami Marlins, is something else.

This is an organization which bet the house, bumped salary to a $119.3 millon US team payroll and dealt its best prospects in this all-in to win season.

“I don’t think everyone over rated this team in December, they made good deals, it is a great team ... on paper,” said another veteran observer. “These guys better sort out who’s who and create an identity with a group of leaders, They need some grit.”


Can they catch the ball?

If you are scoring along at home, your ‘E’ column had plenty of action.

Fielding has always been difficult to compare: 30 different parks, maybe 60 different scorers. Recently Major League Baseball set down guidelines for scorers, standardizing the system.

The Jays are tied for 24th, having committed 16 errors (all numbers heading into Tuesday’s play), second worst in the AL.

The Jays have allowed 15 unearned runs an average of .6 per game. Only the Astros have allowed more (16).

Clanks and bobbles lead to unearned runs, but instead of getting a third out an error extends, requiring more pitches than needed. And then there are balls off gloves ... throws a instant too late on bang-bang plays at first ... and plays we’ve seen other infielder make in the previous five years.

The Jays lack of defence stood out playing the Baltimore Orioles. The Jays made four errors leading to two runs and one loss. The Orioles had none. Baltimore has former gold glove winners behind the plate in Matt Wieters, at short in J.J. Hardy and three outfielders Nate McLouth, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.


Should the hitters be blamed?

They entered their April of expectations -- great expectations -- swinging for the fences.

They have scored three runs or fewer in 15 of 26 games, swinging for at least the fifth deck. A two-strike approach or hitters making adjustments? Non existent.

They’ve scored 95 runs (22nd) own a .229 team average (28th).

As a team they have a .291 on-base mark (27th).

They have a -35 run differential.

Leaving Dunedin the Jays were expected to contend with a lineup centered around 40-homer boppers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion plus 20-homers from J.P. Arenciobia and Colby Rasmus, along with speedsters Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio.

They have hit some home runs (33, fourth best).

“The way they swing it’s either feast of famine,” said an evaluator who saw the Jays in Baltimore. “And you know what is in style right now. Slap hitters should not try to hit the ball 500 feet. Bautista, Encarnacion yes. Not the little guys.”

The Jays scored 10 runs dropping two of three to the Orioles, hitting .133 (2-for-15) with men in scoring position.

They scored 13 runs at the big band box in the Bronx being swept (.182, 4-for-22 when it mattered) in a four-game series to conclude a 1-6 trip.

Of the 14 position players the Jays have employed only two are hitting above their career average: Arencibia at .245 (a 23 points increase) and Munenori Kawasaki at .225 (compared to last year’s .195 mark).

They’ve fanned 210 times (eighth worst) as Arencibia (37 whiffs) and Colby Rasmus (36) have the second and third most.


Is if the fault of the rotation?

Their best to date?

Either R.A. Dickey or J. A. Happ.

The first time through the rotation Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Happ combined for a 4.08 ERA. Second time though: an ugly 12.79, third 3.45 ERA and fourth 3.34 ERA. This final time, which concluded Saturday -- Aaron Laffey subbing for Johnson -- am ERA of 5.14.

The starters have five wins as a staff, only the Marlins have less and a 5.26 ERA (28th).

Only three times in 26 games has a starter pitched seven innings (Buehrle, Johnson and Dickey once each).

No one has worked into the eighth.


Is it the fault of the bullpen?

The relievers have 3.20 ERA (14th) saving all but two of nine save chances.

Problem is it is an overworked group and not overly deep. They have logged more innings than all but five teams.

“I didn’t know shape their bullpen was in until I saw them back-to-back,” said one scout, who complimented Casey Janssen for the job he’s done.

“He gets it done, but no one in either dugout is thinking ‘this one’s over,’ like Goose Gossage, Dennis Eckersley or Duane Ward.”

The Jays have Darren Oliver (“he can pitch, but doesn’t scare left-handed hitter any more”), Brett Cecil (“an impressive increase in velocity”) and Aaron Loup (“I felt bad for him on that bunt when the third baseman was out of position”) from the left side, plus Steve Delabar (“he can hump it up there, but needs a better second pitch”), Esmil Rogers (“him I like”) and Brad Lincoln (“haven’t seen him since Dunedin, when he wasn’t 100%”).


Can they have control what they can control: fielding the ball?

Example Saturday Brett Gardner tracked down Jose Bautista’s drive assuring the Jays lead remained at 4-3. In the bottom half, Travis Hafner tripled off the glove of Rajai Davis for a triple, allowing the winning run to score.

“Two balls, to centre, the Yankee guy caught it, the Toronto guy didn’t,” said one observer. “Not the same play, but two tough plays.”

Example the Jays lost Friday by two runs, one on an Arencibia passed ball, another on a Lincoln wild pitch.

Laffey lasted 53 pitches -- 23 strikes -- walking five in 2 2/3 innings. Jays pitchers walked 10 and fanned 13 times.

Broadcaster Jack Morris said on radio it was “like watching a high school game.”


How deep is the hole they have dug?

The Padres, the Astros and the Yankees in 2005; the 2006 Minesota Twins and the 2007 Colorado Rockies all lost 15 or more games in April. The four -- the only four in the last decade -- went on to make the post.

While April seldom consists of 30 games with different start dates (April 1, April 5?) it has been the cruelest month of all. So far.

Last time the Jays failed to have double-figure wins in April? In 2004, with Carlos Tosca managing, Those Jays started 7-15 with Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells leading the offence, with Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista atop the rotation on the way to 67 wins.

Excluding seasons marred by work stoppages, eight other times the Jays have failed to a winning record and record 10 wins in the first month: 2002 (8-16), which led to 78 wins; 1989 (9-16), 89 wins; 1988 (9-13), 87 wins; 1986 (9-11) 86 victories; 1983 (8-10) 89 wins; 1982 (8-12) 78 wins; 1979 (7-15) 52 and 1978 (8-13) 59 wins.

Only in 1989 did the Jays reach post-season play, overtaking the Orioles in Game 161 to win the division.

If the goal is 90 wins, the Jays have to go 81-55 (a .596 winning %) to get there. Sound easy, right? Yeah right.

Even the 107-loss, first-year Jays won 10 April games.

We remember some years when the Jays were sub-.500 management saying it hoped to make up a game a week in the standings.

So one game a week, 9 1/2 games back and nine weeks to the break.

No problem right.

Except ... the Jays will begin their ninth series Tuesday. They won one in Kansas City and split another. They’re 3-10 vs. the AL East.


Is it all the fault of the manager?

We checked and checked again.

John Gibbons has not had an at-bat and he has not walked a man. You can look it up.

We wondered why Steve Delabar worked a second inning against the Chicago White Sox giving up two runs on April 16.

Turned out Sergio Santos, who would have been used in that situation, had headed for the disabled list.

Would Rasmus have caught Dayan Viciedo’s double to centre that night Bonifacio misplayed. Probably.

Would Rasmus have caught the ball Saturday at Yankee Stadium. Probably.

Name the next 10 mistakes the manager made.

No, it is not Gibbons’ fault.


Could the whole not be as great than the total sum of its parts?

This spring a broadcaster looked at the Jays roster, compared to an all-star team Major League Baseball puts together to tour Japan and said “don’t expect them to play as a team until June 1.

“They’ve got pieces,” said one scout. “I’m not sure if paid attention to the total package or saw it through.”

The game plan was for Izturis and Bonifacio to share second. Both have struggled defensively.

After Brett Lawrie injured his rib, the Jays broke camp with Mark DeRosa, Izturis and Bonifacio -- with two of the three playing every day.

When Jose Reyes was injured Kawasaki, back-up shortstop from triple-A Buffalo, was promoted. Kawasaki has done well fielding the ball, save for an error which cost the Jays a game in Baltimore.

When Lawrie arrived the Jays were still filling two of nine spots with back ups.

Izturis has started 22 games, Bonifacio 17, Kawasaki 15, an everyday player since he arrived and DeRosa nine. That’s 63 starts in 26 games.

“You need back ups,” said another evaluator, “play them a long time, they break down or show why they are back-ups. They have to play limited roles.”

Can you name a Jays double-play combination worse than Kawasaki and Izturis?


The third baseman can't be expected to hit, why was rushed?

Lawrie had 19 at-bats at extended spring and class-A Dunedin, made his debut April 14 and 11 games in got over the .200 mark Friday in New York.

“They were dumb the way they handled it, or so I thought,“ said one scout who has seen the Jays this season. The scout changed his mind after his GM explained under the new Basic Agreement a player has a say on how long he stays on a rehab assignment.


The coaches?

“Too young,” a veteran scout said this spring the looking at the Jays roster in the guide one day at Dunedin.

I told him zero rookies were expected to start.

“Not players, coaches,” he said. “That’s an awfully young staff.”

Charles Mottola began teaching hitting at the end of the 2007 and is in his rookie season as a major-league hitting coach.

Pete Walker began coaching in 2009, was the bullpen coach last year. This is his rookie season as pitching coach.

Pat Hentgen, the bullpen coach, is in his second year, third base coach Luis Rivera coaches third is in his fifth season with the Cleveland Indians and the Jays and Dwayne Murphy is in his seventh year.

Before this tear, for three years Murphy was the Jays hitting coach and before that he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks for three years, including the 2001 World Series champs.

Bench coach DeMarlo Hale is in his 10th year after coaching in the majors with the  Texas Rangers, Red Sox and Orioles.

Pitching and hitting instructors have the most responsibility.


The umps are to blame?

Bautista and others are fighting a losing battle with the umpires.


Are the Jays possibly tired from filming all those commercials?

Nah, no chance.


What happens next?

Bautista hit .181 last April and was up to .244 when he injured his wrist last July in New York.

He’s hitting .192 this year. He won’t stay there.

Same with Encarnacion at .227 or Lawrie at .213.

The starting pitching will get better.

Good enough to win?

Sure no problem, they play .600 to get to 90 wins.




Slow starts, fast finishes

Since the first year of the wild card race in 1995, only six teams have gone 11-15 or worse to open the seaso  and still made the playoffs. Only six out of 146 (4%) who either won their division or a wild card berth.

Year Team W-L % Total Wins Finish

2001 A’s 8-18 .308 102 AL Wild Card

2006 Twins 10-16 .385 96 Division Champ

2007 Rockies 10-16 .385 90 NL Wild Card, Pennant

2005 Yankees 11-15 .423 95 Division Champ

2006 Padres 11-15 .423 88 Division Champ

2005 Astros 11-15 .423 89  NL Wild Card, Pennant