By Patrick Allen
Canadian Baseball Network
The Toronto Blue Jays' sluggish start to the 2017 season seemed to signify a disappointing conclusion to not only the current team’s championship window, but one of the organization's most dynamic players, Jose Bautista.
Coming into the season on a one-year guaranteed contract, the 36-year-old Bautista had a great deal riding on his 2017 performance, as the slugger looked to silence his critics and prove his underwhelming 2016 numbers were an aberration, and not any indication that the power hitter’s prowess at the plate was beginning to regress.
Despite solid production in spring training and while playing for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic, Bautista struggled mightily to begin the major league season, collecting one home run and posting a .178/.318/.370 slash line in April.
The team’s combined struggles, paired with an injury plagued roster, resulted in the Blue Jays see-sawing in and out of last place in the American League for the majority of the season's opening month.
Eventually boos began to cascade down from the stands at Rogers Centre, as the fan base, still caught up in the seductive web spun by back-to-back trips to the American League Championship Series, made clear their collective displeasure for the Blue Jays’ poor start and the lack of production from the team’s longest tenured player.
As the calendar turned, there was little optimism that things would get better for the two-time Hank Aaron Award winner or the 9-17 Toronto Blue Jays.
I guess that’s why they play the game.
Since limping through April, Bautista has erupted at the plate, hitting seven home runs and sporting a healthy slash line of .313/.421/.638 in the month of May.
Most importantly, the six-time All-Star’s offensive resurgence has helped the Blue Jays claw their way to within 4.5 games of a wildcard spot.
In part, Bautista’s newfound success in the batter’s box can be attributed to the slugger lowering his strikeout rate to 22.1%, compared to 27.3% in April, and, taking a brief look down the analytical rabbit hole, increasing both his hard-hit rate and average exit velocity on balls hit in the air by a sizable margin.
Simply put: Bautista is hitting the ball harder, and more often. A combination that any baseball fan can agree is advantageous, especially when describing a hitter with a well-established offensive pedigree such as Jose Bautista.
“I’m just getting the good pitches and I’m not missing them,” Bautista told John Chidley-Hill of The Canadian Press earlier this month. "I'm just taking it one day at a time and hopefully I'll continue to contribute.”
With the long-awaited return of All-Stars Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays lineup, Bautista’s new found success at the plate could not have come at a more opportune time.
The club’s success by and large over the previous two seasons has been fueled by the long ball, and the injection of two established bats into a Blue Jays lineup that is showing signs of heating up bodes well for the team’s chances to continue their assent up the American League standings.