108: Blue Jays can’t afford to blow early divisional games
By: Tyler King
Canadian Baseball Network
Blue Jays fans might be feeling a bit better after Wednesday’s 7-2 win over the New York Yankees, but in reality the win is more like a band-aid for what’s been a series of self-inflicted wounds to start their team’s season.
The Jays have led in all nine games they’ve played thus far; yet somehow, someway, they have managed only four wins.
Obviously, Brett Cecil and the bullpen have had their struggles. But let’s be serious here - bullpen be damned, this team was built on offence. No matter how you look at it, the Jays hitters have to take some responsibility for the slow start.
I know everyone is saying it’s early (probably because it is) but it’s still hard to fathom how a team that collectively hit .274 after the All-Star break last year is suddenly hitting .210 in 2016 prior to Wednesday’s game - which gives them the fourth worst average in the league.
Part of that, I'm sure, has to do with the total lack of parity that exists right now throughout the Jays lineup.
I can recall writing last year about how royally scrooged the team would have been early on without the production they got from their eventual MVP, Josh Donaldson.
And, truthfully, you could say the same thing about 2016 provided that you gave Jose Bautista some credit too. Those two sluggers had contributed 17 of the team’s 55 hits (or 31%) prior to Wednesday.
To show just how much those guys are carrying the team - and to show just how badly others are struggling - consider that Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and Chris Colabello have a combined hit total of six. If this team is going deep - as everyone expects - they will need better production from that part of the lineup.
Is it ethical to try and read into the struggles of three capable hitters after just eight games? Well, no. It probably isn’t.
But, hey, I’m going to anyway!
Before you start pegging me as part of the establishment media that loves to fear monger over April batting averages, you should know that I do believe the Jays' offensive numbers will turn around.
The question is: How soon?
Many Jays fans are praying that Wednesday’s eighth inning - where the Jays’ bats touched up Yankees’ reliever Ivan Nova for four runs on five hits - was a sign that they were already getting back to business.
In case you’re just joining us, or you haven’t memorized the schedule yet (for shame!), the Jays first 19 games are against American League East opponents.
That means that nearly 25% of all the divisional games the Jays will play this season come in the month of April. Immediately after their series with the Yankees, they will start a four-game series in Boston on Friday before heading to Baltimore for three against the 7-1 Orioles.
With the abysmal swings and plethora of strikeouts fans have seen from some star players, that is quickly turning into a scary, scary thought.
The fact that the team has already blown five divisional games undoubtedly heightens the fear surrounding some of the very slow starts - and I mean doing 25 on the freeway S-L-O-W - certain key players are experiencing.
Nobody doubts that the .107 average (3-28) that Tulowitzki had prior to Wednesday will eventually even out. That is, by FAR, the worst start to a season he’s ever had.
But the guy’s career average is .295. Chances are things are going to get better rather quickly.
However, it is worth noting that right now the only two Blue Jays hitting worse than Tulo - who’s widely considered to be one of the best all-around shortstops in baseball - are Russell Martin and Chris Colabello.
Let me just repeat this: Tulowitzki, the same guy who I predicted would win the American League Most Valuable Player award, was hitting .107 prior to Wednesday. Maybe it’s a good thing I only have about seven twitter followers ...
Unfortunately for the all-star shortstop, Tulo doesn’t get the same sort of leeway that’s afforded to players via the “slow starter” excuse (unlike the Jays’ all-star catcher).
Tulo hit .355 in his first eight games last season, albeit that was when he was still in the relatively docile National League as a member of the Colorado Rockies.
In his 11-year career, he has never had an average below .200 after eight games. He’s also been above .300 three times, including once over .400 in 2014.
For Russ Martin, his current offensive numbers look just as awful Tulo’s, but his past numbers don’t look nearly as good. I don’t know if this is a case of some backwards logic, but Martin’s history of slow starts has lowered the concern level when compared with Tulowitzki.
Martin put fans through what is now a familiar agony when he hit .042 through his first eight games as a Blue Jay in 2015. And when you think about it that way, perhaps his .083 average this season is something to celebrate, given that it was 41 points worse a year ago.
For any fans who are panicking, the good news is that by the end of last season he hit .240 with 23 home runs and 77 RBI, which is great production for a catcher. In fact, he even finished in the top 25 in AL MVP voting.
Essentially what I’m trying to say is, the month of April can go straight to hell.
Colabello’s struggles, however, are a little more difficult dissect. He won the job at first base after vastly improving his defence in the off-season and posting some solid offensive numbers during Spring Training.
He had the second most hits (14) of any Blue Jay during Grapefruit league play, but that hasn’t come close to translating into the regular season. In 15 plate appearances, he has only one hit (.067 average).
The biggest problem with Colabello is that it will be a lot easier for him to lose the public’s confidence, mostly on account of his relatively small body of work. There simply isn’t a big enough career sample size to draw on.
Last year was his first full-season in the big leagues, making it much more possible for the 15 home runs and .321 average he posted in 2015 to end up being some sort of unfortunate enigma.
I’m not saying that’s going to happen. But I can’t confidently say that it's NOT going to happen either.
For my own sanity, I really hope it doesn't.
If he starts losing playing time and I have to sit through anymore vicious Justin Smoak strikeouts, I swear I’m going to lose it.