Hope Springs Infernal: The Blue Jays in April

By: Dan Grant

In his Blue Jays season preview, intrepid and embattled Toronto Blue Jays fan Dan Grant battled his desire to be excited for the season vs. his long standing pessimism towards the chances of Toronto sports teams, ingrained in the very fibre of his being by over two decades of across the board futility. In that article, he slayed the demons in his brain, the entity known as ‘Pessimistic Dan’… or so he thought.

As I sit here watching the Blue Jays final game of April, the start of a home series vs. the Major League leading Boston Red Sox, I am struck by more positives than negatives. I know, I know, it might be hard for you to believe that there’s a silver lining on the giant dump the Jays have taken on the passion and excitement stirred up during this past off-season. But even though we lost Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey has looked pretty ordinary and Jose Bautista isn’t hitting and Colby Rasmus isn’t making the leap and… and… uhhh…. wait…

A rare moment of joy and high fives. Welcome to the Jays in April.

A rare moment of joy and high fives. Welcome to the Jays in April.

PESSIMISTIC DAN: I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!!

REGULAR DAN: No! I killed you! Go away!

PD: Oh you just thought you killed me. The truth is, until a Toronto sports team wins the big one, I’m going to be here, haunting you, lurking in the back of your mind and waiting for my chance to emerge!

RD: Son of a—

PD: And it sure doesn’t look like that’s going to be happening in November, does it? In the words of every hater, bandwagon abandon-er and doubter: Haha! Pessimistic Dan Strikes Back!!

RD: Well as I was just saying, I still think there are a lot of positives to be found—

PD: Like what? Jose Reyes? Where is that guy anyway?

RD: That was a low blow.

PD: Well that’s kind of my thing, man. At least the guy who replaced him doesn’t have a .613 OPS or anything.

RD: Kawasaki is a beloved fan favourite! You’re a dick.

PD: A beloved fan favourite who can’t hit! What about Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow? Have they been dominating the league like you expected?

RD: Well. No. No, they’ve been pretty inconsistent—

PD: And how’s Brett Lawrie doing anyway? Still hitting around the Mendoza Line?

RD: Well, actually in the last week or so, he’s really picked it up. Couple of home runs and his OBP is .360 in the past 7 days.

PD: Oh… well uhh… Bautista! Yessss, Bautista, he’s been brutal! Lots of home runs but not much else!

RD: He hasn’t been great, that’s true. But he was battling an injury… in fact, I seem to remember he was just as bad, or worse even, last April and then he really got hot in May and June.

PD: (scrambling) How about the rest of the vaunted pitching staff? Best staff in the majors says Chris Dagonas? HA!

What can be said about Mark Buehrle. Photo: The Star

What can be said about Mark Buehrle. Photo: The Star

RD: Yeah they’ve been pretty ordinary. Mark Buehrle has been downright bad at times. But Dickey has shown flashes of, if not brilliance, then putting-it-togetherness, and J.A. Happ has been better than expected. Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow, you mentioned already and they’ve been hit or miss but what else is new?  I don’t really think the pitching staff is the problem here, I think unreasonable expectations for them was. The bullpen (Janssen, Oliver, Loup, Delabar and especially the revelatory Brett Cecil), has even looked halfway decent, if not yet exceptional, when given the chance.

PD: But… but…

RD: The best teams in the league are going to lose 65-75 games this year, PD.

PD: I know that! If you know that, then why the hell am I even here? I thought you—-we— were losing it!

RD: I think I just got caught up for a minute. Like I was saying, Rasmus is striking out at a historically bad level—

PD: Yeah, Rasmus! He’s been awful! Thanks!

RD: — but that can’t continue. He’s not that bad a hitter. He’s always been a big strikeout guy. In his best season back in 2010, he struck out 148 times, just one time less than in his up and down season last year. If he’s hitting seventh or eighth in your lineup and providing his great defense in centre, I’m pretty OK with him not being a superstar, especially when we have Rajai Davis and Emilio Bonifacio to platoon with him.

PD: Bonifacio! There’s another one! Zero steals!

RD: And zero attempts. Do you really think that’s going to continue? He might not be the everyday second baseman we hoped for, but this is a guy with over 100 steals in the past four seasons, two of which were cut short by major injuries. He had 30 steals in 64 games last year! Plus, steals are overrated. Like I was saying, I think I just got momentarily overwhelmed. I just read this great article over at Drunk Jays Fans and it really calmed me down. It was better than listening to your blathering anyway.

PD: I’m not going to read that tripe! They’re just making excuses!

RD: Yeah, and some pretty good ones to be honest. While you can’t excuse the Jays poor play so far this season – the defence has been brutal and the situational hitting has been subpar – the Jays also look bad due to a number of season specific reasons.

PD: (curious despite himself) Like what?

RD: Well for example, the season started on April 1st this year. It’s started as late as the 6th in other years. So the Jays having 17 losses in April looks terrible, but they also played 27 games this month, which isn’t always the case in April.

PD: Whatever, they’ve still lost 17 of 26, calendar be damned!

RD: Fair enough. But other factors point to the Jays being unlucky. Their BABIP, (which essentially measures a hitter’s luck) is currently sitting at .253, which is dead last in MLB. This is an uncontrollable number, as it measures the Jays player’s batting average on balls they actually hit in the field (so it excludes strikeouts, walks and home runs). They can’t help it if they hit it right at people or if defenders make excellent plays on batted balls. They’re currently 41 points below the league average in BABIP, something that should rectify itself with time. In terms of power, the Jays actually lead the AL East in team slugging percentage, and in ISO they rank 5th in the majors, meaning that they’re hammering the ball just fine—the singles just aren’t falling in to cash those runners once they’re on base.

PD: Blah, blah, blah. (growing slightly desperate) They’re 9-17! Reyes isn’t coming back till July! Buerhle looks washed up!

Some Jays bright spots?

Some Jays bright spots?

RD: Yeah and Edwin Encarnacion and JP Arencibia have both been fantastic and are providing power in the middle of the lineup. There’s a positive for every negative PD. Even Adam Lind hasn’t been atrocious! Even though he looks completely devoid of power and is the most replaceable bat in the lineup. Brett Lawrie’s defense at third has been sorely missed and has been a real bright spot the past couple weeks—

PD: Ah yes, (relieved) the defense! The defense is just awful.

RD: It’s been… interesting.

PD: That’s one way of putting it. The Jays defense actually hasn’t been terrible in terms of defensive efficiency, as they sit right near the league average. They are, however, tied for the second most errors in the American League, rank 12th out 15 teams in fielding percentage and are dead last in double plays. In other words, they’re leaving their pitchers no room for error and making things tougher on their hitters, particularly since they’ve gotten off to such a terrible start.

RD: Yeah. That’s not good. Even if errors are arbitrary, that’s a portrait of disaster.

PD: It doesn’t look like it’s getting better either! You saw that right?

RD: What? Maicer Izturis and Kawasaki blowing yet another double-play chance, leading to three Red Sox runs? I don’t know what you’re talking about!

PD: You can’t fight it.

RD: There’s so much good! They just need to catch a few breaks!

PD: They couldn’t catch a cold at this point!

RD: That was too easy.

PD: The bottom line is that if they don’t catch the ball, they’re not going anywhere. If they don’t catch the ball, this is how the year will to continue look.

RD: I can’t argue with that. But errors, double plays and fielding percentage? These things are fixable. I’ll also point out that half of the Jays games so far have come against the Red Sox, who are on fire, the Yankees, who are the Yankees and the Detroit Tigers, who are early favourites to emerge from the American League this season. They haven’t exactly been playing scrubs.

Also, they just beat those damn Red Sox on the strength of two monster Encarnacion home runs. So much for him having trouble repeating himself, eh? They finish the month 10-17 and yes, that’s terrible. But they went 2-7 in one run games. Flip that to just 5-4 and they’re 13-14, which is bad, but not such a disaster.

PD: (excited) I can’t believe you’re being so naive. This is a Toronto sports team we’re talking about! You know they’re going to let you down. You know they’re going to keep losing in new and painful ways. You KNOW IT. The injuries will pile up, the breaks will go someone else’s way and at the end of the season, you’ll have a Jays team with 80-85 wins and you’ll be on the outside looking in again!

RD: Maybe. Maybe I will. But I’m not going to panic yet. What’s the point? I still think this is a good team that is going to come around and start getting a few breaks. The Red Sox can’t keep up the pace they’re on, the Yankees lack of depth is going to start showing and we’ll be OK. I have to believe that.

PD: Dan. You know you don’t really believe that.

RD: (fervent, a little sweaty) I do! I do believe that!

PD: But there’s something you don’t know—

RD: What? Is it about Reyes? Is he coming back sooner?!

PD: No. No, Dan. What you don’t know is that Dan— I am your father. Join me and we’ll rule the galaxy, as father and son!

RD: What? That doesn’t make sense. You’re just me. That’s impossible!

PD: … Oh, right. Well still, the Jays suck and are doomed.

RD: My response is the last five seconds of this.

PD: Well why don’t we check back in a month? I’m going to be hanging around anyway, ruining your sports watching. I mean, the Leafs are in the playoffs, how could I not be here?

RD: Fine! See you in a month, when the Jays are back to .500 and things are looking up. Also, I hate you.

And so the cosmic dance continues. Join us here at the Same Page at the beginning of each month, as RD and PD hash out the ups and downs of this tumultuous Blue Jays season. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. 

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