Amazin' Avenue: What were your expectations for the 2015 Blue Jays coming into the season and have they met those expectations?
Bluebird Banter: Well, I expected great offense and we have had that. The Jays are leading the AL in runs score by 57. They have averaged 5.4 runs per game and then next best team, the Yankees have averaged 4.6. The offense has been almost everything advertised, without a real hot streak from Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. Either of those two can carry a team for a few weeks at a time, but, while they have each been good, neither have had that extended hot streak that we generally expect of them. So, while the offense has been great, there is room for improvement.
And, while the offense has been great, the pitching, especially at the start of the season, has been far less than great. For the first couple of months we were lucky when a starting pitcher made it through 5 innings. And we don’t exactly have a deep bullpen, so asking for 4 or more innings a game from them, not very surprisingly, didn’t go well.
June has gone better with the pitching. Our pitching staff has a 2.88 ERA to this point of the month. Our starters have 6.3 innings a start, which has made out bullpen look better, since they aren’t as exposed.
This month we’ve had both pitching and hitting, which has us coming into the series with the Mets on an 11 game win streak and brought us up from the bottom of the division to a game out of first. So, for the past couple of weeks, the team was performed exactly as we imagined they would, at least in our happiest moments. The longer they can keep this little streak going, the happier we’ll be.
AA: With Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard on the big league roster and Wuilmer Becerra flourishing in Savannah, Mets fans are eternally grateful to the Blue Jays for the R.A. Dickey trade. Over two years later, how do Jays fans look at the deal and what has been the issue for R.A. in Toronto? Do you guys admire Dickey as much as Mets fans do (he's a god at AA)?
BB: Ummmmm, well I guess the quick answer is no. I can safely say that he isn’t universally loved by Blue Jays fans.
R.A. has been sort of ok for us. In his first two full seasons with the Jays, he’s given us 440 innings of work with a league average ERA. There is a value to eating innings and being putting up an average ERA but, unfortunately for RA, that’s not what we were expecting when we traded away 2 of our top prospects, along with a handful of other players. We traded for an Ace and we didn’t get one. And, while our inflated expectations aren’t really Dickey’s fault, it has colored the opinion us fans have of him.
This season has gone far worse than the last two. He has an ERA of 5.29 and he’s averaging just over 6 innings a start. He has allowed a league leading 14 home runs, and is walking more players than most of us deem acceptable. As much fun as it is that he makes beat writers search for dictionary apps on their smart phones, so they can decipher his postgame interviews, the fun is dampened by a 2-6 record.
Dickey is 40 years old now and, as much we like to think knuckleball pitchers can throw forever, finding ones that actually were staff Aces after the age of 40 is hard to do. There is a team option on his contract for next season, but it is hard to imagine that the team with exercise that option.
AA: Blue Jays pitchers have combined for a major league low 7 saves all season despite winning 33 games. Do the Jays only win blowouts? If there is a save situation, who is the closer? How has the bullpen pitched otherwise?
BB: Our closer is Brett Cecil and he’s good at his job, the trouble is we tend to win blow outs, while losing close games. We have a run differential of +71, by far the best in the AL, but we are only 3 games above .500. Our win big way of life has made Cecil’s save opportunities few and far between. Before back-to- back saves in our series sweep of the Red Sox, his last save was May 4.
The Jays would be better off if we use Cecil in important moments in earlier in games, but, early in the season, manager John Gibbons was using his bullpen in the ‘by committee’ method, bringing in the pitcher he felt was best suited for any given moment, but the pen wasn’t doing the job, so he went to ‘defined roles’. Soon after doing that, our starting pitchers started going deeper into games and our bullpen performed better. Since the Jays brain trust has never heard the axiom ‘correlation does not equal causation’, they will be going with defined roles the rest of the way.
The bullpen, when not overworked, can be ok.
AA: It looks like starting pitching in general has been an issue early on for the Jays. Mets fans know all about Dickey and Mark Buehrle, so give us a little insight into what we'll see from Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchison.
BB: Well, you won’t see Aaron Sanchez, he’s on the DL with a ‘strained lat’. He was skipped his last turn through the rotation, we were told that he had ‘general soreness’ and just needed an extra 5 days off. Now he’s on the DL, but since it is back dated, we are told he’ll only miss one more start.
Taking his place will be Scott Copeland. Copeland filled in for Sanchez last time, and had a very good start, going 7 innings, allowing just 1 earned. Copeland comes with a fairly standard set of pitches, he throws a fastball that might hit 92 occasionally, but generally sits 90ish and a nice curveball, with a change that you might see a few times a game. He’ll live and die on his command, which was very good against the Nationals.
Drew Hutchison was a lot of people’s preseason pick for breakout pitcher of the year. It hasn’t worked out. He’s had an up and down season. May 25 he threw a complete game shutout, allowing just 4 singles, no walks with 8 strikeouts. His last start, he fought his way through 2.1 innings, allowing 3 home runs and 8 earned (the good news is the Jays came back from down 8-1 to win the game). Drew throws a mid-90s fastball, a nice slider and good change. When he locates low in the zone, he’s very tough to hit. Far too often he’s up to high in the zone and far too easy to hit.
AA: Toronto's offense has been dominant, managing an MLB-best 116 wRC+ as a team along with scoring well over 300 runs. Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, in particular, have gotten off to outstanding starts. This lineup should be a nice test for the Mets' pitching staff. Does this Jays' offense have any weaknesses or should Mets fans just get prepared for a beatdown over the next four days?
BB: Until this weekend’s series with the Red Sox, I’d tell you that getting to the bottom of the lineup was the answer. Coming into the series, our 9th batter, Ryan Goins, playing every day, had just 1 hit with no walks. In the 3 games in Boston, he had 6 hits, including 3 doubles and a home run, as well as 9 RBI. Before the series I was calling for the Jays to bring up Munenori Kawasaki, not that he’s any better, but at least he’s fun to watch.
Our 8th hitter, Kevin Pillar, suffered through a May where he hit just .181/.237/.257 and, again, even though Pillar is a walking highlight reel in center, I was thinking the Jays should find someone to take his spot. The calendar, and suddenly he’s turned into Ted Williams. He is hitting .378/..400/.568 for the month. He has worked to simplify his swing, taking out a Bautista-like leg kick at the start, and that seems to have worked.
I’m not expecting either to stay this hot, but if they can keep it rolling for this series against the Mets, the Jays will have a very tough lineup to navigate through.
Thanks again to Tom Dakers for giving us a preview of the Blue Jays! Be sure to check out Bluebird Banter for more insight into the Jays.