Blue Jays bullpen in dire straits after collapse vs. Rays

Nick Ashbourne
Jason Grilli is among a number of Toronto Blue Jays relievers in the midst of some serious struggles right now. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

The conventional wisdom is that things are never as bad as they seem when a team is losing nor as great as they appear during a winning streak. That is certainly what the Toronto Blue Jays have to hope.

Not only is the team buried in a 6-17 hole, in recent weeks the bullpen has been exhibiting sieve-level leakiness. That was especially apparent on Friday night when a full-on relief collapse allowed the Blue Jays to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

“We’re in a little bit of a rut,” manager John Gibbons said after the game. “It’s obvious.”

Marcus Stroman departed after an absolutely extraordinary 7.1 innings of work on to see his bullpen crumble like an animal cracker under a sledge hammer. Playing the role of the sledge hammer was a Rays offence that managed five hits – three of them of the no-doubt home run variety – and four tallies in 1.2 innings against Jason Grilli, J.P. Howell and Dominic Leone.

Considering the struggles of Roberto Osuna, Gibbons has to be asking himself who he can count on right now. After this latest ugly performance his stable of relievers carries a downright awful 5.19 ERA. His closer hasn’t been able to get the job done, his setup man can’t find the strike zone and the left-handed relievers have hemorrhaged runs all season long.

Gibbons is not the type to panic about his guys, but there’s reason for a healthy dose of concern. Unlike the sluggers, most of the Blue Jays’ relievers don’t have all-star resumes. This group was projected to be adequate, other than Roberto Osuna there aren’t really any top-end arms here.

At the moment, the two Joe’s – Biagini and Smith – have been sturdy, but that’s about it. Biagini is already at risk of being overworked with 15 innings pitched already and Smith’s sidearm specialist is best deployed against slates of right-handed hitters.

Realistically, the outlook for this group hasn’t changed radically. It’s still more likely than not that Osuna is going to be effective from here on out. Even with a slight velocity dip his stuff is too good to be hit the way it has been so far. The rest of the reliefs corps will likely find their sea legs to some degree. It’s too early in the season to know what kind of performance to expect from a group of performers that will in all likelihood be the team’s most volatile simply by virtue of their position.

The issue now isn’t whether this group is good enough – depending on your definition you could make the case either way. Just as you could have made the case either way when this team broke camp.

Instead, the problem is that the Blue Jays have put themselves in a position where they need to end their skid yesterday and they can’t afford for their entire bullpen to go cold at once. Just as the offence seems to be finding a respectable – if uninspiring – level and giving this club some leads, those leads are evaporating into thin air.

Theoretically, there are existential questions about whether the team put enough resources into the bullpen in the offseason, or why they can’t seem to develop solid bullpen pieces – but more pertinently, Gibbons needs to worry about how he’s going to get through the next game and the game after that with this group.

Unfortunately, for the Blue Jays manager he’s only has one option for how to handle this group – and he knows it.

“They’re our guys and we’re going to keep running them out there.”