Normally when a team hits its first off day of the MLB season, it’s a good time to reflect on what has gone right and wrong in the early going. For the Toronto Blue Jays, that job is a little easier because there’s only one side of the ledger to focus on.
Sitting at 1-5 with a couple early injury worries, the Blue Jays’ start could hardly have gone worse. As Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun pointed out Sunday, it’s the worst start in franchise history record-wise, and the injuries and big expectations make things seem even worse.
While there is a surplus of doom and gloom, not all of it is justified by what we’ve seen so far. No one is out for the season. Roberto Osuna is coming back. The entire team hasn’t simultaneously forgotten how to hit.
We are talking about six games here. In NFL terms, the Blue Jays are early in the third quarter in their Week 1 game, so it’s a little early to be talking about how the whole season is going to go. For instance, the Minnesota Twins are 5-1 right now and the Cincinnati Reds share the NL Central lead with the Chicago Cubs.
So, amidst the flurry of worry polluting the air in Toronto, here’s a rundown of what’s worthy of your concern and what not to waste your valuable time fretting on:
Josh Donaldson’s calf injury
What’s going on: Donaldson was lifted from Sunday’s game due to right calf tightness from running to first base. He’s day-to-day for now and hopes to play on Tuesday, although that’s not confirmed yet.
In the spring he dealt with a similar injury, causing some concern about whether his calf issues could be re-occurring throughout the season.
How much should I worry (scale of 1-10): Seven. Donaldson is undoubtedly the Blue Jays’ best and most indispensable player, so the idea of a lingering injury isn’t ideal. On the plus side, this is tightness, not a tear, and it looks like he won’t miss much – if any – time.
The worry here isn’t that Donaldson will be out for a huge chunk of the season, it’s that he’ll be forced to play through pain with some regularity. Everyone knows the third baseman is a tough guy who’s capable of that, but the possibility exists that his effectiveness could be diminished at times this year, especially in the field and on the bases.
What’s going on: So far the Blue Jays bullpen has accounted for three of the team’s losses with two blown saves and J.P. Howell is on the 10-day disabled list with a shoulder injury.
How much should I worry (scale of 1-10): Five. This number is all about Howell’s injury. It appears to be relatively minor, but shoulder issues are notoriously finicky. If Howell is out for long that’s a real problem as Aaron Loup would be the only late-game matchup lefty available.
Other than that, one shouldn’t get too worked up about 22.2 innings of 4.37 ERA ball. The group’s peripherals are actually quite good with a 3.35 FIP. The numbers are also brought down by a couple of very shaky outings by Casey Lawrence, who’s walked five hitters and given up three runs in two innings. Also, Osuna should be back Tuesday and the whole group has been overworked due to Francisco Liriano’s awful 2017 debut. Speaking of …
Francisco Liriano’s awful 2017 debut
What’s going on: Right now, Liriano has a 135.00 ERA after giving up five runs and only collecting one out in his first start against the Tampa Bay Rays.
How much should I worry (scale of 1-10): Two. It would have been better if this didn’t happen for Liriano and the team, but it’s one start. The veteran southpaw ended last year strong and had an outstanding spring. Those things probably say more about where his season is going than one disastrous start. Sometimes pitchers just don’t have it.
What’s going on: Through six games the Blue Jays are hitting an abysmal .202/.280/.298 with just four home runs.
How much should I worry (scale of 1-10): Three. If you think a lineup anchored by Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and Kendrys Morales is going to hit like Noah Syndergaard without the power then you’re fooling yourself. It would be nice to see some of these guys round into form, but it’s absurdly early to bury them.
In terms of individuals, Bautista’s struggles making contact so far are worth a raised eyebrow, as is Steve Pearce’s no-walk, no extra-base hit line of .176/.176/.176. It’s worth noting though that several hitters are scuffling at the same time. This is not an uncommon state of affairs.
The dirty little secret about the Blue Jays is that although the brand is associated with big bats bashing baseballs, the pitching on this team was always going to be better than the hitting. That said, it’s too early to say the hitting won’t be just fine.
If you want to make the case that there’s a pathological inability to “get the big hit” here because of 49 subpar plate appearances with runners in scoring position, you’re welcome to it – but the ground beneath your feet is about as solid as a wet Kleenex.