Blue Jays in free fall after strong start

Tribune-Post Staff
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On June 6 Steve Epworth was a true believer, even ready to show excitement over their play. Less than one month later Bill Anderson had all but given up on his beloved Blue Jays.

Following a 31-day honeymoon in May during which time they built up a 61/2 game lead over the Yankees the Jays went into freefall and now languish in second place, four games behind the rising Baltimore Orioles.

People continue to scratch their heads in wonder – how can a baseball team look so unbeatable for an entire month and then go into a funk when they drop entire sets to teams well behind them in the standings?

Well, during May the defense was impenetrable, the pitching, both starting and relief, was near untouchable and the hitters smashed homeruns left, right and centre. During that stretch Edwin Encarnacion drilled a record setting 16 “bombs” while others like Lawrie, Francisco and Jose Bautista went for the fences.

Now it almost appears as though the Jays go as Encarnacion goes. And he hasn’t been going and is now on the disabled list.

Mark Buehrle posted a neat 10-1 record up to the end of May but has lost five in a row despite holding the opposition in check. The problem is that the bats have gone cold and little run support is being offered to support some fair pitching.

Rookie Marcus Stroman, a for sure future all-star, has been a bright light while even Jay Happ, Drew Hutchison and RJ Dickie have been throwing well but their records do not indicate this all due to any run support.

The 2013 season was one to forget. Management had gone out and brought in a half dozen name players, ballooning the payroll to more than $130 million. Pre-season odds had them favourites to win their third world series championship. But then the wheels fell off and they finished with just 74 victories, worst in their division.

Then come this May and it definitely seemed as though fans were seeing the team the felt they had a year earlier. It was a time to enjoy and to become believers but many of those fans here in Sackville were from Missouri – they had to be shown.

Now some may blame injuries to such key players as Bautista, Encarnacion, Rasmus, Lind, Reyes, Morrow and a few others. But the list is not nearly as long nor as serious as that handed the Yankees, a team that mends and patches and keeps on chugging.

With a few days off for the all-star game it is hoped the Jays may have time to regroup and return to the glory days of May. But don’t hold your breath. When they are healthy many feel they have the best position players in baseball.  The outfield of Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista has no peer. All can hit with power and in Bautista they have the strongest arm in the game. 

Mueneori Kawasaki has proved to be a surprise, both at second and at the bat, but commentators believe they need to acquire a veteran for the spot. Bret Lawrie is one of the finest third basemen available and has proven to be a clutch hitter. Encarnacion and Lind have done a great job of sharing first base and the DH role. Jose Reyes, one of the modern greats at shortstop, has fallen on some tough times as he no longer has the range and has committed several costly throwing errors.

Behind the plate is tremendously improved with Navarro and Thole carrying much of the load and contributing with the lumber.

Rookie Juan Francisco is one of those players who has far more home runs that walks but strikes out with monotonous regularity. He plays third when Lowrie is injured and also when the opposing team throws a right hander with Lawrie moving to second.

The starting pitching, for the most part, has been a surprise with Hutchison coming back from Tommy John surgery to hook up with Happ and Stroman to join a youth movement. Dickey and Buehrle have been pretty consistent with an average of six innings giving up three or fewer runs. Aaron Loup, Bret Cecil and, of course,Casey Janssen have been solid in the pen.

So, what should we expect the rest of the way? It’s unlikely another “name” player will be added due to the budget restrictions so it means those earning the big bucks – some drawing salaries approaching $20 million a year – must step up and earn their keep.  This is a team that should be out front by 10 games at the break but because of inconsistent and often lethargic play find themselves threatened to be overtaken by other less talented squads and miss the playoffs for the umpteenth time.

The pitching should stay steady if not spectacular so it is up to the defense to show more spark and the batters must go to the plate with a plan – to hit and not swing wildly at anything.

However, as Lou Lambe – another dyed-in-the wool Jays supporter says – “after last season who would have thought this time we would even be where we are today.”  Some people just see the sunrise and can’t wait for the end of the day. 

Organizations: Blue Jays, Yankees, Baltimore Orioles

Geographic location: Sackville, Missouri

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