Recap: Hope fades despite Blue Jays win over Cleveland

McGowanThe thing about high ceilings is that the fall from the top is farther, and it’s harder. By now, you all know the story of the hope and promise of the 2013 Blue Jays and the resulting disaster. Well, the failure to meet expectations lowered the ceiling for the 2014 Blue Jays, even though it was mostly the same team, but there was still plenty of talk about upper limits.

In the spring, Alex Anthopoulos said “we’re going to take the best team north.” According to the managing general, there would be no discrimination against guys with options, no favouritism for established big leaguers. They were going to take the best 25 guys, also known as the team with the highest ceiling.

Anthopoulos lived up to his word when Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan broke camp in the rotation. There’s no question their potential vastly exceeds that of whatever mix of Todd Redmond – Esmil Rogers – J.A.Happ you choose. There was hope, hope that at least the Jays were giving themselves a chance by putting baseball before business.

Well, there’s that hope thing again. Blue Jays fans have learned to be skeptical of it lately. So skeptical that a lot of the chatter I heard before the season was pessimistic predictions about how soon it would take Dustin McGowan to disintegrate and whether Brandon Morrow would spend more days on the roster or the DL.

MorrowAnd, well, they’ve been more right than wrong so far. McGowan couldn’t handle the demands of being a starter – in fairness, the Jays were trying to turn water in to wine with him – and Morrow is gone for the foreseeable future.

So the Blue Jays entered the season with their highest ceiling team – how high the ceiling is up for debate – but it’s hard to say they’ve been any better than you’d expect if they hadn’t. That’s the thing with higher potential, just because it’s there doesn’t mean that everything averages out to be better. The problem now is that the floor is probably lower. Marcus Stroman could replace McGowan in the rotation, and has more potential, but right now? Out of the bullpen he looks unpolished, not to mention he’s still developing a change up, which he’ll certainly need as a starter. If the Jays turn to Todd Redmond, while great in long relief, you can safely expect less than what McGowan had the potential to provide. Also, while Morrow has struggled even when healthy over the last couple years, his potential is unquestionably better than Happ.

The thing about losing Morrow and McGowan is that they were probably the biggest unknowns, the biggest game changers. If they could live up to their potential, how good could this team be? The rest of the rotation could still be better, yes. I guess R.A. Dickey could return to his Cy Young form of a not-all-that-long-ago 2012, but can we really expect much more out of Drew Hutchison? And I’m not even going to ask that question of Mark Buehrle.

StromanWith the loss of Morrow and McGowan, hope fades. After a somewhat promising start to the season, the same issue that has plagued the team for as long as I can remember persists unaddressed: pitching. Now, with injuries and inexperience and ineptitude even the modest ceiling over this team is lower. In the unlikely event everything does go right, the best case scenario is still not as good as it was to start the season. Without a stroke of major luck, or a major arm addition, this team is simply not good enough and destined to toil in mediocrity. We can pretend all we want that the Jays were just a simple “figuring it out” away from Morrow being an ace and a common stroke of luck away from McGowan being an effective starter. In reality, this is the reality. Now we’re stuck with some spare parts and a prospect who probably isn’t ready yet, not to mention the very legitimate questions surrounding his viability as a starter. It seems the Jays are destined to let the cobwebs accumulate and remain untouched up at the top of the wall where it meets the ceiling. The Morrow injury and McGowan-as-a-starter experiment failure that many predicted doesn’t itself write the eulogy to the Blue Jays window for success, it’s just an ominous omen.

Anyway, that long preamble to tonight’s 4-2 win comes at an awkward time considering “spare part” J.A. Happ had a very effective start. 6 hits and 1 run over 6 innings with just 2 walks. He gave up a few hard hit balls, sure, but at this point that’s a fantastic start for the Jays.

Edwin Encarnacion hit 2 dingers, a DEEP double, and is officially back in business. He also torched a line drive down the left field line but was robbed by Carlos Santana.

Speaking of back in business, how ’bout Brett Lawrie? After going 2-3 with a walk tonight (!ARBITRARY END POINT ALERT!), he’s hitting .383 since April 20th.

Johnny McFrank aka Juan Francisco is saying F your small sample size, I’ll raise you another homer. Pretty much impossible to take his bat out of the lineup right now. But, the jury’s still out on the defensive situation with him in the lineup. Tonight, he made an error that was somehow ruled a hit and then in the 4th he took a slow chopper and stepped on 3rd, but decided not to throw to 1st to complete the double play. Can’t help but feel like that’s a play Lawrie definitely makes. Then again, in the 5th he showed off his arm making a loooong throw to nab Ryan Raburn. Then again, again, he made a throwing error on a tough play in the 6th. Are you good or are you bad Johnny McFrank? Either way, MAKE UP YOUR MIND.

When all was said and done, the Jays still came up with a W tonight. They’re still just a game and a half back of first in the AL East. It’s early. They have a great lineup. They just lost realistically their 5th starter. Why the doom and gloom? It’s not about saying this season is off the rails because McGowan is out of the rotation. It’s about potential, expectations and hope – and valid skepticism about it all. Mostly, it’s about a team addressing an area of need with a better plan than duct taping a couple things together, crossing their fingers and asking for your hope.

As always, your reward is extra special tonight for making it to the end of this long post:

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