7 Thoughts For 7 Games

The Blue Jays sit 4-3 after the first week of the regular season, and that’s probably a fair result. In their three losses, they’ve been shutout twice, and blown an early 6-1 lead. Here’s what’s caught my eye so far.

The Starting Rotation Will Be Fine

After one turn through, Blue Jays starters boasted a ballooned 7.50 ERA, with only one of the five even throwing a pitch in the sixth inning. The brevity of the outings wasn’t entirely unexpected following the short spring training, but the general ineffectiveness was concerning. The second time through, so far, their veteran aces Jose Berrios and Kevin Gausman have delivered 10.2 innings and surrendered just five runs (4.22 ERA). That’s more what we should expect. But it doesn’t get any easier from here–both are scheduled to pitch at Fenway Park in Boston next week.

The Late Innings Are Lights Out

The five relievers at the back of the bullpen (Jordan Romano, Yimi Garcia, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber, and Trevor Richards) have put up sparkling numbers so far. They’ve thrown a combined 8.1 IP and have yielded just 2 earned runs (both solo home runs), on nine hits with a 10/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That’s good for a 2.16 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Once the starters begin to provide a bit more length and the offense gets back to marginal success, it’s a good recipe for winning a lot of games.

Did the short Spring Training lead to injuries?

I’m not sold on this. The Jays have had the misfortune of losing two starting players (Danny Jansen and Teoscar Hernandez) to oblique injuries in the first week. You could argue the quicker ramp up meant playing in more spring games more quickly, and not allowing their bodies to work slowly into game shape. Hernandez also missed some time in spring with a wrist injury, and he may have compensated by getting back into the lineup more frequently than he might have in a normal year, to ensure he got his full complement of plate appearances before opening day. I think I’m just going to chalk this up to bad luck. Anecdotally, it doesn’t appear that injuries are up across the league in the first week of the season.

Spring Trades May Be Having a Mental Impact

The flurry of transactional activity right after the lockout ended was certainly entertaining for fans and media, but I’m of the mind that it’s had a real impact on players who were late to report to new teams. In a normal offseason, the trades for Matt Chapman, Raimel Tapia, and Bradley Zimmer would have taken place in December or January, and the players would have had a chance to have some meetings with the coaching staff, and arrive in Dunedin on the first day of camp. However, both players were traded after camp began. They would have missed the coaching staff’s camp-opening address and maybe some informal activities with teammates. Being traded in the first week of an already short camp, and having to fly across the country from Arizona to Florida and immediately jump in with a new team might have been disorienting. It’s why trades in spring training almost never happen. And the pressure to produce for a new team is more intense than if they’d had an opportunity to ease into things. Despite Tapia’s poor start, I still make the swap of him for Randall Grichuk every time. He’ll sort it out and be a useful player.

The Catching Situation

I wasn’t a big fan of trading Reese McGuire for Zach Collins at the time of the deal. The arguments in favour of the trade were Collins having more offensive potential (if not yet proven at the Major League level), and that he was able to be optioned to the minors, which would be helpful once rosters contract from 28 to 26 in May. The downside, however, was a major step back defensively, and a big hole if Jansen were to be injured. If all three catchers were still healthy when you had to make a decision in early May, it’s true you might have lost McGuire for nothing. Maybe there would be no trade market for him at that point. But recall last year, McGuire was DFA’d out of spring training, cleared, and went to Buffalo. He was recalled in mid-April when Alejandro Kirk was injured. Keeping him as injury insurance in the first month of the season always seemed like a smarter play. Now, with Jansen out for weeks, Kirk will be asked to handle much more catching responsibilities than anticipated, and the combination of Collins and Tyler Heineman behind him is supremely uninspiring. All three are a major step down from Jansen defensively, and McGuire’s familiarity with the team and pitching staff would have been useful. As we saw in New York, the margin for error defensively is very thin against the American League powerhouses. The Jays made a gamble at the catching position and lost, at least in the short term. Additionally, the calls for the promotion of top prospect Gabriel Moreno will only intensify if the team continues to struggle with the position.

This was after watching another horrendous Zach Collins strikeout.

Who’s On Second?

Santiago Espinal got off to a scorching start to the season. Through the first four games, he was 5/11, hitting the ball hard, playing good defence, and winning over the fan base. In the final three games in New York, he was 0-for-10. Cavan Biggio is hitless through his first eight plate appearances. Both have been strong defensively, and the team can afford for them to not be offensive superstars. But I still think we’ll see Biggio play more games than Espinal when all is said and done. Espinal just doesn’t project to me as a guy you want playing 100 games in a season. I don’t think it’ll be a situation they need to solve externally, but you just hope each guy has enough hot streaks over the course of the year.

Defensive Improvements have been noticeable

There was a lot of talk about Matt Chapman making Bo Bichette better defensively. I think Bo heard that and decided that Bo Bichette wanted to make Bo Bichette better defensively. He’s been excellent so far, with a pair of magnificent web gems in New York. Chapman looked a bit nervous on Opening Day, but has settled in. Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr look like they’re taking better routes to fly balls (Gurriel’s blunder on Thursday aside). “Defence Wins Championships” is a cliche mantra across all sports, but it looks like on an individual level, the players have bought into that and have made strides to improve themselves. From a team standpoint, they’re playing in the shift more than any other team in the league, and while that can sometimes lead to odd-looking base hits, over the course of a full season that will balance out and lead to increased run prevention.

Where are the blue jerseys?

In 2021, the Jays wore their dark blue jersey roughly 50% of the time (sadly, I scrapped the spreadsheet that had the official breakdown). The powder blue uniforms were sported about a third of the time and the grey were donned roughly a dozen times, with four of those coming in April. Through seven games, they haven’t worn an alternate jersey once. Are they one of the teams, like Oakland, that has been hit by manufacturing delays? I’m not complaining about the lack of dark blue jerseys. The team has worn them so often in the last few years, especially in lieu of grey, that I’ve almost gotten a bit sick of them. But I’m a big fan of the powder blue (or New Blue, as the team calls it), and I enjoy seeing them in the rotation a couple of times per week. Don’t forget, you can track what the Jays wear every game and their record in each uniform here.

What Comes Next?

The Jays return home for a three-game set against the Oakland A’s, who just won three of four in Tampa and are therefore not to be taken lightly.

  • Friday 7:07 pm: RHP Daulton Jefferies vs RHP Ross Stripling
  • Saturday 3:07 pm: RHP Paul Blackburn vs LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
  • Sunday 1:37 pm: RHP Adam Oller vs RHP Alek Manoah

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