Jays make blunders, hitting continues to suffer
When you look back on the scoresheet, you wonder how the Jays continue to lose close games and wonder how the continuous pressure is feeling on this organization.
As April draws to a close, the Jays stand to open the season with anywhere between 9 and 12 wins and 18 and 15 losses -- A lousy start. In my previous article, I compared the Jays with the 2001 Oakland As who started the season 8-18 to end the season at 102-60.
But when I look at this Blue Jays team, the fundamentals are just not there yet.
Here are what I think are two major problems on the team:
Something is terribly wrong with the hittingMaicer Izturis and Bonifacio need to have their career-advertised .320+ OBP to be effective, and so far, they've fallen fall short of that. In fact BOTH players are having their career worst months in MLB.
Bonifacio has a paltry .219 OBP for April, his worst month even in the majors except for the first month that he played back in 2008. Certainly, he can do better, and yes, he should be given the opportunity to be better by putting him in the situations he should be playing in: in CF or at 2B against LHP and used later in the game for situtaional ball, as he was today.
Izturis is also having his worst month ever with a .197 OBP.
Brett Lawrie is slowly coming around, and the excuse that he didn't have any spring training holds. There is no evidence that suggests that he is not improving. His OBP is heading in the right direction and his at bats look better.
Rajai Davis is playing to expectations, but positionally, there's no room on the field for him unless you sit Colby, It makes sense to sit Colby and Adam Lind against LHP. In that case, put Rajai in centre and Bonifacio at 2B, or alternatively put Bonifacio in CF, Rajai in LF, and DH Cabrera. But with the way that Bonifacio and Izturis are hitting, you can only afford to put one of them in the lineup and hope that they come around. That forces you to keep Davis in the lineup but with the outfielders all doing very well against RHP, that's not possible to do. A conumdrum for sure, and not one of the good kind.
Melky Cabrera, I believe is also going to be okay. With an OBP of .310 (so far) and a 50+ game suspension last year and his deliberate exlusion from the playoffs, he is only slowly getting back to form. He should be fine.
Edwin is going to be fine, and his bombs in Baltimore and New York show that he's found his swing again.
JP Arencibia has switched into a home run hitter. 40% of his at bats end in strikeouts, compared to his 30% average from the last two years. Given that he's at the top of the leaderboard in home runs, this isn't a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with his .267 BA and playing in 4 of every 5 games is good for him.
Then there's Jose Bautista. Half of his 12 hits have been home runs, and he has yet to hit more than once in a game. He has got to come around and try to get hits instead of bombs especially against tough pitching. He has been unlucky too especially with his ground balls (his BABIP is sub .200). He must improve for this team to get better.
Adam Lind has seemed to develop plate discipline, and hopefully the birth of his second child doesn't destroy that high OBP (close to .400). If he can have a year anything north of his last three years, it will be good.
Kawasaki is doing way more than expected. A replacement level player at best, he's doing very well... too well. As his scouting gets better, expect him to start to do worse.
And finally, Colby Rasmus. He too is turning into a DH with a strikeout rate at close to 50%. He needs plate discipline but I think it's actually coming along. Does Colby belong at the #2 spot?
Still, for this team, it's a matter of timely hitting. The lineup, as it stands, just isn't stringing hits together. Bautista is usually the 3rd out, leaving bases empty for Edwin. Brett Lawrie and Izturis/Bonifacio need to improve. Average pitchers are looking like aces in front of the Jays, and while there are glimmers of hope and a few comebacks, this team on any given night just looks awful at the plate with the exception of the home run.
I think Gibby is learning what is working and what is not and adjusting his lineup accordingly. He's stuck with putting Maicer or Bonifacio in every game and trotting Kawasaki out there every day to play short. But really, the lineup should be pretty much the same as advertised with a "no-panic" lineup. I don't like the fact that he is switching the lineup everyday.
Which brings me to my second point: Infield defenceThe Jays middle infield, frankly, just sucks, and that was before Jose Reyes was struck with injury. Now it really sucks, and Brett Lawrie is not much better (yet), though much faster.
With messed up throws and errors from Lawrie, Bonifacio, Izturis, and Kawasaki, and missed plays because of lack of speed, the infield has cost the Jays several games, as has the poor play of Arencibia. These errors force the pitchers to throw more pressure under higher pressure and cause the team to play from behind. This in turn puts pressure on the team to bat to play catch up and results in higher strike out rates as the players get away from their own ideal fundamentals.
I do like Lawrie's glove, but his decision making to throw the ball results in costly errors. He needs to eat the ball or make better throwing decisions by planting his feet and making accurate throws to first.
And while Kawasaki started out strong, his play at shortstop has now been questionable. It seemed like since he commited his game-losing error against Baltimre, his defense has been suffering.
And both Maicer and Bonifacio's 2B play have been poor. Tonight loss was caused by many, many blunders: 5 walks given up by Laffey, Rajai getting caught stealing 3rd for the third out, the passed ball by Arencibia, the non-play by Kawasaki, the missed play by Lawrie, and the blundered double play by Izturis. The Jays need to play clean defense so that their pitcher can get out of innings more quickly.
I pointed out when Escobar and Johnston were traded that the defense would suffer, and it has greatly.
What to doThere is really no valid explanation as to why both Izturis and Bonifacio are doing so poorly at the same time, and there is really no valid explanation as to why Lind, Bautista, Rasmus, and Encarnacion had very slow starts to the year.
So you look at the sum of the whole. Each of the players, true, are to blame for their own individual performances, but you have to wonder what effect does the coaching staff have on their players. How is the player's individual relationship with the management affecting their own performance, and collectively, can the relationships between the managers and players affect performance? I think so.
John Gibbons appears to be in panic mode. With the daily switchup of the lineups and his expermentation with the player of the moment being allowed to bat second, I wonder if he's in over his head.
But both the fans and the team need to calm down. Expectations are high, but it's okay if the Jays don't make the playoffs this year. With the Maple Leafs about to start a playoff run, the media and fans will be looking to the ice instead of the field for a while. The pitching staff will be around for another year. Jose Reyes will come back healthy.
But there are a few things they can do:
(1) Goodbye Blanco, hello Thole. Thole is a major league catcher and is outperforming in AAA. It's time to bring him to the show.
(2) Time to trade Colby Rasmus and Bonifacio for a reliable 2B and bring up Gose or Sierra, or to DFA Izturis or Bonifacio and give Jim Negrych a chance. Something defensively has to change.
(3) Take a deep look at the management staff and their style. Don't panic. Keep the lineup the same against RHP and LHP.
(4) Help the players execute the game. Focus. Concentrate. Practice.