First Term Report– some good signs but …

The Jays hit the one-third mark of the year a rather dismal 25-30 (well, to be precise they hit the one-third at 24-30 with a win since), but remarkably enough only 4.5 games out of first. With the expected mediocrity of the AL East this season, the upcoming homestand against the remarkable Houston Astros and the surprisingly poor Miami Marlins takes on added import. A strong six-games and the Jays could easily be in second place and within a game or two of a playoff berth; while equally true, a lousy set of games and the year could be all but done for. I quite like the team’s chances, with the home advantage (mind you, Houston has the best road record- 15-8 – in the league) and the recent improvement of the starting rotation.

Although the Blue Jays are still neck and neck with the Bosox for the worst pitching in the AL (currently Toronto is 28th in baseball and worst in the American based on ERA but Boston has allowed a handful more total runs), the overall ERA of 4.41 is half a run better than it was a mere three weeks back and, lo and behold, the questionable starting staff now leads all of baseball in complete games! Which is a good thing given the redoubtable bullpen which has a major league low 6 saves in 15 chances. One still has to think the team was negligent in not improving the rotation in the off-season, but if the arms hold up there might be just enough in the pool to give the Jays a shot. Marco Estrada is looking OK as a starter, averaging six innings a start with a 4.20 ERA in the past five outings. Mark Buehrle, he of back-to-back complete game wins has looked rejuvenated, Drew Hutchison has been up and down while Aaron Sanchez continues to improve in the role. Over the past month, they have sported ERAs of 2.84, 3.09 and 3.31 respectively; Buehrle’s logged over 44 innings in that time vaulting him into familiar territory in the Top 10 in innings. Which leaves RA Dickey as the odd man out, although he’s still eating innings, his results are going the opposite direction from his counterparts. Dickey’s ERA in the past 30 days is only a click or two under 7. This fan would still like to see Dickey shuffled off to the ‘pen and replaced in the rotation by a new arm.

Marco Estrada is looking OK, which brings me back to last week’s topic, the rating of the off-season moves. Fitting in nicely in the bottom of the rotation, he may not be the fireballer he was when young but he’s cutting back on home runs allowed and at 2-3, 3.77 overall he’s been a good acquisition. But was he worth Adam Lind ? And more directly, how’s Toronto with him compared to if they had hung onto JA Happ.

It seems likely Happ wouldn’t have been offed to Starbucks City had the Jays not previously gotten Estrada. Happ is doing fine in Seattle, after ten starts posting a 3-1 record, 3.70 ERA and a 43:13 K to BB ratio, the best of his career. He’s only allowed four or more runs twice, but on the downside is logging an average of only about 5 2/3 innings a game. Bottom line, Happ and Estrada are basically interchangeable.

Which means the question is was Michael Saunders (the payoff for Happ) worth trading Adam Lind for? Unfortunately, as we know, Saunders has been hobbled with his knee, wrecked in spring training, and has been a non-factor for Toronto.

Lind, on the other hand, has been doing fine for the lousy Brewers. He’s been healthy, something you couldn’t count on in Toronto, and after 51 games played is hitting a healthy .281 with 8 HR, 25 RBI and an .849 OPS (below the last two years but considerably improved from the sub-.800 Lind of ’10-12). The grass must be helping his back since he’s not only healthy but has played all his games at first, with almost identical results to the stats he posted last year, which is to say respectable but no Gold Glover. His difficulties against lefties continue, with him hitting .208 with no power facing southpaws.

The bottom line is that if one expected Saunders to be healthy ( a big “IF”) the trades made sense given the abundance of first base-DH type players the Jays had and with the outfield looking iffy with the departing Colby Rasmus and Melky C. And one has to like the cheap pick-up of Chris Colabello although no one was expecting him to slide past 100 at bats with a .352 average and 16 RBI. Nor should we expect that to hold up forever; despite a dozen game hitting streak, in his last six games his average has dropped 34 points and only one of his six hits has been for extra bases.

So as we hit the middle third of the 2015 season, a few spring questions are being answered. The team, despite added “leader” players still seems incapable of putting together a good run or building real momentum; individual numbers are good enough but somehow the product is less than the sum of the parts. And it’s difficult to truly berate Alex Anthopoulos for the moves he made in the off-season. It’s easy though, to berate him for the moves he didn’t make.

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