It seems appropriate on a day when the Jays have finally emerged in first place all themselves to look at some of the things we have to like about the season so far. Some are rather obvious- Edwin Encarnacion for example. Worries of his mental state, given his impending free agency, or health after missing all of Spring Training have proven unwarranted, based on his leading the world in RBI and having a shot at his first home run crown. Or the repeat performance of MVP Josh Donaldson,whose offense numbers are on par with last season’s, except for a bump in walks (74 already compared to 73 all last year) meaning a career best .970 OPS. Not to mention a more steady throwing arm reducing his errors and improving his fielding percentage to a personal best .977. But there are some that have perhaps not been quite as widely noticed or noted .
Take Devon Travis. Off-season worries about his recovery from surgery proved as off-base as the concerns about EE. Overall, his hitting is right where he left off last year (.305, 10 HR, .849 OPS) and compare decently to those of Ian Kinsler (.837 OPS) and Dustin Pedroia (12 HR, 50 RBI in 51 more games than Devon) if not to Jose Altuve. then again, no AL middle-infielder is posting numbers anything like Altuve. His fielding is improving statistically and contributes to Toronto’s better-than-solid defense. And with a 15 for 31 run over the past 7 games, it looks like he might just be getting going. I’m thinking more than ever that in Travis the Jays have their best second baseman since Roberto Alomar and the takeaway of maybe Alex Anthopoulos’ best-ever trade.
Low-key Roberto Osuna, still just 21, showed he was indeed worthy of the trust the team put in him, keeping him as the closer when more-experienced Drew Storen was acquired. Osuna ranks with the best of the AL closers, with 25 saves in 27 tries and a great 1.93 ERA. Possibly even better, or at least more unexpected , has been the idea that lightning might have struck twice for Toronto. Osuna was last year’s team rookie of the year; this year it looks like that distinction will be another bullpen arm that came out of nowhere – Joe Biagini. The rule V selection was a long-shot to make the team out of Dunedin, let alone stick around but here we are, with him second to only Osuna on the team in appearances (42), and excellent numbers (2.09 ERA, 42k:13 BB) that statistically point out the obvious – that he’s been the only solid, reliable middle-reliever on staff.
And while the ‘pen has been iffy, arguably the best thing about the Jays thus far this season is the starting rotation. With JA Happ – major league wins leaader JA Happ- and Aaron Sanchez being legit Cy Young contenders and Marco Estrada picking up right where he left off last year, they should be well-set for October series. For those keeping count, Happ has been 23-5, 2.62 in 34 starts since being traded from Seattle last season and meeting up with wunderkoach Ray Searage. Even the lesser lights of the rote, Marcus Stroman and RA Dickey (I’m not including Francisco Liriano since he’s thus far only had one start in the revised lineup) have delivered solid numbers of innings (147 in Stroman’s case) and the five have managed to combine for 112 starts out of 115 games played, and a stellar 3.36 ERA. Been awhile since we heard laments about the non-signing of David Price, isn’t it?
Counter-intuitively, even the “disappointing” season of Jose Bautista may be a positive for fans. True enough, his batting average is the lowest of his career in years he’s been a regular and his slugging pct. at .444 is lowest since 2009. Now he’s on the disabled list for the second time this season with a twisted knee (you’ll recall a broken toe made him miss time mid-season) . The good of this? Well, for starters he still has 15 homers in 80 games, meaning even in a “down” year he’s good for 30 HR if healthy. And his 58 walks signifies his eye is still as good as anyone’s in the league. What makes this good news is that, coupled with the advertising campaigns he’s been doing with CANADIAN Tire and CANADA Goose lately, it seems much more likely he’s going to retire a Blue jay when that time comes. We know about the rumors and his line in the sand and reports of his expected salary in free agency– but a season where he’s been on the DL twice, is going to be lucky to scrape together 20 homers and 70 RBI and may hit below .225 , along with reduced range in the field is going to cut down the number of, and passion of, off-season suitors. I can’t imagine any team offering him $150M or so; likewise, I can’t imagine right now that corporations in Chicago or Dallas might be lining up to have him as a spokesman. But he’s still loved in Toronto and the less-than-expected season makes us think he’ll settle for a reasonable offer from the team and play out his time in the blue-and-white. And i still wouldn’t be surprised by another game-winning, game 7 type home run from his in two months….
A final thing fans should like about this season so far- themselves! Even when the team was in the East basement back in early May, fans were flocking to the Rogers Centre and the team never gave up hope. Leading the league in attendance and watching them on TV in record numbers should make the team, the fans proud- and reiterate to Russ Atkins and Mark Shapiro, as well as Rogers, that Toronto IS a baseball city and it pays to invest in the team. 2017 doesn’t look so bad from that standpoint- but there’s a whole lot of (October) baseball to be played before then!