It’s too early to be arrogant or start planning out a November parade… but this year’s Blue Jays team offers a lot more optimism than last year’s edition! Through two weeks so far, as we know, the Jays are a pretty solid 8-4, behind only the redhot Red Sox (and notably, 2.5 games ahead of the much-vaunted Yankees.
There’s a lot to like so far. Aaron Sanchez’s flirting with a no-hitter last night not the least of it. That he lost the “no-no” bid in the 8th is irrelevant. The team pulled off a squeaker in style and more importantly, the third decent start from Sanchez shows that miraculously he’s seemed to have shaken off the nefarious blister problem that scrubbed his 2017 season. In so doing, he’s also reminded us that before those finger ouchies, he was among the very best of the league’s pitchers in 2016 (leading in ERA in fact.) Justin Smoak has had good games and nothing much games, but is tied for the lead league in RBI so far, suggesting that his ’17 was no fluke. In the same game, roberto Osuna became the youngest player ever to record 100 MLB saves. Congratulations to him!
The numbers back up the team’s resurgence. Last night’s 8th win of the year came a full 20 days sooner than last year’s (when they won on the final game of the month to ‘improve’ to 8-17.) So far this season, they’ve scored more than 5 runs, five times. Last year they did that just 5 times in all of April. That translates into 61 runs so far, second best in the AL to the Angels (although to be fair, Boston have 56 in 10 games, for a better average per game.) Their 3.62 ERA is 6th best in the AL but second to only Boston in the division and as a result their run differential of +17 is fourth best in the league. Last year by comparison, they had a dismal -91 on the year, allowing 91 more runs than they scored- a difficult number to have if a team wants to have even an outside shot at playoff glory!
Their .235 batting average isn’t showy, in fact it’s only 10th best in the league (real surprise – Cleveland are last with an atrocious .158, resulting in only 31 runs.) But the numbers that really matter are better in that department. Their .437 slugging percentage is third best in the AL and best in the division, Aaron judge and his Pinstripes notwithstanding. And as we already noted, the bottom line is they’re scoring runs almost as well as any team going, which is the number that counts.
The pitching is even more reason for optimism. The 3.62 ERA , which sounds stellar, is actually 6th best in the AL . there’ve been a lot of shutouts and low-scoring games thus far! But it is second only to Boston in the AL East and the relievers have been spot-on. thus far, they have a cumulative 2.66 ERA despite being called on for better than 3 innings a game so far. If and when Marcus Stroman hits his stride, the starters’ numbers will improve, bullpen may be required to eat up a few less innings and the team could be among the elite pitching squads of 2018. Even if they just kept the current performance, they’d be looking at 594 runs given up through the year, which was topped last season by only Cleveland.
In the field, the .982 fielding percentage sounds normal, but there seems to be an influx of Gold glove caliber defenders this season, so it ranks only 13th best in the league. Noteworthy though- the two teams they are ahead of in that category are 2015 world Champs Kansas City and the all-powerful Yankees.
None of these stats really count for that much. It is, after all, early. There are a full 150 games to play still. Cleveland is bound to start getting a few hits sooner or later; Giancarlo Stanton will almost certainly eventually adjust to the new league and hit a few dingers in the Big Apple. But likewise, Randal Grichuk may not be the new 2012-vintage Bautista, but is bound to get more than 1 hit a week for Toronto and Marcus Stroman (who missed half of Spring Training) might not be as good as he thinks he is but in no way is a pitcher who’ll cough up a run per inning over the long haul. So the Jays too have areas where they can actually get better. the important thing is that right now they are putting up “W”s and have a sense of possibility that was missing in the stands and on the field by this time last year.
Maple Leafs in the playoffs, Raptors with second best record in NBA, and our Jays holding tough in second place… it’s a good time to be a sports fan in the GTA!