It’s early. That we all know. But with ten or so games under the belt, fans are starting to get a sense of what the season might hold in store. If you were, for example a Red Sox fan, you could probably begin reading all the screaming articles already written about their surprisingly terrible start and would still be reading them after the Blue Jays (who share the Sox last place 3-8 record) had come to town, played the series starting today and departed.
Here in Toronto Fanland, some observations are coming into focus at this early juncture. Again, only 11 games are done but some things seem increasingly obvious. Like that the pitching so many of us thought would be a weak spot is actually a good deal better than we’d expected. But likewise, the hitting so far has been atrocious and one has to begin to wonder soon if we haven’t horribly over-estimated the ability of the position players, new hitting coach Guillermo Martinez, or both. Perhaps worst of all however, is that the fans don’t seem to be screaming the sky is falling. Neither do the players or coaches for that matter. And that, more than say, a regular outfielder and frontline catcher each having one RBI apiece so far might spell trouble for the “New Jays” and the next year or two.
Toronto is 3-8, and worse, that comes after starting the year with a 7-game home stand against the supposedly dreadfully-bad Orioles and Tigers. The pitching has been better than any of us had likely really hoped… witness low-cost free agent pickup Matt Shoemaker who will be facing off against Chris Sale today. Who would have thought that the guy out of that pair that would have yet to allow a run after 14 innings would be the Blue Jay?
But the offense… oh my. It’s almost offensive to call Toronto’s hitting “offense”. While thus far, pitching has dominated in general in the AL(the league batting average so far, a paltry .231), there’s no good way to put a positive spin on the team’s .183 average … even if that somehow tops both the Tigers and Indians! Likewise, the number that matters – the runs scored – at 29 is not an attractive number for 11 games played. Seattle has scored nearly three times that already – 85. And pundits thought the Mariners were going to tank this year. Toronto have scored over 3 runs only three times to this point; they’ve been shutout once and notched only a single run three times. Not a recipe for a winning team. Ask Marcus Stroman, who’s had three excellent starts, boasts a 2.41 ERA and yet is 0-2.
The lethargic hitting isn’t something that can be pinned on just one or two under-achievers or slow starters. To this point, of all the regulars, really only little-known shortstop Freddy Galvis (picked up from San Diego in the off-season, presumably so the Padres could open up a roster spot for Manny Machado) is hitting well. He leads the team with a .324 average, 11 hits, 6 ribbies and sports a high-quality 1.025 OPS. He also is tied with Randal Grichuk for the high of 3 homers; Grichuk however is hitting .162, half of the Galvis number. Veteran Justin Smoak is hitting exactly the Mendoza Line (.200) and has launched just one longball to date. Brandon Drury, the third baseman with the Sword of Damacles (otherwise known as Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) hanging over him isn’t doing much to lobby for regular playing time once VG2 shows up… he’s hitting .179 and has struck out 17 times out of 39 AB. Danny Jansen, the young catcher labeled as the “hitting catcher” (Reese McGuire, at Buffalo is a bit behind in development and seems to be being labeled the “defense” catcher) is managing just a .143 average and one RBI. Which is still a ways ahead of multi-positional Lourdes Gurriel, a player with average at best defensive skills but a potent bat (witness his 11 game streak of multiple hits last summer) is hitting .074. Yikes! He’s K’d 9 times but walked once, so don’t look to the on base percentage as the silver lining there. And while there are players who have speed in the lineup and a coaching staff preaching a new, feisty attitude, they’ve collectively yet to steal a base.
Obviously, there’s lots of time for these guys to turn it around and start putting runs on the board left and right. But the lacklustre start is reason for concern. As is too, just how little seems to be being said about it so far.
At first glance it might seem a good thing for the team and a credit to the fans that there seems to be little panic out there. I’m not currently in the GTA so I can’t gauge coffee shop banter, but judging from Twitter and the Toronto newspapers, there seems to be no real outrage or even anguished concern over the slow start and awful hitting. Rewind three or four years and a single strikeout with bases loaded in extra innings could unleash a torrent of anguish and anger comparable to what some invading armies face when entering a foreign land. So maybe all of us fans are maturing. Understanding the team’s not designed to win the World Series this year and are comfortable with that. It’s quite relaxing not having to worry if the team wins or loses in fact.
I don’t see it that way though. Toronto fans are too passionate, too deeply involved in the team’s hills and dales. Or else they have been. I worry – and the front office should be terrified – that the easy acceptance of the mounting losses is more than understanding, evidence of a growing indifference to the team and its management. Consider the attendance. Two years ago they led the AL and were selling out most games. Last year they were still middle-of-the-pack attendance wise, but crowds had dropped by 26%. This year, according to Fansided, attendance has dipped by 305 over the first ten days last year! The writing was on the wall when tickets were still available for opening day as the team took the field; the paragraph was completed when the attendance of 10 460 on the first Monday was the lowest for any game at the Rogers’ Centre in nine years. As that site suggests, “management seem hellbound on taking this roster down to the studs and no amount of fan revolt will change that.” And as much as fans like a drink and snack while watching, no amount of reduced-price beers and hot dogs are going to lure them back to see a team of mostly unknown players who seem to have in common only an inability to hit and a relative lack of concern over that fact.
At least fans had something to cheer about yesterday. Edwin Encarnacion hit two home runs in one inning. Uh, yeah… for Seattle. Perhaps its time for the team to retire “Ace” the jaybird mascot and replace him with a guy in a toga carrying a violin… because the ownership seem to be fiddling while their Rome burns.