May 21st, 2024

Bigger things were expected for the Toronto Blue Jays, who are mired in last place


By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press on May 7, 2024.

The Toronto Blue Jays started the 2024 regular season aiming for bigger things after crashing out in the wild-card series last fall. Toronto Blue Jays' Bo Bichette reacts after he struck out during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, in Washington, Saturday, May 4, 2024. Bichette was ejected from the game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Nick Wass

The Toronto Blue Jays started the 2024 regular season aiming for bigger things after crashing out in the wild-card series last fall.

The campaign has not gone as planned so far. At 16-19 entering Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia, the Blue Jays were in last place in the American League East and a growing list of pitcher injuries has dimmed hopes for a quick turnaround.

Here’s a look at five storylines as Canada’s lone big-league team approaches the season’s one-quarter mark (all statistics as of Tuesday afternoon).

RELIEF NEEDED

Reliever Yimi Garcia was in dominating form over the first month of the season but a sore back has forced him to watch the action from the bullpen of late.

With fellow high-leverage option Chad Green (shoulder) and long reliever Bowden Francis (forearm) on the injured list, Blue Jays manager John Schneider has had limited relief options in recent days.

Starter Yariel Rodriguez (back) is also on the IL, dealing another blow to a pitching staff that has yet to find its footing.

Relievers Erik Swanson, Tim Mayza and Genesis Cabrera have been largely ineffective, putting added strain on a bullpen that has the worst earned-run average in the major leagues at 5.31.

QUIET BATS

The Blue Jays made changes in the off-season to try to get their offence going after a so-so year in 2023.

Chief among them was giving bench coach Don Mattingly the additional title of offensive co-ordinator. His early efforts have yet to bear fruit.

Toronto was in the bottom third among the 30 MLB teams in several offensive categories, including batting average (.226), homers (30), slugging percentage (.362) and hits (255).

SCUFFLING STARS

The big names in the heart of Toronto’s batting order – with the exception of cleanup hitter Justin Turner – have simply not delivered at the plate so far this season.

The offensive statistics for slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr., usual sparkplug Bo Bichette and leadoff man George Springer are well down from previous years.

Bichette, in particular, is really having difficulty getting on track. A career .294 hitter, he’s batting just .195 with one homer and an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .530.

The 39-year-old Turner, who signed a one-year deal with the Blue Jays in the off-season, is hitting .283 with four homers, 16 RBIs and an .833 OPS.

MORE OF THE SAME

Right-hander Alek Manoah made his big-league season debut over the weekend and looked much like the pitcher who couldn’t find his consistency in 2023.

Manoah appeared primed to be an ace for the Blue Jays in 2022 when he was a finalist for the American League Cy Young Award.

However, his game fell off last year and he was demoted to the minor leagues on two occasions. Manoah dealt with a shoulder issue at spring training and built up with Triple-A Buffalo before getting a start with the Blue Jays on Sunday in an 11-8 loss to Washington.

Manoah allowed six earned runs and four walks over the four-inning appearance. He had six strikeouts.

BRIGHT LIGHTS

There are some reasons for optimism despite the Blue Jays’ early struggles.

In addition to Turner’s solid play, right-hander Jose Berrios posted a 1.44 ERA over seven starts, outfielder Daulton Varsho has shown some pop at the plate (six homers, 16 RBIs) and utilityman Davis Schneider (.270 average, 12 RBIs) looks like more than just a flash in the pan.

Even though it’s still early, the American League East looks like it will be tough once again this year. The New York Yankees and the division-leading Baltimore Orioles have a share of the AL lead in victories with 23.

At 25.9 per cent, the Blue Jays have the fifth-worst odds of making the post-season among AL teams, per FanGraphs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on X.

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