Inconsistent Blue Jays rotation needs to settle in, but has solid history
With fewer than 20 games under its belt, there are clear Blue Jays warning signs looming on the horizon with regard to what had been an unshakeable pre-season belief this team was destined to be a serious post-season contender. It’s nothing that can’t be corrected, but righting the ship needs to start now.
Despite a competitive first month handicapped by a mere six games at a wonderfully renovated Rogers Centre. Despite a winning record, that is T9 in MLB overall, the Jays, quite alarmingly, rank a dismal 19th in run differential, with a minus-7. Given that pedestrian plus-minus ratio in a league born to run, the task of cobbling together a winning record that might tease this front office into believing they are good enough to win 90-plus games for a third straight year, may not be possible.
That sickly plus-minus performance needs to improve dramatically and the belief is that important trend upward can’t happen with the current uneven contributions of this five-man rotation. The Jays’ quintet has chipped in just seven quality starts in 17 games, while allowing 22 first-inning earned runs, an ERA of 11.65. Come-from-behind wins add up when you’re always behind. That’s a deceiving number.
Why the emphasis on the rotation, this early in the year? We’re looking at July. One can learn valuable lessons from MLB history. Recall back in 2015, as the July 31 trade deadline approached, the Blue Jays under manager John Gibbons played ping-pong with the .500 mark, bouncing back and forth, with no streaking. Legitimate arguments were being made on both sides, of whether that club should buy or sell. But the key vote belonged to then-GM Alex Anthopoulos. His choice was to go all in.
It went like this. On July 27, an off-day on the schedule, the Jays record stood at 50-50, but was tempered and teased in the front office by an impressive plus-115 run differential. The belief was they were actually better than their record. Over the next four days, the Jays boldly reached out and added all-star SS Troy Tulowitzki, LHP David Price, RHP Mark Lowe and LF Ben Revere in separate deals, in exchange for an array of minor-league inventory. The club roared down the stretch with a 43-19 record, capturing the AL East by a full six games.
Early 2023 rotations woes are there but with possible solutions
There are obvious factors that would serve to contribute to a course correction by the Jays’ starters and other changes that appear more subtle.
Fans may begin considering the current problem by angst-ing over the six out of 17 games in which the Jays’ have allowed nine or more runs. In that same lane of horsehide generosity, consider the uneven contributions to this point from the hyped Top 3 of the Jays’ rotation. The trio has combined for only six quality starts in their combined 11 outings. The numbers in the five non-quality efforts, by Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt show 31 earned runs allowed in 20.1 innings (13.72 ERA). Those dismal games are difficult to overcome in a season-long run differential.
Fear not. The recent history of the current Jays’ top trio leads one to believe that their early issues of a 2023 inconsistency will be figured out, then ironed out. History, in fact, shows that, around baseball, durability and good health at the top of a rotation is a significant head-start towards contention. Add to that the presence of the Jays group’s durability, recent years of success on the mound, and the conclusion is the fortunes of the Big-3 can be expected to change for the better as time goes on.
Here's another reason for optimism. The Jays have four starters that might be expected to log 30-plus assignments. That being said, in 2022, every team with its top three starters combining for 90-plus starts, advanced to the post-season. The Mariners (96 GS) featured Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert and Marco Gonzalez. The Blue Jays (94 GS) had Manoah, Gausman and Jose Berrios. The Yankees (93 GS) boasted Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Nestor Cortes. The Guardians (93 GS) led with Cal Quantrill, Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie.
Contributing factors to the Jays early-season starting struggles
1-Note that nothing in the way of blame should be laid at the feet of the 4-5 starters, Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi. After the Jays had lost three in a row, to go 1-3 to start the season, Kikuchi ended the streak with a win in Kansas City. After Bassitt dropped the final game of the Tigers series, the team hosted the undefeated Rays, who were 13-0. First it was Berrios, then it was Kikuchi that beat the Rays. The ball was handed to Manoah who was unable to complete the sweep.
2-Perhaps Jays’ hurlers need to change the approach vs. clearly aggressive opposing hitters early in any sequence. Teams seem to be jumping on Jays starters early in the count, early in the game. Consider opponents on first pitch are 30-for-77-.390 with six homers. Consider that in all counts, prior to a first strike (0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0), opponents are 48-for-126-.381, with 11 homers.
But, in conclusion, returning to the opening premise, no matter how it is accomplished (and don’t lay it at the feet of the hitters), a dramatic Blue Jays turnaround in run differential must occur before the end of July in order to restore internal faith that this team is good enough to compete. Then buy at the deadline. The offence is there. The starting pitching now needs to get there.