2016 Blue Jays First Half Review

(Courtesy of The Province)

(Courtesy of The Province)

TORONTO- The Toronto Blue Jays enter the All-Star break at 51-40, two games behind the division-leading Baltimore Orioles and tied with the Boston Red Sox. Last season at the break, they were 45-46, fourth within their division and 4.5 games back.

The 1st half of the franchise 40th season for the Blue Jays have been passable despite having a depleted bullpen and sluggish start offensively. Fans were satisfied while others felt pain and anxiety at times. Manager John Gibbons should be pleased on how well his team performed so far. The Blue Jays managed to be eleven games over .500 for the first time since 1993.

Here is a first half analysis for the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays:

Catcher:

Its has been a disappointed start for Russell Martin. Only hitting .222 with 7 home runs and 36 RBIs. What’s really disappointed about the Canadian backstop has been his glove behind the plate. He only caught 6 base stealers in 43 attempts, that’s 14 percent this season compared with 44% last season. Martin has been more patient and discipline as of late, but the Jays need more from him. Especially when playing at a premium position. Josh Thole has been R.A. Dickey’s special assistant. The backup catcher had his best game during the 6-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers with a 2-run single. Overall, his .141 batting average is not suitable to be a reliable backup for Martin. Grade: C

Infielders/DH:

Josh Donaldson is on pace to have another MVP caliber season, hitting .302 with 23 homers and 63 RBIs with an on-base percentage of .418. The reigning AL MVP became the sixth player to scored more than 80 runs and homered at least 20 times in MLB history. Troy Tulowitzki started off slow with his bat and dealt with a hamstring injury. However, he’s been hitting .312, 7 home runs and 20 since being activated from the disabled list on June 18. Tulowitzki seemed to be the same type of player like he was in Colorado. Devon Travis has been a hitting machine since he came back from season shoulder surgery, hitting .262 with 6 home runs and 21 RBIs. Looke for Travis to be a x-factor going forward. Justin Smoak has been solid with his glove at first base and hit for power. But Smoak continues to struggle to hit for average with a .231 average. Darwin Barney has been a great utility player for the Blue Jays off the bench with a .296 batting average. What more you can ask for Edwin Encarnacion? When you are hitting bombs and leading the majors with 80 RBIs on a contract year, EE is due for a huge payday when he reach free agency. Their defense has been tremendous thanks to Tulowitzki’s presence in the middle of the infield. They infield has been a solid group (or maybe the new infield dirt at the Rogers Centre may help them a lot). Grade: A-

Outfielders:

Jose Bautista is on his contract year. The face of the franchise was suppose to prove that he was worthy of his contract demand (5 years, 150 million). However, the longest member of the Blue Jays was hitting .230 with 12 home runs and 41 RBI. Worse of all, Bautista suffered from a turf toe on June 17 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Good news is that Bautista is expected to return to the lineup at the end of July, but he may have to serve some time as a DH to ease up his workload. Michael Saunders have bounced back from a injury-riddled 2015 season. Captain Canada is having a breakout season, hitting .298, 16 home runs and 42 RBIs. He won the Final Man Voting for the final spot for the American League All Star team with more than 17 million votes. Saunders is a strong candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Kevin Pillar continues to shine in the outfield with his highlight reel plays. Pillar should win a Gold Glove for his outstanding catches he made from time to time. Ezequiel Carrera has done an outstanding job filling for the 4th outfielder role and taking over for the injured Bautista in right field. Grades: B

Starting Rotation:

The starting rotations was supposed to be a weakness prior towards the 2016 season. Instead, the Blue Jays’ rotation have been a pleasant surprise, leading the AL in ERA (3.64) and innings pitched (569.1). Marco Estrada proved that his 2015 breakout season was no fluke. Despite dealing with a back injury, Estrada has a 2.93 ERA and earned his first trip to the mid-summer classic. Aaron Sanchez beat out Gavin Floyd for the final spot in the rotation and it certainly paid off for the Blue Jays. The 24-year old righty pitched like an ace with a 2.97 ERA in 118.1 innings, earning his first trip to the All Star Game as well. There have so much discussion about Sanchez’s workload and innings limits, but Sanchez prove that he can stick into the rotation with his hard-sinking fastball and improved secondary pitches. Knuckled ball specialist R.A. Dickey continues to be reliable to eat up innings and have pitched better as of late. J.A. Happ has been solid during his second stint with the Blue Jays. The team needs a bit more from Marcus Stroman who dealt with a early slump. The opening day starter need to harness his command and slider to be an effective starter for the start of the second half. Drew Hutchison could see more time in the rotation in the second if Sanchez does go back to the bullpen. Grades: A

Bullpen:

The bullpen struggled enormously since the start of the season. With a 4.05 ERA, the Blue Jays lost so many close ball games and could have won a lot more games. Roberto Osuna has been their most reliable reliever. The twenty-one year old established himself as one of the games’ best closer in the game and was snubbed to be an All Star. He converted 18 saves in 20 attempts and shutdown opposing hitters with a 2.27 ERA. Jason Grilli was acquired from the Atlanta Braves last May. The 39-year old pitched better with the Blue Jays with a 2.63 ERA. Brett Cecil and Drew Storen struggled to fill out the set up roles. Jesse Chavez and Joe Biagini has been solid in the middle of relief. The bullpen needs to pitch a lot better in order for the Blue Jays to stay in the playoff race. Grades: D

Overall:

The Blue Jays may not currently hold the top spot in their division, but they should feel pleased that they are in much better position in the playoff race than they were a year ago. Getting Bautista back should give the Blue Jays a huge boost. Look for the offensive to continue to be explosive with Donaldson, Encarnacion and company. The Bullpen needs to improve and the rotation need to continue to be solid as it is. With their red hot bats and reliable pitching staff, look for the Blue Jays to be the team to beat and win a trip to the World Series.

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