There has been very, very little to be excited about with the Toronto Blue Jays so far this season. The “winter of promise” was such a firestorm of hope and excitement that we all forgot there were still 162 games to play. In true Toronto fashion, we planned the parade before we had actually won anything. Grapefruit League action left a bit of an uneasy feeling with Jays fans, but I refused to acknowledge there was a problem. The “spring of discontent” began with back-to-back-to-back series losses against the Indians, Red Sox and Tigers. This was excruciatingly painful to watch, we hadn’t even considered the fact there would be some down-time this season. With the star-studded lineup the Jays had put together, we all figured Toronto would stomp the rest of the league into submission. Instead, the list of losses grew and the bandwagon got lighter.
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In the early season, the only bright spot was Jose Reyes. Through the first 10 games of the season, he was batting .395 and had already stolen five bases. The Toronto Blue Jays finally had a lead-off hitter who could get on base and move himself into scoring position. His aggressive style of play was what landed him on the DL shortly thereafter. Already up 8-4 in the game, Reyes made a break to steal second and jammed his ankle into the base. Concurrent to the Reyes injury, Brett Lawrie was still sidelined with an oblique injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic, leaving holes in the Toronto defense.
Moreover, the over-hyped starting rotation was falling victim to injury as well. For a second straight season, the Toronto Blue Jays are finding it difficult to fill out a full five-man rotation,and are now bringing in talent on an as-needed basis. Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ have all landed on the DL with some type of injury. The injury to Happ being the most disturbing when he took a line drive to the skull against Tampa Bay. The play was eerily reminiscent of Brandon McCarthy’s injury from last year, which sent him into brain surgery to relieve the bleeding. Luckily, Happ injured his knee more than his brain on that play. In order to maintain a rotation, the Jays turned to Esmil Rogers and Chien-Ming Wang, bringing them to the show from their minor-league assignments and giving them another shot at the bigs.
And to cap everything off, Melky Cabrera is again implicated in the latest PED scandal out of Miami.
Given all of this, what have been the bright spots for the Toronto Blue Jays so far this year? Is there anything to look forward to?
1. Attendance. For the first time in over a decade, the Toronto Blue Jays are averaging over 30,000 fans per game. They’ve already passed the 1 million fan mark this season and are on pace to draw nearly 2.5 million for the season. No doubt many of these tickets were purchased in the offseason excitement, but at the very least, the Jays have become popular in Toronto again. Initially there was a cry from the Toronto Blue Jays faithful that all of the new fans were simply bandwagoners , and they weren’t true fans, but even as the team continues to underperform, the droves of crowds continue to show up to the Rogers Centre.
Increased attendance also led to some problems for the Toronto Blue Jays. John Farrell returned to Toronto with Boston early this season and proceeded to beat the Jays 6-4. The game was memorable for both the incredible amount of booing and the paper airplane contest in the outfield. Drunk fans in the upper bowl held a mini-contest to see if anyone could throw an airplane onto the field, I’m not sure if anyone succeeded, but the fact that they were able to do so for more than an inning is appalling to me. Where was the security to throw everyone out? This incident is not isolated either. Nate McLouth was on the receiving end of a full beer thrown onto the field in a game in May. Other fans were accused of harassing and throwing peanuts into the Yankees bullpen during an incident in April. The stinging disappointment of the season so far is pushing fans to make their own entertainment. To which I ask, why even bother going to the games?
Regardless of the bored minority, the Toronto Blue Jays are drawing more fans this year, and that can only be seen as a positive. Even if the team is underperforming, there is still excitement in Toronto about their Blue Jays.
2. Home Runs. The Toronto Blue Jays are a power-hitting team, that’s no secret. Jose Bautista is renowned around the league as a home run hitter, but there’s more to the Jays than Bautista. As of today, the Toronto Blue Jays have 80 home runs on the season, which is good enough for third in the AL behind only Baltimore and Texas. More importantly, the Jays are getting power-hitting from more than Bautista. For the second year in a row, Edwin Encarnacion is swinging for the fences and leading the team with 18 homers; he has maintained the power he re-discovered last year. Edwin hit a memorable homer April 30 against the Red Sox when he hit a towering bomb to the upper deck in left field. It measured 427 feet and would have been considerably more if the building didn’t get in the way, Edwin became one of only a handful of players to hit the upper-deck in the oversized Rogers Centre. The Jays are also getting production out of other players, too. Colby Rasmus has been decent this season, batting .254 with 10 homers, and J.P. Arencibia is currently batting .214 with 12 bombs. J.P. has cooled off significantly in the last few weeks, and it will be key for him to find the swing he had at the beginning of the season. Adam Lind is batting an incredible .344 this season, but has been largely kept off the scoreboard with only six homers and 18 RBI.
3. Munenori Kawasaki. With the injury to Reyes early in the season, the Toronto Blue Jays were left scrambling to field a complete defensive team. They turned to Japanese import Kawasaki, who was signed earlier this season after being let go by the Seattle Mariners. While he’s not a run producer or a gold-glove shortstop, Kawasaki brings something to the team that was missing early in the season. Kawasaki is the definition of a clubhouse firecracker. The kid just loves to play baseball, plain and simple. After Edwin hit one of his club-leading 18 homers, Kawasaki got caught bowing as he came back into the dugout. Now, whenever the Jays are able to strike out a batter, the ball goes around the horn, and Kawasaki turns to left fielder Melky Cabrerra and they share a bow. And who could forget the greatest interview of all time? He’s become such a fan favorite that the guys over at Bluebird Banter have begun a “Write in Kawasaki” campaign to push him to the All-Star game. Even though he won’t make it, at least he’s something to be excited about this season. I wrote last year about how Lawrie brought a tough-nosed and hard-core attitude to the team, but Kawasaki offers the lighter side of baseball. A struggling team like the Toronto Blue Jays need a guy like him to put everything in perspective and to calm everyone down a little bit. While Jays fans are still waiting for the tide to turn, at least we can enjoy watching Kawasaki bounce around the diamond.