Wait ’til next year: Toronto Blue Jays
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait Till Next year series.
Current record: 67-86 (.438, 5th in the AL East)
Mathematically eliminated: September 17
What went right in 2012: The Blue Jays came into the year with high hopes, and spent most of the first two months of the season in the thick of the AL East scrum, going 30-26 through June 6, a point at which they were just two games out of first place. They meandered around .500 for almost two more months, and were 51-49 as late as July 28, with a +23 run differential, before the cumulative effect of a multitude of injuries became too much to overcome.
Individually, the most notable season among the Blue Jays has come from Edwin Encarnacion, who has emerged as a significant power threat, bashing a career-high 41 homers (third in the league) to go with a .282/.385/.562 line. Encarnacion’s late bloom earned him a three-year, $29 million dollar extension. It also has some parallels to the career arc of Toronto teammate and fellow slugger Jose Bautista, who was enjoying another strong season (.241/.358/.527 with 27 homers) before suffering a left wrist injury while swinging a bat on July 16. Bautista played in just two more games before undergoing season-ending surgery to stabilize a tendon. Meanwhile, on a pitching staff beset by injuries, Carlos Villanueva has moved into the rotation and delivered a 4.12 ERA (second among rotation regulars) while striking out 8.1 per nine in 15 starts, while Casey Janssen has taken over the closer role and delivered 9.5 strikeouts per nine to go with a 2.72 ERA and 20 saves in 22 attempts.
What went wrong in 2012: Injuries, injuries and more injuries. The Blue Jays have ranked among the majors’ most banged-up teams, losing well over 1,000 player games to the disabled list. The rotation was particularly decimated, with Brandon Morrow missing two and a half months due to an abdominal strain, and Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison both undergoing Tommy John surgery; all three went down in the space of a single week in June. Elsewhere on the staff, reliever Luis Perez joined the Tommy John surgery club, while Jesse Litsch underwent biceps tendon surgery, and Dustin McGowan and planned closer Sergio Santos both needed season-ending shoulder surgeries.
Of the starters that escaped the injury bug’s bite, Ricky Romero has been an absolute disaster, with the league’s highest walk total (103) and ERA among qualifiers (5.76), while Henderson Alvarez has whiffed just 3.7 per nine en route to a 4.91 ERA. As a team, the Jays’ 4.84 runs per game allowed ranks 11th in the league, fueled by AL-worst walk and homer rates (3.6 and 1.3 per nine, respectively).
The offense, which ranks seventh in scoring at 4.44 runs per game, hasn’t been much to crow about, either. After a spectacular 43-game audition last year, Brett Lawrie has hit an underwhelming .272/.319/.398 in his first full major league season, and while above-average defense has kept him a valuable player, some of that owes to the way infield shifts are handled by defensive metrics. Elsewhere, Adam Lind (.240/.297/.399) has provided a sorry excuse for production from a first baseman, J.P. Arencibia has compiled an appalling 100/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio while hitting .230/.268/.435, and reclamation projects Kelly Johnson (.225/313/.360), Colby Rasmus (.225/.292/.403) and Yunel Escobar (.253/.298/.346) have served reminders as to why they wore out their welcomes at their previous stops in the first place.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Escobar was recently suspended three games for writing a homophobic slur on his eye-black stickers. Other youngsters such as Yan Gomes, Anthony Gose, Adeiny Hechevarria and Moises Sierra have failed to impress in limited duty, putting up sub-.300 on-base percentages in under 200 plate appearances. Then again, they fit right in on a team that has collectively hit .243/.307/.406, ranking fifth in home runs and sixth in isolated power but ninth in walk rate and 13th both on-base percentage and batting average on balls in play — numbers that suggest that hitting coach Dwayne Murphy’s swing-for-the-fences approach isn’t working for everyone.
Overall outlook: Despite a savvy general manager in Alex Anthopoulos, and a strong farm system bursting with prospects, the Blue Jays have not only been unable to make a dent in the AL East hierarchy, they’ve been surpassed — at least temporarily — by the Orioles in that regard. Injuries make for a convenient excuse for that insult, but the sheer number of them on the pitching staff calls into question the organization’s training and handling of its precious arms. Furthermore, the failure of the lineup’s youngsters to turn the corner remains an ongoing problem even after Travis Snider has been chased out of town. As a result, the Blue Jays are en route to their second sub-.500 finish in four years, and in danger of their worst finish since 2004, when they went 67-94.