Article Written by Craig Borden (@Craigers1221)
The Toronto Blue Jays have had an abysmal few months of baseball and are currently 32.5 games out of first place with a 55-68 record. As of the close of the Yankees series this past weekend, the Jays have only been able to put two months worth of quality baseball together. In the month of April, they got all of our hopes up with a 15-10 month and had a resurgence in June with a 14-12 month. Outside of those two months, they have a 26-46 record. This team has been marred by injuries and under-performance all season. So how does this team take a positive out of a lost season?
I think there is plenty to play for through the remaining 39 Blue Jays games. Things can only get better for the team at the moment and we have seen a few hints of what is to come. This should be the Blue Jays' push for the remainder of the season as they shift their priorities to the next season. I have compiled a list of four solid reasons the next month of games can be crucial to the Blue Jays future.
Early 2019 Roster Auditions
It is no secret that the Blue Jays have been testing the farm system lately, as they should be. As I mentioned above, this is a lost season as the Jays are all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. They have already seen the successful debut of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who prior to being injured, was pushing for a Major League record of consecutive games in a row with multiple hit performance. This streak is still intact while he is currently on the 10 day DL at 11 straight games with multiple hits. The talented middle infielder was batting .322 with 5 doubles, 7 home runs, and 22 RBI at the time of his injury. This is the kind of production the lineup has been dying to have all season and what they should be looking to see if they have in the Minor Leagues ready to make the leap.
Following the success of Gurriel Jr. was a promotion for Ryan Borucki, who has also been very impressive in his first 10 starts. Prior to his start Sunday against the Yankees where he did not escape the first inning, he had a 3.29 ERA in 52 Innings. That has inflated some after recording just two outs and allowing 6 earned runs in the game Sunday, but regardless he has shown he can be a big league pitcher. He has shown that he should be in consideration for the 2019 roster, just like Gurriel.
So how do the Jays continue this early audition period? Well, they have recently promoted Danny Jansen and Sean Reid-Foley, who they should continue to start as much as they possibly can. While Jansen has been catching, Russell Martin has been playing 3rd base which is a great idea to maximize playing time for both players. This is where the team needs to balance their playing time with the vets along with the rookies, but the Jays would do themselves a big favor by seeing how some of their close Minor League players can perform at a Major League level, while other teams are pushing for a playoff spot. I think most of the big names on the Buffalo Bisons should be in consideration for this as they clear the 40-man roster for some of these guys. The Double-A level and below should be left untouched as many of them are looking to make the playoffs and that experience will also be great for those players.
Get the Veteran Hold-Over Back on Track
Getting some of these rookies into the everyday rhythm is a great thing, but the Jays need to make sure the veterans that return next season are ready to go as well. Seeing Russell Martin hit again over the past few weeks has been a breath of fresh air. Players like him need to be getting at-bats so they can stay in solid shape for next season. Getting Martin right at the plate here in the last month will go a long way to him performing next season. Having him playing 3rd base has been a nice bonus as it has freed up some of his time to focus on his approach at the dish. It has been noticeable over the past few weeks as he looks like a pro-hitter rather than a bearded knight swinging a sword up there.
Another hitter that needs to continue to trend up after a rough season is Justin Smoak. Smoaky has been off from his break out All-Star performance a year ago, but has shown signs that he has adjusted to the game being presented to him. In the month of July, he popped out a .303/.374/.596 slash line. He also laced 6 homers and drove in 15 RBI. This has continued into the month of August thus far as well. Through 17 games, he is batting .281 with a .370 on-base percentage. Finishing this year strong will go a long way for the confidence of Smoak heading into a new season with a new look ball club.
The next thing the Jays need to test is some of the veterans they may want to resign over the off-season. This would include Marco Estrada, Tyler Clippard, and possibly Curtis Granderson. Estrada is more than likely the most likely to resign out of those players, but with his recent performance, it's fair to wonder if the Blue Jays interested. They need to keep getting him out their every fifth game to see what he has left in the tank. Estrada is currently 34 and heading for free agency at the end of the season. If he has a decent outing over his next handful of starts, he will be a welcomed asset for a team looking for solid starting pitching. The Blue Jays have very untested but talented youth in the starting pitching arena, but some of their best assets might not be ready until 2020. Estrada would be a great sign for the 2019 rotation if he can put a string of good performances together.
Clippard and Granderson fall into that great veteran presence but still have tons of heart and competitive juice left. These are the kind of players that are critical to a rebuild. They show the youngsters how to play the game at the MLB level and have fun doing it. Granderson still looks like he is having fun in the dugout, even when Gibby is getting tossed out of games at a record pace. Clippard and Grandy also put it all out on the field and are great examples of playing your heart out, which rubs off on all the players in the dugout.
The Blue Jays may be out of the playoff race, but the American League is far from settled as we have seen with the Oakland A’s charging into relevance over the past month. The Blue Jays will have a big say in that race as they play host to the Astros during a 3 game set with just six games left on the schedule at the beginning of that series. At the moment, the A’s and Astros are tied for 1st in the AL West. Those are going to be big games for the reigning World Series Champs as they look to repeat. The Blue Jays could very well knock the Astros into a Wild Card spot or out of the race entirely depending on how the Mariners perform over the last month.
The Blue Jays will also be in the way of the Indians, Yankees, and Red Sox over the last month of the season. Sixteen of the Blue Jays' final thirty-nine games are against teams playing for playoff spots. While the Red Sox and Indians have a nice lead, the Yankees, Astros, M’s, and A’s are all in the thick of it. The Jays should use that as a motivation to take a bite out of some of the big teams; or at least spoil the fun for the Yankees!
Shoot for a .500 Record
This team has the talent and the proper schedule to make a run at a .500 record to finish the season. While 16 of their final 39 games are against teams possibly heading to the playoffs, 12 of those games are against sub .500 record teams. The rest are against the Tampa Rays, who are on the tipping point between a winning/losing record. The Rays always play the Blue Jays tough, and many of those games will be hosted in the Jays' personal hell that is named Tropicana Field.
The potential for a .500 record is not out of the realm of possibility and I think the young hungry rookies will play a big part in that. Danny Jansen has already been crushing the ball, while Martin and Smoak have been coming around. The Blue Jays are supposed to get Gurriel Jr. back shortly to go with Diaz and Travis, who have been putting together solid second halves to the season as well. The pitching has been better as of late with the addition of Borucki and there are hopes that Sanchez and Stroman can come back soon as well.
This is going to be an interesting end to the awful year of 2018 for Toronto Blue Jays baseball. This should be the prelude to what could be a very different looking roster to kick off 2019. The Blue Jays have the talent to run into next season and become quickly scary to their American League rivals. They should light that candle up now and show what is coming for this great fan base.
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