Off Day Blues Vol. 2

Monday, May 10 2021 @ 06:36 AM EDT

Contributed by: Eephus

Limb by limb and tooth by tooth
Stirring up inside of me
Every hour
I wish that I,

The 2021 Blue Jays certainly haven't been bulletproof thus far, with their 17-16 record and sitting four games back of the surprising Boston Red Sox (we just can't have nice things, can we?). On this off day, like last time I'm gonna take a quick look at a few positives and a few negatives. Lets roll.

Top of the Second

Marcus Said -- Nobody sure seems to pondering Marcus Semien's potentially fluke 2019 season lately. He still seems strangely allergic to hitting the ball to the opposite field (before Sunday's game it was 9.8 percent according to BBRef, while his career average is 18.9 percent) and the stats and eyes agree he's pulling everything... it's just that he's now hitting the ball much harder while doing it. Geez, it's still hard to truly know what this guy is... his isolated slugging percentage is now in line with his breakout 2019 season as is his average exit velocity, but how much of that is boosted by his excellent series back home in Oakland? I still can't draw any conclusions on Semien: he also started slow in 2020 but as we all know kicked it into high gear later on (apologizes for the accidental rhymes there, I know it is a bad habit many readers cannot bear). Hey though, with Spring Shoes/Gorgeous George back on the IL shelf (that dude needs a good nickname)... Semien finding his bat, even just an extended hot streak, is exactly what this battered team needs.

(Also, double bonus points for anyone who caught my Sloan reference).

Bullpen Again -- I think at this point the front office deserves some credit: they have consistently been able to assemble solid bullpen arms even for otherwise dreadful teams, and this season so far is the jewel of that crown. Last time I said in half-jest that the bullpen was the MVP of the team so far, and while I'm not gonna actually make that case (don't worry!) I will say again that with all the injuries and slow starts from certain hitters... it's frightening to think how this year might be going if most of these relievers had merely been okay instead of brilliant, never mind *gulp* bad. Some of these great comebacks would've been impossible without shutout reliever innings.

The injuries though (I'll get to that later) are clearly challenging the depth, and it's simply impossible to keep asking so much from these key guys without it finally blowing up (like Friday in Houston). Here's a something, and a something I'm not necessarily arguing for: say Nate Pearson takes another start or two and continues struggling... maybe you try him in the Trent Thornton role instead? Multiple innings out of the pen, so that he's still reasonably stretched out and he can learn more about how to get major league hitters out, trusting his stuff and getting more comfortable. It's not sexy but it's also not giving up on him as a starting pitcher yet, it's simply giving him a chance to find what works at this highest level. You obviously don't want to yank him back and forth like Kelvim Escobar (it's no coincidence he had his best seasons after leaving). As for Thornton himself, I do wonder if they're being cautious (considering his injury problems last year) and are thus tentative about committing to him as a full time starting pitcher.   

Robert Glenn Ray and The Curiously Tight Pants -- Ray walked nine batters in his first two starts of the season in a total of ten innings. Since then? Well in that span he's walked as many major league hitters as I have (MLB hitters would love my low 50s slop). The last time Robbie Ray had three consecutive MLB starts without issuing a base-on-balls? That would be... never. Even in his all-star 2017 season his best run was two starts and that only happened once. Hey, I don't expect him to be Tom Glavine out there, but Ray at least getting his walk rate to an average-ish level would be substantial. He still gives up way too many home runs (and always has), but he also doesn't give up many hits either.

The biggest question though, as Arden Zwelling, Drew Fairservice and Tao of Stieb among countless others have commented on: why the hell are his pants so tight??? Is that why he grunts so much? Did the equipment manager misread his measurements? Did he gain a ton of lower body weight while nursing his elbow injury? Is it 1978 and he just really likes tight pants? The queries are endless.

Penthouses and Basements -- This season throughout MLB has been wild thus far, with already 4(!) no-hitters (as a Reds fan, I wish I'd seen Miley's live but the condensed version is worth a watch) and the amazing Shohei Ohtani doing things few have ever done. What has interested me, at least for the purpose of this piece, is how nobody thus far is running away with any division, nor is anyone completely burnt toast yet (except the Tigers). It's still early, and if the Giants wind up being a Top 2 team in the National League that would be ridiculous and hilarious. The point is that it seems half the teams in MLB are currently in that same range as the Blue Jays: jumping back and forth around the .500 line like Homer Simpson over the Australian border. Nobody is running away with anything yet either, which is also refreshingly hopeful. Could be a fun summer to watch these races teeter... just as long as the Red Sox fall back onto the see-saw at least. Please give me that, I've endured too much these past several months.

Bottom of the Second

Injuries, Damn Injuries -- Seriously, this has become tragically absurd. I am somewhat concerned about the bullpen now, which has been so good but now Dolis is out (hopefully not for long) and David Phelps (which considering the ominousness of what we've heard... probably is much worse). George Springer is back on the IL too of course, which is multiple flavours of disappointment... especially how good his bat looked even when he was so limited. Kinda like we got the slider version of Springer, not the entire juicy burger (sorry I also write food reviews, heh). We haven't seen Julian Merryweather since early April, Teoscar Hernandez missed three weeks with Freaking COVID(TM), Alejandro Kirk messed up his hip just as his bat was ready to steal a job, Anthony Castro and his frisbee slider looked like a thing for a while... it just goes on and on.

House of Lourdes -- He is historically streaky, and I think with Springer out you at least keep sending him out to see if he finally gets going... but it's been pretty ugly for the younger Gurriel thus far. The eye test concludes he isn't hitting the ball hard at all, and the stats indeed confirm the observation (an ISO slugging of .093 coming into Sunday, compared to .206 for his career). Gurriel is never going to get on base via his patience, and he doesn't strike out a ton either (his K rate in 2021 is exactly within his career norms)... it's just that he's putting the ball in play a lot without any mustard on it. At this point, I'm somewhat concerned. Even his hits seem to be little bloops or seeing eye numbers, not the lasers we've seen before. As an outfielder... I think we can all agree he isn't particularly great out there. I genuinely cringe when he's planted under a fly ball and his body language seems unsure, though the actual problem seems to be his initial read on a ball hit right to him. For a corner outfielder that is indeed the hardest ball to instantly react to, and a reminder that he is still a natural infielder playing out there. Personally, I don't think he's as much of a butcher out there as Teoscar Hernandez was a couple years ago. Meanwhile, Gurriel's arm from the outfield remains all kinds of awesome. Holy smokes. There was a play Sunday where I was sure the runner from second would score, but he stopped because of Gurriel. They have become afraid. He's got the tools, as they say.

Seriously, Injuries -- It seems impossible to comprehend, considering what we've witnessed and endured, but the Blue Jays are currently not the most injured team in MLB. I think it was Andrew Stoeten (a seemingly unpopular name in these parts) who pointed out the Padres and Brewers each have 13 players on the IL as of Saturday. The Brewers have been so wrecked with injuries they've been using Luke Maile as their everyday catcher for a week. Seriously! It is hurting the Blue Jays more than the average team, but this is a trend throughout MLB this season so far: everybody's getting hurt. Heck, my favourite player in all of MLB just broke his thumb and is out for weeks now... we just can't have nice things.

I am objectively curious why injuries have been so prevalent in 2021. Thankfully I can ask such a question on Da Box, with a discourse several tiers above the "these overpaid babies can't hold a candle to the toughness of players back fifty years ago etc" (I'd counter and say players obviously got seriously hurt back then also, but many couldn't say anything for multiple social and financial reasons so were forced to play through such ailments). Seriously though, my straw man cast aside.. why are so many players going on the IL this year? Are teams just being more cautious than usual? Is an effect of the shortened 2020 season that just threw the routines of these players off? I really have no definitive answer... beyond keeping Shohei Ohtani encased in bubble wrap when he's not on the field.

Well that's it for me. *nudge* *nudge* Huh? A trivia question? Okay fine... who was the first player who previously won an MVP award to play on the Blue Jays?* Genuinely not sure if this is easy or hard (I suspect one particular person knows it for sure, heh...) but have at it. Happy Monday everyone.

(*bonus points you can name the second guy, excluding George Bell)