No fewer than five Blue Jays named MLB all-stars, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (pictured). Photo credit: ESPN
Most years there’s only one night off of the sports calendar for the four major North American sports.
The Big 4 include the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Basketball Association (NBA).
That one night is this Wednesday evening after Major League Baseball’s all-star game which takes place in Seattle, Washington.
And no fewer than five Toronto Blue Jays were named to the mid-summer classic here in 2023.
Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, First Baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Second Baseman Whit Merrifield, Shortstop Bo Bichette, and closer Jordan Romano.
With five players named to the American League team you would think the Jays would be a dominant force in MLB.
Toronto is in fact third in its division – the AL East – and tied for fifth overall in the American League with a (50-41) record.
Disappointing, frustrating, and inconsistent are the words uttered most by so called experts, pundits and most importantly their fans when discussing the Blue Jays 2023 season thus far.
Look no further than this past weekend in Detroit, where the Jays took two of three games from the Tigers but went just 5-for-59 over the final two contests.
The good news, Toronto is currently tied with the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros for the second Wild Card playoff spot.
Let’s break down the Jays campaign a little further, and we’ll start at the top.
Should General Manager Russ Atkins take some of the blame? How about Manager John Schneider?
It was just two weeks ago that many in the baseball world predicted Schneider’s days were numbered, and that current Blue Jays bench coach Don Mattingly would be taking over.
Some even felt if the Jays didn’t win their series against Detroit this past weekend changes would have been made.
Most people forget Schneider won minor league championships with the Jays at Single-A Dunedin, and Double-A New Hampshire – both teams featured current Toronto Blue Jays Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The old adage pitching wins championships usually holds true, and for the Jays it starts with opening day starter Alek Manoah.
Whether it was mechanics, the mental side of the game, or the pitch clock, Manoah struggled mightily before being demoted on June 6.
Almost a month to the day, Manoah was recalled and pitched a strong six innings in the Blue Jays victory over the Tigers last Friday night.
Some wondered why they didn’t wait until after this week’s all-star game to recall the big right-hander. Perhaps it was the Tigers weak hitting lineup, or perhaps it was the fact that if he did struggle he would have another week to try and somehow regroup again.
Either way, if Manoah could somehow return to the form he had last season, where he was an American League Cy-Young Award finalist, the Jays playoff aspirations, which were high to start the season, could be reached.
Some in major league baseball went as far as to say the Jays were the favorites to represent the AL in the World Series.
The Blue Jays five starters, Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi and Manoah have combined for 40 of the teams 50 wins at the break.
In the bullpen Trevor Richards, surprisingly, is the Jays most consistent reliever as of now.
Despite leading the American League in saves with 25, Canadian Jordan Romano is not the Mr. Automatic he once was.
At the dish, Bichette’s 122 hits on the season are second only to Miami’s Luis Arraez. Bichette is also fifth in the majors with a .317 batting average.
The shortstop is the only Jays starter hitting over .300 and leads the team in every offensive category except runs batted in – that belongs to Guerrero Jr.
Speaking of the Montreal-born first baseman, Vlad Jr. is on pace for 25 home runs, down from 32 last season and 48 in 2021.
In fact, the Jays slugger has gone deep only three times at home this year.
As a team, Toronto is sixteenth in MLB with 102 home runs on the season. Last year they were seventh.
The Blue Jays are hitting .259 as a team in 2023, but they’re also leaving 3.66 runners in scoring position per game, which ranks them 26th in the 30-team league.
If the Jays can somehow find consistency they may win a wild card game or series. If not the 2023 campaign will be considered a major disappointment and changes will be made – likely from the top down.
Rod Mawhood is a lifelong Niagara native who has had the pleasure of working in all three mediums – Radio, Print and TV – for over 20 years. His first announcing gig was with the then St. Catharines Stompers. Since then he’s worked in radio and TV in Toronto, and currently is the announcer for the Niagara IceDogs and Niagara River Lions.
Rod also covers the Buffalo Bills for FOX Sports and the Buffalo Sabres for NBC Sports.