The Jays had a franchise worst 1-6 record to start the season, going 8-17 in the month of April. They then went 18-10 in May, 11-15 in June and 4-5 in July leading up to the All-Star break. The Jays have struggled with major injuries all season, which can account for at least part of the team’s struggles.
Former AL MVP third baseman Josh Donaldson missed six weeks with a calf injury and finished the first half with only a .261 batting average. Second baseman Devon Travis missed part of spring training recovering from an offseason knee injury. After bouncing back from a slow start, he has hit the 60-day disabled list with the same knee injury and could possibly be done for the season.
The starting rotation has been hit hard as well. Aaron Sanchez has been limited to only 26 innings this season and is returning from his third appearance on the disabled list this season. J.A. Happ missed six weeks due to an elbow injury and appears to be bouncing back after struggling with some control issues on the mound. Francisco Liriano missed three weeks with a shoulder injury and holds a 5.56 ERA and 1.62 WHIP this season.
One of the team’s biggest surprises has been their best player this season, first baseman Justin Smoak. The 30-year-old has hit .294/.360/.575 through the first half of the season with 23 home runs, 48 runs, and 56 RBIs. Smoak has stepped up incredibly with the offseason departure of Edwin Encarnacion, earning himself a spot as an all star.
An honorable mention goes to Smoak’s All-Star teammate Roberto Osuna who has emerged as one of the best closers in baseball. His 15.67 K/BB ranks second in the league behind only Kenley Jansen. The 22-year-old has also been openly dealing with some anxiety and mental health issues off the mound and has received praise for helping to bring awareness to mental health issues in major league sports.
The biggest disappointment this season has been superstar right fielder Jose Bautista. The 35-year old fan favorite and six-time all star has continued his struggles from last season, with a .234 batting average going into the All-Star break. A free agent at the end of the season and a valuable player, although past his prime, Bautista will definitely draw interest from teams at the trade deadline if the Jays decide to sell.
While Justin Smoak has been one of the biggest surprises for the Jays this season, the biggest surprise has been the emergence of Joe Smith as a setup man behind Osuna. The 33-year old right handed pitcher is in the middle of his best season since 2014, despite having missed the last month with a shoulder injury.
Smith leads the Jays pitching staff with a 13.36 K/9. His 2.16 xFIP and .362 BABIP suggest that he is actually pitching even better than his current 3.41 ERA. In fact, his 2.16 xFIP ranks 3rd in baseball among qualified pitchers behind only Craig Kimbrel and budding former 4th overall pick Tommy Kahnle.
The next couple of weeks leading up to the trade deadline are going to be incredibly delicate and potentially quite busy for the Jays. Bautista, Liriano and Marco Estrada are all free agents at the end of the season and are expected to be traded. All three are trending downwards, however, and likely will not bring back any key players/prospects that will improve the team’s playoff chances this season.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been slumping this season, hitting only seven home runs before the All-Star break. The size of his contract may make him difficult to move ($54 million over the next three seasons), but there are several teams looking to make the playoffs with a need at shortstop and at 32-years old he’s still young enough to bounce back.
There are rumors that several teams are also interested in Donaldson, which is not a surprise given that he is one of the league’s best players, on a team with relatively low playoff hopes. It remains to be seen how close he actually is to being traded, as a Donaldson trade would be a pivotal move for the club. While a trade would be an unpopular move and it would be painful to watch him win another MVP title on another team, it keeps the young core of the team intact and would bring back key prospects to help build a true World Series contender.
Second half predictions
The only team to make the playoffs in the wild card era after going 8-17 in April were the 2001 Oakland Athletics. The 2001 A’s held a 39-42 record at the season’s halfway mark. The Jays held a 37-44 record at the halfway mark this season. To match the A’s incredible second half back in 2001, the Jays would have to go 61-13 after the All-Star break.
While it’s still possible that the Jays make the playoffs, it’s more likely that they will start trading away veteran players and miss the playoffs this season. The only remaining question is how much do they need to trade away to become contenders again?
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