Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

There are reasons for optimism for the Blue Jays in June

May was the month from hell for the Blue Jays. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong … even a few things the club could’ve never foreseen went wrong, too.

May was an abysmal month for the Blue Jays. Their 9-19 record was the fourth-worst May in franchise history and that .321 winning percentage was the 15th worst month ever by the Blue Jays.

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June can’t possibly get any worse, right? RIGHT?

Although May was a systematic failure in terms of pitching, hitting and defense, there are a few reasons for optimism as the Blue Jays enter the dog days of summer. This is their most crucial month of the schedule and by the end of June, we should have a pretty good idea of which strategy this team will take the rest of the season.

Morales and Smoak are heating up

May 30, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Kendrys Morales (8) celebrates his two run home run as Cincinnati Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco (39) looks on in the eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Toronto defeated Cincinnati. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In May, it felt like Kendrys Morales already had one foot out the door. But ever since he ditched his glasses, Morales has looked a lot better at the plate as of late and he’s hitting the ball with ferocity again.

In March and April, Morales posted a wRC+ of 32, but that ballooned all the way to 82 in the month of May. Morales’ ground ball rate was 55.6% in March and April and it’s since shrunk to 43.1% in May. His line drive rate shot up to 20.7% in May and it was down all the way to 8.3% in the first month of 2018.

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Not to mention, Morales’ average exit velocity increased from 92.7MPH to a team-best 95.6 MPH in the month of May. If Kendrys is going to have any hope in 2018 (or the rest of his career, for that matter), he needs to keep the ball in the air, which he improved upon greatly in the month of May.

Then there’s Justin Smoak, who’s very quietly heating up once again. He isn’t leaving the yard as often as he was last year, but Smoak’s wRC+ improved from 116 in March/April to a 141 wRC+ in May. Plus, the man was an on-base machine last month, collecting 20 walks; which was the fourth most in baseball.

With Josh Donaldson struggling and Yangervis Solarte coming back down to earth, Smoak and Morales’ May resurgence surely makes John Gibbons feel better about his team’s offensive upside heading into June.

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Donaldson can’t continue to be this bad

Mar 29, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) throws a ball to first base for an out in the first inning during the home opener against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Donaldson has gone through rough patches before, but he’s currently riding a 22-game homerless streak, which is the longest of his career. The lack of power is concerning for a guy who’s hit the ball with the authority for most of his career.

Whether it’s the lingering effects from his shoulder injury or the calf issues which have cropped up again, Donaldson still hasn’t nailed down his timing down at the plate.

He suffered a similar dry spell last June shortly after returning from his DL stint. Donaldson went 21 games from mid-June to early July without hitting a home run. Then he went on a tear the rest of the season, hitting 25 home runs and OPS’ing 1.023 in his final 69 games of the 2018 season.

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When healthy, Donaldson has typically performed at an MVP-calibre level, which is why is was it bizarre that he “only” posted a wRC+ of 96 in the month of May.

Unless those nagging injuries are taking their toll, I have an incredibly tough time believing Donaldson has suddenly “lost it”. Whether or not the Blue Jays are a contender this year, the Bringer of Rain is playing for his next contract. The man is clearly motivated to build some momentum as he heads into free agency this winter.

A subpar Donaldson not only hurts the Blue Jays’ chances, but it also seriously inhibits his trade value heading into the non-waiver trade deadline. If Donaldson plays like his typical hair-on-fire self once again, the Blue Jays still have a shot (albeit a long one) at contention.

Maybe the revolving door at shortstop finally stops spinning

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Giovanny Urshela (3) blows a bubble during second inning American League baseball action against the Boston Red Sox in Toronto on Saturday, May 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Two months into the season and the Blue Jays have already had seven, yes, seven players start at shortstop. That’s a Blue Jays franchise record for players to start at shortstop in a single season. With one-third of the season left to play, that number might even increase. If Troy Tulowitzki ever comes back to reclaim his position as the team’s everyday shortstop, that would make eight players to play at short for the Blue Jays.

I never thought I’d long for the days of Aledmys Diaz to return, but since his ankle injury in early May, the Blue Jays have struggled to fill his spot on the diamond, cycling through six different shortstops.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. showed some promise at the position, but suffered a few miscues in the field and it was apparent he’s still learning on the fly. That’s perfectly fine in the minor leagues, not so much with the Blue Jays. If Diaz’ return prevents guys like Russell Martin, Solarte and even Gio Urshela from playing shortstop, I’m all for it.

Diaz is currently rehabbing in New Hampshire with the Fisher Cats, so his return to the Blue Jays is imminent. It might only be days before he’s back at shortstop. Having stability at that position is key to keeping others like Solarte, Urshela and Martin from playing out of position. Bless their hearts for trying, but those guys aren’t traditional shortstops.

Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays have an MLB-worst -0.5 WAR at the shortstop position this year. At 0.3 and 0.1 WAR apiece, Diaz and Urena provided a surplus in production, but Urshela, Gurriel and Gift Ngoepe combined for one full negative Win Above Replacement.

Diaz isn’t among the league’s elite shortstops, but even his mid-range production is a far cry from what the Jays’ subsequent shortstops have contributed.

  • Oz Rob

    Plus it’s getting warmer. I appreciate Ian’s article here, but let’s look back at the reasons we had in the off-season to be optimistic: i) Donaldson being healthy again and picking where he left off; ii) Sanchez being healthy and reverting to being dominant; iii) Stroman being Stroman; iv) Estrada bouncing back from an off year; iv) Osuna being one of the best closers in the came; v) Morales exit velocity leading to greater things; vi) new guy Grichuk blossoming; vii) Travis finally being healthy and having the chance to go for that batting title….hmmmm, I could go on, but that would be pessimistic. Sorry, but I think I’ve been sensitised to optimism. Forget about Vladdy, bring back Ryan Goins!