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Good things and bad things from the first half of the season

Well, 81 games have been played meaning we’ve finally trudged through exactly one half of this hellscape. What have we learned from the first half of the season and what can we expect from the second half?

Back in March, I took what I thought was a realistic look at what to expect from the season. We all knew the team was going to lose a lot of games. But, unlike in the purgatory years when the husk of the playoff run teams was left to root in the sun, the young Blue Jays loaded with rookies figuring life out at the Major League level would be interesting to follow.

To put it bluntly, this team isn’t going to be great. But they also aren’t going to be terrible. They aren’t going to be 100 losses bad, but they aren’t going to be pushing for a playoff spot. They’ll finish somewhere around where they did in 2017 and 2018 with 70-some-odd wins, but, the difference between this team and those teams is they’ll actually be fun to watch.

Circling back to what I said earlier, it’s very refreshing to be rolling into a season without any expectations. Rather than hoping that Josh Donaldson can stay on the field and that Marco Estrada can regain form and that Russell Martin can effectively play six different positions, we’ll be watching a bunch of promising prospects figure things out at the big league level.

There will be a lot of downs, but there will also be a lot of ups that begin to paint a picture of how exciting the future is going to be. Who knows, maybe everything works out and this young-and-exciting group actually pushes for the second wild card spot. I don’t know! I will say, though, I’m more excited to watch this group than I have been the last couple years.

I think, for the most part, that wildly unbold statement has been accurate. While I was completely off about the “they aren’t gonna be 100 losses terrible!” stance, I have enjoyed watching this team more than I did the 2017 and 2018 teams. That hasn’t necessarily always been the case, as Edwin Jackson’s starts and Alen Hanson and Socrates Brito’s at-bats are up there with the worst from the purgatory days, but still, Vlad, Gurriel, Thornton, and Biggio have made things interesting.

Anyway, let’s break down the first 81 games.

Things that have been bad:

The team is 29-52. There’s a lot of bad.

Some of it doesn’t really matter all that much. Like, Edwin Jackson set a Major League Baseball record by playing for his 14th club when he made his debut with the Jays. Since then, he’s been setting all-time records for being, uh, bad. Jackson has an impossibly bad 12.43 ERA through seven appearances. As I said, this doesn’t really matter in the big picture for the Jays. It’s not like Jackson is a part of the team’s future at all.

That said, Jackson is a symptom of a larger issue this year which you might be able to pin on the front office. The Jays rolled into the season expecting to have Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker, and Clayton Richard as their starting rotation with Clay Buchholz as the sixth guy working back from injury. Behind them, the Jays would have prospects like Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, Jacob Waguespack, and David Paulino working in Triple-A.

That seemed like a formidable group on paper, so long as they could stay healthy. Unfortunately, the front office banked on the idea that a bunch of guys made out of glass could stay on the field. Sanchez had his lingering finger issues and all of the veteran additions, Shoemaker, Richard, and Buchholz, had a history of injury.

So when all three of them went down at around the same time and the Jays were forced to keep trotting a dejected Jackson out there, you couldn’t really raise your arms and say “I can’t believe this happened!” because it isn’t exactly unpredictable. I know that since this was a rebuilding year the front office didn’t want to hand out any big, multi-year contracts, but adding some arms with less risk attached would have been ideal. Maybe that’s easier said than done.

Toronto’s rotation has been a mess. That’s the first major bad thing for me. I think the worst part, though, is the fact nobody in Triple-A has seized an opportunity.

I mean, the whole watching Jackson pitch because all the oft-injured guys got injured is frustrating when it’s Wednesday night and you want to watch a competitive baseball game, but the actual shitty thing is that the only young pitcher to come up and capitalize on the opportunity has been Trent Thornton. Would we be yelling GWWWAAAH DAMN SHAPIRO!!! if Sean Reid-Foley and David Paulino filled in for Shoemaker and Buchholz and were pitching well? Probably not.

That brings us to big bad thing number two. In the same vein as the Triple-A pitchers not warranting opportunities, a lot of the young up-in-the-air types on the roster are showing they probably aren’t worth being a part of the future.

Billy McKinney and Brandon Drury, the returns from last year’s J.A. Happ trade, haven’t been able to make it work. McKinney had a hot finish to the 2018 season but it hasn’t carried over to this season. Drury looks nowhere near the player he once was in Arizona. Beyond them, Teoscar Hernandez hasn’t been able to build on what was a pretty decent rookie year last year, and Danny Jansen, while strong defensively, hasn’t found his bat. In Triple-A, Anthony Alford hasn’t pushed his way onto the team and Jonathan Davis looked completely lost at the plate during his cup of coffee.

Another key part of Toronto’s first half being less fun than expected has been, well, Vlad Jr’s slow start. The Large Adult Son’s massively anticipated debut began with a bang as the 20-year-old smacked a ninth-inning double off of Yusmeiro Petit. He had one hit in his next two games but then went on a prolonged cold streak that saw him own an OPS hovering around the .500 mark for his first two weeks in the Majors.

Things have improved since, but Vlad, who’s slashing a .250/.318/.408 line through 51 games, has had a rockier start to his career than we expected. I mean, I hate to put Vlad in the category of something that’s been bad in the first half because it isn’t that simple. There’s going to be an adjustment period for the 20-year-old phenom. But looking at the big picture, we all expected Vlad to be so good that he would compensate for virtually all ills that plagued the team this season. That hasn’t happened and it isn’t his fault.

Put it all together and the worst part of the first half of the season is that you have a young team that just hasn’t been as fun to watch as you’d expect. I think a lot of us expected more of these middle-of-the-pack guys to pan out and make the team worth watching, but, through 81 games, it hasn’t happened. But I guess that’s the point of this fuck it season. See what you’ve got.

Things that have been good:

That’s a looooong list of things that have been bad. I mean, no shit, right? They’re 29-52. It’s been rough. But still, there’s been some good among this wreck and there’s a small-but-visible light at the end of the tunnel.

After a horrendous start to the season in which defensive struggles seemingly got in his head and torpedoed his performance at the plate, Lourdes Gurriel has been the team’s best player. He went down to Triple-A for a month, got moved from the infield to the outfield, and now he suddenly looks like an All-Star. Gurriel is slashing a .347/.385/.727 line since returning from Buffalo and has shown off an early-2010s Jose Bautista cannon from left field.

Cavan Biggio, one of the prospects you could probably have put in the hit-and-miss category, has been thoroughly solid since being recalled from Buffalo. Biggio dominated Triple-A for a couple of months and got the call to the big leagues in late May. In a month with the Blue Jays, Biggio is slashing a .244/.373/.456 line while showing an impressive veteran-style approach.

Beyond nice starts from a couple of key prospects, the Jays have also had good performances from some veterans. Eric Sogard, who didn’t even make the team out of spring training, has been shockingly good, as he sits third on the team in WAR. Also, Daniel Hudson has quietly been nails for the Blue Jays out of the bullpen.

The best veteran performances, though, have been Marcus Stroman and Ken Giles. Stroman has been Toronto’s only consistently good starter and Giles has been arguably the best closer in baseball this year. That said, these performances are a little bittersweet because we know neither player is going to be with the team much longer. With each good outing, Stroman and Giles, who are easy to see as great pieces of a contending core that isn’t that far away if you squint, are most certainly going to be dealt for prospects ahead of July’s trade deadline.

I mean, I guess the worst-case-scenario here was both players imploding, kinda like Aaron Sanchez has, and getting traded for a Josh Donaldson in 2018 kind of return. So as much as we’d like to see Stroman and Giles stick around, at the very least, they aren’t going to be traded for nothing.

And that brings us to my final good thing point. We’re going to see a lot of movement at the trade deadline, as everything not stapled to the floor gets fired off to contending teams for more prospects. Stroman, Giles, Sogard, Hudson, Freddy Galvis, Joe Biagini, and, well, really anybody outside of the main young core could go. It’ll be sad to see players leave, but it’ll also open the door for the second half of the season’s true youth explosion.

That’s the thing, baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. The really ugly part of the season is over. What we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks is what I think we’ll see in the second half of the season. Gurriel and Biggio seem to have found their stride at the Major League level, Vlad will continue to improve, Bo Bichette, who’s mashing in Triple-A, will join the team, and the Jays will have more interesting games than awful ones from here on out.

If you squint reaaaaaally hard, you can start to see the shell of a contending team. That’s really what we wanted out of this year.