Coming into today's game, the Toronto Blue Jays have been baseball's most disappointing team. After signing Melky Cabrera, trading for R.A. Dickey, and heisting Miami's major league talent in the kind of swashbuckling swoop not seen since the Monstars rolled through the NBA, big things were expected of the Jays in 2013. Coupled with New York's quiet offseason and Boston's struggles in 2012, many predicted that the AL East would be Toronto's to lose.
It hasn't worked out. Reyes got hurt, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Dickey have struggled, and the Jays appear to have signed the New York/Atlanta version of Cabrera, not the San Francisco/Kansas City edition. Jose Bautista's slump hasn't helped, and neither has a slow start from Brandon Morrow. It's been a train wreck of a season, and entering today, Toronto was saddled with baseball's third worst record.
As a scarred Mariners fan, I can't look at Toronto without thinking about 2010.
Both teams were expected to contend after strong offseasons. Each made nifty, under the radar free agent signings. Both pulled off a couple of exciting trades; they even acquired former Cy Young award winners.
Of course, fans of Toronto and Seattle also saw April and early May go horribly wrong. For the Mariners, an 11-11 start soon unraveled to 11-19. Toronto, meanwhile, started today on a four game losing streak that has chained them to the AL East's basement.
Maybe I'm continuing with the parallel too long, but today's game reminded me of this contest from May 9, 2010. On that day, the M's snapped their eight game losing streak with an 8-1 win over Los Angeles. Jason Vargas pitched seven good innings and Josh Wilson hit a grand slam to provide the offense (Michael Saunders also hit his first big league homer that day).
Similarly, today Toronto snapped a losing streak with a blowout win over Seattle. They won 10-2, behind a three run homer from Mark DeRosa and a solo shot from Cabrera. Morrow threw eight strong innings, striking out eight.
More than what actually happened on the field though, I wonder if the bittersweet feeling I -- and probably most Mariner fans -- had during that game against the Angels was similar to how Blue Jay supporters felt today. In both cases, fans saw how everything was supposed to work: the pitching, the offense, and the defense came together in a collaborative effort previously conspicuous by its absence. I'm sure Jays fans loved today's ballgame, but I'd bet that it must have been difficult to watch without thinking that their chance to turn efforts like this into a deep playoff run has already been spoiled.
With Toronto now in the rear view mirror for the time being, the M's leave Canada a somewhat flaky team. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are giving the M's a competitive start every time out, but the rest of the rotation has buried the team several times. Aarong Harang remains a wildcard. Brandon Maurer struggles against teams that can stack lefties against him. And Joe Saunders still hasn't had a good outing away from Safeco Field.
Saunders allowed nine hits, two walks, and seven runs this afternoon without striking out a single batter. I'm not sure why he's struggled on the road so much. Despite spending most of his career in a pitchers park in Los Angeles, Saunders doesn't have pronounced home/road splits, and his ground ball heavy skillset suggests that he wouldn't get too much of a boost pitching in Safeco Field. The park helps him, in the sense that he's a homer prone lefty, but there's no systematic reason to explain why his splits are so wildly divergent. It could be a confidence issue, or it could be nothing. It will probably be about confidence until he has a good start on the road, and then it will be nothing.
Offensively, it was a miserable game as well. The Mariners did draw five walks -- I didn't know they had it in them -- but only strung together two runs on three hits. Well, two hits. You can call Kendrys Morales's infield double whatever you want, I guess.
Elsewhere, it was another forgettable afternoon behind the dish for Jesus Montero. The Jays ran wild, successfully converting all four of their stolen base attempts. On the year, Montero has not thrown out any of the 15 men who have tried to steal against him. For his career now, runners have converted 84% of their stolen base attempts, quite a bit better than the league's 75% pace overall during that span. Some of that can be blamed on the pitching staff, but that's obviously not an acceptable number.
The culprit remains easy to detect. Montero takes forever to emerge from his crouch and he mitigates his strong arm with erratic throws. It's a problem that will plague him as long as he's allowed to catch, which presumably won't be too much longer.