Stroman, Smoak excel in uneven 1st half
Beset by injuries and streaky play, Blue Jays find themselves in last place
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' first half began with lofty expectations and turned into an emotional roller coaster not for the faint of heart.
Toronto got off to the worst start in franchise history only to turn its season around with a strong run in May. The team appeared to be trending upwards, but instead there were more lows in June, and mixed between were injuries, injuries and more injuries.
The Blue Jays sent 21 players to the DL at various points of the year. That's the highest total since 2013, and it had major ramifications for the everyday lineup, starting rotation and bullpen. Here's a closer look at what happened during the first half of the season to a Blue Jays team that entered the All-Star break ranked last in the American League East with a 41-47 record.
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What went right
Justin Smoak was handed the everyday duties at first and turned into an All-Star. He already has set new highs in home runs and had better a better first half than either Edwin Encarnacion or Kendrys Morales. ... Roberto Osuna, Dennis Tepera, Danny Barnes and Aaron Loup solved most of the issues in the bullpen. ... An 18-10 record in May put the Blue Jays in a position to contend. ... Marcus Stroman bounced back from a somewhat inconsistent 2016 season to re-establish himself as a frontline starter with a 3.28 ERA.
What went wrong
Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano got hurt, and the Blue Jays did not have enough starting depth to pick up the slack. ... Devon Travis, one of the league's top hitters in May, sustained another major setback and is out until at least September with a knee injury. ... Toronto scored an AL-low 96 runs in June and struggled to score for most of the first half. ... The club's defensive metrics consistently ranked near the bottom of the league. ... And we haven't even mentioned Josh Donaldson missed six weeks because of a calf injury.
What we learned
The window of opportunity for this current core is drawing to a close. It's still not clear what Toronto will do before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but it won't be adding significant players on expiring contracts, and the market will be tested for the club's pending free agents. President Mark Shapiro all but officially ruled out a total rebuild during recent chats with the media, and he instead would prefer to retool for 2018 and beyond. That will require a lot of creativity, and it's possible that Toronto's Deadline will not be as active as once thought.
First-half top everyday player
Smoak's two-year contract extension was widely panned when he signed it last July. Toronto was accused of overpaying, but instead the deal has turned into a major bargain. Smoak is making contact more than ever before, and it shows up not only in the homers (23) but also with career highs in average (.294) and OBP (.360).
First-half top pitcher
Toronto won all seven of Stroman's starts from May 8-June 10, and at one point he went through a stretch of allowing three runs or fewer in seven of eight outings. The 3.28 ERA is back in line with where it was during his rookie season when Stroman went 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA.
First-half top rookie
Barnes didn't make the team out of Spring Training, but he arrived in mid-April and quickly gained the trust of manager John Gibbons. Barnes emerged alongside Tepera and Osuna to form the core of Toronto's bullpen, posting a 2.31 ERA with 45 strikeouts over 39 innings.