After a slow start, Blue Jays finding winning formula
Addition of so many new players in offseason made cohesion difficult early on
TORONTO -- After a winter of hype and a spring of hope came a season-opening dose of reality for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. For all their offseason moves -- and there were plenty -- and all the money they have committed over the long term -- and there is plenty -- what the Blue Jays have reaffirmed is there is no shortcut to success in the big leagues.
It takes time to build a team -- not just in terms of talent but in terms of character. There are intangibles that don't fit into a computerized formula but have a definite impact on success and failure on a baseball field.
"The key is how quickly everyone adjusts," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
There has never been a team that has undergone a major overhaul from one season to the next that has won a World Series championship. The 1997 Marlins are often pointed to as a successful group of mercenaries. And while that team was immediately broken up after winning the World Series, the truth is those Marlins featured only three key players who made their Florida debuts in 1997 -- Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou and Alex Fernandez.
The Steinbrenner Yankees? They always had a homegrown foundation with the likes of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. They were supplemented by free agents.
Miami found out this baseball truism last year. The Los Angeles Dodgers are struggling through a similar disappointment this year.
The Blue Jays were, too. Toronto, however, appears to be making the adjustment on the run.
"The expectations were through the roof," Gibbons said. "But I like everything we put together. We have good pieces. It's a matter of everyone settling in and relaxing."
Yes, the Blue Jays are still in last place in the American League East, and the only member of the division with a losing record. But where they have come from and where they are says plenty.
A team that featured 12 players added in offseason trades and free-agent signings, and then was beset by early injuries to key players, the Blue Jays stumbled to a 13-24 start to the season. Only Miami (11-25) and Houston (10-26) were worse. After games of May 10, the Blue Jays ranked 14th in the AL in both ERA (4.86) and batting average (.234).
Now look at them.
The Jays are 21-12 since May 11, second in the AL to only Oakland (25-11) since then. They went into Wednesday with a seven-game winning streak. Once a season-high 12 games out of first place in the AL East ( June 10), they'd reduced that deficit to 8 1/2 games by Wednesday morning. And they were within two games of .500 (34-36) for the first time since being 7-9 on April 18.
Since the resurgence started on May 11, the Blue Jays have a 3.34 ERA (third best in the AL), a .271 batting average (fourth in the AL) and have scored more runs (181) than every team in the league except AL East-leading Boston. They are only 4 1/2 games back of the second of the two AL Wild Card spots.
"It's not unusual for when you add new guys as free agents and in trades that it takes time for them to fit in with the new surroundings," said Gibbons. "When you come to a new team, you want to justify the move. You want to prove your worth."
And the Blue Jays didn't merely add players in the offseason. They added key players. The season-opening rotation included 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, acquired in a seven-player deal with the New York Mets, and Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle -- two of the 12 players involved in a trade with Miami that also included four-time All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and Opening Day second baseman Emilio Bonifacio.
Toronto, however, has dealt with disruptions, starting in Spring Training, when the World Baseball Classic led to a handful of Blue Jays players -- including Reyes, Dickey, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, third baseman Brett Lawrie and catcher J.P. Arencibia -- missing a large chunk of camp because they were representing their homeland in the tournament.
"It just added to the adjustment process," said Gibbons.
That's not easy for fans to accept, but the Toronto faithful have shown hope. In their first 35 home games, the Blue Jays have had 14 crowds in excess of 35,000, and 10 exceeding 40,000.
"You could feel the anticipation early," said Jack Morris, the former pitcher who is now a Blue Jays broadcaster. "The fans are anxious to come back. This weekend [when AL East rival Baltimore is at Rogers Centre] promises to be exciting."
And Morris knows about baseball excitement in Toronto. In the final days of his career, he was a member of those 1992-93 Blue Jays, the only team other than the New York Yankees to have won back-to-back World Series championships since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.
"It was something," said Morris. "The fans forgot about the Maple Leafs. When you are in Canada and make people forget about hockey, that's something special."
The Blue Jays are looking to make that happen again. They, however, are finding out, just like everybody else, that it isn't something that happens with the snap of the fingers, or an influx of new talent.
It is something that has to have a foundation before it can be built.