Reality sets in for 2009 Jays

The first six games of the Blue Jays’ current nine game road trip seem to have confirmed what many journalists, fans and even team officials themselves believed at the beginning of the season; that this Toronto club is a team that will struggle all season long.

Blessed with an underwhelming schedule for April that saw the Jays face a smattering of mediocre teams from the AL Central and West divisions, Toronto marched to the best record in baseball. Now that May is coming to a close and the Jays have faced much more capable competition in the Braves and Red Sox, things look less bright.

Still atop their division, the Blue Jays are forced to face the facts: the combination of a six-game losing streak, under-producing talent and an injured/inexperienced pitching staff will unravel their hot start. Truth be told the Blue Jays are not a threat to win the American League East or the Wild Card. Here are the five main reasons why:

5. The young bats aren’t ready yet

Travis Snider and Adam Lind are fun to watch. While Lind, at age 25, has likely reached his peak in development, the Blue Jays and most baseball analysts expect Snider to grow into a great hitter over the next couple of years. Unfortunately Snider isn’t ready to take on the role that the Jays hoped he would this season and as a result he has been demoted to the minors. That move leaves scrap heap players such as Kevin Millar to fill in the designated hitter role and to spell players as they tire.

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4. Scutaro and Barajas are overachieving, that won’t last

Marco Scutaro has been one of the team’s best offensive players this season. With a batting line of .271/.394/.429 he is out-producing his career average in slugging and OBP by more than 50 points each. There is no reason to think that will continue. Rod Barajas’ numbers this season are similarly uncharacteristic, including his batting average, when compared to his 162 game career average. In Barajas’s defense he is an effective offensive catcher but as he and Scutaro slump, and they are bound to do so as their histories suggest, the Blue Jays are left with very few other options to produce at catcher and shortstop.

3. The young arms aren’t ready yet either

Scott Richmond, Brett Cecil, Rickey Romero and company are not going to finish the season in contention for a Cy Young. In fact, one or more of them invariably will spend a large part of the year in the minors. As batters learn to hit young pitchers there is usually a tough adjustment period while the pitchers adapt in turn. Ask Jordan Zimmermann, the highly touted prospect for the Washington Nationals who dazzled in the minors only to struggle so far in the Majors. Richmond has already had a taste of this. Romero, on the other hand, was injured while sneezing and will return to action this week. Best wishes.

2. The pitching staff has too many question marks

The problem for the Jays this season will be that they need at least one of the aforementioned young pitchers to stay competitive if they hope to contend. That is true even considering that arms such as Casey Janssen, Jesse Litsch and eventually Dustin McGowan will return. Regardless of how you look at it, the starting pitching staff in Toronto is comprised of Roy Halladay and a mixed bag of relievers-turned-starters, rookies and injury risks. I challenge you to find one playoff team in the last few years that had a pitching staff this weak.

1. Rios and Wells

Look no further than the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays if you want to disagree with me here. With Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton slumping, the Rays topped off their Cinderella-story season with a trip to the World Series and in turn garnered the affection of baseball fans around the continent. Why won’t the Blue Jays be so lucky? The Rays enjoyed some of the best and most surprising young position players in the Major Leagues last season as they challenged for the championship. Carlos Pena slugged, Evan Longoria wowed and Dioner Navarro surprised. Outside of Aaron Hill the Blue Jays do not have another solid, every day player to carry the squad when Alex Rios and Vernon Wells are slumping. Scott Rolen is an injury risk, Lyle Overbay doesn’t have the power of a true corner infielder and the rest of the team we’ve already discussed. Through the best six weeks the Jays have enjoyed in recent years, Rios and Wells – signed for a combined $11 million this year – have produced eerily similar batting lines of .260/.316/.411 and .257/.313/.403 respectively. What is worse is that Wells has been notoriously bad with runners in scoring position.

The Blue Jays have had a great six weeks. While there seems to be a consensus in Major League Baseball as to the fate of Toronto’s team, fans can still have hope that Cito Gaston somehow motivates them to greatness.

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