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Behind Enemy Lines: Talking Toronto Blue Jays with Bluebird Banter

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We spoke with Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter to get the lowdown on the Toronto Blue Jays, who are in town for a three-game series.

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Despite a flurry of moves during the offseason, including a blockbuster trade for third baseman Josh Donaldson, the Toronto Blue Jays have not made many headlines this season. Part of that is due to their location north of the border -- Sorry, Canada -- but part of that is due to the relatively nondescript season they have had. The Jays have not been alone in first place at any point this year, and they were last tied for the AL East lead on April 23.

However, this team seems much more dangerous than their record suggests. They boast the most potent offense in baseball, scoring 5.4 runs per game. This doesn't bode well for a club with starting pitching issues and a taxed bullpen, but at least the Tigers have their three best starters going this weekend.

To get more familiar with the Blue Jays, we spoke to Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter, SB Nation's excellent Blue Jays community. You can check out my answers to Tom's questions over at their site.

1. It seems like every time I turn on MLB Network, the Blue Jays show up in highlights bombing another pitching staff. Yet, they're currently tied for third in the AL East with a 42-39 record. What is your assessment of their season thus far?

A terrific, incredible, fantastic offense and inconsistent (he says, after searching for a nice way to put it) pitching.

The Jays are leading the league in scoring by about 70 runs and, really, there aren’t many batters playing all that much above what you would expect. One who a surprise is Chris Colabello, who is riding a .434 BABIP to a .335/.376/.497 line. This is much better than you would expect from a minor league free agent signing who got the call-up because of injuries. Now, most of us figure that his BABIP might just be unsustainable. If Colabello had some power and/or wasn’t allergic to walks and/or could play reasonable defense at any position, he’d be a great find. But, since his value is all batting average and he sends a shiver down my spine when I see him with a glove on his hand, I hardly consider him a star. The important guys (Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin) have been good, but not that much better than you would expect, while Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Dioner Navarro haven’t been played anywhere close to the level you would expect, so there is room for the offense to improve.

The pitching? The only starters who have been good are Mark Buehrle and Marco Estrada, and they have had their bad moments too. R.A. Dickey has been bad and isn’t getting run support, while Drew Hutchison has been bad but has been getting great support. And Aaron Sanchez started the season walking almost a batter an inning. Sanchez seemed to be turning things around, but then ended up on the disabled list. The search to find someone to fill in for Sanchez hasn’t gone well. The latest contestant, Matt Boyd, gave up six hits, including two home runs, before being pulled without getting an out in the first inning against the Red Sox on Thursday. His parting gift was an all-expenses-paid trip to Triple-A Buffalo.

2. After watching both Ian Kinsler and Anthony Gose struggle for the past month-plus, many Tigers fans are beginning to regret trading Devon Travis (if they had not already after his hot start). The Blue Jays have had plenty of issues at second base in recent years, but Travis has struggled lately before succumbing to the disabled list. What are your thoughts on Travis, and was the trade a good one for Toronto?

I really like Travis. He has shown surprising power, played better defense than I was led to believe he could, he gets on base well and he’s, you know... gritty (or whatever word you want to use when you like a player more than his numbers suggest you should).

He did go through a bit of a slump, right after picking up his AL Rookie of the Month award for April. Some of that was that was because he was trying to play though injuries. He does seem to get banged up a fair bit. Early in the season, he was run over turning double plays many times, he’s been hit by pitch on the hands a couple of times and he took a bad hop off the collarbone (the ouch that finally put him on the DL). That is my worry about him: he’s not a big guy and he seems to be a magnet for little things that cause aches and pains that makes it hard to play the game at the top of your ability.

All that said, I feel pretty safe in stating that he’ll turn out to be the Jays best second baseman since Aaron Hill.

3. Speaking of impact rookies, the Jays were expected to have a lot of them in 2015. Center fielder Dalton Pompey and starting pitcher Daniel Norris were both viewed as preseason AL Rookie of the Year candidates, while Aaron Sanchez was also expected to play a big role. How have they done so far this season?

Well, Dalton Pompey is down in Double-A, Norris in Triple-A and Sanchez is on the disabled list, so not as well as we hoped. My personal opinion is that the Jays front office showed a little impatience with Pompey and Norris, but then there are a number of management jobs on the line, so they can be excused for not taking a long view.

Norris is likely to get a spot start before the All-Star break. Aaron Sanchez won’t be back from the DL until after the All-Star break. Pompey will only be back if he remembers how to hit.

4. The Blue Jays had a big offseason, acquiring Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson to bolster an already potent lineup led by Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Which of these players would you consider the Jays' MVP so far this season and why?

Josh Donaldson had a great month of May and would be the team’s MVP at the midpoint of the season. In May, he hit 10 home runs and had 1.022 OPS. He cooled off a bit in June but seems to be heating up again.

Jose Bautista is quietly having very good season and he still hasn’t had that stretch where he carries the team for two or three weeks. He leads the team in RBI and leads the AL in walks, and yet most Jays fans would say he isn’t having a good year. If Jose has one of those hot stretches, he’ll be battling Donaldson for the team MVP. I’d never bet against Bautista.

5. The Jays gave up four players to pry Donaldson from the Oakland A's, including Brett Lawrie, who was the team's starting third baseman for a few years prior. Is this trade really as lopsided as it looks, or will giving up all those players come back to bite Toronto in a few years?

I think it will continue to look like a very lopsided deal. I don’t know what Billy Beane was thinking. I liked Brett Lawrie, but he has a football mentality which doesn’t really work in a sport that has 162 games a season. Lawrie goes full-out all the time, which seems like a good thing, but winds up hurting himself a lot. Add in that his swing is a mess of Red Bull-infused tics and twitches, and with all those little movements, he has trouble getting his timing down. He may have some decent seasons, but he’ll never be the player that Donaldson is.

The A’s also got Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman. Nolin is 25, he might be OK as a back-of-the-rotation lefty, or perhaps a long man out of the pen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’d hold out more hope for Graveman, but he’s still a No. 4 or 5 starter at best. He’s one of those low strikeout guys that won’t walk many and keeps his defense working.

The wild card is Franklin Barreto. He’s a 19-year-old middle infielder, who projects to have a good bat (though not in Donalson’s class, at least for power). He’s a long way from the majors. I’d rather have the sure thing, but Barreto could turn into a very good player.

6. Tigers fans generally view Dave Dombrowski as one of the best GMs in the game, though he does have his flaws (the infamous Doug Fister trade is still a sore spot for us). What do Blue Jays fans think about Alex Anthopoulous?

We are thrilled with the Donaldson trade, are very happy with Russell Martin signing and, of course, the Devon Travis trade seems to be working out.

On the other hand, we finished last season with Alex putting the blame of last year’s disappointing season squarely on the bullpen, and he promised to make improvements. Then, he did little. He signed every available minor league free agent and grabbed any reliever off waivers who ever put together two good relief appearances in a row (Ed.: They had Phil Coke on their roster for a while). But he didn’t make any moves that cost any money. Maybe not so surprisingly, this year’s bullpen doesn’t look all that much better than last year’s.

Add in that almost everyone figured the Jays needed to add a decent starting pitcher to the mix and they didn’t, so I’d say that feelings are mixed. He almost has to make a deal or two for pitching help before the deadline. Alex is on the hot seat. Team CEO Paul Beeston is leaving at the end of the season and, unless the Jays make the playoffs, odds are the new man will want to make some changes.

★★★

Once again, a big thank you to Tom and the rest of the Bluebird Banter staff for answering our questions. You can see my answers to his questions on their site. Be sure to check out Bluebird Banter for the very best Blue Jays news and analysis all season long!