[Update: some of the assumptions below have been altered somewhat by the Blue Jays decision to bump their rotation back a day. I trust my readers - both of you - to be able to sort through those implications. Damned if I'm going to edit the thing. I will, however note that if they are going to take this step to rest the starters, it's markedly less likely the use the upcoming off days to juggle in the manner about which I speculated if it means costing too many of them the extra rest]
I'm still remaining calm, but I admit to being a bit morose. I suppose it's too much to hope for to be a powerhouse over the course of a season when you're just hoping for your first October in over two decades, but constant mediocrity grinds you down in a way that just being obviously awful wouldn't. And despite having lost 15 of their last 22, this isn't a BAD team. If it occurs to you at some point that I'll sound like Wilner in my position on this team, that's understandable because on this question, I think he's right.
So what's wrong with it? Let's narrow the possibilities. As of this writing the Blue Jays are still the most prolific offensive team in the game. They are the first and so far only team in the majors to 200 runs, and only one AL team is even close. This despite getting no offense at all form SS, little from CF, and playing two AAAA place holders in the outfield (albeit both contributing a lot with the bat). Asking the team to improve by scoring even more runs isn't rational, nor is quibbling about the timing of said runs (i.e. only scoring 2 today to name just one case). It is true that the team potentially gets better still on offense when everyone is where they were intended to be. But adding in Reyes, Saunders, and whoever is playing 1B today isn't necessarily going to be a ton better than Colabello, Carrera and the hapless Goins have been collectively. They just have a more reliable track record.
So then if it's not the offense then what? Fielding? let's don't be silly. Donaldson, Goins, and Travis make up an excellent infield (EE isn't an embarrassment) and Pillar is a well known magician. Martin I don't even have to defend. Colabello is a liability but we're not five games under because of LF defense.
That leaves pitching. The much disrespected bullpen? Not really. There have been some ugly moments, to be sure, however by most measures they compare well (4th in the AL in K/9 for example, 7th in OOPS, OOBP, and WHIP). Not lights out or anything, but serviceable enough Speaking in particular of the guys currently on the team, there's really only one issue - Jeff Francis. I think we're all mystified how he's still on the team. Loup? Nah. Six of his nine runs allowed came three apiece in two outings, with five weeks between them. He's fine.
ETA: As I was writing this, Francis was thankfully DFA'd and Todd Redmond was recalled. Redmond was good enough in 2014 to make me slow to read too much into his 4.1 innings in 2015. We'll see how it goes.
It's not a Hitchcockian twist that I have arrived where you knew i was going all along. The rotation.
Drew Hutchison - 6.17 ERA
Hutch has the worst ERA of the current five, but he's been fine in his last two starts (3 ER over 11 IP) other than the need to economize his pitches and go deeper. My brainstorm which inspired this post was the idea of demoting him but you can't really do that coming off two good starts.
Mark Buehrle - 5.36 ERA
Practically speaking, you can't do anything with Buehrle anyway. If he's not part of the solution then there is no solution. Beyond that, almost 1/3 of his runs allowed came in one of his eight starts. Take away that one start and his ERA otherwise is 4.22 which is not good enough but it's major. Take that one and the one immediately prior to it and we're down to 3.65 which is slightly better than his career ERA. We're going to have to hope that starts #4 and 5 were just a horrible blip and that he'll be fine from now on. It's not an irrational hope at all but our collective nerves are jumpy, right?
Aaron Sanchez - 4.26 ERA
Channeling Wilner again on this point - we can't fairly say what Sanchez's baseline is. We know he has the stuff to get far better, but we have no idea when or if he turns it on. Someone pointed out on Twitter the other night the example of Chris Archer. Archer is a monster now, at the age of 26 and has been well above average for three years with a BB/9 of 3.1 as a major leaguer, yet from 2008 through 2011, at A and AA, his collective BB/9 was 5.25 and ranged as high as 6.6 so great talent can overcome control issues. Not to say it always does. His last start was his worst, and it can't be ruled out to give him the Norris Maneuver and see how it goes - particularly if he's still inconsistent when Norris is ready to return. Still, they'll likely give him at least two more starts before deciding anything. His third turn out falls on an off day so that wold be a natural point to maybe make a move.
Marco Estrada - 5.52 ERA (as starter)
Has gotten better results start to start but if he can't economize and get beyond the 5th inning, he's not going to have the job long. It's not a matter of being stretched out, he's thrown almost 100 pitches in the last two outings and still only went five. With a rotation otherwise struggling and a bullpen that's soft towards the back, you can't have that. He's got two more turns before the Jays come to a 15 day stretch with three off days. If he doesn't step up in that time I expect some rotation changes while they have some flexibility.
RA Dickey - 5.76 ERA
I was worried about Dickey before the season started, and was saying that I didn't think his option would be - or should be - picked up. But I didn't see this coming. Still, if I make an effort to parse things out and be fair, I could argue that five of his first six games were fine - 3.15 ERA n those five games and a not insane 4.38 with the bad one. But the last two have been hideous. You have to hope it's a blip - remember Buehrle had two awful games and recovered - because this team is NOT going to be quick to do something different with him for the very reason that the knuckleball is a recipe for inconsistency. If he, and the team, don't feel he's gotten it together in two more starts, they have the opportunity to do some jugging with the off days in order to let him skip a start, but it's kind of a tricky thing because there'd be a start that, well, let e show you.
As it stands, the rotation from May 24 goes like this:
Hutch > RAD > Estrada > Buehrle > off > Sanchez > Hutch > RAD > Estrada > Buehrle > Sanchez >off
Now what you can do is flip RAD and Hutch, giving the latter a 7th day start (he pitches much better on long rest) while RA goes on his normal rest but also lines up his next turn with an off day. Cool except - if he pitches well in that start do you still want to skip the turn? Me, I'd flip them anyway just to have the option - but the Blue Jays haven't been known for such maneuvering. And of course, there might be other ways you'd prefer to use the off day - say to line Estrada''s turn up with the guy you anticipate replacing him with. Still, all you can do with Dickey in the most radical extreme is let him pitch in long relief and i don't think that they would anticipate that as the best role for recapturing some measure of consistency.
What? You thought I'd have answers?
My long-distance judgement is that Hutch is likely to be fine going forward, as is Buehrle, and that you're stuck with Dickey. If I'm wrong about Hutch, and if he really looks bad for, say, three consecutive starts, he does in fact have an option.
Sanchez? I don't think they will let him go all year walking this many. How much rope he gets may well depend on internal evaluations of progress that we won't be told about unless he's optioned. It's maybe 40/60 he's given a visit to Buffalo before the end of the month (here i disagree with Wilner, I don't think they just punt him to the bullpen. There's some short term gain there but if you want him to eventually be a top-shelf starter you have to resist that.
Estrada? Yeah, unless he pulls out a 7 inning start with good stats, he's got two more turns - three at most to try. Because the options made be as good at it as he is and quite possibly better.
Options? Yeah, here's the top of that list:
Daniel Norris - only the internal observations can really tell us if he's making the progress in Buffalo that they are looking for. The BB/9 ratio is virtually identical, the K's are up a tick, the contact down some - but this is AAA after all. His longest outing, 6.1 IP on 103 pitches. Slightly better than Estrada on efficiency, likely to get better results. but ENOUGH better to justify recalling Norris if you aren't satisfied he's in the groove? I'm not sure. One factor, if you aren't down for 20 days you don't use up an option - he has three days left on that clock, if he's still in Buffalo on Thursday it cold be a while.
On the other hand, we're gaining an extra year of control in 2021 so that's fun!
Randy Wolf - Yes, he's owning the IL right now. He ran off a string of 22 scoreless innings, and he's given up more than 1 earned run (3) in only one of his 7 starts. He's hot. He's also not really this good. He's a 38 year old soft-tosser who's using a lot of guile and a little stuff. He could be the equivalent of Francis against big league hitters (which is exactly what he's been since 2011). Still and all, he has a June 1 opt out and if Estrada (or Sanchez) doesn't firm up their grip before the next off day the Blue Jays will have to at least consider seeing if he can give them a band-aid that will at least buy the kids some more time. Let's say for the sake of argument Sanchez holds on and Estrada doesn't. If you plug Wolf into Estrada's turn and push it back every time an off day allows you to, then three starts (enough to draw some conclusions) would string it out until June 21 before you had to make a call on Norris or some other kid. He's on the same rotation day as Estrada, FWIW.
Felix Doubront - Has made only one appearance for Buffalo, but coincidentally his third turn out from now aligns with Sanchez's day to pitch (if they don't skip him on the off day). He enjoys the advantage over Wolf of being 11 years younger, but his one good year (at 25) was just slightly below average, so unless they see something the stats don't sow he's no savior. He's probably better than Albers and definitely better than Francis but otherwise - who the hell knows?
Scott Copeland - At 27 (same as Doubront) he's sort of an org-guy clawing his way onto the radar. He's a ground-ball machine who really impressed them in the Spring and he's already been up once. Don't expect a miracle, but like Wolf, he might be a guy who could buy them 4-6 weeks to see if the kids are going to pull things together. give Sanchez 4 more kicks at the can and Copeland's turn lines up with his for the fifth turn out, on June 9.
Matt Boyd - a 24 year old LH college kid who's owning the EL on the AA level and really probably is gonna need to be challenged. He's a bit of a fly ball pitcher but he gets a lot of K's and gives up - at least at this level - not many baserunners. As long as the Jays are hoarding veterans (Wolf, Doubront, Albers) at AAA there's not a lot of room for him there (if we count Castro's developmental turns, they actually have six starters their now) and if they think he can handle the jump i wouldn't be at all surprised to see Boyd make the jump to the majors in the right spot - though I'd be mildly surprised if it was more than just a patch-over 2-3 start thing. If Wolf opts out at the end of the month, Boyd will surely be promoted. He's another guy, by the way, who projects to start in close parallel to Sanchez's start days (outside the vaguries caused by off-days).
In summation, while I'm not down on Estrada if he's the fifth guy based on his career, I'm not sure he's a good fit for a sometimes struggling group and see nothing lost if any of these guys get a trial in that turn (other than not wanting Norris to be yoyo'ed). They may or may not be better, but it might save your 'pen a bit at least. As for Sanchez, we simply can't know without internal info what they are thinking with him. I suspect that if at least three of the others get in a reliable quality groove they will give him a lot of rope, but if Dickey continues to flounder, Estrada stays short, and/or one of the others goes backwards then Sanchez may become the change to make just out of an urge to do SOMETHING. The old-timers in his spot would be a come down, as the potential for a dominant start pretty much disappears, but I'd as soon see either of those young lefties in his spot as see him remain.
None of this, by the way, should be read as me giving up on either Hutch, Sanchez, or Norris. I love dreaming on the future with those three along with Stroman, Hoffman, and Osuna and consider these growing pains part of the process. But sadly, they are backed into a win-now corner so a balance has to be struck.