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Slow start? Jays not worried — yet
After seven games last season, the Miami Marlins were 2-5.
After seven games this season, the Toronto Blue Jays are 2-5.
"No way,” Jose Reyes responded Tuesday afternoon, with earnest disbelief, when I informed him of the coincidence. “I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that.
“Here, it’s a different mentality. We’re going to turn it around — hopefully sooner rather than later.”
Reyes is one of four qualified experts to speak about comparisons between the ’12 Marlins and ’13 Blue Jays. Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio are the others. They are the common links between the teams.
There are other similarities beyond the players themselves: dramatic payroll increases, instant roster makeovers, World Series expectations, and, now, identical seven-game records.
None of that means the Blue Jays will finish last, hold a firesale, slide into irrelevancy, and lead the league in Opening Day Groupons next year. After all, I’m the guy who picked them to win the American League. But there are traces of urgency in the Toronto clubhouse, which Reyes acknowledged after Tuesday’s 7-3 loss to Detroit.
“We’re not playing good baseball right now,” Reyes said. “It’s still so early in the season. That’s going to turn around, because of the talent we have here. We’re better than what we’re showing right now.
“Nobody’s concerned. We believe in our talent. But we need to turn it around quickly. When you lose too many games at the beginning of the season, that’s going to hurt you in September.”
Reyes is right. Even if we set aside the provocative comparison to last year’s Marlins, the ’12 Angels and ’11 Red Sox are recent case studies in the perils of starting slowly. If that Boston team had started 4-8, rather than 2-10, the ignominious collapse never would have happened. The Angels had the AL’s third-best record after Mike Trout’s arrival but spent October at home because of the 6-14 mark that came before.
According to STATS LLC, 80 teams started exactly 2-5 since the playoffs expanded in 1995. Eight reached the postseason. To say it another way: During that span, only 10 percent of teams with the Jays’ current outlook have gone on to qualify for October.
I believe the Blue Jays have a better chance to recover than last year’s Marlins ever did. For one thing, Ozzie Guillen was serving his Fidel Castro-related suspension at this point in the 2012 schedule. (Toronto’s John Gibbons, by comparison, remains as composed and affable as ever.) Actually, the Blue Jays might benefit from the Marlins’ travails.
“I learned from what happened last year in Miami,” Reyes said. “We had high expectations, and we finished last. I take that as experience for me. I don’t try to think too much about what people say about this ballclub. I have belief in everybody here in the locker room. Go out there and prove we’re a good team. Right now, we don’t show that.
“But like I say, there’s no concern at all. There’s way too much talent on this ballclub to continue to play the way we’re playing.”
Optimistic Toronto fans — I’ve heard from all seven of them on Twitter — say their team can join the 2011 Cardinals (and 16 other teams, per STATS LLC) among the ranks of league champions who started 2-5. For that to happen, the Jays must improve upon the new/old statistical measure of your choosing: the minus-16 run differential, the 5.06 ERA, the seven errors (tied for most in the AL), the .135 batting average with men in scoring position.
Third base is of particular concern, with Brett Lawrie still on the disabled list with an injured oblique. The Jays miss his energy, his defense, his power and his presence. Lawrie’s replacements have combined to hit .083 (2-for-24) while committing a major league-worst three errors, including one Tuesday by Maicer Izturis.
With so much going haywire, it’s dangerous to single out anyone as He Who Must Deliver. But I’ll give you two names: Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. They have demonstrated the ability to hit for power — and do so consistently. If either is able to carry the Jays for a week, or even a few days, the pressure will ease on their teammates (pitchers included).
Bautista gets a hall pass, because he just returned after missing three games with a twisted ankle and Tuesday chose the wrong stadium at which to hit a ball 415 feet to straightaway center field. (At Comerica Park, that is called an “out.”) Encarnacion, though, has started 2-for-27 after hitting 42 homers last year.
One possible explanation: Encarnacion’s spring was interrupted by the World Baseball Classic and a right index finger injury he sustained in his final WBC game. But he insisted Tuesday that he’s healthy now.
“I’ve been swinging at pitches outside the strike zone,” he explained. “That’s the only thing. I’m going to be all right when I start looking for my pitch. That’s what I’m going to focus on now.
“I know everybody’s waiting for me. I know I have to put up good numbers. I know what I have to do.”
The Marlins knew what they had to do last year, too. They never delivered. The Blue Jays are a different team, and 2013 is a different year. But right now, the records are the same. Only wins will make the comparisons disappear. Buehrle, the ex-Marlin, gets the next chance Wednesday.