It looks like some kind of mistake, the standings today. But, no, it’s accurate. Leading or tied for the lead of their various divisions are the Los Angeles Angels, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Minnesota Twins. Even the Colorado Rockies are just a half-game back in the NL West. And at the bottom? Ooh boy. The Mariners are 2-8 to start the young season, while the Blue Jays are a putrid 1-8.
Of course, it’s early. Of course, we can’t make too much of nine or ten games. But still…if we could, what remarkable turnarounds these would be. Now, I have no interest in pricking the bubbles of Angels, D-Backs, Reds, Rockies, and Twins fans. Let them live in bliss for as long as they can before most of them slip back to the bottoms of their divisions.
But hope. Hope is another thing. You can live for months on hope. And, for Mariners and Blue Jays fans, it’s the only thing that matters at this point. Last year, when the Twins started 0-9, I (as a native Minnesotan) looked for any silver lining, and found none. It’s a major reason why, as the season progressed, I grew less and less engaged with them and more interested in other clubs. And so the question looms large: should the fans of these clubs have any hope?
First, it’s important to note that the Blue Jays were not projected to be much better than a .500 team coming into 2017. They had a puncher’s chance of being in the postseason race, but nothing they’ve done since has done anything to raise expectations. Oh sure, Josh Donaldson has again been one of the best players in baseball. And both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez have started off well. But after losing Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, the Jays seemed short on offense and long on unreliable guys on the wrong side of 30.
Indeed, as you look at struggling guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, J.A. Happ, and Marco Estrada, there’s a perfectly good chance that one or more of them simply aren’t going to be able to get back to their previously established levels. And if that happens, the Jays really don’t have talent in the upper levels of their minor league system to buoy them. There will be a death spiral, especially if the club decides to sell at the trade deadline. That could mark the start of a rebuild in Toronto, with Donaldson, Estrada, and Happ laying the groundwork for the next good Canadian baseball team.
On the other hand, the Mariners were actually projected to be a wild card team this year. While their slow start has obviously dropped the likelihood of that by quite a bit, Seattle still has a lot going for it. For one thing, Kyle Seager is going to get going one of these days. So will Robinson Cano (although at 34, maybe that’s not as likely as I want to believe it is). Danny Valencia and Nelson Cruz will improve as well, while Carlos Ruiz and Tyler O’Neill will eventually start to leach at bats away from Mike Zunino and either Leonys Martin or Jarrod Dyson eventually, if they can’t get it together.
The Mariners definitely need some help with their pitching, however. Yovani Gallardo has, predictably, been a mess. And their inexperienced bullpen has also struggled, especially with Steve Cishek out. Those are things that can be fixed relatively easily, however, through minor trades (and we all know how much Jerry DiPoto loves those!). More importantly, the M’s just have a much higher floor than the Jays do. Projected to be an 87 win team or so is simply different from being projected to be a .500 club. So, while the Jays are probably going to struggle to even reach their projection this year, it’s the M’s who will get their puncher’s chance at the postseason. Indeed, Baseball Prospects still thinks they’ve got a 30 percent shot. And that’s reason enough to keep watching.