Tao of Stieb: Don’t Like This Team

The Blue Jays have struggled all season long, with no end in sight. (CP/Frank Gunn)

Fellow Jays fans, I feel your pain.

If I have spent much of the last seven seasons looking on the sunny side of things, and finding the lightness where most saw dark, and providing my optimistic sense of the rationale behind the Blue Jays’ long term plans, then maybe my current state of mind will catch you off guard.

But man…I really don’t like this team.

I don’t like the starting pitching. I don’t like the defence. I don’t like the approach to at-bats. I don’t like the lack of progress shown by some, and the regression from all-star calibre to replacement level by others.

I don’t like that many of the most flawed elements of the current roster are not the result of a long term erosion in talent, but rather the result of bringing in players with skills that are either in decline or were never that great from the outset.

I don’t like J.P. Arencibia’s oblivious griping about the media, and his wish that there would be more cheerleaders helping to “teach fans” about the game, which I suppose means enthusiastically telling the unwashed masses across Canada who have never been exposed to baseball that they don’t understand how valuable a sub-.260 on-base percentage can be.

I don’t like Brett Lawrie’s hands at the plate. I don’t like that as the ball is being released, Lawrie gives a final energetic jerk of the bat, which he then has to pull back towards himself in order to begin moving the bat through the hitting zone, zapping all the strength out of his swing. I don’t like that a player who was positioned as a face of the franchise has the same flaws in his swing as a dude on my softball team from ten years ago.

I don’t like that Brandon Morrow has never been healthy for a full season since he came to the Jays, and that I don’t ever believe that he will be.

I don’t like that the team traded too many top prospects for a starting pitcher who was a good story, and had a very fine year in 2012, but who realistically wouldn’t be one of the top 20 pitchers in the game in spite of his Cy Young Award.

I don’t like listening to R.A. Dickey talk.

I don’t like how Josh Johnson picks and nibbles around the zone, trying to elicit swings at junk that Frank Tanana would be ashamed to serve to hitters.

I don’t like José Reyes’ defense, or the fact that it makes me nostalgic for Yunel Escobar.

Moreover, I don’t like that the cost of acquiring Reyes included sending more prospects and big leaguers plus taking on Mark Buehrle’s stupid contract.

I don’t like that the starters have pitched poorly enough that the relievers have faced workloads that are too taxing, and that the result of this might be that the lone bright spot in the first half of the season might erode quickly from here.

I don’t like Melky Cabrera’s approach at the plate, which is essentially to swing at everything, and hope that he can foul off enough pitches to stay in the at bat until the pitcher makes a mistake. And I really don’t like that this approach has been plunked into the number two spot in the lineup, because of the need to “shake things up”.

Mostly, I don’t like that nearly everything that Alex Anthopoulos has touched in the last three years seemingly has turned to dust. And I don’t like that I don’t feel as though I can trust his judgment.

Mostly, though, I don’t like what I see when I look ahead to 2014, or beyond. I don’t like that the team will likely have to ride it out with Dickey, Morrow, Ricky Romero, and perhaps Johnson slated to be part of the rotation picture next year, accompanied by players like Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison who have yet to establish themselves as big leaguers.

Every team has flaws, so it probably doesn’t do a whole lot of good to enumerate every last one that our side has. In the process of building a winner, there are always bumps in the road, and the hope is that the good elements of the team are enough to navigate past them. But as good as a few players have been, they certainly haven’t been enough to help get past this year’s obstacles.

What I like the least about the past few months is this nagging suspicion that the bumps in the road are actually sinkholes, and that the Jays are on the precipice of falling into oblivion.

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