Blue Jays looking to move past recent history of slow starts

Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo walks to the dugout before a spring training baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Dunedin, Fla. on Friday, March 26, 2021. (Steve Nesius/CP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Here’s a question for you: In recent years, have the Blue Jays typically gotten off to good starts, or bad ones?

“If memory serves, I’d think off to slower starts,” said closer Jordan Romano, a Markham, Ont. native who cheered for the Blue Jays long before he played for them. “I don’t know the numbers but I’d guess definitely off to slower starts.”

Romano remembers right. Over the last 10 years, the Blue Jays have finished the month of April with a winning record just twice versus six losing months and one exactly at .500:

2012: 12-11
2014: 12-15
2013: 10-17
2015: 11-12
2016: 11-14
2017: 8-17
2018: 16-12
2019: 14-15
2020: N.A.
2021: 12-12

In total, they’ve posted a 106-125 record during March and April for a combined winning percentage of .459. But from May 1 on, they’ve been above .500 thanks to some strong finishes.

“That’s exactly how I remember it,” Romano said. “But I don’t think that’s going to be the case here. I think we’re going to come out of the gates hot. We know we’re going to be in Toronto. There’s no uncertainty and that’s pretty comforting, too. I don’t think there’s any reason we couldn’t come out of the gates hot.”

Over the course of a long season, no single month can sink a season. Nor do these slow starts reflect some consistent lack of preparation or intensity. We’re talking about a roster that’s turned over multiple times over the last decade, a coaching staff that’s almost entirely different and a new front office. This is more small-sample randomness than organizational flaw.

But whether there’s a coherent reason for this pattern or not, the Blue Jays could really use the kind of strong start that has typically evaded them in recent years. On the plus side, they’re opening at home in Toronto for the first time in three years. But their schedule will be tough, with multiple series against the Red Sox and Astros during the season’s opening month.

“And the Yankees,” added manager Charlie Montoyo. “We know that, but that just is what it is. We’re going to do our best. Of course when you play teams like that, you’ve got to do your best to beat them.”

“We’re good right now,” added Vladimir Guerrero Jr. through interpreter Hector Lebron. “We know each other 100 per cent right now and when you know your teammates and know what they can do, I think we’re in a good position to have a good season.”

But, as Montoyo points out, a slow start doesn’t completely doom a team. The 2015-16 Blue Jays teams proved as much, and some recent World Series winners have reinforced that point further.

The 2019 Nationals were 12-16 at the end of April and 37-40 in late June before finishing strong and winning it all. Last year’s World Series winners followed a similar trajectory. Atlanta went 12-14 last April and they were under .500 as late as August only to make some well-timed trades on their way to a championship.

It’s stating the obvious to note that the Blue Jays hope to start strong. But Montoyo found himself digging into some of these numbers recently and his findings encouraged him.

“When you look at teams that have won the whole thing, they’ve had slow starts and then they get hot,” he said. “It’s funny how that works. So I don’t think it would mean that much. Of course we want to win every game we play. That’s for sure. But with the team that we have we’re not going to panic if we don’t start hot.”

So what can the Blue Jays do to ensure they start well? They’ve managed player workloads carefully in spring and players have spoken to one another about the importance of getting as much rest as possible now. Those efforts appear to be paying off as they’re poised to open the season with a fully healthy roster aside from Nate Pearson, who will begin the season on the injured list after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

They’re also better positioned than some of their rivals, since non-vaccinated visiting players aren’t eligible in play in Toronto for the time being. Otherwise, there’s little to do besides field the best team possible and trust that this time will be different.

“You saw how important even one game is last year,” Romano said. “Treating all these games like they really matter, like they really mean something. We do have a lot of games in the first month – probably more so than normal. We know what we’re up against. But those games are going to be big. Test us out and hopefully we come out on top.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.