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In Flight: Blue Jays struggling to generate momentum


This is the third edition of "In Flight" for the 2024 campaign as the Toronto Blue Jays look to break through and make some noise in the postseason for the first time since 2016. It promises to be an interesting season for the Blue Jays, with no shortage of storylines to follow all year.

Moments that defined the stretch 👀

Ohtani silences Rogers Centre

The Shohei Ohtani offseason saga took Blue Jays fans on a rollercoaster ride of emotions before he ultimately joined the Dodgers. The Rogers Centre crowd made its displeasure with Ohtani known during Los Angeles' first trip to Toronto, booing him whenever he was introduced or stepped to the plate.

Ohtani promptly hit a home run in his first at-bat off Chris Bassitt, showcasing the talent that put Blue Jays fans in such a frenzy when, for a fleeting moment, it seemed like there might actually be a chance he'd choose the team in free agency. Alas, it was not to be, and the Dodgers left Toronto with a series victory.

Turner lone offensive bright spot in series loss to Royals

There were questions about how much Justin Turner had left in the tank at age 39 as his exit velocities declined over the past few seasons. The wily veteran has silenced any doubts with an excellent start to the campaign. Turner hit two home runs in the Blue Jays' only win of a recent home series against the Kansas City Royals.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, Turner's been one of only a few hitters to deliver so far. He consistently comes up to the plate with a plan of attack and puts together a good at-bat even if he doesn't reach base. Toronto could use some of what Turner does well trickling down to some of its struggling stars.

Stats that tell the story

25%: It's been a troubling start to the season at the plate for George Springer. The 34-year-old's offensive production has fallen off dramatically. Springer appears to have lost bat speed, leading to the worst hard-hit rate of his career at 25%.

The Blue Jays were likely hoping for a strong return on investment on the first half of Springer's six-year, $150-million contract. Although Springer was largely productive, Toronto failed to win a playoff game in those three seasons. With Springer turning 35 in September, the Blue Jays are hoping he can find a way to remain relatively productive. If he's not, that contract could become very problematic.

0: Erik Swanson hasn't looked like himself after missing the beginning of the season with an elbow injury. The reliever has yet to register a clean inning in his first eight appearances, putting up a 16.50 ERA and 2.50 WHIP. Swanson's stuff hasn't been nearly as sharp, with hitters doing damage against both his fastball and splitter. He's allowed four home runs in just six innings after allowing eight in 66 2/3 last season.

Swanson posted an impressive 3.04 ERA with a 28.6% strikeout rate in his first campaign with the Blue Jays. Yimi García's incredible start to the season takes some of the pressure off Swanson. But the bullpen as a whole has regressed after a surprisingly strong 2023. Swanson is one of a handful of Blue Jays relievers the team is hoping can find their footing to complement a rotation that's still been reliable through the season's first month and change.

They said what? 🍿

John Schneider after a lengthy rain delay in Kansas City: "I think the entire day was handled kind of poorly, just from the start of the game."

Schneider remaining confident in lineup despite offensive struggles: "It will come, we will be better. I would hope our fans trust the fact that we have really good players, and that they understand they're not performing up to their expectations."

Danny Jansen on Turner's two-homer game: "I've seen it before, on TV or against us, but yeah. He's a great hitter. He's a professional, he's smart."

Chris Bassitt weighs in on his slow start: "I mean, I've got a (5.45) ERA, and I feel like I've had one bad game. Yeah, I'm just pissed."

Water cooler conversation 🗣️

G Fiume / Getty Images Sport / Getty

How much of a priority is keeping Jansen long term?

Much of the conversation surrounding the Blue Jays revolves around the long-term futures of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. However, the status of impending free agent Danny Jansen should be on everybody's radar. Despite injuries throughout his career, Jansen has turned into an excellent all-around catcher.

Jansen is off to a very productive start after missing time with a hand ailment. The Blue Jays have Alejandro Kirk under control for several seasons but don't have great catching depth within the organization. Losing Jansen would be a blow. He said before the season that he and the Blue Jays agreed to see how the year played out before engaging in contract discussions. The upcoming free-agent catcher market is relatively thin, so Jansen is in a good position to land a contract if he and Toronto can't find common ground on a new deal.

Scuffling lineup gets a shakeup

Manager John Schneider made his most dramatic changes to the lineup over the weekend in Washington, moving Bichette down in the order.

"I haven't done anything, really, to produce, and we've struggled as a team, so I think it's the right time to switch things up," Bichette said, per's Keegan Matheson. "If I have to be the one that goes down, then that's fine with me."

There's a strong case that Schneider should make more alterations to the lineup, namely moving a slumping Springer (.582 OPS) out of the leadoff spot. However, there isn't a great replacement for Springer. The Blue Jays could try Daulton Varsho or Davis Schneider in that role, but that might not be a long-term answer.

Why have Blue Jays struggled to develop pitchers?

This is a question that's plagued the front office for years. Outside of Alek Manoah's 2021 and 2022 seasons, there haven't been many impactful starting pitchers developed through the minor-league system. This has forced the team to spend in free agency or trade to address the rotation as the core group of Gausman, Bassitt, Berríos, and Kikuchi was acquired externally.

The No. 5 spot in the rotation was a clear weakness heading into the season. Without any homegrown pitchers ready to step into the void, the Blue Jays were forced to turn to Yariel Rodríguez, a pitcher who took the entire 2023 season off. Rodríguez was recently placed on the injured list, opening the door for Manoah to return to the rotation despite posting a 6.50 ERA in four Triple-A starts.

The results weren't pretty as Manoah allowed seven runs (six earned) over four innings with six strikeouts and four walks in a loss to the Nationals. This area has been one of Ross Atkins' biggest blind spots and continues to be a real source of trouble for the Blue Jays.

What's next? 🛬

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