The Blue Jays were the sexy pick to win the AL East this year. And they still might—the season's only five weeks old—but they're doing everything they can to avoid it so far. The lone remaining Canadian MLB team is at 11-21, which is only not the worst record in the league thanks to the migration of the Houston Astros.*
* Why do I get the feeling that we're going to be using that qualifier all season long? "[AL team] is bad—though not as bad as the Astros, of course. Let's not be foolish."
Fellow SB Nation blog Brew Crew Ball was kind enough to run a graph (and a spreadsheet) that showed how 190 different sports pundits picked who'd win the divisions, the wild card, the league championships, and the World Series. (A lot of people are expecting a Nationals-Tigers Series to be won by the team from the nation's capital.) While the AL East was the least defined of all of them—it was the only division to have all five teams represented by a pick from at least two of the 190—the majority picked the Jays to at least make the postseason (80 to win the division, another 60 to get a wild card spot).
And yet, here we set on the 6th of May and the Jays are in the cellar. It's not just that they're in last place, they're aggressively in last place. Years ago, Bill James came up with the Pythagorean winning percentage, which showed how a team should be doing based on runs scored and runs allowed. That formula has been refined over the years, mostly by the good folks at Baseball Prospectus (thanks, good folks!), and the version that I'm particularly interested in is the third-order winning percentage, which measures expected runs scored and runs allowed based on underlying stats, but also measures strength of competition. A single month's worth of games can give you clever illusions based on a slate of games against crappy teams. Sometimes teams play way over their heads against good teams. And sometimes a team just hits a wall against some excellent competition.
The Blue Jays have an actual winning percentage of .344. If they were a good team that ran into bad luck, the third-order winning percentage would be higher. But their third-order WP is .348, a negligible difference, and also the second-worst 3OWP in the AL after the Astros.* (Just by the way, 3OWP shows what I'm sure we all believed: the Yankees are a mediocre team playing way over their heads. The Bombers are a .500 team by the third order.)
The Jays haven't even been in any danger of being a good team so far. They've only won one series, and split another. They've lost every other series, including their sweep at the hands of the Yanks, not to mention losing two out of three to the Red Sox by a combined score of 20-11, and a four-game stretch where they didn't score more than one run per game.
Most of it's on the offense. Jose Reyes was doing great until he was sidelined by injury, and the rest of the team features all of one player with an OBP that doesn't make you wince: Adam Lind at .391 (entirely on the back of his 15 walks, as his BA is .226). Everyone else is under .340. J.P. Arencibia is hitting home runs, but doing nothing else (a .256 OBP and a .513 SLG), Yes, we're only five weeks in, but when ESPN's team page lists Melky Cabrera's .252 as your team batting average leader, you're doing something wrong.
Jose Bautista will probably get better, though there's little evidence to suggest that Edwin Encarnacion is any better than he is right now—he looks like the player he was from 2005-2011, which should surprise no one.
I'm picking on the Jays partly because so many people thought they would rule the roost, and they're instead flying away from the roost. The only team in the majors that's farther away from first place than them is the Astros.* I always find it fascinating when so many people seem to miss the boat on something like this. (I still recall fondly that all 44 of ESPN's staff writers in April 2011 picked the eventual third-place Boston Red Sox to win the AL East that year.)
It's not impossible to make up nine games and pass three other teams in five months, but it's incredibly difficult. The team will have to not only play well, but play several orders of magnitude better than they have played. Some players will likely improve. I don't think the team really is the second-worst AL team, but I don't see how they'll be able to get it together to make a playoff run now.
Some people saw that coming, of course. Modesty prevents me from mentioning one (cough cough), but Matt Eddy of Baseball America didn't think the Jays' new acquisitions were enough to put them over the hump. And winning the offseason doesn't get you anything but some good press in March, as I'm sure Angels fans are painfully aware of after last season.
Thanks to the new branch of Montefiore that the Yankees are opening up with their disabled list, the route to the playoffs will be a difficult one. But one of the major roadblocks folks expected there to be in March were the new! improved! Blue Jays, and that part of the pavement may well be clear.