Rotation leads way through Toronto's rocky road

Rotation leads way through Toronto's rocky road

BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays are through their grueling 17-game schedule against American League East opponents to open the season. They didn't exactly thrive, but they survived, and considering the way things have gone so far, that might be good enough for now.

Toronto completed its opening slate of games with an 8-9 record following a 3-2 loss to Baltimore on Thursday night. The Blue Jays currently find themselves in three-way tie for second place, trailing the Orioles by 3 1/2 games after Baltimore started the season 7-0.

The Blue Jays hoped for a better start, but in reality, it could have been a lot worse. The offense has yet to click, while the bullpen was a borderline disaster during the first week of the season. The one saving grace has been the rotation.

Here's a closer look at what went right and what went wrong during the first three weeks:

The offense:
The heart of Toronto's lineup has been as advertised. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have combined to hit .286 (55-for-192) with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. The problem is the rest of the batting order has hit .184 (67-for-364) with four home runs and 25 RBIs.

Donaldson's RBI double

Troy Tulowitzki has been a main culprit with a .150 average and three extra-base hits. Elsewhere in the order, Ryan Goins, Kevin Pillar, Justin Smoak, Russell Martin and Chris Colabello are all hitting .224 or below. As a result, Toronto has scored more than five runs just twice this season. At this point last year, the club had done it nine times.

"We're capable of executing. We proved that last year. We were the league's best offense and we're just not doing that," Bautista said. "Am I going to say we're going to be better than last year? No. Are we going to be the same? Maybe, who knows? But we're not playing remotely close to that on offense."

The rotation:
Toronto's starters have held the opposition to three runs or fewer in 14 of their 17 games while tossing at least six innings in 12 of those outings. The Blue Jays are second in the Majors with 106 innings, and their 3.39 ERA ranks sixth in the AL.

Aaron Sanchez has been one of the main reasons, with a borderline dominant start to the season. The 23-year-old has allowed a total of three earned runs in 20 innings, but Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada have been equally as effective. The lone disappointment has been R.A. Dickey (1-2, 6.10 ERA) but he is also a notoriously slow starter, so his early struggles should not come as a surprise.

Sanchez's dominant outing

"Every game has been close," Estrada said. "I know once we get this chain moving, we're going to be a very dangerous team. We have to just keep battling and it's eventually going to go our way."

The bullpen:
The bullpen had some issues in Baltimore, but for the most part, has settled into a bit of a groove. Lefty Brett Cecil went through some well-documented struggles by allowing three costly runs over his first 2 2/3 innings, while Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez also took their early lumps.

Cecil ties scoreless record

Toronto relievers currently boast a 3.63 ERA (16 earned runs in 39 2/3 innings), which is a lot better than it looked even a week ago. Roberto Osuna has been the biggest positive, but the group as a whole appears to have settled into roles and should be better moving forward than they were in the first couple of weeks.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.