It's still the first chapter, but it already feels like the same old story for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2024. On paper, it's a team that has all the talent to compete for championships year after year. But for some reason, it never seems to come together on the field.

This year's Jays aren't out of the race by any means, though they do find themselves last in the AL East at 6-8. But there are, as is too often the case in Toronto, a number of unwelcome surprises embedded in the Blue Jays' season thus far. And if they can't start flipping some of those negatives back to positives, it will be another year that ends in disappointment in a decade that so far has been full of it.

Blue Jays' key contributors are slacking

Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) hits an RBI double against the Seattle Mariners in the fourth inning at Rogers Centre
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

One of the stories of the offseason for Toronto was not surrounding Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette with much protection in the lineup. But now, those two aren't even performing like the stars the Jays desperately need them to be, the whole offense slacking as a result.

In a 14-game sample size, Guerrero is hitting just .185 with a .313 on-base percentage, while Bichette is at .208 and .283. The two combined have an OPS below .700 and just 10 total RBI. Add in George Springer's .624 OPS and the Jays can't seem to buy top-of-the-order production. Thank goodness for Justin Turner, or the top half of the Blue Jays' order would be hitting worse than most teams' bottom halves with those two catalysts struggling so much.

Of course, all hitters go through slumps, but it still goes to show that there's simply too much pressure on the Jays' still-young stars. If Guerrero isn't going to return to the MVP candidate he was in 2021, then both he and Bichette just really good big-league hitters. And the reality in today's MLB is that if you have a lineup without a superstar, then the median hitter had better be really good.

This will be a team lacking in both depth and star power if things continue on the current path.

Rotation isn't as sturdy as we thought

In 2023, one of the main things the Blue Jays were able to hang their hat on was starting pitching. Toronto ranked third in starting pitching ERA and sixth in WAR. Thus far in 2024, it's been a completely different story. The Jays are 22nd and 28th in those respective metrics, per Fangraphs.

Kevin Gausman has to be better. There's simply no way around it. After a 3.2-inning, six-earned run performance Friday, Gausman's ERA is up to 11.57. His stuff is clearly diminished after an abbreviated Spring Training and it would be of no surprise to anyone if he were still pitching through some shoulder pain. And this poor performance is proving that even if the Jays do have a deep rotation, it only functions with their ace at the top.

Jose Berrios has been excellent, Yusei Kikuchi has been pretty good and Chris Bassit has been roughed up a bit. The fifth starter role has remained a question mark with Alek Manoah unable to find his way back to the majors, as Bowden Francis has allowed 12 earned runs in just 8.1 innings thus far. Cuban signee Yariel Rodríguez is on his way to the show to try and help stop the bleeding, so Blue Jays fans are certainly hoping the starter/reliever is able to eat a bunch of innings.

While there's still time for the Blue Jays to get their pitching staff back on track, it's alarming how quickly things seem to have gone awry. Especially given the fact the lineup is struggling to gel, this is a team that needs to lean on its starters to deliver quality outings—a need only exacerbated by multiple injuries to star relievers.

If Gausman is out, it's on the other three stalwarts from a year ago to go out and deal every five days.

Blue Jays really need Joey Votto to be good

Toronto Blue Jays infielder Joey Votto (37) is congratulated after hitting a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at BayCare Ballpark
Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

It started out as the ultimate feel-good story. Joey Votto, who grew up going to games at Rogers Centre, would play something of a farewell season for his hometown Blue Jays. With Guerrero  and Turner in the picture at first base, Votto was slated as, at most, a platoon DH.

But as the days tick down toward his return, it's becoming clear the Blue Jays sorely need Votto to be good.

Toronto has only three lefties with at least 30 at-bats so far this season and just one of them (Cavan Biggio) has an OPS above .600. Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho have floundered at the plate, which has thrown the Jays' lineup balance completely out of whack. Those struggles only accentuates the fact Brandon Belt quietly carried the offense at times last season. It never really made sense that the Jays made no effort to re-sign him during the winter.

Meanwhile, Daniel Vogelbach, who is essentially occupying the roster spot Votto expects to fill, has barely been used at all. He's 2-for-9 with three walks and got himself thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop twice in a 9-8 loss last week at Yankee Stadium. But having a lefty bat with any sort of power would add such a key dimension to this offense. If Vogelbach can't do anything about that, perhaps Votto can.

Moral of the story: Whenever Votto's slow buildup from his ankle injury is complete, he'd better get back to banging. In a DH role, off the bench, at first—wherever. The Blue Jays will take anything they can get at this point.