The Jays continued the toughest portion of their schedule in week 19 (August 9 – 15), and after a rough start, rebounded to finish the week an even 3-3. Toronto was looking straight in the eye at a home sweep at the hands of Boston, but showed huge resiliency on Thursday afternoon by rallying for four in the ninth to escape with a win. That said, they still continue to struggle mightily with the Red Sox, now 3-9 against them this year.
But heading out west and taking two of three against the Angels salvaged the week. The Jays now sit 62-55, nine back of the Wild Card, but a full seven games better than last year.
Here are three things that came out of Week 19:
1. Five Year Plan
Ricky Romero is having a phenomenal sophomore season. After shutting down the Angels yesterday (7 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 4 K) the left-hander is now 10-7 on the season with a 3.43 ERA and is 10th in the AL with 136 strikeouts. Many might have expected a step back from his rookie season, but Romero is actually improving, and showing himself to be of ace-like material.
Well, now he will be able to continue his ascent into elite status in a Blue Jays uniform. The Jays signed Romero to a 5-year $31.1 million deal on Saturday afternoon, locking the 25-year old down for the foreseeable future. Not only is this great news for the rotation, which will see one if its leaders stay put, but it also sends a great message to the team: we are serious. At a time when Toronto was supposed to be selling off its core, AA is instead solidifying it.
What a great time to be a Jays fan.
2. Rejuvenated Closer
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes yesterday. With Kevin Gregg into protect a 4-1 lead in the ninth, he didn’t merely set the Angels down for the win – he destroyed them. His first seven pitches were all strikes, resulting in two strikeouts and an 0-1 count on the third batter – who he eventually struck out as well. This was Mariano Rivera type domination and definitely not the Kevin Gregg we saw earlier this season.
From mid-May until the end of June, a span resulting in 15 appearances, Gregg was brutal: 0-3, 2 blown saves, 7.71 ERA, .333 average against, 16 K: 14 BB, and a 2.36 WHIP. There was talk of demoting him from the closer role, and it was essentially a given that he would be shipped out at the deadline.
But since then he has been outstanding: 16 appearances, 1-1 record, 9 saves, 1 blown save, 1.72 ERA, .132 average against, 14 K: 5 BB, and a 0.77 WHIP. In the last week alone Gregg made three appearances, picked up a win and two saves and only allowed a single baserunner (a walk) in three innings. If he keeps this up maybe we will see him back in 2011.
3. Circus Cito the Lineup Juggler
Remember back in ’92 and ’93 when a common phrase around baseball was “I could manage that team” in reference to the Blue Jays? Sure he had to deal with egos and clubhouse stuff, but Cito essentially threw the same lineup out there each and every day and let the players play. Man have things changed this year.
Say what you want about the manager, and he has lot of critics, but Cito has been extremely active this year – especially in the last few weeks. He is trying to massage a six-man pitching rotation around several off-days and pitch restrictions all while trying to limit the number of inning his young arms log. He also has 10 solid starting players – but only 9 places to put them.
In week 19, the Jays played six games, and Cito used a different starting lineup in all 6 of them! For a guy who “never managed” in the early years, this is almost unheard of. The closest thing to a constant was the fact that Bautista hit third and Lind hit fifth all six games. But when you throw in the fact that J-Bau started five games in RF and one at 3B, while Lind snuck in one start at 1B to go along with five at DH you can see that it was a week full of moving parts.
With a 62-55 record so far, I’d say he’s pushing all the right buttons.