Let’s be honest: it wasn’t great. The Jays continued their first road trip of the season in week 3 with stops in Seattle and Boston. The set in Seattle should have been a cakewalk with Toronto catching Seattle on a 7-game losing streak and the Mariners having their traditional offensive problems. It wasn’t.
The series at Fenway would provide the young Blue Jays with their first real test. Toronto struggled mightily against the Sox last year, dropping 12 of 18. In order to be in contention in September, a better record against Boston is a must.
So far so bad…
Here are three things that came out of the third week of the season.
Week 3: April 11 – 17
Record: 2 – 4
1. The Need for Speed
Maybe we should start calling him Sam, because as Sam The Record Man used to say: “he said it, he did it.”
When John Farrell took over the team he promised to be aggressive on the basepaths. We caught a glimpse of that on Opening Day with some first inning madness, but Farrell has stuck to his guns and the Jays have been running wild.
After Sunday afternoon’s game, the Jays lead all of baseball in stolen bases with 21. That puts the Jays on pace to swipe 226 bases in 2011, incredible considering they stole only 58 as a team in the entire 2010 season, good enough for third fewest in baseball. Both Aaron Hill and Travis Snider find themselves near the top of the leaderboard with five SB each.
Toronto stole 13 bases alone last week, including 9 in three games against the Red Sox. But there is more than just stolen bases. The designed plays are driving opponenents equally crazy. We already saw the double steal on Opening Day, but twice against Boston Farrell put the Jays in motion, and both times it lead to runs. On Friday, Jayson Nix broke towards second and stopped halfway. The fake steal was enough to pull the shortstop out of position, and open up a hole for Escobar who promptly drove a ball into the outfield. Then on Sunday, Juan Rivera took off for second with Hill on third, stopped halfway, and engaged a rundown which allowed Hill to score.
Obviously with the good comes the bad, as Corey Patterson was caught stealing third to crush a rally later in the game, but I’ll take this aggressive running all day long. Just wait until Rajai Davis comes back!
2. Bullpen Woes
Entering the week Toronto had the best bullpen ERA in the league, as the rag-tag collection of arms that many considered a weakness was actually becoming a strength. Unfortunately the strength didn’t carry forward.
The Blue Jay bullpen blew up last week, highlighted by Monday’s meltdown in Seattle where relievers somehow blew a 7-run lead to one of the worst offenses in the game. Jason Frasor, Carlos Villanueva, David Purcey, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, and Shawn Camp combined to allow 8 earned runs, 6 hits, and 7 walks in only 3.1 innings pitched.
In total, the week 3 stat line looked like this for our relievers:
17 IP, 13 ER, 6.88 ERA, 13 H, 14 BB, 13 K, 1.58 WHIP.
Things still aren’t too bad. The bullpen still ranks in the top half of the league in terms of ERA, David Purcey was banished to Oakland, and Frank Francisco is expected back in the next few days. Things will get better.
3. Hill is Alive
2010 was a bad year for Aaron Hill. A year after winning a Silver Slugger award the second baseman struggled all year long and never came close to duplicating his ’09 success. Toronto’s performance in 2011 depends a lot on Hill having a bounceback year, and entering week 3 he definitely was not.
Hill took to the field on Monday hitting .184 with a .406 OPS, then dropped even further in Seattle to a .170 average and .393 OPS. Buried in those numbers was a large number of weak popups and ground outs.
But a good thing happened in Fenway – Aaron Hill woke up. Against the Red Sox he went 6/10, with a double, 1 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, and 3 SB. He still doesn’t have a home run on the season, but his ratios rose to more acceptable levels: .246 avg, and .572 OPS.
For the Jays to have any kind of a chance this year they need more of that type of production from their second baseman. There is reason for hope.