The fifth week of the schedule saw Toronto embark on a 10-game road trip…a very difficult 10-game road trip.
Four games in Texas against the defending American League champions. Three games in the Bronx against the defending AL Wild Card winning Yankees. The trip concludes this week with three games in Tampa against the defending AL East champion Rays. Ouch.
But so far so good. Despite dropping the final two games in Yankee Stadium, the Jays began the trip with a winning record. The offense came alive in Texas, and Ricky Romero befuddled the Yankees all night long on Friday.
Here are three things from week 5.
Week 5: April 25 – May 1
Record: 4 – 3
1. That’s not a corpse, that’s Juan Rivera!
He lives! All rejoice!
After an absolutely horrendous start to the season, Juan Rivera shook off the cobwebs and awoke last week. Entering the week on a mini three-game hitting streak, Rivera promptly extended it to nine games before being held to an 0-fer against the Yankees on Sunday.
Overall he put up very solid numbers: 10 for 25, .400 AVG, 6 walks to 3 strikeouts, .516 OBP, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.196 OPS. He was no longer the “easy out” that he was throughout the first four weeks of 2011.
But what’s most important about Rivera’s resurgence is not his personal stats. It’s not him increasing his trade value (although that can’t hurt). It’s not even so much about getting wins (though again, that’s nice too). No, the most important part is the lineup protection that a hot Rivera (and a hot Lind) provides for Jose Bautista. Pitchers may be less inclined to walk J-Bau knowing that Rivera is no longer a member of the walking dead.
2. Run Rajai Run
When Alex Anthopoulos acquired Rajai Davis from the A’s in the offseason, visions of base thievery ran through Jays fans heads. Davis was coming off two seasons where he swiped a combined 91 bases. The Blue Jays as a team stole only 131 in those years.
But Rajai went down with an ankle injury early in the season. At the time he wasn’t hitting and he wasn’t running. But it’s funny what a trip to the 15-day DL will do to a guy. Now fully healthy, Davis made his return to the lineup on Friday in New York, and promptly caused havoc on the basepaths.
He reached base in 50% of his plate appearances (4 hits, 3 walks), scored three runs, and stole five bases – two on Friday night, and three more yesterday. There is little doubt that he has the speed to steal, and even less doubt that he has the green light at all times from John Farrell. If he can continue to get on-base at an above-average pace, there’s no telling how many extra bags he’ll take this year.
3. Bullpen Bonanza
A strong bullpen is one of the keys of success for any major league club. Think back to the World Series winning teams for Toronto in ’92 and ’93 with Henke, Ward, Leiter, Timlin, and Wells. Think of the Yankees with Mariano Rivera. And think of the 2011 version of the Toronto Blue Jays with Casey Janssen, Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor, Carlos Villanueva, Shawn Camp, and Marc Rzepczynski.
That’s right: this year’s edition of the Blue Jays ‘pen is right up there near the top of the league. In the American League they rank second in ERA (2.71, behind the Angels), third in hits allowed (58), tied for first in strikeouts (76), and first by a mile in both WHIP (1.03) and opponent’s batting average (.177). And that is including 5.1 woeful innings from Luis Perez and David Purcey.
While everybody in the bullpen has been great, three men stick out above the rest. Janssen has allowed just one run in 11.1 IP for an ERA of 0.79. Rzep has become the new Scott Downs, holding left-handed hitters to a paltry .048 AVG and .278 OPS. And long reliever Villanueva leads the team with 15.2 IP in relief, allowing only 4 hits and 3 runs for a 1.72 ERA and 0.77 WHIP.
The past week saw the bullpen blow away the Rangers and Yankees, giving the Jays a chance to win every game despite some rocky starts from Jo-Jo Reyes, Jessie Litsch, and Kyle Drabek. Toronto’s relievers tossed 25 innings over the seven games, allowing only three runs and 10 hits for a 1.08 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. They actually grew stronger as the week went on, shutting down the Yankees to the tune of one run and two hits allowed in 10.2 IP. Very impressive.