Three Things From Week Nine

I’ve heard it said by baseball pundits for years: Memorial Day is the first true benchmark of the MLB season. Once the US holiday hits, take a look at the standings because that is a good indication of who will be in the playoffs come October.

Well, today is Memorial Day and the Toronto Blue Jays are in fourth place in the AL East, three games behind the Red Sox. But to count this Jays team as down and out simply because they don’t hold a playoff spot near the end of May? Foolish.

Despite an unbelievable amount of injuries, extremely inconsistent play from young players, and erratic performances from the bullpen, Toronto is over the .500 mark, showing a huge amount of resiliency. If any week proved the team’s “never-give-up” attitude, it was last week, the ninth of the 2011 season.

After a 7-3 drubbing at the hand of the Yankees on Wednesday, the Jays returned home and promptly blew Thursday’s game in the ninth. But they refused to fold, and fought back to win the final three games in the set against the White Sox, ending the week with an emphatic 13-4 shellacking on Sunday.

One thing’s for certain – even if the Jays don’t make the postseason this year, they plan on taking the fans on a wild roller coaster ride.

Here are three things from week 9.

Week 9: May 23 – 29

Record: 4 – 3

1. C-Pat at the Bat

Normally when a team signs a former third overall pick as a free agent, it generates ripples of excitement across the fan base. But when that former third overall pick happens to be a guy coming off a four season stretch that saw him play for four different franchises and combine for a .245 average, .653 OPS, and play shoddy defense, Jays fans can be forgiven for being less than thrilled by the signing of Corey Patterson back in December.

But Corey has been excellent in 2011 thus far out of the #2-hole, saving his best effort for last week. In seven games against the Yankees and White Sox, Patterson hit safely in six of them, including an incredible five hit performance on Saturday that culminated with a walk-off HR in the 14th. Overall he stroked 14 hits in the week, good for a .438 AVG and 1.142 OPS, raising his season average to .301 (13th in the AL) and OPS to .811 (23rd in the AL).

What’s even more impressive is the defense he has shown in the outfield. With a total zone runs above average of +6, Patterson is just outside of the top-5 outfielders in the American League, giving the Jays a somewhat surprising airtight outfield defense. If he can keep this up throughout the year, you can mark Patterson down as just another outstanding, under-the-radar signing by Alex Anthopoulos.

2. Wanted: Clean Bullpen Innings

Taken at face value, a 4-3 record against the Yankees and White Sox sounds like a successful week. But it could have been much better if not for some awful work by the bullpen. Lauded early in the season, and rightfully so, for their outstanding work, the ‘pen has regressed to the point where it now

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In seven games, the bullpen blew two saves and took two losses. As a group, Toronto’s relievers allowed 14 runs on 28 hits and 7 walks. They allowed 11 runs to score in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings alone, including two in the ninth on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. With a 6.59 ERA, Frank Francisco looks both lost and ineffective as the closer, and if not for a lights out performance by Luis Perez on Saturday (3.2 IP, 0 R, 2 H), Francisco would have been directly to blame for two losses.

But bullpen performance often goes in cycles. Truthfully, Toronto’s relievers probably weren’t as good as they looked early in the season, and definitely aren’t as bad as they’ve been over the past few weeks. In fact, I told everybody to have patience with Mr. Francisco in a column I wrote last week, and I’ll say it again:

Things will get better.

3. Better Late Than Never – Welcome to 2011 Guys!

In 2009 and 2010, Aaron Hill combined to hit 62 HR. In 2010 Edwin Encarnacion hit 21, leading me to suggest that he would eclipse the 30 HR plateau this year.

On Sunday morning, May 29th, the two of them had combined to hit zero home runs in 2011, exactly two fewer than noted slugger John McDonald, and one less than rookie David Cooper hit in his 41 plate appearances with the big club.

But something incredible happened in the first inning against John Danks. Hill hit his first career grand slam, and then virtually instantly, the very next batter, Encarnacion went deep! Talk about timing!

For Edwin (who was actually using Ricky Romero’s bat), the HR sparked a big offensive day that included two more hits and one more run scored, giving Jays fans hope that maybe, just maybe, he will break out. For Aaron, the slam didn’t have any immediate affect – he went hitless in five subsequent at bats – but it did provide a bit of confidence that he can do things other than pop up or strike out.

The jury is out on whether these two will ever be able to reclaim their past power, but hitting a HR before the calendar turns to June is a huge relief. Now we’ll get a chance to see how much easier it is for them to hit without a huge monkey on each of their backs.

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