Three Things From Week Thirteen

It was the best of times it was the worst of times.

That about sums up last week for the Jays – it was definitely a Tale of Two Cities.

Interleague reared its ugly head in the early part of the week as the Jays were swept in Atlanta by the Braves.  Not only were they swept – they were utterly outclassed, scoring a mere two runs.  That’s right…two.  2.  Tough to win games that way.

But Toronto finally caught an interleague break when they headed to St. Louis to play a Cardinals team in disarray without Albert Pujols.  With Big Albert out of the lineup it seemed as if the Jays simply played baseball, not worrying that the Cardinals were an NL team.  The three game sweep of St. Louis gave Toronto a 5-4 road record in Interleague play this season, their first winning road record against the NL since 2000.

Who says they hate Interleague?

Here are three things from week 13:

Week 13: June 20 – June 26

 Record: 3 – 3

1. Walk the Walk

The old saying goes “if you’re gonna talk the talk, you better walk the walk.”  Apparently Ricky Romero liked the sound of that.

After throwing a gem of a game in Atlanta on Monday only to see his mates producy nary a run, Ricky decided to speak his mind after the game.  “I can’t worry about the offence and what they do. I’ve always said this at one point we can’t rely on (Jose) Bautista, we can’t rely on (Adam) Lind. We’ve got to get somebody else to step up and get on base and drive them in. These guys are getting pitched around. Everyone’s got to step it up or else we’re not going to be winning ballgames. This team doesn’t revolve around one or two guys. Everyone’s got to put in their parts. That’s how we win ballgames.”

To many observers, that was Ricky calling out his offense.  To many, that was Ricky unloading on his teammates.  To many, that was Ricky’s frustration boiling over.  Personally, I had no problem with Romero saying what he said.  It’s not like it’s a big secret that the Jays were scuffling.

Regardless of what you think, after saying what he said it was mandatory for Romero to come back on Sunday with a good ballgame.  And he did just that.  A complete game four hit shutout, including his first career hit, a 2-run single. 

Talk about backing up your words.  Maybe Jays players should speak their mind more often.

2. The Closer Awakes

To put it bluntly: Frank Francisco has been a bust thus far in 2011.  As we aproach the halfway point of the season, Toronto’s supposed closer has numbers that make a fan cringe.  A 4.50 ERA, only 8 saves with 3 blown saves thrown in, a 1.64 WHIP, and a tendency to make every appearance an adventure.

Earlier this year I came to the defence of big Frankie, telling fans to give him time.  He missed spring training with an injury – maybe his early season struggles could be blamed on that.

Well, don’t look now, but he just might be turning the corner.  On Friday, Francisco treated us to a 2011 rarity – a 1-2-3 inning with the game on the line.  After Bautista put the Jays ahead 5-4 in the 9th inning, Francisco finished off the Cards in the bottom half…..drama free.

Though he did allow an unearned run on Saturday, Francisco has been settling in as of late.  In his last six appearances (dating back to June 10th) the numbers look good: 5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 9 K : 2 BB, 1.23 WHIP, and 3 saves.  The most encouraging stat is the fact that he seems to have finally found the strike zone.  Francisco hasn’t issued a walk in four straight appearances. 

Obviously five innings don’t make up for the first two months, but if he keeps this stretch up he can make us all forget about April and May.  And at the same time give Toronto something we haven’t had in a while – a shut down closer.

3. A Change At Third

When Toronto announced at the end of spring training that Jose Bautista would play RF full time, it instantly weakened the third base position.  But nobody in their wildest dreams would have imagined just how weak the position would become.

Five different players have played third for Toronto this year, and sadly Jayson Nix, with his .589 OPS, has put up the best numbers.  As a whole, Jays 3B are hitting only .183 with a .552 OPS, just 6 HR, and 60 strikeouts.  In short – they have been awful.  Extremely, horribly, awful.

When the news came that Brett Lawrie had broken his hand, it looked the Jays would have to suffer with a black hole at third until August.  But finally, Alex Anthopoulos and John Farrell came to their senses and recognized that the solution to the 3B problem is right in front of them, playing RF.  By agreeing to move back to the third for the time being, Jose Bautista has strengthened the Jays lineup tenfold.  By playing Eric Thames, or even Juan Rivera, in RF, it not only puts more power on the field, but it keeps weaker hitters (namely Nix, and Encarnacion) off the field.

The experiment is set to begin next week and likely last until Lawrie is healthy.  Hopefully when that happens, the Jays will be in a pennant race.

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