Looking at the schedule, the final week before the 2011 All-Star break was not kind. Three games in Fenway Park against the first place Red Sox. Four games in Cleveland against the first place Indians. Seven games away from home – on the heels of having three games at home against the first place Phillies.
Ten consecutive games against division fr0nt runners.
After hanging on for a 4th of July victory, the Jays promptly dropped three straight, and after Thursday’s gut-wrenching ninth inning collapse the club could have folded up and limped into the break.
But resiliency ruled the day. Three straight wins over Cleveland has Toronto hitting the break on a roll. A 45-47 record may not sound great on the surface, but with all the injury problems and struggles, I think most people in Toronto are satisified.
Here are three things from week 15:
Week 15: July 4 – July 10
Record: 4 – 3
1. Big Brett is Back!
Brett Cecil lead the Blue Jays in wins last year, and began the year as the team’s number three starter. He was counted on to provide consistency and stability in the rotation, especially with two true wild cards in Drabek and Reyes pitching around him.
Unfortunately, he provided neither.
After getting roughed up by the Yankees on April 20th he was sent to the minors to work out the kinks, leaving Toronto with a 6.86 ERA. His first start back against Pittsburgh? Terrible, dropping his season ERA to a woeful 7.24.
But something happened last week. Something clicked. The Cecil of 2010 might be returning. Though he didn’t exactly dominate the Red Sox and Indians, he was solid, and provided exactly what the Jays asked for in April – consistency and stability.
On Tuesday he tossed his first career complete game – albeit in a tough 3-2 loss. On Sunday he went six innings in Cleveland, allowing one earned run. Overall for the week the lefty finished up with a 1-1 record, pitched 14 innings with a 2.57 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts. His season ERA dropped by over a run and a half to 5.66.
Better late than never…
2. The Upside-Down World of Frank Francsico
Frank Francisco is putting Jays fans on a rollercoaster ride this season, and last week we saw the best and the worst of what he has to offer. On Monday afternoon he threw perhaps his most dominant inning of the season against Boston. Called upon to protect a two-run lead in the ninth, Francisco promptly gave up a leadoff single, then went 3-0 to Dustin Pedroia. But then – pure dominance. 12 pitches, 9 strikes, 3 strikeouts, game over.
Sadly, the dominance didn’t last. On Thursday he was called upon to protect a 4-0 lead in the ninth. The final line? Three batters faced. Two walks. One hit. Three earned runs. Due to the quirkiness of pitching stats he was credited with neither a blown save nor a loss, but it was pretty clear to all parties that the loss was his fault. After a profanity laced tirade against the media after the game, Francisco was promptly punished by Alex Anthopoulos.
Though the Jays didn’t go as far as to say Frankie is out as closer, the writing is on the wall. With a season ERA of 5.92 and a WHIP of 1.85 he is putting up numbers that would get most relievers released. The only bright side? It can’t possibly get any worse.
3. Signs of Hope
So the ffirst half is over, and it wasn’t all roses for the Blue Jays. An absurd amount of injuries, some terrible underachieving by key players, and extremely shoddy work by the bullpen has left the team 11 games back of first in the AL East and under .500.
But things aren’t all that gloomy. There were signs last week that maybe, just maybe, some players are on the verge of turning their struggles around. Brett Cecil was discussed above, but other key player who look poised for turnaround include:
J.P. Arencibia – After going 0 for his first 17 in July, the rookie catcher finished the first half with a three-game hitting streak, going 5 for 12 to push his batting average back above the .220 plateau.
Rajai Davis – A prolonged slump saw his season stats decline to terrible lows, but if last week is any indication he seems to be pulling out of it. A .296 average with a .704 OPS in seven games, including 3 doubles, 3 steals, and 6 RBI.
Travis Snider – Recalled on July 4th, Snider has looked excellent in his return to the big leagues. He started all seven games last week and recorded a hit in six of them, fnishing the week with a .367 average and 1.054 OPS, including 6 doubles, 1 homer, and 8 RBI.
Brandon Morrow – Morrow has been wildly inconsistent this year, but has shown signs recently that he is turning the corner. In his past five starts dating back to June 18th the right-hander has gone 3-0 with a 2.94 ERA and .190 opponents batting average in 33.2 IP. With 38 strikeouts in that span (and only 10 walks), he is finally harnessing his control. His final start of the first half against Cleveland was one of his best of the season – 8 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 3 ER, and 8 K.
We could be in for a great second half!