Talk about division rivalries. Starting with the four game set against Tampa last week, the Jays kicked off a stretch of 22 consecutive games against AL East foes. Seeing how badly they struggled to beat the weaker teams in the AL, expectations were fairly low when Toronto took on the big boys.
And, sad to say, expectations were met.
A win on Monday helped the Jays avoid a four game sweep at the hands of the Rays. A bullpen let down Tuesday prevented a three game sweep of the Orioles. And then the Jays were outclassed in New York – a sweep at the hands of the Evil Empire.
It’s never easy winning in Yankee Stadium, but it is even more difficult to win there when the lineup is depleted. Mike McCoy and DeWayne Wise are passable bench players, but should not be starting everyday, which is what was forced to happen on the weekend.
Unfortunately for the Jays it doesn’t get any easier as the injury riddled lineup gets set to play six of the next nine games against the Red Sox.
Here are three things from week 23:
Week 23: August 29 – September 4
Record: 3 – 4
1. Injuries and More Injuries
Kudo’s to Alex Anthopoulos for putting together a fearsome starting lineup, one that looks ready to challenge the big boys for a playoff spot as early as 2012. Lawrie, Escobar, Rasmus, Kelly Johnson, Arencibia, and Thames are all players who weren’t on the roster at the beginning of 2010.
Unfortunately, the core group of players is dropping like flies. Already without Rajai Davis who is on the DL, Toronto lost Colby Rasmus to the DL last week, and then watched Yunel Escobar go down with a sore left wrist. The injury to Rasmus forced Mike McCoy into the lineup to play CF, and then the injury to Escobar shifted MM to SS, bringing in Wise to CF.
At least there was some good news in the bullpen. Frank Francisco, battling a sore shoulder, Casey Janssen, and Jon Rauch all returned from injuries.
The best news of all, though, came from the dugout. After a 10 game absence due to pneumonia, John Farrell was set to return to action on Monday. Let’s hope the rest of the team follows suit and comes back soon.
2. Tough Road for Cecil
When Brett Cecil returned from AAA Vegas on June 30th, he was instantly lit up by the Pirates. But after that start, he settled in nicely and looked set to become a permanent fixture in the rotation. In the month of July the lefty was 3 – 1 with a 2.19 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 37 IP.
But since the calendar switched to August it’s been nothing but stuggles. In seven starts Cecil has gone 0-4, given up 25 ER, 14 BB and 9 HR for an ERA of 4.96. Last week things got even worse in his two starts against the Orioles and Yankees. He looked tired, and didn’t have control of any of his pitches. After lasting six innings in Baltimore, giving up 4 runs and a homer, he again only lasted six in NY, labouring through the innings. It was almost a surprise that he “only” gave up four ER, considering he surrendered two huge HR.
At a time when Brandon Morrow is struggling mightily and the fifth rotation spot is an open audition, Toronto is depending on Cecil to eat some innings. Ricky Romero can’t do it alone.
Thank goodness that….
3. Henderson Alvarez Has Arrived
When Alvarez made his debut on August 10th as a 21-year old, many (myself included) thought he was only here for one or two starts. But even if that was the original plan, Alvarez is making it impossible to send him back down, delivering a message that he wants to be here for good.
Henderson went 0 – 2 in his first four starts, but deserved better. He had a K:BB ratio of 16:5, and likely should have won one if not two of those starts. But last week everything finally came together in Baltimore. He earned his first career major league win by absolutely dominating the Orioles. 8 innings, 0 earned runs, 0 walks, 3 hits, and
5 strikeouts. It was a masterpiece.
Seeing how the kid looks composed, calm, and controlled on the mound, it might be the first of many masterpieces. I hope Kyle Drabek is watching.
[Note: After shutting out the Red Sox for 6 innings on Monday, Alvarez has now thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings. Sign him up for 2012]