The third week of the 2012 season was a week of firsts for the Jays. There was the first meeting with the powerful Tampa Bay Rays. The first game with the roof open (a crazy thought as it gets set to snow in Toronto today). There was also the beginning of the first extended road trip, a 7-game journey to Kansas City and Baltimore.
And, sadly, there was also the first blowouts of the season, a 10-run loss to Tampa followed up by a 5-run loss the next day.
But the strength and make-up of a team is often determined by how they respond to adversity, how they bounce back from tough times. Toronto looked pretty good in response to the Tampa losses by finishing the week with another first – their first three game winning streak.
Here are three things from week 3:
Week 3: April 16 – April 22
Record: 4 – 2
1. Here Comes Ricky
One bad inning. That was what happened to Ricky Romero in the season opener in Cleveland, when he allowed four earned runs in the second inning against the Indians. Other than that, he has been pretty much lights out pitching in the role of Toronto’s ace.
Over the past couple of seasons, Romero has developed the one thing that is mandatory in a staff ace – consistency. Brandon Morrow has better stuff, as demonstrated by his killer strikeout numbers, but it is Romero’s consistency that puts him over the top. Consider his start to the 2012 season: 4 starts, 27.1 IP for an average of just under 7 IP/start. He is 3-0 with a 3.29 ERA, and a 1.06 WHIP (a career best). He went 2-0 with 5 ER in 14 IP last week to pace the Jays. Of course it’s early, and the numbers are bound to change, but to me this is Romero’s most impressive stat: In his 27.1 IP, he has allowed runs in only 5 innings, and only 3 of those innings have been multi-run innings. His worst inning of the season was the afforementioned 2nd inning in Cleveland.
He may not be as dominant as a Verlander, Kershaw, or Halladay, with no-hit type outings each and every time out, but if Romero can keep this consistency all year, he doesn’t have to be.
2. The New Big Two
Toronto has seemingly had two big bats in the lineup for several years. There was Wells and Rios in ’08, Hill and Lind in ’09, Wells and Bautista in ’10, and Bautista and Lind/JPA in ’11. This year many were expecting the Bautista / Lawrie combo to fill those shoes, and while Lawrie is doing just fine, Bautista continues to struggle. So who at this point in time are Toronto’s big two?
Would you believe Encarnaciion and Rasmus?
After Sunday’s win over the Royals, those two were 1-2 on the team in OPS: EE at .981 and Colby at .784. They each put together truly phenomenal weeks at the plate as well. Encarnacion hit .375 with a 1.012 OPS last week, chipping in 9 hits, 2 doubles, a home run, 4 RBI and 3 walks, along with a stolen base. Rasmus, after a slow start, hit .348 with a 1.075 OPS, 8 hits, 2 HR, and 4 RBI, along with playing gold glove calibre D in CF.
You have to think it’s only a matter of time before Bautista gets going, and if Lawrie picks it up a bit, and EE and Colby continue to hit, we could be looking at something we haven’t seen since the early ’90′s: Four Big Bats.
3. Beat the Teams You Should
There’s an old saying in any sport that goes something like this: teams that are good beat the teams they should.
(Note – I don’t think it actually rhymed, but it sounds way better that way no?)
What it essentially boils down to is that teams that are at or near the top never look past an opponent. The Blue Jays are a good team this year, picked by many to make the playoffs. But the only way they are going to make it that far is to beat up on the lesser teams in the league. The Jays can reasonably expect to be close to .500 against the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Rangers, Tigers, and Angels when all is said and done, but they have to make sure they win games against the others.
They didn’t get off to a great start, losing two of three to the Orioles, but got a chance for redemption last Friday by kicking of a 10-game stretch against Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle (combined 2011 record of 207 – 279). We’re used to seeing teams like the Yankees go 8-2 or 9-1 in stretches like this and begin to pull away, while “pretenders” often go 4-6.
The Jays are out to prove that they aren’t pretenders, and by getting off to a 3-0 start in this stretch, they are on the right track. The big test is to see if they can keep the foot on the gas, because every win in April helps so much more come September.