Jays fans had their eyes on the past week of the schedule since the winter, when both the Rangers and the Angels went free agent crazy. With the balance of power seemingly shifting to the West, a week that featured three games against the two-time defending AL Champion Rangers, now with Yu Darvish, and four games against the LA Angels, now with Albert Pujols, was always going to be difficult.
The Jays handled themselves pretty well, and proved to many (including a lot of people in their own fanbase) that they won’t be intimidated by anybody this year. After a pretty successful week, Toronto gets a bit of a reprieve next week, with series upcoming against Oakland and Minnesota. Time to go on a run.
Here are three things from week 5:
Week 5: April 30 – May 6
Record: 4 – 3
1. Starting Pitching Supreme!
Heading into the 2012 season, Toronto’s rotation was thought to be a glaring weakness, the one real issue that might stand in the way of a playoff push. Romero and Morrow provided two dependable arms, but behind them was three spots filled with young, unproven rookies.
At this point in the season I think we can say we have all been pleasantly surprised. The Blue Jays rank third in the AL with a 3.55 starting pitcher ERA, fourth in WHIP at 1.18, and second in innings pitched with 187.2. Jays starters are averaging over 6 innings per start, keeping the bullpen’s usage down.
Last week was a banner week for Jays starters. Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek each made two starts, and while Hutch struggled a bit to hold the Rangers and Angels down, he kept Toronto in both games and managed to pitch 11.1 IP with only 2 BB and 11 K’s. Drabek didn’t fare well in his second start, but his first was one of the best of his career as he went pitch-for-pitch with Yu Darvish and finished with 6 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, and 8 K.
But the cream of the crop started mid-week with Ricky Romero on Wednesday. The numbers will show 5 ER, but he stayed in the game for 8 innings, and lead the Jays to a win over the best team in baseball – the Texas Rangers. Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez followed him up by pitching back-to-back complete game shutouts in Anaheim. It was the first time the team has tossed back-to-back complete game shutouts since 1993 when Jack Morris and Al Leiter turned the trick – and the first time they’ve ever accomplished the feat on the road.
1993 ended pretty well. If this pitching holds up, who knows how 2012 might end?
2. JPA Heating Up
When it comes to slow starts, it’s hard to picture a worse start to a season than what befell J.P. Arencibia. Toronto’s catcher had a tough Opening Day, going 1 for 7 with 3 strikeouts, but his game winning 3-run bomb in the 16th rendered that moot. However, three more strikeouts the next day was followed by several more hitless days, and on April 18th JPA’s average had dropped to .063, and his OPS was dreadful .274.
But he had two hits on April 19th, and that sparked a turnaround, culminating in a pretty good week. Arencibia played in five of the seven games last week, and hit .375 with a 1.037 OPS, 1 HR, 1 2B, 4 R, and 5 RBI. For the season he is now hitting .234 with a .641 OPS – not great by any means, but much, much better than what he was showing earlier, and actually ranks him 9th among AL catchers with at least 70 AB.
With Jose Bautista still struggling and Edwin cooling off a little bit, the Jays need other players to step up. Arencibia is doing a nice job filling the offensive void.
3. Stumbling Out of the Gate
A lot of Blue Jays are still suffering from slow starts, namely Bautista, Lind, Rasmus, and Escobar. But it’s not only individual players who are off to slow starts. The team itself is starting to make a habit of starting slowly in individual games.
Looking at the AL splits tells us that the Blue Jays are the worst team in the American League in terms of offensive production in the first two innings. The numbers aren’t pretty:
1st Inning: 7 runs scored, .186 average, .582 OPS, 6 double plays
2nd Inning: 3 runs scored, .176 average, .537 OPS, 2 double plays
That is a grand total of 10 runs scored in the first two innings all season long. Or, in other words, the Jays have scored only 10 runs in 58 first and second innings. They have yet to produce a multi-run inning in any of their 29 games in either the 1st or 2nd. Kelly Johnson has 3 solo HR in the 1st inning with an .896 OPS, and Adam Lind (surprisingly) has been the top hitter in the 2nd frame with a .817 OPS. Other than that nobody is producing at all.
Obviously, this means that the Jays need to play catch up more often than not. In fact, they have allowed runs in the first inning 7 times this year (8 total runs), and runs in the second inning 12 times (21 total runs), meaning for the season the Jays have been outscored 29-10 heading into the third. This past week Toronto did not score a first or second inning run in any of the seven games, and allowed 8 runs against. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the offense to try and play from behind so often, especially when that offense has been underperforming so badly.
Falling behind early is not the recipe for sustained success. Let’s hope the bats wake up a bit earlier into games as the season progresses.