It was a very odd week in the city of Toronto. There were near record-setting temperatures early in the week as the Jays welcomed the division leading Orioles to town (in itself, also strange to hear). That gave way to a thoroughly miserable weekend, which saw three games against the hated Red Sox played under the roof, as temperatures plummeted and the skies opened. The fact that almost 115,000 fans showed up for the weekend series despite severe flooding in Union Station, horrendous traffic downtown, and a downright bizarre shooting in the Eaton Centre was pretty amazing.
Overall, the Jays continue to bend but not break, as evidenced by the fact that they have yet to drop below the .500 mark. On the other hand, their failure to go on any kind of long winning streak is preventing them from making any noise within the division. Lucky for Toronto, virtually every other AL East team is in the same boat.
Here are three things from week 9:
Week 9: May 28 – June 3
Record: 4 – 2
1. American League East Logjam
On the morning of Monday May 28th, the Blue Jays were sitting in 4th place in the AL East with a record of 24-24. They trailed the first place Orioles by 5 games and were getting set to play six consecutive home games against AL East foes. With Baltimore and Tampa Bay squaring off later in the week, there was a real chance that the AL East would see some separation for the first time all season.
Instead, the exact opposite happened. Now, as of this morning, all five teams are tightly bunched, with Tampa Bay leading the way, and Boston and Toronto tied for last – but only 3 games back. It is looking increasingly likely that the first team to go on a major run (or fall into a major rut) will move away from the pack. It’s also looking increasingly likely that whoever ends up with the best record within the division will take the crown. If that’s the case, then the Jays will have to pick it up.
With an 11-14 record against the AL East, the Jays are mere percentage points ahead of Boston in the race for worst intradivisional record. Toronto has losing records against both the Orioles and the Rays, and they won’t get an opportunity to face another division rival at home for a long time. Due to a scheduling quirk, the next AL East team to hit the Rogers Centre will not be until August 10th when the Yankees come to town. Before then Toronto plays six games in Boston, and three each in New York and Tampa Bay. Not the most ideal stretch of games.
Neither is this: starting tomorrow, the Blue Jays play 12 consecutive games against teams over .500, including six against division leaders. In a division as tight as the AL East, there’s no time for letting up.
2. Super Drew
When rookie Drew Hutchison made his major league debut against the Kansas City Royals on April 21, I think it’s safe to say that nobody really knew what to expect. Was this a guy who was going to come in and struggle? Were the Blue Jays planning on having him in the big league rotation for the rest of the season? Or was this simply going to be an experiment for a few starts, letting the kid get some valuable major league experience?
After a slow start, it looks like Drew might be here to stay. While the overall numbers don’t look spectacular (5 – 2, 4.35 ERA, 1.36 WHIP), Hutchison has pitched extremely well of late, especially last week. In two starts – both against tough AL East opponents – Hutchison won them both, pitching 14 innings, and allowing only 1 run, 8 hits, and 4 walks, while striking out 14. That equates to a 0.64 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 9.00 K/9 ratio.
His performance last week was great on two levels. First, he showed his composure by bouncing back from a tough start in Tampa. Second, he gave the Blue Jays a quality performance when they absolutely, positively needed one. Coming off a whipping in Texas, where the starters were destroyed and the bullpen was gassed, Hutch stepped up and tossed 7 scoreless innings on Monday. Not only did his performance stop the losing streak and save the bullpen, it also kept the Jays from slipping below the .500 mark.
Not too shabby for a 21 year old…
3. Have To Be Good To Be Lucky
To become a champion in any sport, many things must come together. Skill, talent, experience, high performance, and the ability to rebound from tough losses come to mind. But, whether teams want to admit it or not, luck plays a huge factor in success. Not a whole lot has gone right for the Blue Jays thus far in 2012, but it’s impossible to deny that lady luck smiled down upon the team last week.
First, on Wednesday night, Brandon Morrow was struck on the shin by a line drive and had to be helped of fhe field. Then, the very next game, Henderson Alvarez suffered the exact same fate. Visions of Roy Halladay’s leg breaking in Texas flashed through everybody’s mind as both men lay on the field. But luckily Morrow suffered a shin contusion and is expected to make his next start, and Alvarez actually stayed in the game on Friday night.
On Sunday afternoon, wild Red Sox starter Daniel Bard plunked not one, but two Jays in the second inning, nailing both Yunel Escobar and Edwin Encarnacion in the hand. The hand isn’t exactly filled with the strongest bones in the body, and fans expected the worst when both men went down. But, somehow, both are OK. Escobar stayed in the game on his bobblehead day, and X-rays on Edwin’s hand came back negative, showing a bruise instead of a fracture.
A fraction of an inch to either side, and the Blue Jays would suddenly be trying to compete in the toughest division in the AL without two starting pitchers, their starting SS, and their top hitter. But thankfully, for one week anways, luck smiled down on the Jays.