Week 17 started with a thud for the Jays. The team was crushed by Oakland on Tuesday and Wednesday by a combined score of 23 -2, two straight losses that had many people writing them off. But a strong finale against the A’s coupled with a series win over Detroit breathed some life back into the fan base, and into the team.
On top of that comes some news that Brandon Morrow has begun throwing in a rehab assignment, Jose Bautista is getting closer to returning from the DL, and the MLB trade deadline is fast approaching (tomorrow afternoon). Armed with some reinforcements, the Blue Jays, in this up-and-down season, aren’t going away.
And with seven straight games ahead on the West Coast, they’ll need all the help they can get.
Here are three things from week 17:
Week 17: July 23 - July 29
Record: 3 – 3
1. The Injured List Keeps Growing
When J.P. Arencibia took a foul ball off his hand on Wednesday night and stood up shaking it, you couldn’t blame a Jays fan for laughing. The number of injuries has been growing at such a staggering rate that it has almost become comical. What made the Arencibia injury even better was the fact that a) Jason Frasor was placed on the DL late last week and is gone for a month, and b) Toronto has a natural injury replacement for Arencibia in Travis d’Arnaud….only he is also out for the season with an injury.
On top of all that was the fact that SS Yunel Escobar missed a few games last week with soreness of his own, meaning the Jays fielded a lineup on Friday night that was almost unrecognizable. Only four of the nine starters cracked Toronto’s Opening Day lineup in Cleveland – Lawrie, Johnson, Rasmus, and Encarnacion. Omar Vizquel, Jeff Mathis, Yan Gomes, Travis Snider, and Anthony Gose replaced Bautista, Arencibia, Escobar, Lind and Thames. Don’t even get me started on the bullpen, which has now evolved to include Drew Carpenter, Evan Crawford, Aaron Loup, and and Brandon Lyon.
The only benefit I can see from the injuries is this: if Toronto can keep scratching and clawing their way at the schedule for the next six weeks, if they can somehow keep close to the Wild Card leaders, then they should be getting a pretty healthy return of players in September. That might be the difference between October baseball and no October baseball.
2. He Just Keeps Going and Going and Going and…
Raise your hands, those of you who thought that Edwin Encarnacion’s fast start was a mirage.
Raise your hands, those of you who were screaming out that the Jays “sell high” on EE.
There should be a lot of you out there with hands held high, because I don’t think a lot of people expected this. (Except for the 500 Level Fan who predicted a breakout year for EE, but I digress….)
Edwin has NOT slowed down after his quick start, and he was definitely NOT dealt. If he can maintain this kind of production in the next few years, the new contract he signed a few weeks ago will look like quite a bargain. In six games last week the slugger hit .316 with a 1.119 OPS, 2 HR, 5 RBI, and 4 Runs scored. Keep in mind, these were six games played without Jose Bautista, and a few games without J.P. Arencibia, and Yunel Escobar. EE is carrying this team right now.
Overall, 2012 has continued to be an enormous year for Encarnacion. He is now T-2nd in the American League with 28 HR, only 3 back of Adam Dunn for first. He is tied for fifth in RBI with 72, 3rd in OPS at .985, and is 6th in OBP at .393. He’s even thrown 9 SB into the mix.
Edwin was robbed in July of an All-Star appearance, but he is looking like Toronto’s MVP at this point in the season.
3. Very Impressive Backup
When Toronto acquired backup catcher Jeff Mathis in December last year, the move was ridiculed by Jays fans and celebrated by Angels fans. After all, Mathis was a terrible hitter – horrendous even, and was receiving a good bulk of playing time in LA. He averaged almost 275 plate appearances in each of the past four seasons, putting up a .193 average, .546 OPS, and combining for 20 HR. Very, very bad. But he figured to be a 1-2 game a week player for Toronto, what with J.P. Arencibia entrenched as the #1 catcher.
That all changed on Wednesday, when JPA left with a broken hand. With Travis d’Arnaud, JPA’s logical replacement, out for the season, suddenly Jeff Mathis has moved from backup to starter. And so far, he has been more than capable.
In four games, Mathis is hitting .267 with a .713 OPS, and 4 RBI, including a game changing bases loaded double on Friday night. For the season, his numbers aren’t as dreadful as you may think. He thus far is posting career highs in average (.253), OBP (.297), SLG (.495), OPS (.792), and is already over halfway to besting his career best number in homers.
Ideally, Mathis is a backup who provides solid defense and personal catching services for Brandon Morrow. But the Jays have been living in anything but an ideal world recently. Good to see Mathis holding his own.