The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays season thus far can be described with two words: cautious optimism.
Through two weeks the Jays are 7-6, tied for first in the AL East, and looking like a competitive baseball team. The team has played four series, three of which have come against AL East rivals, including two on the road in Tampa Bay and Baltimore. That’s a tough start, and the team has handled it very, very well.
Toronto’s series win in Baltimore was particularly impressive. The team did virtually nothing offensively on Friday or Saturday, and still nearly took both games, before – finally – erupting on Sunday afternoon. Taking two of three against a team thought by many to be a legitimate World Series contender is huge for early season confidence – both for players and for fans.
Here are three things from week 2:
Week 2: April 7 – April 13
Record: 4 – 2
1. Rasmus is Waking Up
Last week I wrote an early season “Good, Bad, and Ugly” post about the Jays start, and placed Colby Rasmus in the ugly category. And why not? Through the first 8 games of the season, Rasmus was hitting .074 with a .315 OPS. He has struck out 12 times in 30 plate appearances, an alarmingly high rate. More troubling, he was playing a below average CF, often playing far too shallow and allowing balls to go over his head.
Fast forward a few days, and Rasmus looks much, much better (except for the fielding part, where he was victimized for an extra innings triple
on Saturday). He had three hits against the Astros on Thursday, and followed that up with a 4-for-12 series against the Orioles. He has homered in three of his past four games and his average and OPS have improved to .217 and .780 respectively.
Colby left yesterday’s game with hamstring tightness, but all indications are that the injury is not serious, which is very important because the Jays need his bat in the lineup. Now if he can only rub off on Lawrie…
2. A Long (Long, Long, Long….) Time Coming
It didn’t take long for the Dustin McGowan bandwagon to empty. Toronto’s oft-injured starter was rocked by the Yankees in his season debut on April 4th and immediately had people ranting for his removal from the rotation. With J.A. Happ ready to come off the DL the McGowan experiment looked like it might be on the verge of ending.
Then he went out on Friday night and dominated the Baltimore Orioles. McGowan tossed 6.1 IP and allowed 5 hits, 1 walk, and 0 ER, while striking out 2 in a 2-0 victory. The win was his first since 2008, helping to erase at least a little bit of six years of frustration.
What happens next is still up in the air. J.A. Happ was recalled from Buffalo, meaning Toronto now has six starters for five slots. Happ will likely start in the bullpen for now, meaning McGowan is still in the starting rotation, a spot which after Friday’s performance, he fully deserves.
3. No Room for Error
There are those who say that the AL East is no longer the division it once was, that it is no longer the best division in baseball. The jury is still out out about the latter part of that statement, but about the former there is no doubt – the division is definitely no longer what it used to be – a two team division. For close to a decade it was Boston and New York and Everybody Else, but now it might be the most competitive division in the game.
Through two weeks, only two games separate first from last. It is the only division where the leader is playing worse than .600 baseball, and where the difference between the best and worst run differential is less than 16. In other words, it is extremely tight right now, and is proving to be a complete division with five good teams.
Of course, the main problem with such a division is one slip and you can drop from first to worst in a hurry. With a slate of games upcoming against the AL Central, the Jays finally have a chance to play an extended amount of games against teams outside the division, and it is important – no, mandatory – that they take advantage.