Just when you thought things were heading in the right direction it all fell apart again.
On the heels of an awful week, the Blue Jays put together a very impressive home-and-home set against the Phillies last week, sweeping them to run their winning streak to a season high 5 games. The Jays climbed above the .500 mark at 18-17 and were within 1.5 games of first in the AL East.
Unfortunately they ran into Mike Trout and the Angels, dropping three in a row to fall back below .500 .
The inability to sustain momentum has been the most frustrating aspect of this team over the past two seasons. Winning streaks are followed immediately by multi-game losing streaks, meaning any ground the team may have gained is instantly given right back.
It’s something that needs to be rectified if Toronto is serious about contending this year.
Here are three things from week 6:
Week 6: May 5 – May 11
Record: 4 – 3
1. Going Streaking
There is nothing more satisfying in sports than a lenghty winning streak. Those are the moments when everything seems to break the right way, and all of the fluky bounces and breaks go in favour of your team, rather than against them. You can almost see the confidence of players and fans growing stronger and stronger.
That is exactly what happened last week. The Jays beat Pittsburgh to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of the Pirates, then trounced the Phillies four games in a row en route to a five game streak. In those five games the team outscored the opposition 38 – 13, and also put up a pair of shutouts. It was one of the rare times when everything was clicking – the offense, defense, starting pitching, and even the bullpen.
Of course, immediately afterwards the exact opposite transpired. Toronto lost three straight games to the Angels, erasing all of the momentum they had built up. In the first three games vs LA, the offense went quiet, the defense made some costly errors, and the entire pitching staff issued too many walks. It was a nightmare.
The big difference between a contender and a pretender is that a contender does not allow losing streaks to spiral out of control. In order to stay within a sniff of contention the Blue Jays have to nip this current streak in the bud ASAP.
2. Mark the Magnificent
When trying to predict the fortunes of the 2014 season, most pundits pointed to R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, and the returning Drew Hutchison as the key pieces of the Blue Jay rotation. All three needed to be excellent for the Jays to have a chance. Very few experts spoke about Mark Buehrle. Maybe it’s because he has been steady over the past decade, giving the team 200 innings, around a 4.00 ERA, and a dozen wins, but whatever the reason, not much was expected from him.
Well, so far at least, the experts have been wrong. Buehrle has been outstanding, one of the best pitchers in the American League. He sports a 6-1 record, 1.91 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and is averaging just under 7 IP per start. He leads the AL in wins, ERA, and ERA+ and has been by far the most consistent pitcher in Toronto’s rotation.
This past week he outdueled Cliff Lee in a 10-0 Blue Jays win, allowing 0 ER, 3 H, and 2 BB in 7 IP. It was the third start this season in which Buehrle has not allowed an earned run. In fact, if you throw out his one bad start against Boston his ERA would stand at 0.86. Very impressive.
With Hutchison, Dickey, and McGowan proving to be inconsistent, and Morrow hurt again, Buehrle has become the most important member of the staff. Let’s hope he keeps this up all year long.
3. Edwin is Back
To say that Edwin Encarnacion got off to a slow start would be an understatement. Expected to lead the Blue Jay offense, the slugger didn’t hit his first HR until April 22, and was hitting a mere .228 with a .700 OPS on May 5. He was also striking out a lot, with 27 strikeouts compared to 17 walks. This from a guy who actually walked more than he struck out last year.
But I think it’s safe to say he has found his groove again. In seven games last week, EE put up a .321 average and 1.238 OPS with 4 HR, 10 RBI, 2 2B, 1 3B, and only 2 strikeouts. He raised his average to .252 and his OPS to .820, and with 27 RBI is now sitting 7th in the American League.
With Bautista, Rasmus, Lind, and Reyes, the Jays have a very powerful offense, but if 2013 proved anything it is that Encarnacion is the most important hitter on the tean. It was no coincidence that as EE heated up last week, so did the team.
The Jays need more of the same from their slugger moving forward.