Seven weeks into the 2014 MLB season and we have learned nothing about the AL East.
Teams expected to do well, like Boston and Tampa Bay, are under .500. The Blue Jays, a team expected to struggle, are a game above .500 and flirting with the division lead.
Every week brings another twist and turn within the division, as teams are unable to sustain any momentum at all. After a 5-2 week, the Jays were able to leap up to third place and position themselves nicely as they head to Fenway. If there was ever a time to sustain that forward momentum, a series against the defending champs would be it.
Here are three things from week 7:
Week 7: May 12 – May 18
Record: 5 – 2
1. Welcome Back Mr. Janssen
The Blue Jays bullpen was greeted by a very, very, very friendly face on Monday, as closer Casey Janssen was activated from the disabled list. Forced to play the first six weeks without their top reliever, Toronto’s relief corps bordered between bad to downright horrendous, throwing games away left, right, and centre. There was hope that with Janssen’s return, the relief pitchers could return to their normal roles and provide some much needed stability, just as long as he was able to shake of the rust relatively quickly.
I think we can all agree that he is rust-free.
Casey was thrown directly into the fire last week, and performed spectacularly. He tossed four scoreless innings, surrendered only one hit and one walk, in earning three saves. His effort on Saturday in Texas – a seven-pitch, three-up-three-down masterpiece – was shocking in its brilliance.
It was the best a Blue Jay reliever has looked all year.
2. Hutch Throws a Gem
He has been pitching very well all season long, but Drew Hutchison took things to another level on Friday night. Facing a high powered Rangers offense (no matter how much they may be struggling, Choo, Beltre, Fielder, Rios, and co. are a scary bunch), Hutch was simply dominant. He went the distance, tossing a complete game, 3-hit shutout, walking only a single batter, and striking out six. He needed only 105 pitches to mow down the Texas lineup.
Hutchison is now 2-3 on the season with a 3.64 ERA and an impressive 1.16 WHIP, numbers that are substantially better than he posted in his solid rookie season of 2012. Perhaps the most impressive stat is that he has only walked 16 batters in 54.1 IP, amazing considering how many walks the Jays have surrendered this season.
With Buehrle’s great start to the year and Dickey’s resurgence, a rejuvenated Hutchison would give the Jays a formidable top-3 in the rotation – a top-3 that just might be good enough to carry the team into September.
3. Experiment Over
There so many people within and around the Blue Jays organization that wanted Dustin McGowan to succeed . Hell, there so many people around baseball in general that wanted him to do well considering his long road back to the big leagues. But despite his best efforts, the Blue Jays pulled the plug on the McGowan experiment last week after the righty suffered another rough start on Wednesday against the Indians.
It wasn’t all bad for Dustin. He showed some flashes of brilliance, including 6.1 shutout innings against Baltimore, but it was evident that his body no longer had the stamina to last for full games. Opponents hit .270 off him the first time through the order, and that ballooned to .313 with an .889 OPS the third time through, as McGowan visibly tired.
He now returns to the bullpen where he no longer has to worry about saving himself for multiple innings and can simply overpower hitters. If his first outing was any indication, it looks like a great fit.
Suddenly, with Janssen and McGowan back, the Jays bullpen looks very, very good.