All good things must end. Yesterday’s loss to St. Louis gave the Cardinals the series win over Toronto, handing the Jays their first series loss since May 9-12. In that time Toronto won six series and split one, moving from the bottom of the division to a 5.5 game lead over Baltimore – the second largest division lead in baseball.
If anything, the tough weekend against the Cards may have been a blessing in disguise, as it pointed out some big holes on the Blue Jays roster. The bullpen still walks to too many batters, the rotation can be shaky at times, and the offense may be too dependent on the long ball. All of those issues were evident on Saturday and Sunday.
But let’s not try to damper what has been an amazing run. The team has a great chance to get back on the winning track with the last place Twins coming to town, and they may need some momentum, as a huge 7 game road trip through Baltimore and New York looms. Those will be huge statement games.
Here are three things from week 10:
Week 10: June 2 – June 8
Record: 4 – 2
1. Statement Made
Before the series loss to St. Louis, the Blue Jays were romping over baseball, announcing loud and clear that they are for real in 2014. In no place was that statement made louder than last week in Detroit. Facing the AL Central leading Tigers, in a ballpark that hasn’t been very kind to them, Toronto thumped the Tigers in three straight games, both humbling and at times humiliating them.
The Jays dismantled Detroit in all aspects of the game. They beat them with pitching, with Hutchison, Dickey, and Happ all making quality starts. They beat them with power, including back-to-back jacks by Francisco and Lawrie. They torched Detroit’s closer Joe Nathan. They crushed Detroit’s ace Justin Verlander. They basically ripped apart the Tigers from head to toe.
Which is all the more impressive due to Detroit’s lofty position in the standings. And it wasn’t only the Tigers that were humbled during this latest Blue Jay run. Since losing 3 of 4 to the Angels, the Jays won six series and split one against high quality opponents. Six of the seven series were against 2013 playoff teams. Two of them were against 2014 division leaders (Toronto swept both Detroit and Oakland). All in, the Jays went 18-4 during the stretch: 10-3 at home and 8-1 on the road.
I think they proved they belong.
2. Lawrie Heating Up
There’s no denying that Brett Lawrie got off to a bad start. Check that – Brett Lawrie got off to a TERRIBLE start. On April 25, he was hitting .151 with a .538 OPS putting him right at the bottom of the league. But since then he has slowly turned things around, to the point where he has become a tough out in the Blue Jays lineup.
Before running into the Shelby Miller / Jaime Garcia buzzsaw on the weekend, Lawrie was crushing the ball last week. In the first four games of the week (3 in Detroit, 1 vs. St. Louis) Lawrie was 5 for 15, good for a .333 average, 1.308 OPS, with 3 HR, and 5 RBI. Since hitting rock bottom on April 25, Lawrie is hitting .293 with a .827 OPS, 6 HR, 18 RBI, and 15 R in 34 games, increasing his season OPS to .713. He has also done that while providing his customary stellar defense at not one, but two positions (2B, 3B).
As has been proven many times before in baseball, one or two players can’t carry a team for a season. No matter how prolific Bautista and Encarnacion remain, Toronto needs secondary hitting if they are to carry this success towards the postseason.
Which makes Brett Lawrie one of the most important players in baseball.
3. The Kid Keeps Rolling
Marcus Stroman made the second start of his big league career Friday night, this time facing one of the best teams (and offenses) in baseball. All that he did was once again master the opposition. The Cardinals managed to put nine runners on base in 6 innings, but only brought one around to score. Stroman walked two but struck out seven, getting the Cardinal hitters to whiff on one filthy slider after another.
In two starts, Stroman is now 2-0, and has allowed just 2 runs in 12 innings while striking out 13. Most impressive is that he has walked only two hiters.
Just as Lawrie’s improvement is very important for the offense, Stroman’s emergecne is a boon for the rotation. With Morrow hurt and Hutchison (and even Dickey) inconsistent, Toronto needs another dependable arm behind Buehrle. If Stroman can keep this up, he may be just what the doctor ordered.