Category Archives: Weekly Things

Three Things From Week One

It's been a tough start for Colby (from daylife.com)

 

The 2012 season is underway, and the start of the season has proven to be epic for the Blue Jays.  A record setting Opening Day game went 16-innings, and was followed up by another extra inning game on Saturday.  Though a tough loss on Sunday ruined the chances at a sweep, the 2-1 start has the team headed in the right direction as they return home for tonight’s home opener.

Here are three things from week 1:

Week 1: April 5 – April 8

Record: 2 – 1

1. Slow Starts

Yes Toronto is off to a 2-1 start.  Yes they have scored 17 runs in three games.  But there is some cause for concern in that in each of the three games the Jays have gotten off to incredibly slow starts.  Through the fiirst six innings of each, Toronto has managed to score only three runs on only six hits.  As a team the Jays have taken just a single walk and have struck out 11 times.  They have also trailed by more than one run in all three games: 4-1 on Thursday, 2-0 on Saturday, and 4-2 on Sunday. 

Though they managed to come back and win two of those games, this is a trend that the Jays do not want to continue. 

2. Ice Cold Colby

I have a lot of faith in Colby Rasmus.  I think he will have a bounce-back season with solid production.  But there are a lot of people out there who don’t believe in him – I have a friend who has guaranteed Rasmus will finish the season batting under the Mendoza line.  While his defence has been outstanding thus far, Colby isn’t doing himself any favours in terms of silencing his critics.  Through three games he has looked awful at the plate.

Batting in the nine hole, Rasmus has gotten off to a .067 start, with a measly .192 OPS.  That translates into one hit in 15 at bats, with only one walk and two strikeouts.  It’s obviously incredibly early and there’s no reason to panic just yet, but a slow start for the seemingly fragile Rasmus was probably the worst thing that could have happened for his confidence. 

But don’t worry friends – I still have faith.

3. Bullpen Brilliance

After suffering through an unbelievably bad 2011, Toronto fans expected much improvement from the bullpen in 2012.  The acquisitions of Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, and Sergio Santos, the re-acquisition of Jason Frasor, and the return to health of Carlos Villanueva gave hope that the Achilles Heel from last year might possibly be a strength this year. 

Well, so far so good. 

Though the ‘pen is walking a few too many batters to be completely happy (10 so far) and Santos did have a blip on Saturday by blowing the save, they have been lights out thus far.  18 innings pitched, only 2 ER allowed, and 12 strikeouts.  That equates to a 1.00 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.  The bullpen was incredible in Thursday’s opener, tossing 11 scoreless innings and thwarting the Indians several times when it looked like they were about to steal a win. 

Last year I grew incredibly nervous each time John Farrell pointed to the ‘pen, but so far this year it’s the opposite.

Three Things From Week Twenty-Three

Talk about division rivalries. Starting with the four game set against Tampa last week, the Jays kicked off a stretch of 22 consecutive games against AL East foes. Seeing how badly they struggled to beat the weaker teams in the AL, expectations were fairly low when Toronto took on the big boys.

And, sad to say, expectations were met.

A win on Monday helped the Jays avoid a four game sweep at the hands of the Rays. A bullpen let down Tuesday prevented a three game sweep of the Orioles. And then the Jays were outclassed in New York – a sweep at the hands of the Evil Empire.

It’s never easy winning in Yankee Stadium, but it is even more difficult to win there when the lineup is depleted. Mike McCoy and DeWayne Wise are passable bench players, but should not be starting everyday, which is what was forced to happen on the weekend.

Unfortunately for the Jays it doesn’t get any easier as the injury riddled lineup gets set to play six of the next nine games against the Red Sox.

Good luck.

Here are three things from week 23:

Week 23: August 29 – September 4

Record: 3 – 4

1. Injuries and More Injuries

Kudo’s to Alex Anthopoulos for putting together a fearsome starting lineup, one that looks ready to challenge the big boys for a playoff spot as early as 2012. Lawrie, Escobar, Rasmus, Kelly Johnson, Arencibia, and Thames are all players who weren’t on the roster at the beginning of 2010.

Unfortunately, the core group of players is dropping like flies. Already without Rajai Davis who is on the DL, Toronto lost Colby Rasmus to the DL last week, and then watched Yunel Escobar go down with a sore left wrist. The injury to Rasmus forced Mike McCoy into the lineup to play CF, and then the injury to Escobar shifted MM to SS, bringing in Wise to CF.

Confused yet?

At least there was some good news in the bullpen. Frank Francisco, battling a sore shoulder, Casey Janssen, and Jon Rauch all returned from injuries.

The best news of all, though, came from the dugout. After a 10 game absence due to pneumonia, John Farrell was set to return to action on Monday. Let’s hope the rest of the team follows suit and comes back soon.

2. Tough Road for Cecil

When Brett Cecil returned from AAA Vegas on June 30th, he was instantly lit up by the Pirates. But after that start, he settled in nicely and looked set to become a permanent fixture in the rotation. In the month of July the lefty was 3 – 1 with a 2.19 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 37 IP.

But since the calendar switched to August it’s been nothing but stuggles. In seven starts Cecil has gone 0-4, given up 25 ER, 14 BB and 9 HR for an ERA of 4.96. Last week things got even worse in his two starts against the Orioles and Yankees. He looked tired, and didn’t have control of any of his pitches. After lasting six innings in Baltimore, giving up 4 runs and a homer, he again only lasted six in NY, labouring through the innings. It was almost a surprise that he “only” gave up four ER, considering he surrendered two huge HR.

At a time when Brandon Morrow is struggling mightily and the fifth rotation spot is an open audition, Toronto is depending on Cecil to eat some innings. Ricky Romero can’t do it alone.

Thank goodness that….

3. Henderson Alvarez Has Arrived

When Alvarez made his debut on August 10th as a 21-year old, many (myself included) thought he was only here for one or two starts. But even if that was the original plan, Alvarez is making it impossible to send him back down, delivering a message that he wants to be here for good.

Henderson went 0 – 2 in his first four starts, but deserved better. He had a K:BB ratio of 16:5, and likely should have won one if not two of those starts. But last week everything finally came together in Baltimore. He earned his first career major league win by absolutely dominating the Orioles. 8 innings, 0 earned runs, 0 walks, 3 hits, and

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5 strikeouts. It was a masterpiece.

Seeing how the kid looks composed, calm, and controlled on the mound, it might be the first of many masterpieces. I hope Kyle Drabek is watching.

[Note: After shutting out the Red Sox for 6 innings on Monday, Alvarez has now thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings. Sign him up for 2012]

Three Things From Week Twenty-Two

2011 was a disaster from start to premature finish for Travis Snider

That was ugly. 

The 22nd week of the MLB season is over, and it couldn’t end quickly enough for Toronto.  Six games, all at home, and for the most part, all disastrous.  The Jays dropped five of six to the Royals and the Rays, pushing both their overall record and their home record below the .500 mark.  Whatever faint hope the club had of competing for a postseason spot this year is now all but gone.  The focus on 2012 has begun.

But, disappointing as that is, it can also be seen as a good thing.  Now is an exciting time to be a fan as Alex Anthopoulos can evaluate the young talent on the roster and make an assessment for what is required next year.  Call it audition season.

Besides, after the 12-0 drubbing suffered on Sunday, things can only get better from here.

Here are three things from week 22:

Week 22: August 22 – August 28

 Record: 1 – 5

1. Wall = Hit

At this time of year, when many other teams are kicking it into high gear to chase for the playoffs, it feels like the opposite is happening in Toronto.  The young Jays look like they have hit the wall and run out of gas.  How else to describe a week where they looked so futile in all aspects of the game? 

In losing five of six games to Kansas City and Tampa Bay the Jays were awful on offense, defense, and on the mound.  They scored only 20 runs in the six games, and managed only 40 hits.  Toronto’s batters struck out a whopping 65 times in six games, including 18 times on Sunday alone.  Defensively they weren’t much better, booting the ball around for five errors.  And the pitchers were plain awful too.  After allowing 18 runs in three games to the Royals, they were destroyed for 24 runs in three games by the Rays.  Not good.  At all.

Everybody is scuffling right now.  Brandon Morrow looks beat (0-2 with a 9.90 ERA in his past two starts).  Adam Lind is lost at the plate (.143 average last week, .181 average in August with a tiny .485 OPS).  Colby Rasmus is on the DL.  Even the great Jose Bautista is struggling – he struck out 11 times last week alone.

Things are so bad that even the manager is out, as John Farrell continues to recover from a bout of pneumonia.

Tough times in the city.

2. Opportunity Lost

It was documented several times on this very site, that beginning on August 5th, Toronto began a 19 game stretch against largely beatable opponents.  With a great run against lesser opponents such as Baltimore, Seattle, Oakland, and Kansas City the Jays had a real chance to gain several games on the division leaders.  While it likely wouldn’t have been enough to claim the Wild Card, it would have been more than enough to generate September excitement in a city that is desperate for some.

But Toronto suffered the fate that so many non-contenders suffer – they failed to beat the teams they should.  With many dreaming of a 15-4 or 16-3 stretch, the Jays went only 10-9 against the also-rans of the AL, and in the process became an also-ran themselves for the rest of 2011. 

For a team that is in an almost impossible division with Boston, New York, and Tampa, it is essential that the Jays take full advantage of soft spots in their schedule.  Teams that win championships don’t necessarily dominate other elite teams, but almost always destroy the weak sisters of their divisions.  Until Toronto can do that on a consistent basis they’ll always be a year away.

But you have to learn sometime.  Let’s hope the learning starts now…

3. Tough End to a Tough Year

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  This was supposed to be the breakout year that everybody was expecting and hoping for.  This was supposed to be the year when he stepped into a role as offensive juggernaut beside Jose Bautista, and prepared to lead the Jays in the future.  2011 was supposed to be all about Travis Snider.

Instead, it has been an absolute disaster.  Travis had two separate stints with the Jays this year, with each ending in a demotion to the minors.  From Opening Day to April 28th, Snider hit .184 with a .540 OPS and only one home run.  In his second stint he was better (.260 AVG, .682 OPS, 2 HR) but not good enough to stay ahead of the Brett Lawrie express.  With all signs pointing to a September recall, Snider instead is done for the season, diagnosed with tendinitis in his right wrist last week.  The injury will force him out for 4-6 weeks, forcing him to wait until 2012 to prove he belongs.

An avid tweeter, Snider appears to have even turned off his Twitter account.  His last tweet was on August 25th, a cryptic message stating:

I will not break. I promise you that. I will miss you all and can’t say how thankful I am for your support on this journey. #keepthefaith
 
I still consider Snider an integral part in the 2012 Blue Jays.  Here’s hoping for a quick and full recovery.

Three Things From Week Twenty-One

Luis Perez was outstanding on Sunday (from daylife.com)

 

Wow – where has the time gone?  After last week’s seven game West coast road trip, the Jays have now completed 21 weeks of the 2011 season.  With hope for the playoffs virtually extinguished, chatter has turned from making a postseason push, to who comes up in September, and where will Bautista finish in MVP voting.  It seems like just yesterday that 2011 was kicking off.  Brutal.

But there are still games to be played, and for the Blue Jays, there are still plenty of questions to be answered.  All of the roster turnover we have witnessed in recent weeks is all aimed at bringing a championship back to Toronto, hopefully as soon as 2012.  The rest of this season can be seen as an audition for next year – play well and a spot on the roster could be yours.

Here are three things from week 21:

Week 21: August 15 – August 21

 Record: 4 – 3

1. Offense Dries Up In Oakland

The offense was rolling.  In a span of six games (two vs. LAA, three vs. SEA, and one vs. OAK) Toronto plated 46 runs en route to five victories.  But then something happened.  Maybe they celebrated too hard after Ricky Romero’s CG 3-hit shutout on Thursday.  Maybe they all got food poisoning.  Maybe every member of the Jays offense became extremely depressed knowing they still had three more games to play in one of the most decrepit and unfriendly stadiums in all of professional sports.

Whatever the case, the bats that were scorching earlier suddenly turned ice cold.  Rich Harden, Gio Gonzalez, and Guillermo Moscoso completely befuddled Toronto hitters on the weekend, helping the A’s take two of the final three games of the four game set.  If it wasn’t for an outstanding pitching performance by Luis Perez and Casey Janssen, Oakland would have taken all three.

The Jays scored a measly two runs over the weekend, and managed a grand total of 11 hits.  11 hits!  They were shutout for the fifth time this season on Saturday night and looked to be on their way to another shutout on Sunday before Bautista saved the day.  Struggling in Oakland is nothing new to this team .  In 2010 Toronto made one trip to the Coliseum, and scored only 9 runs on 20 hits in three games.

The good news?  They left Oakland and took out their frustrations on their next opponent, a 16-2 win over Boston.

Look out KC – you’ve got some angry hitters coming at you tomorrow.

2. Roster Moves Galore!

Don’t recognize a large amount of this team from last week?  I don’t blame you.  Alex Anthopoulos was busy last week shuffling players here, there, and everywhere.

On Monday, Rajai Davis was placed on the 15-day DL, with Mike McCoy making yet another return to Toronto.  On Tuesday, Jon Rauch was placed on the 15-day DL and Trever Miller was designated for assignment.  Two lefties – Wil Ledezma and Rommie Lewis – were recalled from AAA Vegas to take their roster spots.  Then on Thursday, lefty Brad Mills was shipped back to Vegas, and iin a somewhat surprising move, Joel Carreno was brought up from AA New Hampshire.

But that’s not all!  On Saturday, journeyman pitcher Kyle Davies, fresh off a 1-9, 6.75 ERA stint with the Royals, was signed and sent to Las Vegas in what might be another attempt at a reclamation project by AA. 

On top of those moves, Toronto is now dealing with an injury to Adam Lind after he was hit on the wrist by a pitch on Saturday.  Though x-rays were negative, he still missed Sunday’s game, which happened to be the day after Jose Bautista missed Saturday’s game with a sore neck, and a few days after Aaron Hill was given a multi-game rest.  On top of that, de facto closer Frankie Francisco was scratched on Sunday due a sore shoulder issue. 

With all of these moves going on, it’s easy to forget that in just 9 days the rosters will expand, meaning one thing.

Get ready for even more moves!

3. Successful Auditions?

Toronto’s pitching staff has never been more wide open.  The triple I’s (injuries, ineffectiveness, and inconsistency) has thrown the rotation and the bullpen into a state of flux, meaning jobs are up for grabs – not just for the rest of this season, but potentially for 2012 as well.  Romero, Morrow, and Cecil seem pretty entrenched as starters, but poor play by Mills and Drabek, injuries to Litsch and Villanueva, and trades of Stewart and Rzepczynski have left the 4th and 5th slots wide open.  Henderson Alvarez seems to be managing well in his audition, and if Sunday means anything it looks like the 5th starter slot could be solved as well.

Luis Perez was brilliant yesterday, taking a perfect game into the sixth.  He finished with a line of 6 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, and 4 K, picking up his first win as a starter.  He also threw 80 pitches, and while he tired rapidly in the 6th, he showed enough stamina and endurance to suggest that he will be able to handle a regular turn.

Similarly, Casey Janssen might have won himself a more trustworthy bullpen role.  With Dotel traded, and Rauch and Francisco unavailable, Janssen pitched three scoreless innings in relief, striking out five.  He allowed only one walk and no hits, earning his second save of the season.  Might it be in the realm of possibility to see Janssen as a potential closer for the rest of the year?

Three Things From Week Twenty

After the twentieth week of the 2011 season came and went, one thing is obvious – we should look into changing Toronto’s name from the Jays to the Lawries.

Seriously – Brett Lawrie stole all the hype last week, first making his home debut, then destroying the Oakland and LA pitching staffs. Attendance increased, excitement increased, and Toronto’s hope for future success increased as well. With Lawrie firmly entrenched in the lineup and showing no signs of slowing down, Jays fans are excited about the possibility of October baseball as early as 2012.

And with a road trip beginning against the bottom feeders of the AL West, maybe there is outside hope for October baseball this season. I’d put nothing past Lawrie now.

Here are three things from week 20:

Week 20: August 8 – August 14

Record: 3 – 3

1. Youth Movement

The Jays were already a young team coming into this season. With a core full of players just entering their prime (Arencibia, Romero, Snider, Drabek, Morrow, etc.) things were looking up.

Well, in the past few weeks, the Jays have grown even younger – and the kids are alright.

Colby Rasmus was acquired from St. Louis. The 24 year old has struggled a bit in his move to the AL East, but after going 0 for his 13 he now has hits in 8 of his past 10 games, and has brought his OPS up from .000 to .602, all while making some incredible plays in CF.

Brett Lawrie arrived next, and what else can you say about the 21 year old? 9 games, 2

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HR, 7 RBI, .355 average, 1.104 OPS says it all. Though his defense at 3B has been up and down, he has made some outstanding plays and looks a lot better than I expected.

Then last week came the latest youngster – 21 year old Henderson Alvarez, who made his big league debut against the A’s on Wednesday. Though it wasn’t the cleanest debut, Alvarez did pitch into the 6th inning struck out 4 and looked stronger as the game went on. He is set to make his second start tonight in Seattle.

With all the young guys around, I bet Johnny Mac must feel like an OLD 36.

2. Dave Collins – Your Record is Safe

When the Jays acquired Rajai Davis in the offseason, 500 Level Fan predicted that he would break Toronto’s single season record for stolen bases of 60 set by Dave Collins in 1984. I was wrong.

Rajai has put together a nice total of steals (34) but injuries and his inability to get on base at a consistent clip robbed him of any chance he may have had. He missed 19 days in April with an ankle injury, and when he came back he stole every chance he got. Unfortunately that wasn’t very often.

For the season, Davis’ OBP is a paltry .273. Such a low on-base percentage saw Rajai pushed to 8th or 9th in the order on many nights, instead of leadoff where a guy with his wheels would normally thrive. Think about it this way: Davis reached base 91 times (76 hits, 15 walks), and he attempted 45 stolen bases. That mean he attempted to steal about 50% of his times on base. Just upping his OBP to a more respectable .330 clip would have added at least 10-20 steals to his total.

Now with Rajai shelved once again with a torn hamstring, one is left to wonder if he will even play again this season. Oh, what could have been.

3. Jessie Litsch – Relief Pitcher Extraordinaire

Has there even been a more under-the-radar bullpen MVP than Litsch? He returned to the big leagues on July 30th, put in a relief role by Farrell partly because the Jays have a good amount of starters with the inclusion of Mills and Alavarez, and partly to try and stabilize Toronto’s Achilles Heel.

Whether or not the experiment might be permanent remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain – it seems to be working.

Since his recall Litsch has appeared in five games and faced 29 batters. The numbers? 8.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 13 K, 2.08 ERA, and a WHIP of 0.57. This is Jessie Litsch we’re talking about. The man is not known for his strikeout ability. As a starter his K/9 was 7.0 and his K/BB ratio was 2.00. As a reliever? A crazy high 13.48 K/9 and 6.50 K/BB.

He might not have the intimidation factor of a successful closer, but at this point, should we not be giving him a shot?

Three Things From Week Nineteen

Brett Lawrie - An Impressive Debut (from daylife.com)

 

Six games on the road last week for the Blue Jays, with the end result being a mix of bitter disappointment and joyous hope.  With the first three games of the week coming in Tampa, Toronto found thenselves with a chance to take over third place in the division, and maybe start themselves on a roll towards the Wild Card.  After taking the first game, the Jays were blown out in game two, before blowing Thursday’s game spectacularly – perhaps the most difficult loss of the season. 

But after that carnage came the hope . Travis Snider was once again sacrificed to the minors, but this time coming back in his stead was the man Jays fans have been waiting for all season long.  And Brett Lawrie didn’t disappoint, leading the Jays to a series victory over the O’s and back to within striking distance of the Rays.

With the team returning home to play a fairly soft August schedule, the sky’s the limit.

Here are three things from week 19:

Week 19: August 1 – August 7

 Record: 3 – 3

1. The Kid Has Arrived

On December 6, 2010 Alex Anthopoulos dropped a bombshell.  Gone was Shaun Marcum, the team’s workhorse and most consistent starting pitcher.  Coming back to Toronto was Brett Lawrie, Milwaukee’s first round pick in 2008, a top prospect, and a Canadian to boot.  Though opening himself up to criticism for fans who wanted to win now, AA must have envisioned all along what Lawrie could provide the lineup.  After a tease in Spring Training, and a injury in the minors, Lawrie finally made his debut last week. 

The debut of Kyle Drabek was exciting.  The debut of Carlos Delgado was memorable.  But the debut of Brett Lawrie was off the charts.

Three games.  Five hits.  One home run.  Two RBI’s.  A .455 AVG and a 1.182 OPS.  Whatever you were expecting from the kid, he exceeded it. 

And therein lies the danger.  The expectations are enormous.  He is only 21 years old, and has played only three major league games.  Labels such as “The Great Canadian Superstar” or “Franchise Saviour” might be a little aggressive.  Let’s give him a few months, and a few home games first. 

After that we can just refer to him as Prime Minister.

2. Ricky Romero – Staff Ace

There is no official definition of a staff ace, no Webster’s or Oxford dictionary entries.  But if there were, I would list the following attributes: consistent, dependable, gives the team a chance to win each and every start, stopper of losing streaks, dominant.

Then I would put a photo of Ricky Romero beside it.

Romero has been flirting with the ace label for a while, but was always seen as being one step away.  Well, it last week was any indication – he’s made that step.

Romero pulled of two straight victories, pitching eight innings in each start, and giving up a total of five hits with 12 strikeouts.  Though his walk total is still a bit high to be considered one of the AL’s elite, it is encouraging to note that he walked zero in Sunday’s start vs. Baltimore.

But what’s even more encouraging, is that with the Blue Jays bullpen in shambles and seemingly getting worse by the day, Romero has decided to take matters into his own hands.  He has now pitched at least eight innings in three straight starts (all wins) and seven innings in four straight.  His season ERA has dropped to 2.94, and he has moved into the top-10 in the AL in strikeouts.   

That sounds ace-like to me.

3. Toronto’s Hottest Hitter – Edwin Encarnacion?  What?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen.  Believe it.  The much maligned, heavily criticized, and widely scorned Mr. Encarnacion is on a hitting tear.  In six games last week, EE posted a .381 batting average, and a .956 OPS with 2 doubles, and 5 runs scored.  He walked more times than he struck out, and has now hit safely in seven straight games and 12 of his past 13. 

Edwin’s average now sits at a season high .277 and his OPS at a season high .772.  He is giving the Jays a bonafide slugger in the middle of the lineup, especially crucial right now with Jose Bautista and Adam Lind both scuffling a bit.

He seems to have found a new home as Toronto’s DH, as he is hitting substantially higher when he doesn’t have to play defense.  As a 3B this year, EE was plagued by defensive woes, which obviously transferred over to his hitting (.223 AVG / .678 OPS).  But as a DH, Edwin has thrived: .324 AVG / .859 OPS, which makes one wonder how much damage he could have done if installed as the DH back on Opening Day. 

Not only has he saved the Jays in recent days with his hot hotting, he has also saved himself.  His hot hand is the sole reason why it was Travis Snider, and not himself, who was exiled to Vegas to make room for Lawrie.

Three Things From Week 18

Robbie Alomar honoured on Sunday (from daylife.com)

 

With the end of week 18 came the end of July, but the start of something brand new for the Blue Jays.  It was a week dominated by off the field news, starting with a massive trade and ending with a massive celebration.  The Blue Jay team that took to the field in April has been profoundly changed for the better, as has the space above the JumboTron, now complete with a number 12 hanging proudly.

But the off-field news shouldn’t dwarf the on-field accomplishments.  Toronto went 4-2 last week to move to two games over the .500 mark.  They took two of three from the red hot Texas Rangers, and proved just a little bit more to the rest of the league that they aren’t as far away as many might think.

They also moved to within a game and a half of third place Tampa Bay.  With Toronto beginning a three game set with the Rays in Tampa on Tuesday, it’s not out of the question that we could soon be talking about the third place Jays.

Here are three things from week 18:

Week 18: July 25 – July 31

 Record: 4 – 2

1. Changes A Plenty

Toronto took to the field on Tuesday and were shellacked by the Orioles.  The next day everything changed.

In the blink of an eye, Zach Stewart, Jason Frasor, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, and Corey Patterson were gone.  Brian Tallet and Trever Miller were back.  Quasi-Canadian Mark Teahan and his overpriced contract had arrived to strengthen the bench.  And big, bad, Colby Rasmus was our new CF. 

Fans are understandably excited about Rasmus.  He is young (turns 25 next week).  He plays great defense.  He can hit.  He can run.  And he is only getting better.  Though he didn’t get off the quickest start with the team, his 2 for 4, 2 RBI game on Sunday gave us a glimpse of what he can do.  Combined with Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Yunel Escobar, and Brett Lawrie, the Jays have a poweful offensive core to move forward with.

But that wasn’t it for changes last week.  P.J. Walters, a pitcher acquired with Rasmus, arrived, pitched a scoreless inning, then was sent down to Vegas for Jessie Litsch.  Brad Mills came up for a start on Saturday and pitched very well (7 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 5 K).  And Toronto was seemingly mentioned in trade talks with several big name players, including Ubaldo Jimenez and Wandy Rodriguez.

Though there is still an opportunity for the Jays to add a player or two before the August waiver deadline, the biggest change is still to come.  Brett Lawrie is waiting patiently, and hopefully it won’t be long now…

2. Middle of the Order Blues

It’s not often when you can say that Jose Bautista is slumping.  But last week was a tough one for J-Bau.  He went hitless in three of the six games, and was held off base completely twice (though to be fair, getting hit in the head by a fastball had something to do with one of those).  For the week he went just 4 for 19 with 2 R and 1 RBI.  He also hasn’t hit a home run since July 9th in Cleveland, a span of 14 consecutive games without one.

Adam Lind finds himself in a funk as well, after a 2 for 20 week.  While he did slug a HR on Tuesday, Lind also struck out five times, and managed only one single the rest of the week.  His average has slipped to .279 and his OPS to .817 – the lowest it’s been since May 3rd.

Luckily for Toronto, two players have stepped up.  Edwin Encarnacion, thought to be a potential trade target, destroyed Baltimore and Texas: 8 for 20, .400 AVG, 1.328 OPS, 2 HR and 4 RBI.  His season OPS now sits at .758 – the highest it has been all season.  Likewise, J.P. Arencibia has snapped back to life.  With his back to the Mendoza line, the catcher has caught fire, hitting safely in all five games he played in last week, with 2 HR and 7 RBI.  He now has slugged five home runs in his past eight games, looking much more like the Rookie of the Year candidate that 500 Level Fan made him out to be this season.

Now we just need all four of those guys clicking at the same time.

3. Toronto Immortality

Quite a pair of Sunday’s for Roberto Alomar.  First he earned the biggest prize in baseball – induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  One week later he was honoured with the highest award in Toronto Blue Jays history.  Number 12 will never be worn again.

On Sunday Alomar saw his jersey number rise to the rafters at Rogers Centre, becoming the first player in Blue Jays history to have his number retired.  In front of a sellout crowd, his parents, and many of his former teammates, Robbie basked in a perfect day and reminded fans of the glory days of this franchise.

Now with #12 hanging in centre field, the glory days will never be far away.

Three Things From Week Seventeen

Robbie Alomar - Toronto's first Hall of Famer (from daylife.com)

Last week was an interesting one for the Blue Jays, as they were able to get a glimpse of the best and worst that the AL West has to offer. Three games against a Seattle team who had lost 9-straight entering the week (since stretched to a mind boggling 15-straight), followed by three against the red-hot Texas Rangers, a team only a few games removed from an 11-game winning streak.

It was a week that had everything – high scoring games, low scoring games, great pitching performances, putrid pitching performances, a day game played indoors due to heat, a 14-inning marathon, and a Blue Jay being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

And at the end of the week Toronto stands exactly where they stood before Opening Day: with exactly the same number of wins and losses.

Here are three things from week 17:

Week 17: July 18 – July 24

Record: 4 – 2

1. A Pitching Story

What an adventure. Week 17 saw just about every up-and-down possible on the mound. The week was bookended by Brett Cecil starts: the first one bad (7 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 1 BB) and the second one spectacular (CG 4 hit shutout). In between we witnessed the following:

– Two late inning collapses: Romero and the bullpen combined to blow a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning on Thursday, and then Rzep and Rauch combined to blow a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 9th to lose on Saturday.

– One outstanding performance by the bulllpen: On Tuesday night, six Toronto relievers combined to shut down the Mariners, pitching 7 innings of 5 hit, 3 walk, no run ball in a 6-5 14

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inning win.

– One horrendous start: Jo-Jo Reyes on Friday – 4.1 IP, 8 ER, 8 H, 1 BB.

– One pitching shakeup: Casey Janssen was activated from the DL with Luis Perez sent back to AAA Vegas on Tuesday. Then after the abysmal start quoted above, the Jays finally pulled the plug on Jo-Jo, DFA-ing him and promoting Wil Ledezma from the minors.

And the biggest shock of all? Frank Francisco had nothing to do with any blown saves…

2. Bautista Can Not and Will Not Be Stopped

Jose made his return to the lineup on Tuesday after sitting out three games with an ankle injury. For those opposing pitchers who were hoping it might take the momentum out of his bat? Think again.

While he hasn’t homered since his return, Joey Bats is still pummeling the ball. For the week he only hit .250, but reached base over 40% of his plate appearances, slugged

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three doubles, and drove in five runs. He now has a hit in 15 of the 17 games he has played in July, and has reached base at least once in 25 consecutive games.

Bautista leads the majors in HR, walks, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and WAR. In fact, his 6.8 WAR has already far surpassed his 5.4 WAR from last season. Adrian Gonzalez gets all the MVP consideration it seems, but there’s no doubt where baseball’s true MVP resides.

3. Cooperstown Bound

Pat Gillick had great success as the GM of Baltimore, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Roberto Alomar made All-Star teams in Baltimore and Cleveland. But there was no denying the fact that Sunday afternoon was a day dedicated to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Gillick and Alomar were officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday, and both were inducted for all intents and purposes as Jays. Alomar will obviously be officially recognized as a Blue Jay with the logo on his cap. Gillick, the mastermind behind the great Blue Jays teams of the 80’s and early 90’s and the genius who acquired Alomar in 1990, will forever be seen as the man who brought baseball glory to Canada.

With so many years having passed since Toronto’s last playoff appearance, and with the current woeful state of Toronto’s other professional sports teams (I’m looking at you Leafs, Raptors, and FC), it was nice to see Toronto back in spotlight (even just for one day).

Congratulations Pat and Robby. I hope we see another Jay in the Hall soon to join you.

Three Things From Week Sixteen

from daylife.com

A short week last week due to the All-Star break, but don’t let the reduced number of games fool you. It was a week full of twists and turns for the Blue Jays.

Two good games against the Yankees, two not-so-good games against the Yankees, and one significantly scary injury combined to put Jays fans through the full gamut of emotions. Though the weekend didn’t end as well as it began, Toronto did get back to the .500 mark briefly – a good sign as the second half kicks off.

Here are three things from week 16:

Week 16: July 11 – July 17

Record: 2 – 2

1. Jose Bautista: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

It was quite a week for the Jays leader. First the good – Bau lived up to his record setting All-Star vote tally by having himself a heck of a midsummer classic.: 1 for 2 with one of the most

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outstanding catches in All-Star game history. The robbery of Brian McCann left the AS announcer speechless.

Next the bad: his feeble performance at the HR Derby. Foiled by bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos, Bau only managed four bombs and was eliminated in the first round. Not what we expected from MLB’s HR leader.

Finally the ugly: the brutal looking ankle twist from Thursday night. Replays looked terrible, and visions of the DL danced through Jays fans heads. Luckily it looks like a trip to the disabled list will be avoided, with the big man set to return as early as tomorrow night.

Phew…

2. He Just Keeps Going and Going and Going and…..

It seems like Travis Snider is doing his best Energizer Bunny impression these days. From growing some fur on his upper lip, to his non-stop hitting performance since his return, Snider is seemingly getting better and better.

In the four games last week, he had three multi-hit efforts. In total he blitzed the Yankees to the tune of a .438 average and 1.037 OPS, with 3 doubles, 3 stolen bases, and 4 RBI thrown in. Since his recall from AAA Vegas, Snider has been on a mission to prove he belongs at the big league level. He is hitting .391 in 11 games, and has only gone hitless in two of those contests.

Of course eleven games is still a small sample size, but the strides made by Snider are encouraging. He has raised his season average 72 points to .256 and his OPS a whopping 174 points to .714. The Snider / Thames combo has been rock solid, and could be giving fans a glimpse of Toronto’s secondary offense for years to come.

3. Brandon Morrow to the Rescue

There’s not a lot of kind words you can say about Toronto’s rotation lately. Ricky Romero is 0-2 with a 6.32 ERA in July. Jo-Jo Reyes hasn’t made it into the seventh inning since June 17th. Carlos Villanueva was roughed by the Yankees on Sunday.

Thankfully Brandon Morrow seems to have figured it out. Whether it was his delayed start to the season due to a DL visit or second year Toronto jitters, Morrow has struggled for most of this season. After being lit up by the Red Sox on June 11th, Brandon sat at 2-4 with a 5.63 ERA. With the sudden emergence of Brandon League as a (gulp) top shelf closer in Seattle, whispers were developing that maybe we didn’t win the Brandon for Brandon swap after all.

Well, Morrow must have heard them because he has certainly turned things around. Since that day in Boston he has been outstanding: 4-0, 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP. 9.82 K/9, and 6.7 IP/Start. In

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that time he has lowered his season ERA from 5.63 to 4.37, and more importantly given the Jays a reliable turn in the rotation.

Once Romero gets back on track, Toronto suddenly has one of the best 1-2 punches in the division.

Three Things From Week Fifteen

Two players who had a big week before the All-Star break (from daylife.com)

 

Looking at the schedule, the final week before the 2011 All-Star break was not kind.  Three games in Fenway Park against the first place Red Sox.  Four games in Cleveland against the first place Indians.  Seven games away from home – on the heels of having three games at home against the first place Phillies.

Ten consecutive games against division fr0nt runners.

After hanging on for a 4th of July victory, the Jays promptly dropped three straight, and after Thursday’s gut-wrenching ninth inning collapse the club could have folded up and limped into the break.

But resiliency ruled the day.  Three straight wins over Cleveland has Toronto hitting the break on a roll.  A 45-47 record may not sound great on the surface, but with all the injury problems and struggles, I think most people in Toronto are satisified.

Here are three things from week 15:

Week 15: July 4 – July 10

 Record: 4 – 3

1. Big Brett is Back!

Brett Cecil lead the Blue Jays in wins last year, and began the year as the team’s number three starter.  He was counted on to provide consistency and stability in the rotation, especially with two true wild cards in Drabek and Reyes pitching around him.

Unfortunately, he provided neither.

After getting roughed up by the Yankees on April 20th he was sent to the minors to work out the kinks, leaving Toronto with a 6.86 ERA.  His first start back against Pittsburgh? Terrible, dropping his season ERA to a woeful 7.24.

But something happened last week.  Something clicked.  The Cecil of 2010 might be returning.  Though he didn’t exactly dominate the Red Sox and Indians, he was solid, and provided exactly what the Jays asked for in April – consistency and stability.

On Tuesday he tossed his first career complete game – albeit in a tough 3-2 loss.  On Sunday he went six innings in Cleveland, allowing one earned run.  Overall for the week the lefty finished up with a 1-1 record, pitched 14 innings with a 2.57 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts.  His season ERA dropped by over a run and a half to 5.66.

Better late than never…

2. The Upside-Down World of Frank Francsico

Wow.  Just…wow.

Frank Francisco is putting Jays fans on a rollercoaster ride this season, and last week we saw the best and the worst of what he has to offer.  On Monday afternoon he threw perhaps his most dominant inning of the season against Boston.  Called upon to protect a two-run lead in the ninth, Francisco promptly gave up a leadoff single, then went 3-0 to Dustin Pedroia.  But then – pure dominance.  12 pitches, 9 strikes, 3 strikeouts, game over.

Sadly, the dominance didn’t last.  On Thursday he was called upon to protect a 4-0 lead in the ninth.  The final line?  Three batters faced.  Two walks.  One hit.  Three earned runs.  Due to the quirkiness of pitching stats he was credited with neither a blown save nor a loss, but it was pretty clear to all parties that the loss was his fault.  After a profanity laced tirade against the media after the game, Francisco was promptly punished by Alex Anthopoulos.

Though the Jays didn’t go as far as to say Frankie is out as closer, the writing is on the wall.  With a season ERA of 5.92 and a WHIP of 1.85 he is putting up numbers that would get most relievers released.  The only bright side?  It can’t possibly get any worse.

Can it?

3. Signs of Hope

So the ffirst half is over, and it wasn’t all roses for the Blue Jays.  An absurd amount of injuries, some terrible underachieving by key players, and extremely shoddy work by the bullpen has left the team 11 games back of first in the AL East and under .500.

But things aren’t all that gloomy.  There were signs last week that maybe, just maybe, some players are on the verge of turning their struggles around.  Brett Cecil was discussed above, but other key player who look poised for turnaround include:

J.P. Arencibia – After going 0 for his first 17 in July, the rookie catcher finished the first half with a three-game hitting streak, going 5 for 12 to push his batting average back above the .220 plateau. 

Rajai Davis – A prolonged slump saw his season stats decline to terrible lows, but if last week is any indication he seems to be pulling out of it.  A .296 average with a .704 OPS in seven games, including 3 doubles, 3 steals, and 6 RBI. 

Travis Snider – Recalled on July 4th, Snider has looked excellent in his return to the big leagues.  He started all seven games last week and recorded a hit in six of them, fnishing the week with a .367 average and 1.054 OPS, including 6 doubles, 1 homer, and 8 RBI.

Brandon Morrow – Morrow has been wildly inconsistent this year, but has shown signs recently that he is turning the corner.  In his past five starts dating back to June 18th the right-hander has gone 3-0 with a 2.94 ERA and .190 opponents batting average in 33.2 IP.  With 38 strikeouts in that span (and only 10 walks), he is finally harnessing his control.  His final start of the first half against Cleveland was one of his best of the season – 8 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 3 ER, and 8 K. 

We could be in for a great second half!