Category Archives: Weekly Things

Three Things From Week Twelve

Adam Lind is back! (from daylife.com)

Call it a rebound week.

After being absolutely pummelled by the Red Sox, the Jays used an off day on Monday to clear their heads, and then got back to the task of righting the ship. And nothing helps to right the ship more than a visit from the Orioles, Toronto’s personal whipping boys.

Taking two of three from Baltimore sent the Jays off on a good note, and not even dreaded Interleague play could ruin the Jays new found momentum. Winning two of three in Cincinnati not only evens Toronto’s interleague record in 2011, but it also won me a beer, a result of a bet made with a diehard Reds fan co-worker.

Can’t wait for an ice cold pint Mr. Wordelmann!

Here are three things from week 12:

Week 12: June 13 – June 19

Record: 4 – 2

1. Hot As A Pistol

When Adam Lind went down with a back injury on May 7th he was one of the hottest players on the team. The timing couldn’t have been worse. When he finally made his return to the lineup nearly a month later, Jays fans were hoping that it wouldn’t take him long to get his hitting stroke back.

Well, it’s 15 games into his return and I don’t think anybody would have dreamed he would be as hot as he is.

Lind had a hit in five of Toronto’s six games last week, including blasting a home run on four consecutive days. Overall, his stats for the week were off the charts: .364 average, 1.416 OPS, 4 HR, 7 RBI, and a walk-off game winning HR in the 11th inning to beat Baltimore on Tuesday. He almost single-handedly won three separate games, and is giving Toronto one of baseball’s best 1-2 punches with Mr. Bautista.

This recent hot streak has put Lind on pace to virtually duplicate his breakout 2009 campaign – but in about 25 fewer games. Not bad at all for a guy who many thought was washed up.

2. Cold As Ice

As red hot as Adam Lind has been lately, one of the main reasons why Toronto hasn’t been winning as many games as you’d think recently is because of the performance of another key player – as ice cold as Lind is hot.

Rajai Davis was acquired in the offseason to be a sparkplug

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at the top of the order. He was going to get on base, run wild, and score a lot of runs. Unfortunately things haven’t gone anywhere near as well as expected. Davis’ numbers are down quite a bit from his performance last year, and down significantly from 2009. His .275 OBP is the 4th worst in the entire American League, better than only Orlando Cabrera, Alex Rios, and Chone Figgins. Since getting on base is the most important job of a leadoff hitter, it is hardly surprising that the opening day leadoff hitter has only hit at the top of the order 15 times this season.

And while he does lead the team in SB with 18, his stolen base percentage is the lowest of his career. He has been successful only 69% of the time – with 8 caught stealings to go along with 3 pickoffs. Not ideal numbers.

Though there is still time for him to turn things around, his recent play has not been encouraging. In his last 14 games, Davis has been dreadful. 4 for 45, .089 average, .109 OBP, .264 OPS, only 2 extra base hits, 0 SB to 1 CS, and a horrendous 1 BB : 14 K ratio.

This is not the player Alex Anthopoulos acquired. Here’s hoping that that version of Rajai Davis shows up before it’s too late.

3. Most Valuable Pitcher?

Coming into 2011, there was a lot of discussion surrounding Toronto’s pitching staff. The rotation was lead by staff ace Ricky Romero, young fireballers Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil, and rookie sensation Kyle Drabek. The Jays made news by acquiring a three-headed closer in Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, and Jon Rauch.

So how odd does it seem that mid-way through June, an argument can be made that Toronto’s most valuable pitcher is none other than Carlos Villanueva?

Acquired in December from Milwaukee for a player to be named later, Carlos was likely the

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least celebrated move of the offseason. But he has been nothing short of outstanding all season long.

Beginning the year as the long man out

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of the ‘pen, Carlos V was spectacular – 24.1 IP, 1.48 ERA, 0.82 WHIP. Then, after injuries struck the rotation, Carlos showed his versatility by stepping seamlessly into a starters role. In six starts he has gone 3-1 with a 4.33 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, averaging just under 6 innings per start. Take away one rocky outing against the White Sox and the numbers look even better: 3.56 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

He doesn’t strike many batters out, and he isn’t overpowering, but Villanueva has been exactly what Drabek, Morrow, and Cecil have not been – dependable and consistent. And he appears to be getting better, making back-to-back quality starts last week.

In a season where so many pitchers have disappointed, Villanueva has been the most pleasant of surprises.

Three Things From Week Eleven

If you had to describe Toronto’s performance in the 11th week of the MLB season in one word, what would it be?

Rough?

Terrible?

How about awful or disastrous, devastating or humiliating?

All would work equally well, but at the same time none work at all.  It’s nearly impossible to put into words how disappointing last week was for the Jays.  After only managing a four game split against a Royals team ripe for the picking, the team returned home to be utterly lambasted by the red hot Red Sox.  It was a beating of epic proportions and the Jays reaction to it will be particularly interesting to watch.

Hopefully the young Jays take it for what it was – a learning experience against a contender.

Here are three things from week 11:

Week 11: June 6 – June 12

 Record: 2 – 5

1. Rock Bottom

After a series win in Baltimore the Jays marched into Kansas City with a chance to get on a real roll.  Before the opening game of the four game set, Kansas City had lost four straight and 17 of the past 22, averaging less than 3.5 runs scored per game in the process.  But instead of getting on a roll, the Jays promptly blew Monday’s game, nearly gave away Tuesday and Wednesday, before dropping the finale on Thursday afternoon. 

Then they returned home and it all hit the fan.

To say the Jays were routed by Boston would be an understatement.  They were beaten worse than I can ever remember, thoroughly humiliated.  The offense was terrible, the pitching was terrible, and the baserunning was terrible.  Overall it was a weekend of ineptitude normally reserved for teams such as the Pirates.

The Jays lost all three games to the Red Sox by a combined score of 35 – 6.  They never once had the lead.  Saturday was the worst loss of the season in terms of runs that the team had experienced in all of 2011.  Then they went out on Sunday and lost by more.  It was horrible, and difficult to watch.

To say that the team has now hit rock bottom might not be far off.  They have lost four straight, are a season high 7.5 games behind first, and sit only a half game ahead of the Orioles for last.  40% of the starting rotation is in shambles, the bullpen is a deadzone, Bautista has just one HR in June, top prospect Brett Lawrie is on the DL, and Encarnacion is still employed.

The only consolation?  It can’t get any worse.

2. The Drabek Conundrum

John Farrell and Alex Anthopoulos promised to give Kyle Drabek all the time he needed in the rotation this year.  Despite the inevitable bumps in the road that might pop up now and then, they would stick by him.  Learning at the big league level is what’s best for him they said.

It will be interesting to see where they stand now, after two more more Drabek disasters last week.  On Tuesday he lasted 5.1 IP in KC, surrendering 9 H, 3 BB, and 5 ER yet still picking up the win.  On Sunday he was lit up by Boston to the tune of 7 H, 4 BB, and 8 ER in only 4 IP.  In his past three starts Drabek has been nothing short of awful: 1-2 record, 15.30 ERA, 2.90 WHIP, 10 BB: 6 K in 10 IP.  Opposing batters are hitting .404 against him with a 1.211 OPS.

Its no secret that lack of control is what’s killing the youngster.  He leads all of baseball with 52 walks allowed, a ridiculous 6.4 BB/9.  And what he is lacking in control he definitely is not making up for in composure, constantly appearing rattled, flustered, and frustrated on the mound between pitches and batters.

I am definitely not saying that he should be sent down to AAA Vegas or even AA New Hampshire.  I’m not exactly sure that is the place for him either.  All I know is that he has to learn how to harness his emotions.  Doing that might lead to improved command and control.

Failure to do that might leave the bosses with no choice – the minors.

3. Bullpen Saviour?

Normally in a 16-4 blowout loss there is little entertainment value for the home fans, especially when the blowout loss is at the hands of the effin’ Red Sox.  But the brave souls who stuck around on Saturday were treated to something special – an inning of relief from second baseman Mike McCoy.

According to Baseball-Reference, McCoy’s became the 478th position player (defined as a player with 5 times as many non-pitching games as pitching games, though most of those were in the 1800’s) to pitch in major league history.  He became the fifth position player in franchise history to pitch in a game, the first since Frank Menechino in 2004.

Armed with fastballs and sliders in the low 70’s and high 60’s MPH, McCoy was surprisingly effective.  He pitched only the second three-up three-down inning of the ballgame, getting Carl Crawford and Marco Scutaro to fly out and J.D. Drew to ground out.  McCoy threw only 12 pitches in the inning – 9 of them (75%) for strikes.

Though having your second baseman pitch in a game is never a good sign, the 1-2-3 inning was a silver lining in an otherwise dreary weekend.  And it also gives McCoy bragging rights.

Because barring something unexpected, he is likely to win the Toronto Blue Jay ERA title in 2011.

Three Things From Week Ten

Last week presented an interesting challenge for the Blue Jays. First up was a three game set against the surprising AL Central leading Cleveland Indians. The Indians, predicted by many to lose over 100 games, got off to the best start in baseball and despite their recent struggles proved they are no fluke by taking two of three.

The Jays then took off to Baltimore for a weekend series against 2010 whipping boys the Baltimore Orioles, a team they swept five different times last year. Turns out that Toronto still owns the O’s in ’11 – they took the series and came within one pitch of another sweep, a Mark Reynolds grand slam off Ricky Romero the difference.

With the Jays buoyed by the return of Adam Lind and the imminent arrival of Brett Lawrie, is the 2011 team finally poised to make some noise in the East?

Here are three things from week 10:

Week 10: May 30 – June 5

Record: 3 – 3

1. Welcome

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Back Adam

After missing 24 games with tightness in his back, Toronto ’s 1B returned to the line-up on Saturday night. After an 0 for 3 performance in his first game back, Lind picked up where he left off in early May by going 4 for 4 with two HR on Sunday afternoon, leading the Jays to victory.

Despite the fact that the Toronto went 14-10 without Lind in the line-up (and despite the fact that Juan Rivera actually played capable if not above-average defense in

his absence), his presence was sorely missed. When he hit the DL Lind was hitting .313 with an .858 OPS and 7 home runs. He was also in the midst of a 17 game stretch that saw him collect at least one hit in 14 of those games, slug 6 HR, drive in 18 runs, and hit .388 with a 1.098 OPS.

Even more important, however, is that Jose Bautista is finally starting to play like a relatively more normal major league baseball player, instead of a machine. It doesn’t help that teams have started walking him more and deploying a defensive shift against him. Opposing managers don’t seem to mind opposite field singles by J-Bau – keeping him in the park is a greater reward. But giving up opposite field singles, and then having to face a red-hot Adam Lind is a different story. Lind’s presence only helps Bautista keep crushing the opposition.

2. Yunel: Tony v2.0?

The shortstop position has been a black hole for the Blue Jays for a number of years. Ever since the great Tony Fernandez retired, SS has been a revolving door of less than spectacular players. We’ve had Russ Adams. We’ve had Chris Woodward. We’ve seen Tony Batista, Royce Clayton, and David Eckstein. We’ve even see two different Alex Gonzalez’s.

But now, finally, it looks like we have stability.

The arrival of Yunel Escobar from Atlanta last year was seen by some as a bad move. This was a guy with a rocky temperament who had been on a downward spiral for two years. Why bother? Well, now that he is happy and relaxed we are seeing just how good Yunel can be.

Through Sunday’s games he is hitting .290. As a shortstop (only counting AB while playing SS), he is hitting .287. His .810 OPS is the third highest in the American League, behind Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera. His seven HR are tied for second. He has been by far the best SS in the AL East this season. Neither Baltimore , Boston , nor Tampa Bay has a SS with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. The Yankees have Derek Jeter (.667 OPS). Escobar also has a 2.1 WAR, and a +3 Zone Runs above average rating, showing his exceptional defense.

He continued his fine play last week by hitting .304 with a 1.037 OPS in Toronto’s six games, including delivering the decisive hit in Sunday’s win (a three-run bomb).

Though nobody will ever forget Tony, Escobar is doing his best to make us get excited about the present, not the past.

3. Jo-Jo Goes Win-Win

Jo-Jo Reyes went almost three calendar years without registering a win. His winless streak was making headlines on major US media outlets, such as Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox Sports, and ESPN. After he was clobbered by the Yankees on May 25th, he tied the major league record for most consecutive starts without a win. Things looked bleak.

But as the great Joe Posnanski wrote here, the streak was meaningless, essentially a made-up statistic to satisfy baseball writers. I highly recommend reading his article. It is a great read by a prominent sports writer.

On top of that, it’s not like Reyes pitched terribly this year. While it’s true he failed to get to the fifth inning in four of his starts, he also made it to the seventh inning in four of his starts before last week. He pitched well enough to win in April against the Angels and Rays, and then in May against Rays, Twins, and Astros. As a bottom-of-the-rotation starter, giving your team a chance to win is all that’s required. He accomplished that.

But still, getting a win was mandatory for piece of mind. On Monday he finally broke through, going the distance against the first place Indians. The standing ovation, the chants of “Jo-Jo” in the stands, and the resulting Gatorade shower by his teammates was well deserved. But to me, more impressive than getting the win to break the streak was his performance on Sunday: 6.1 IP, 3 ER, W. Instead of letting the emotion of Monday’s win overtake him and losing focus, he went right back to work on

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Sunday, earning a huge win for his team.

If Reyes can keep pitching the way he has been, the Jays (and the fans) will be thrilled.

Three Things From Week Nine

I’ve heard it said by baseball pundits for years: Memorial Day is the first true benchmark of the MLB season. Once the US holiday hits, take a look at the standings because that is a good indication of who will be in the playoffs come October.

Well, today is Memorial Day and the Toronto Blue Jays are in fourth place in the AL East, three games behind the Red Sox. But to count this Jays team as down and out simply because they don’t hold a playoff spot near the end of May? Foolish.

Despite an unbelievable amount of injuries, extremely inconsistent play from young players, and erratic performances from the bullpen, Toronto is over the .500 mark, showing a huge amount of resiliency. If any week proved the team’s “never-give-up” attitude, it was last week, the ninth of the 2011 season.

After a 7-3 drubbing at the hand of the Yankees on Wednesday, the Jays returned home and promptly blew Thursday’s game in the ninth. But they refused to fold, and fought back to win the final three games in the set against the White Sox, ending the week with an emphatic 13-4 shellacking on Sunday.

One thing’s for certain – even if the Jays don’t make the postseason this year, they plan on taking the fans on a wild roller coaster ride.

Here are three things from week 9.

Week 9: May 23 – 29

Record: 4 – 3

1. C-Pat at the Bat

Normally when a team signs a former third overall pick as a free agent, it generates ripples of excitement across the fan base. But when that former third overall pick happens to be a guy coming off a four season stretch that saw him play for four different franchises and combine for a .245 average, .653 OPS, and play shoddy defense, Jays fans can be forgiven for being less than thrilled by the signing of Corey Patterson back in December.

But Corey has been excellent in 2011 thus far out of the #2-hole, saving his best effort for last week. In seven games against the Yankees and White Sox, Patterson hit safely in six of them, including an incredible five hit performance on Saturday that culminated with a walk-off HR in the 14th. Overall he stroked 14 hits in the week, good for a .438 AVG and 1.142 OPS, raising his season average to .301 (13th in the AL) and OPS to .811 (23rd in the AL).

What’s even more impressive is the defense he has shown in the outfield. With a total zone runs above average of +6, Patterson is just outside of the top-5 outfielders in the American League, giving the Jays a somewhat surprising airtight outfield defense. If he can keep this up throughout the year, you can mark Patterson down as just another outstanding, under-the-radar signing by Alex Anthopoulos.

2. Wanted: Clean Bullpen Innings

Taken at face value, a 4-3 record against the Yankees and White Sox sounds like a successful week. But it could have been much better if not for some awful work by the bullpen. Lauded early in the season, and rightfully so, for their outstanding work, the ‘pen has regressed to the point where it now

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is likely considered a weakness.

In seven games, the bullpen blew two saves and took two losses. As a group, Toronto’s relievers allowed 14 runs on 28 hits and 7 walks. They allowed 11 runs to score in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings alone, including two in the ninth on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. With a 6.59 ERA, Frank Francisco looks both lost and ineffective as the closer, and if not for a lights out performance by Luis Perez on Saturday (3.2 IP, 0 R, 2 H), Francisco would have been directly to blame for two losses.

But bullpen performance often goes in cycles. Truthfully, Toronto’s relievers probably weren’t as good as they looked early in the season, and definitely aren’t as bad as they’ve been over the past few weeks. In fact, I told everybody to have patience with Mr. Francisco in a column I wrote last week, and I’ll say it again:

Things will get better.

3. Better Late Than Never – Welcome to 2011 Guys!

In 2009 and 2010, Aaron Hill combined to hit 62 HR. In 2010 Edwin Encarnacion hit 21, leading me to suggest that he would eclipse the 30 HR plateau this year.

On Sunday morning, May 29th, the two of them had combined to hit zero home runs in 2011, exactly two fewer than noted slugger John McDonald, and one less than rookie David Cooper hit in his 41 plate appearances with the big club.

But something incredible happened in the first inning against John Danks. Hill hit his first career grand slam, and then virtually instantly, the very next batter, Encarnacion went deep! Talk about timing!

For Edwin (who was actually using Ricky Romero’s bat), the HR sparked a big offensive day that included two more hits and one more run scored, giving Jays fans hope that maybe, just maybe, he will break out. For Aaron, the slam didn’t have any immediate affect – he went hitless in five subsequent at bats – but it did provide a bit of confidence that he can do things other than pop up or strike out.

The jury is out on whether these two will ever be able to reclaim their past power, but hitting a HR before the calendar turns to June is a huge relief. Now we’ll get a chance to see how much easier it is for them to hit without a huge monkey on each of their backs.

Three Things From Week Eight

Arencibia has been as good as advertised this year (from daylife.com)

 

The eighth week of the major league schedule has come and gone, and it has to be classified as at least a minor success for the Jays.

Why?  Because despite inclement weather, lots of walks from starting pitchers, more injuries, sloppy error filled play, games against the first place Rays, and the return of dreaded interleague play, Toronto finished the week with three wins and three losses.  It could have been much, much worse.

And once again, for the 8th consecutive week, the reason why it wasn’t much, much worse was because of one man – Jose Bautista.

Here are three things from week 8.

Week 8: May 16 – 22

Record: 3 – 3

1. Even When He Slumps He’s Good

Coming off a week where he slammed 6 HR and a 1.708 OPS, it was mandatory that Jose Bautista regress a bit, if only because it would be virtually impossible for him to perform any better.

And while the numbers he put up last week were more reminiscent of a solid major leaguer instead of a Greek God (.273 AVG, .930 OPS, 2 HR, 4 RBI), he still single-handedly stole a win for the team on Saturday.  Trailing 4-0 in the 6th inning to the woeful Astros, Bautista hit first a 3-run bomb to bring the Jays closer, then a solo shot to add some insurance.  He also threw out a runner attempting to go first to third – an all around performance.

The man is a machine, an outstanding player playing at an otherworldly level.  You know a guy is good when in an “off” week, he still hits for a better average than many All-Stars.  The opposition is finally starting to pay him the utmost respect, as J-Bau was intentionally walked twice last week, meaning we need Adam Lind back more than ever.

2. The Catcher of the Future IS the Catcher of the Present

Jays fans have been treated incredibly badly by young catchers over the past several years.  So many times, the next catcher of the future has come up through the system only to badly disappoint at the big league level.  Remember Kevin Cash?  Robinzon Diaz?  Guillermo Quiroz?  Josh Phelps?  Angel Martinez?

Well, the next in line to that ghastly legacy was J.P. Arencibia.  After a dynamite debut last season, he put up Kevin Cash-like numbers the rest of the year.  But the Jays stuck with him and gave him the starting job coming into this season, and the rookie is currently performing the rarest of feats for Toronto – living up to the hype.

The average might be a bit low, but it never was expected to be high.  And after a great week last week (.333 AVG, 1.072 OPS, 2 HR) his season total has climbed from .229 to .244, with an .829 OPS on top of that.  In addition, he has hit 8 HR, which puts him tied for first with New York’s Russel Martin for most HR by a catcher in all of baseball.

The biggest concern heading into the season was his ability behind the plate, but he has improved tremendously as both a receiver and a thrower, with an increasing caught stealing %. 

Finally, after all these years, Toronto has a good, young catcher.  Could AL Rookie of the Year be next?

3. If Pitching and Defense Wins Championships…

Then we might be in trouble.  At least if last week was any indication of future performance.

Blue Jays pitchers allowed a staggering 23 walks in just 6 games last week, including 9 by Kyle Drabek alone.  The bullpen allowed 8 runs in those games, including a brutal implosion on Friday where Jon Rauch blew the save for Jo-Jo Reyes by allowing two in the 8th, just before Frank Francisco took the loss by giving up three in the 9th.

The defense wasn’t much better.  Though Wednesday was the only day they were officially charged with errors, they made enough that day to last a while.  Five errors were committed by Toronto, including two by the pitcher, Jessie Litsch.  Edwin Encarnacion continued to show how terrible he is by booting the ball all over the place, earning himself a benching.

The fact that the Jays managed to survive that performance and still pick up three wins is either a testament to the character of the team, or just pure, plain luck.  Whatever the case, the good ship Blue Jay is having enough difficulty staying afloat as-is. 

It can’t afford to keep leaking walks and errors.

Three Things From Week Seven

Jose Bautista can not be stopped. Ever. (from daylife.com)

What a difference a week makes.

At this time last week, questions were flying around about the state of the Jays.  Coming off a first class thumping by old rivals Detroit, there was sudden uncertainty surrounding the offense, the pitching, and even the manager.  With the Red Sox coming to town, there was talk of the season being on the line…in May!

Well good news: the season is saved!  Combine gutsy late inning heroics, dominant starting pitching, Target Field, and a man currently being called the BEST player in baseball, and you get a red hot Jays team back at the .500 mark.

Here are three things from week 7.

Week 7: May 9 – 15

Record: 5 – 1

1. Just When You Thought He Couldn’t Get Any Better…

I don’t know if it’s even possible to describe the type of zone that Jose Bautista is in right now.

Pat Tabler said yesterday that he should be called up to another league because he is simply toying with major league pitchers right now.

After watching him swing the bat last week it’s hard to argue with him.

J-Bau produced an other-worldly week at the plate.  The numbers are staggering. In the six games Toronto played he went 11 for 26, with 5 walks, 6 HR, 9 RBI, 8 R, and 2 2B.  The hitting ratios are equally absurd, looking more like stats from a video game: .423 AVG / .516 OBP / 1.192 SLG / 1.708 OPS.  Boom.

Through May 15th, Jose Bautista leads the American League in the following statistical categories:

– WAR (3.9 – 2nd place = 2.6)

– Average (.368 – 2nd place = .368)

– On Base % (.520 – 2nd = .440)

– Slugging (.868 – 2nd = .633)

– OPS (1.388 – 2nd = 1.040)

– Runs (34 – 2nd = 31)

– Total Bases (99 – 2nd = 94)

– HR (16 – 2nd = 13)

– Walks (35 – 2nd = 32)

– Extra Base Hits (24 – 2nd = 23)

By my count that’s 10 different categories where he is at the top, and that doesn’t even include advanced statistics like Situational Wins Added, or Win Probability Added.  Oh – and he’s also missed eight games so far.

But to me the most impressive and important statistic from Bautista last week is 5, as in the number of wins the Jays had.  Coming off a horrible week, there really was a sense in the city that the season was starting to slip away.  But Jose lifted the entire team on his shoulders and refused to let 2011 get out from under us.  That is a true leader.

2. Five and Counting

After getting smacked around by Max Scherzer and the Tigers on Monday, the Jays sat in a tie with Baltimore for dead last in the AL East, 5.5 games behind the Yankees and falling quickly.

But something seemed to click in time for Tuesday’s game.  Suddenly the Jays can’t lose.  But the best (and most encouraging) part is that the Jays refuse to lose.

They blew a lead in the 9th on Tuesday.  The game was starting to slip away from them on Wednesday, a 3-run lead chipped down to 1 in the 7th.  They survived a late rally on Friday to secure a 2-0 win in Minnesota, before coming back late and winning in extra’s on Saturday.  Whereas earlier in the season Toronto might have found ways to lose those games, last week they found ways to win.

The five game winning streak is a season high, and they get a chance to extend it to 6 tonight against the very same man who handed them their last loss – Max Scherzer and the Detroit Tigers. 

3. Target Practice at Target Field

Just as spinach is to Popeye, so is Target Field to the Blue Jays. 

The team has now played 7 games at Target Field (4 in 2010, 3 last week), and done nothing but tear the cover off the ball.

The record is 6-1, with the Jays scoring 47 runs on 73 hits.  The most impressive stat of all is the 16 HR the team has hit.  Again, that is 16 HR.  In 7 games.  HR King Bautista has now hit seven career home runs in seven career games in Minnesota.

Toronto looked so dominant on the weekend, that even current Twins colour analyst (and former Blue Jays pitcher) Jack Morris was disgusted by Minnesota’s performance when visiting the Sportsnet announce booth. 

Sadly, the Blue Jays have played their last game in Minnesota for the season.  Toronto fans will have to wait for 2012 for the next round of batting practice to occur.

Unless this winning streak continues, and we see them in the playoffs….

Dare to dream.

Three Things From Week Six

Verlander was filthy on Saturday (from daylife.com)

 

Beginning with three games in a place where they can’t win and ending with a series against a long-time rival, week six of the season wasn’t kind to the Jays.

Put Toronto in Tampa’s Tropicana field and bad things will likely occur.  Put Toronto in Tampa against David Price and you have a recipe for disaster.  After losing two of three to the Rays, the Jays have now lost 12 consecutive series in Tampa Bay dating back to 2007.  The finale of the series saw Toronto completely bewildered by Price, who is now 8-0 with a 1.99 ERA against the club.  Wow.

Throw in a little history on Saturday and week 6 is clearly one this team would like to forget.

Here are three things from week 6.

Week 6: May 2 – 8

Record: 2 – 4

1. Oh No-No

It had happened three times before in franchise history.

May 5, 1981 by Len Barker of the Indians.

June 29, 1990 by Dave Stewart of the A’s.

May 1, 1991 by Nolan Ryan of the Rangers.

And now, we can add a fourth.

May 7, 2011 by Justin Verlander of the Tigers.

For the fourth time the Toronto Blue Jays were the victim of a no-hitter.

Verlander was unreal on Saturday, masterfully shutting Toronto down one batter at a time.  He threw 108 pitches (74 for strikes) and struck out four.  If not for an incredible at-bat by J.P. Arencibia in the 8th (an eventual 12 pitch walk), Verlander would have been perfect.

Perhaps the most impressive feat of his performance was the fact that he was still exceeding 100 MPH in the 9th inning.  The Jays truly had no chance.

2. Where’s the Offense?

Talk about offensive doldrums. 

Last week was brutal in terms of run scoring for the Jays.  Six games played and only 15 runs scored – 7 of which came in one game.  Toronto also only managed 42 hits, an average of 7 per game, and only once were they able to reach double digits. 

With Bautista out of the lineup for most of the week with neck spasms, the onus fell on the rest of the team to pick up the slack.  Aside from Lind and Rivera, everybody failed.  Miserably.

Take a look at how some of the Jays hitters fared:

Rajai Davis – 3 for 23, .130 AVG, .261 OPS, 4 K

Edwin Encarnacion – 5 for 20, .250 AVG, .686 OPS, 3 K, 1 RBI

David Cooper – 1 for 14, .071 AVG, .214 OPS, 3 K, 1 RBI

Yunel Escobar – 4 for 21, .190 AVG, .482 OPS, 2 K

J.P. Arencibia – 3 for 16, .188 AVG, .485 OPS, 2 RBI

John Farrell tried several different lineups, even moving Davis down to the bottom of the order, but nothing seemed to work.  Sure they faced some tough pitchers, but obviously the Jays hitters are going to have to provide more production than that.

3. Adam Lind 09

In 2009 Adam Lind won a Silver Slugger award by hitting .305 with 35 HR, 114 RBI, and a .932 OPS.

In 2010 Adam Lind fell apart, batting only .237, slugging 12 fewer home runs, and driving in 42 fewer runs.

Well it looks like Lind v.09 is back.  Though tightness in his back caused him to miss Sunday’s game and forced the end of his 11-game hitting streak, he remains one of the hottest players in the AL.  He was the only Jay who did any damage in Tampa (.636 AVG, 1.576 OPS, 1 HR, 3 RBI), and went 2 for 5 with another home run on Friday night. 

Since bottoming out at a .232 clip on Easter Sunday, Lind has exploded.  In 12 games he has 21 hits, a .457 AVG and 1.318 OPS, along with 6 HR and 15 RBI. 

If he can find it in his heart to give Aaron Hill a sip of the 2009 juice, the Jays might really be ready to do some damage.

Three Things From Week Five

Juan Rivera - back from the dead (from zimbio.com)

 

The fifth week of the schedule saw Toronto embark on a 10-game road trip…a very difficult 10-game road trip.

Four games in Texas against the defending American League champions.  Three games in the Bronx against the defending AL Wild Card winning Yankees.  The trip concludes this week with three games in Tampa against the defending AL East champion Rays.  Ouch.

But so far so good.  Despite dropping the final two games in  Yankee Stadium, the Jays began the trip with a winning record.  The offense came alive in Texas, and Ricky Romero befuddled the Yankees all night long on Friday.  

Here are three things from week 5.

Week 5: April 25 – May 1

Record: 4 – 3

1. That’s not a corpse, that’s Juan Rivera!

He lives!  All rejoice! 

After an absolutely horrendous start to the season, Juan Rivera shook off the cobwebs and awoke last week.  Entering the week on a mini three-game hitting streak, Rivera promptly extended it to nine games before being held to an 0-fer against the Yankees on Sunday.

Overall he put up very solid numbers: 10 for 25, .400 AVG, 6 walks to 3 strikeouts, .516 OBP, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.196 OPS.  He was no longer the “easy out” that he was throughout the first four weeks of 2011.

But what’s most important about Rivera’s resurgence is not his personal stats.  It’s not him increasing his trade value (although that can’t hurt).  It’s not even so much about getting wins (though again, that’s nice too).  No, the most important part is the lineup protection that a hot Rivera (and a hot Lind) provides for Jose Bautista.  Pitchers may be less inclined to walk J-Bau knowing that Rivera is no longer a member of the walking dead.

2. Run Rajai Run

When Alex Anthopoulos acquired Rajai Davis from the A’s in the offseason, visions of base thievery ran through Jays fans heads.  Davis was coming off two seasons where he swiped a combined 91 bases.  The Blue Jays as a team stole only 131 in those years.

But Rajai went down with an ankle injury early in the season.  At the time he wasn’t hitting and he wasn’t running.  But it’s funny what a trip to the 15-day DL will do to a guy.  Now fully healthy, Davis made his return to the lineup on Friday in New York, and promptly caused havoc on the basepaths.

He reached base in 50% of his plate appearances (4 hits, 3 walks), scored three runs, and stole five bases – two on Friday night, and three more yesterday.  There is little doubt that he has the speed to steal, and even less doubt that he has the green light at all times from John Farrell.  If he can continue to get on-base at an above-average pace, there’s no telling how many extra bags he’ll take this year.

3. Bullpen Bonanza

A strong bullpen is one of the keys of success for any major league club.  Think back to the World Series winning teams for Toronto in ’92 and ’93 with Henke, Ward, Leiter, Timlin, and Wells.  Think of the Yankees with Mariano Rivera.  And think of the 2011 version of the Toronto Blue Jays with Casey Janssen, Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor, Carlos Villanueva, Shawn Camp, and Marc Rzepczynski. 

That’s right: this year’s edition of the Blue Jays ‘pen is right up there near the top of the league.  In the American League they rank second in ERA (2.71, behind the Angels), third in hits allowed (58), tied for first in strikeouts (76), and first by a mile in both WHIP (1.03) and opponent’s batting average (.177).  And that is including 5.1 woeful innings from Luis Perez and David Purcey.

While everybody in the bullpen has been great, three men stick out above the rest.  Janssen has allowed just one run in 11.1 IP for an ERA of 0.79.  Rzep has become the new Scott Downs, holding left-handed hitters to a paltry .048 AVG and .278 OPS.  And long reliever Villanueva leads the team with 15.2 IP in relief, allowing only 4 hits and 3 runs for a 1.72 ERA and 0.77 WHIP.

The past week saw the bullpen blow away the Rangers and Yankees, giving the Jays a chance to win every game despite some rocky starts from Jo-Jo Reyes, Jessie Litsch, and Kyle Drabek.  Toronto’s relievers tossed 25 innings over the seven games, allowing only three runs and 10 hits for a 1.08 ERA and 0.76 WHIP.  They actually grew stronger as the week went on, shutting down the Yankees to the tune of one run and two hits allowed in 10.2 IP.  Very impressive.

Three Things From Week Four

This man is a machine. (photo from daylife.com)

The run of games against AL East foes continued in week 4, with an 11 AM Patriot’s Day game against Boston on Monday, before a short 5-game homestand against the Yankees and Rays.  While the final results left much to be desired, it was a week full of excitement with walk-off heroics, a near cycle, and the return of Brandon Morrow to the rotation.

But the biggest issue the Jays seem to be facing is depth.  With injuries hitting left, right, and centre, Toronto is being tested severely early in the season.

Here are three things that came out of the fourth week of the season.

Week 4: April 18 – 24

Record: 2 – 4

1. Jose Bautista, Hitting Machine

It was an absolutely monster week for the reigning home run king.  For everybody who doubted him coming into the year, he has started the season by giving each of you a rousing “eff you”.

The numbers for last week were staggering:

26 plate appearances, 9 H, 7 BB, 10 R, 4 HR, 4 RBI, .474 AVG, .615 OBP, 1.879 OPS.

That’s not a typo – Jose Bautista’s OPS for the 4th week of the season was an astronomical 1.879!

For the season, Bau is getting on base over 50% of the time.  His .506 OBP leads the American League.  His 7 HR are tied for first in all of baseball.  The only area where he can seemingly improve is the one area in which he depends on his teammates – RBI’s.  Six of his seven bombs have been solo shots, leaving him with only 10 RBI.

Bautista also took the cliche “being in the zone” to a whole new level last week.  From the eighth inning on Wednesday against New York through to the fourth inning on Sunday, J-Bau did not make an out.  He reached base 11 consecutive plate appearances, netting two singles, a double, a triple, three home runs, and four walks.  It got so ridiculous that I actually expected him to reach base every at bat.  When he lined out to third to end the streak it was as shocking as it was disappointing.

He is truly carrying this team.

2. Wild and Wonderful Walk-Off Wins!

There is nothing better in baseball than a walk-off win.  The joy and jubilation of the players and fans is a treat to see – it’s almost magical.

Jays fans were treated to two walk-off wins last week, both of which I would rank as more exciting than normal.

Wny?  Well – the first came against the Yankees and the second was delivered by the unlikeliest of heroes.

First came the Yankees game on Tuesday.  The Jays trailed 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth and had the daunting task of having to come back against the greatest closer in the history of the game Mariano Rivera.  Not only did they touch him up for two runs to force extras, they completed the comeback on a Travis Snider shot to the gap in the 10th.  Amazing.

But even more amazing was how Friday’s game ended.  After battling back from a 4-2 deficit, the Jays came to bat in the 11th with the score still deadlocked at four.  After a walk to Jose Bautista, light hitting fan favourite Johnny Mac stepped to the plate and promptly launched a moon shot over the fence in left.  Game over.

In a season that hasn’t started as well as most would have liked, those two wins gave fans a rush of excitement.

3. Who’s Staying and Who’s Going?

What a crazy April so far.  According to fellow blogger the Blue Jay Hunter, the Jays have already made 27 roster moves this month alone.  Pure insanity.

Things have been so bad that the club has yet to field the full roster this year.  Whether it was pitchers (Octavio Dotel etc.) or batters (Rajai Davis et al) at least one member of Alex Anthopoulos’s winter makeover has been missing in each and every game this season.

And just when it seemed like things were getting better, the Jays were forced to take two steps back.  Both Frank Francisco and Brandon  Morrow were activated from the DL last week, just in time for Aaron Hill and Jayson Nix to take their spots in the infirmary.

The roster shuffle isn’t limited to injury either.  Edwin Encarnacion was placed on the bereavment list, Jessie Litsch and Brett Cecil have both been sent down, and Mike McCoy doesn’t even know where he is these days, having been sent back and forth multiple times.

It’s impossible to predict injuries, but one can only hope that the Jays have seen the worst of it.  The good news is that Davis is due back in the next few days.

Let’s just hope that his gain doesn’t wind up being somebody else’s loss….

Three Things From Week Three

Let’s be honest: it wasn’t great.  The Jays continued their first road trip of the season in week 3 with stops in Seattle and Boston.  The set in Seattle should have been a cakewalk with Toronto catching Seattle on a 7-game losing streak and the Mariners having their traditional offensive problems.  It wasn’t.

The series at Fenway would provide the young Blue Jays with their first real test.  Toronto struggled mightily against the Sox last year, dropping 12 of 18.  In order to be in contention in September, a better record against Boston is a must.

So far so bad…

Here are three things that came out of the third week of the season.

Week 3: April 11 – 17

Record: 2 – 4

1. The Need for Speed

Maybe we should start calling him Sam, because as Sam The Record Man used to say: “he said it, he did it.”

When John Farrell took over the team he promised to be aggressive on the basepaths.  We caught a glimpse of that on Opening Day with some first inning madness, but Farrell has stuck to his guns and the Jays have been running wild. 

After Sunday afternoon’s game, the Jays lead all of baseball in stolen bases with 21.  That puts the Jays on pace to swipe 226 bases in 2011, incredible considering they stole only 58 as a team in the entire 2010 season, good enough for third fewest in baseball.  Both Aaron Hill and Travis Snider find themselves near the top of the leaderboard with five SB each.

Toronto stole 13 bases alone last week, including 9 in three games against the Red Sox.  But there is more than just stolen bases.  The designed plays are driving opponenents equally crazy.  We already saw the double steal on Opening Day, but twice against Boston Farrell put the Jays in motion, and both times it lead to runs.  On Friday, Jayson Nix broke towards second and stopped halfway.  The fake steal was enough to pull the shortstop out of position, and open up a hole for Escobar who promptly drove a ball into the outfield.  Then on Sunday, Juan Rivera took off for second with Hill on third, stopped halfway, and engaged a rundown which allowed Hill to score.

Obviously with the good comes the bad, as Corey Patterson was caught stealing third to crush a rally later in the game, but I’ll take this aggressive running all day long.  Just wait until Rajai Davis comes back!

2. Bullpen Woes

Entering the week Toronto had the best bullpen ERA in the league, as the rag-tag collection of arms that many considered a weakness was actually becoming a strength.  Unfortunately the strength didn’t carry forward.

The Blue Jay bullpen blew up last week, highlighted by Monday’s meltdown in Seattle where relievers somehow blew a 7-run lead to one of the worst offenses in the game.  Jason Frasor, Carlos Villanueva, David Purcey, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, and Shawn Camp combined to allow 8 earned runs, 6 hits, and 7 walks in only 3.1 innings pitched.

In total, the week 3 stat line looked  like this for our relievers:

17 IP, 13 ER, 6.88 ERA, 13 H, 14 BB, 13 K, 1.58 WHIP.

Things still aren’t too bad.  The bullpen still ranks in the top half of the league in terms of ERA, David Purcey was banished to Oakland, and Frank Francisco is expected back in the next few days.  Things will get better.

3. Hill is Alive

2010 was a bad year for Aaron Hill.  A year after winning a Silver Slugger award the second baseman struggled all year long and never came close to duplicating his ’09 success.  Toronto’s performance in 2011 depends a lot on Hill having a bounceback year, and entering week 3 he definitely was not.

Hill took to the field on Monday hitting .184 with a .406 OPS, then dropped even further in Seattle to a .170 average and .393 OPS.  Buried in those numbers was a large number of weak popups and ground outs.

But a good thing happened in Fenway – Aaron Hill woke up.  Against the Red Sox he went 6/10, with a double, 1 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, and 3 SB.  He still doesn’t have a home run on the season, but his ratios rose to more acceptable levels:  .246 avg, and .572 OPS.

For the Jays to have any kind of a chance this year they need more of that type of production from their second baseman.  There is reason for hope.