Category Archives: Weekly Things

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.

Three Things From Week Two

Sadly, this man stole the show on Saturday night

 

The second week of the season wasn’t as kind to the Jays as the first.  A tough trip to Anaheim highlighted a week where the offense went missing.  But still, sitting over the .500 mark after three series against teams who may be considered contenders ain’t a bad way to start the year.

Week 2: April 4 – 10

Record: 3 – 3

Here are three things that came out of week two of the Blue Jays 2011 schedule:

1. Down and Out in Anaheim

With the team full of confidence, the Jays touched down in Anaheim to face the Angels (with old friends Vernon Wells and Scott Downs) for their first road trip of the season.  They couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

Despite Friday night’s stirring come from behind win (Jayson Nix!!!!), the Jays lost the series and really didn’t look good doing it.  Ervin Santana completely shut them down on Friday until the 6th and Jered Weaver completely dominated them on Sunday to the tune of 15 K’s.  But it was the game in-between, the filling, that left everybody angry.

Reading the box score, Toronto deserved to lose, stranding 18 runners and getting little to no clutch hitting.  But they actually had the game won until a brutal call by umpire Bob Davidson brought everything crashing down.  I moved to a new home on Saturday so I didn’t get a chance to see the play until this morning.  After reading the reaction on Twitter I was expecting a brutal, terrible, awful call.  What I saw was even worse than I was expecting.  I have no idea how interference can be called on Escobar in that situation and I have no idea how the team showed enough restraint to not club Davidson in the face. 

The bottom line, however, is that Toronto never should have been in that situation – not with all those baserunners.  Chalk it up as one that got away.

2. Wild Week for Escobar

How about the week that was for the Jays SS?  It was truly a week that can be summarized by the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good – Back-to-back three hit games on Tuesday and Wednesday, including a game winning walk-off HR in the 10th inning against Oakland

The Bad – Missed Thursday, Friday, and virtually all of Saturday with dizziness after banging his head on a triple on Wednesday.

The Ugly – Came on as a pinch hitter in the 13th inning on Saturday and was the victim of Bob Davidson’s phantom interference call

Overall Escobar has been a bright spot in Toronto’s lineup early on, hitting .476 with a 1.365 OPS.  Throw in the start that Jo-Jo Reyes had on Sunday (7 IP, 1 ER) and the Escobar / Reyes for Gonzalez deal last year is looking more and more like a steal.

3. Anthopoulos’ Crystal Ball

In the off-season, there many people (I’ll admit it, even me) who desperately wanted to see our young GM bring in Manny Ramirez.  Even though he had a poor 2010, the man could still hit, he loved Toronto, and he absolutely mashed the ball in his career at the Rogers Centre.  For a team who seemingly had an opening at DH, he was the perfect fit.

But AA didn’t budge.  Manny didn’t come here.  Instead he signed a discounted one-year deal with the Rays that many people (again, I’ll admit it – even me) thought of as a great steal. 

Well, Alex was right.

Manny’s stat line with Tampa Bay?  Downright ugly.

1 for 17, .059 average, .118 OPS, 4 strikeouts, 1 failed drug test (his third), 1 abrupt retirement, 0 apologies, and 1 huge distraction.

Thanks for steering clear of that disaster.  For once I’m glad I was proven wrong.

Three Things From Week One

The new season brings the return

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of 500 Level Fan’s week in review column. Each week we take a look at three issues surrounding the club. Last year there were more good than bad postings. Hopefully 2011 brings the same. (Normally this wiill be up each Monday).

Week 1: March 31 – April 3

Record: 2 – 1

With the season shifting from a Sunday to a Thursday start, week one was an abbreviated one for the Jays. But although it may have been short on days, it definitely wasn’t short on excitement. Two wins against the defending AL Central champion Twins did more than get the Jays off on the right foot. It also brought baseball buzz back to a city that is starving for a winner.

Here are three things from the first week of the 2011 season:

1. A Blazing Start

Pregame ceremonies are always a nice touch at Blue Jays home games. The on-field presentations are always well put together with a lot of class and entertainment value. But too often they overshadow the game itself, as was the case with the Dave Stieb and Cito Gaston nights last year.

That was different on Opening Night. The tribute to Jose Bautista and the Hall of Fame tribute to Pat Gillick and Roberto Alomar were both touching moments. But as soon as the game started, they were distant memories, erased by one of the most dynamite first innings ever on Opening Day.

John Farrell promised more basepath aggression and to be a more difficult team to play against, and mere minutes into the 2011 season Toronto delivered. What a crazy series of events to start the year:

– Infield Single

– Botched Pickoff

– Single

– Double Steal

– Walk

– Hit by Pitch RBI

– Sac Fly RBI

– Sac Fly RBI

– Reach on Error, run scores

Just like that it was 4-0 Blue Jays and the game was essentially over. The Twins never knew what hit them.

2. Dream Debut, Take Two

Both J.P. Arencibia and Kyle Drabek made their major leage debuts at the tail end of the 2010 season. Both were called up as highly touted rookies. Both had outstanding debuts (Arencibia: 4-5, 2 HR, 3 RBI; Drabek: 6 IP, 3 ER, 5 K). And both ended the season feeling they could have been better.

Well, last weekend they came out firing. J.P. Arencibia stole the show on Opening Day, going 3 for 4 with two home runs, a triple, and five RBI. Not to be outdone, Drabek took the ball on Saturday and destroyed Minnesota. The rookie took a no-hitter into the sixth, and finished the game with a line of 7 IP, 1 ER, 7 K, 3 BB.

It was the perfect start for both prospects, one that could land both in the Rookie of the Year mix before the season is out.

A look at the throng of fans lined up at the box office, 30 minutes before first pitch

3. A Buzz is in the Air

47,984.

27,194.

35,505.

Those are the attendance figures for Opening Weekend. Add them up and you get a total weekend attendance of 110,683. On top of that, over 2.5 million viewers tuned into Rogers Sportsnet to catch the series on TV. Are the Blue Jays back as this city’s hot ticket?

With the Leafs poised to miss the playoffs again, the Raptors near the bottom of the league, and TFC trading away their best player and captain, Toronto has never been more ripe for the Jays. And the buzz that surrounded the Skydome all weekend long is a good sign that things are changing in this town.

It was impressive to see fans lined up hours before the first pitch on Sunday in hopes of getting a Jose Bautista bobblehead doll. But it was even more impressive to see the enormous crowd lined up outside the Gate 9 Box Office a few minutes before game time, hoping to buy tickets. The crowd reminded me of the glory days. Maybe we’re not as far off as we think.

Things From Week Twenty-Six

This is a sad column.  With the end of week 26 (Sept 27 – Oct 3) comes the end of the 2010 Blue Jays season.  It also signals the unofficial end of summer, and the beginning of a long, cold winter.

But there is also reason for happiness and optimism. Toronto finished the last week of the season 5-2 against two playoff teams that were still battling for home field advantage in New York and Minnesota.  They did it the same they won all season long, with good pitching and the long ball.  The 5-2 record leaves the Jays with 85 wins in 2010 – a far cry from where most people thought they’d be heading into the season.

Here are three things that came out of week 26 – the final week of the season:

1. Home Runs Galore

The Blue Jays hit a lot of home runs in 2010, and that didn’t change in the last week of the season.  Toronto launched 16 deep flies in seven games last week, bringing their season ending total to 257 – tied for third most in the history of baseball.  They went deep in every single game, including breaking their own franchise record for HR in a season on Wednesday, and then hitting six on Thursday.

Jose Bautista’s 54 lead the team, but the Jays had home run hitters throughout the lineup.  Seven different players hit 20 – Bautista, Wells, Lind, Hill, Overbay, Encarnacion, and Buck.  Add in Alex Gonzalez before he was traded, and Toronto had eight players hit over 15, and throw in Travis Snider to give the Jays nine players in double digits.

But a more impressive stat is this: When Adam Lind homered as a left-fielder yesterday, it meant that Toronto reached the 20 HR mark from every single position on the field.  Very impressive.

AL Player of the Week - Edwin Encarnacion (daylife.com)

2. EE Comes Alive

If Toronto was unsure what to do with Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason before last week, now they likely have absolutely no idea.  EE continued his strange, up-and-down season by going ballistic last week.

In six games, the third baseman went 8-20 with 5 HR, 11 RBI, a .400 average, and a 1.585 OPS – good enough to win the AL Player of the Week award.  The surge brought his average to .244 and his OPS to a more respectable .787.

There’s no guarantee that EE will be back with the club next year.  In fact, his last week hot streak may have increased his trade value from “Unusable” to “Attractive”.

3. Who’s Fifth?

One of the biggest offseason debates will no doubt revolve around the fifth slot in Toronto’s starting rotation.  With 1-4 locked down in Marcum, Romero,  Cecil, and Morrow, the Jays are looking for a dependable fifth man, with consistency the key.  If the last few weeks taught us anything it’s that the solution for #5 appears to lie inside the organization.

The three candidates who closed the season in the rotation all pitched well, meaning Alex Anthopoulos has a difficult decision ahead of him.  The candidates:

 Shawn Hill – Hill made four starts in September, and finished with a 1-2 record, 2.61 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 14 K in 20.2 IP, including allowing one run in 4.2 IP in Minnesota last Thursday.

Kyle Drabek – The youngster went 0-3, but pitched pretty well: 4.76 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 12 K in 17 IP.  The Blue Jays combined to score only 5 runs in his three starts.  Drabek went 6 IP, allowing 3 ER in his final start against the Yankees.

Marc Rzepczynski – Rzep was up-and-down this season, finishing 4-4 with a 4.95 ERA and very poor 1.60 WHIP.  But he definitely saved his best for last, with a very impressive final start in Minnesota: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 6 K.  In fact, Rzep was pretty dominant in his final three starts, which might give him the advantage going into the offseason: 3-0, 1.96 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23 K in 18.1 IP.

The pitchers have played their cards.  The decision now rests with the GM.

Three Things From Week Twenty-Five

In Toronto’s ongoing quest for what could be called an unlikely .500 finish in 2010, week 25 (September 20 – 26) was a rousing success.  True, the Jays were playing two of baseball’s bottom feeders, but the sign of a good team is one that beats up on the also-rans.  Baltimore and Seattle certainly fit that category.

The 5-1 week pushed the Jays record to 80-75, not bad for a team expected to win 60-65 games.  Toronto now finishes off its schedule with two of the toughest teams in MLB, with three at home against the hated Yankees, and then their first ever visit to Target Field to face the Twins.

Here are three things from week 25:

Bautista hit #50 on Thursday (from daylife.com)

1. Milestone Day in Canada

September 23 was quite a day at the Rogers Centre.  Not only were fans treated to a rare 1-0 victory, but they also got to witness first hand a dominating game by one of baseball’s best pitchers (Felix Hernandez), and two significant milestones.

In the bottom of the first inning, with two out and nobody on base, Jose Bautista launched a majestic fly ball into the Blue Jay bullpen – his 50th home run of the season.  J-Bau became the 26th player in MLB history to hit the 50 HR milestone, and the first since 2007.  He also became one of the most unlikely 50 HR hitters ever, considering he only slugged 16 all of last season.  But remember – he hit 10 in September alone last season, and now has 62 bombs since he started getting regular playing time.  This is no fluke.

Later, in the fifth inning, Ichiro stepped to the plate sitting on 199 hits and promptly laced a single to centre field.  The hit made him the first player in history to record 10 straight 200 hit seasons, a feat for which the Toronto faithful richly rewarded him with a standing ovation.

Not a bad day to be at the ballpark.

2. Baltimore Beware in 2011

To say that Toronto owned Baltimore this year would be an understatement.  18 games played, 15 wins, and 93 runs scored.  It was complete and utter domination.

The Jays wrapped up the season series with a three-game sweep over the weekend, but if you think the affairs were simply between two teams playing out the string, think again.  Sunday’s game was full of bad blood that just might carry over to the 2011 campaign.

After Jose Bautista was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the 3rd inning, Shaun Marcum instantly retaliated, beaning Luke Scott with his first pitch of the 4th.  Fast forward to the 5th – with Bautista at the plate again and facing a 2-0 pitch, he was plunked for the second time by Alfredo Simon.  The Orioles pitcher, and manager Buck Showalter, were instantly ejected from the game.  I’m not sure how Bautista prevented himself from charging the mound, but cooler heads prevailed.

But the incident clearly irritaed both Bautista and Marcum, judging from the post-game interviews:

Marcum: “It’s horsesh*t.  It’s something we’ll remember for next year. I guess that’s how they do things over there.  We have a little more respect for the game.”

Bautista: “Maybe it’s cause we kicked their ass this year.  We murdered their pitchers pretty good all season.”

All signs point to a fiery 2011…

3. Closer Controversy?

It’s a bit late in the season, but it looks like we might have a closer controversy in Toronto.  After nailing down the save Thursday afternoon, Kevin Gregg struggled on Friday night.  With two-on, two-out, one run already in, and a 2-0 count on the batter, Cito removed his closer in favour of Jesse Carlson, who nailed down the save.

On Sunday, with a 5-2 lead, it was Jason Frasor who was brought in to finish the game, not Gregg.  According to Gaston, Gregg just “needs a couple of days off” because he threw a lot of pitches this week.  But with an offseason with plenty of questions looming, one has to wonder if the last few days were really meant to get Gregg some rest, or if they were meant as a quasi-audition for next season.

Time will tell.

Three Things From Week Twenty-Four

Week 24 (September 13 – 19) was a backwards week for the Blue Jays.  Used to beating up on the Orioles and getting crushed by  Boston, the Jays completely reversed course.  They were swept by Baltimore, a team they were 12-0 against prior to the series, before taking two of three from the Red Sox, a team they were a dismal 4-11 against.

It seems hard to believe but only 13 games remain in the 2010 season.  The Jays kick off their final homestand this week, a 9-game stretch that will bring an end to the Cito era.  A plus .500 finish would be a good note to go out on.

Here are three things from week 24:

Bautista broke George Bell's record on Friday (daylife.com)

1. Bye Bye Bell

It was bound to happen at some point, but nobody expected Jose Bautista to be the one to break George Bell’s team home run record.  Bautista continued his incredible season by belting his 48th bomb on Friday night at Fenway, moving past Bell and into sole possession of Toronto’s record.  He then went out and padded his lead the next night by swatting his 49th – his third home runof the week.

Bautista now leads all of baseball in home runs by a whopping 10 (Albert Pujols has 39), and he is 12 ahead of the next closest man (Paul Konerko) in the AL.  His 114 RBI’s put him in second place in the majors trailing only Miguel Cabrera by 5.  Number 50 is just around the corner, and with 13 games remaining he has a chance to hit a few more.  If (when) he gets to 50, it will be only the 42nd time in major league history that that number will be reached.

Not bad for a guy we acquired for a minor league catcher…

2. The Sixth Man

Much to the chagrin of Shaun Marcum, it appears as if the Jays will go to a six-man rotation to finish off the regular season.  Marcum will be joined by Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski, Shawn Hill, and Kyle Drabek, a move meant to limit the innings numbers on Toronto’s young staff.

While the move makes sense in theory, in practice it has not started well.  Marcum pitched fairly well against Tampa Bay last Sunday, but then was shelled by the Red Sox in his next start on Sunday (5.1 IP, 6 ER).  The extra day of rest didn’t help Cecil’s recent struggles either, as he was touched up by Boston for 5 ER in 6 IP on Friday.

The race for the fifth spot in the rotation next year is wide open, but the late season performance by those in contentiion is making a decision extremely difficult.

3. Battle for Futility

It has been a very tough season for Aaron Hill.  The second baseman has been injured, and has had a difficult time both at the plate and in the field.  Though his production is still there (24 HR), the batting average is atrocious.  A disastrous .091 week (1 for 11) has seen it drop to a putrid .211.

It is obvious that he has no chance to raise the average to a respectable number this year, but there is much incentive for him to try and figure things out at the plate in the final 13 games.  As it stands right now, Hill ranks 72nd in the American League in batting average amongst all players with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title.  That puts him in second last, ahead of only Carlos Pena of the Rays, who is hitting .202 (as at September 20).

Hill will no doubt look back at this season and be disappointed with his batting average.  But hopefully trying to avoid the tag of “worst in baseball” will be enough motivation to keep him going in the final 13 games.

Three Things From Week Twenty-Three

An Adam Lind walk-off home run on Sunday gave the Jays a thrilling 5-4 comeback win over Tampa Bay and helped them end week 23 (Sept. 6 – 12) on a good note.  The win snapped a four-game losing streak (all at home), and enabled the Jays to finish the week with a 3-4 record.

But the losing record means that the club now sits just three games above the .500 mark with 19 games remaining.  The good news is that six of those games are against the Orioles, a team Toronto has spanked this year (12-0).  The bad news?  Baltimore has gone 21-14 since Buck Showalter took over, 3rd best in baseball.  Finishing with a winning record may still yet prove to be difficult.

Here are three things that came out of week 23 in Blue Jay land:

1. So Long Tampa

Yesterday’s win was Toronto’s final meeting with the Rays in 2010.  I think I speak for Jays fans everywhere when I say good riddance.

Though the Jays didn’t have a terrible record against Tampa this season (8-10, compared to 4-14 last year), they didn’t play well against them.  At all.  Toronto was outscored by 33 runs (108-75), and had an ERA of 5.71 against the Rays – higher than against any club in the AL.

Other than Brandon Morrow, Josh Roenicke, Shaw Camp, and Brian Tallet (yes, Tallet), every Blue Jay pitcher struggled against Tampa:

Brett Cecil – 4.60 ERA

Shawn Marcum – 5.55 ERA

Ricky Romero – 5.89 ERA

Kevin Gregg – 7.71 ERA

David Purcey – 7.20 ERA

Brad Mills, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, Scott Downs, and Rommie Lewis – all higher than 10.00

Not good.

2. Kevin Gregg + Tie Game = Disaster

It has long been said in baseball that a closer loses effectiveness when pitching in non-save situations.  They lack the motivation when a save is not on the line.  Kevin Gregg proves that point this season.

Cito has called on Gregg on four separate occasions to start an inning in a tie game, including twice last week (Friday and Sunday).  Three times he has allowed a run.  Twice the Jays have lost the game.  Only Adam Lind’s HR yesterday prevented a third loss. 

In his four appearances, Gregg has pitched 4 innings, allowed 3 runs (2 earned), 4 walks, and 5 hits for a 4.50 ERA and a 2.25 WHIP. 

Cito – use somebody else in a tie game from now on.  Thank you.

Drabek will get his shot on Wednesday in Baltimore (from daylife.com)

3. The Future Starts Now

Actually, the future starts Wednesday to be exact.  After New Hampshire was eliminated sooner than expected in the double-A playoffs, Toronto called up Kyle Drabek to start Wednesday in Baltimore.  The plan is for the jewel of our farm system to make three starts in September, giving the Jays front office an opportunity to gauge his stuff at the major league level.

The kid dominated the minors this year, so his promotion was well deserved.  He went 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 132 K’s in 162 IP, and a no-hitter on his way to winning the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year award.  There is a very real chance that he puts himself in contention for a spot in the 2011 rotation with a solid stint.

Three Things From Week Twenty-Two

Six games.  All six on the road.  Facing the two best teams in all of baseball.  In the heat of a pennant race. 

If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that that was how Week 22 (August 30 – September 5) was going to go shape up for the Blue Jays, I would have predicted six straight losses.  So the fact that Toronto was able to go into Tampa Bay and New York and win two out of six really isn’t all that bad. 

This team has come a long way this season – they are getting to the point where they expect to win. 

Here are three things from week 22:

1. Player of the Month

The Bautista Appreciation Society just got bigger.  Toronto’s slugger was named the American League Player of the Month for August during week 22, making it back-to-back months that J-Bau has won the award.  He joins John Olerud (who won it twice in 1993) as the only Blue Jay to ever win two Player of the Month awards in a single season.

It really was an explosive August for Bautista.  In 28 games he hit for a .299 average, .431 OBP, and a 1.173 OPS.  He banged 12 HR, 24 RBI,  scored 23 runs, and even stole two bases.  The hitting rampage raised his season batting average from a brutal .228 on June 30th, to a much more respectable .268 at the end of August. 

While it seems unlikely that Bautista will be in the running for the AL MVP award, he does have one more milestone in his sights – George Bell’s team record of 47 HR. 

2. Welcome Back Aaron

It has been a season to forget for Aaron Hill.  A hamstring injury in April, a season-long struggle at the plate, and a sudden case of the fielding yips have left the second baseman a shadow of his 2009 self.

But give credit where credit is due.  Hill easily could have shut things down for the season, given up, and sulked his way to the winter.  But if the past week is any indication, he is not d0ing that, instead putting his focus on finishing strong.  Last week Hill hit .333 with a 1.280 OPS, 3 HR, and 7 RBI. 

His batting average is not going to be anywhere near what we thought it would, but the power numbers are still there.  He now has 22 on the season (Note: 23 after yesterday), good enough for fourth among second baseman in MLB.

3. The Quest for .500

In the pre-season, baseball “experts” predicted anywhere in between 60-65 wins for Toronto.  Many had them finishing dead last in the AL East, even behind the Baltimore Orioles.

But here we are in early  September, and after Sunday’s 7-3 win over the Yankees the Blue Jays have 70 wins.  Their 70-66 record has them four games above the break-even point.  Considering it was supposed to be a rebuilding / transitional year (no Halladay, Cito’s last year, uncertainty at third and at closer), a plus .500 finish would be an oustanding accomplishment.

With series still to play against Texas, Tampa Bay, Boston, New York, and Minnesota, it won’t be easy.  But all Toronto needs is 12 more wins to ensure a winning season, maybe the most unexpected winning season in franchise history.

Three Things From Week Twenty-One

Week 21 (August 23 – 29) of the season saw the Jays hold their own in a difficult seven-game homestand against the Yankees and Tigers.  Toronto finished the week 4-3, not too bad considering the opposition and the fact that starter Marc Rzepczynski had two tough starts.  The week also marked the end of the season series between Toronto and long-time rival Detroit – something that the Jays will be thrilled about.  Though they did split the 8-games this year, the Tigers outscored the Jays 39-28, and Miguel Cabrera absolutely obliterated Blue Jay pitching (14-for-32, .438 average, .500 OBP, 1.344 OPS, 2 HR, 8 RBI).

It doesn’t get any easier.  The Jays now get set for the toughest portion of their schedule – 13 consecutive games against first place teams.  They head to Tampa Bay and New York this week, before returning home to face the Rangers and Rays next week.  Ouch.

Here are three things (all pitching related) from week 21:

1. Morrow Shut Down

Right hander Brandon Morrow came to the Jays with a checkered past – part starter / part closer, with a reputation for being injury prone.  Here we are at the end of August and Morrow has arguably been Toronto’s most consistent starter this season, something that not even the biggest optimist could have imagined.

Toronto announced that Morrow will make only one more start this season, Friday night in New York, citing a high number of innings compared to last year.  Heading into that final start, his numbers have been oustanding: 10-6, 4.27 ERA, 174 K, and an MLB leading 10.93 K/9. 

Even better are his numbers since the All-Star break, at home this season, and against baseball’s two best teams (Tampa and New York):

Post Break: 5-0, 3.88 ERA, 74 K, 12.49 K/9

At Home: 8-1, 2.74 ERA, 97 K, 10.65 K/9

vs. TB and NYY: 7 starts, 3-1, 3.11 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 62 K, 12.04 K/9

Does anybody still miss Brandon League?

2. The Sad Saga of Brian “Billy” Tallet

Entering this season, Tallet was considered a solid spot-starter and long reliever out of the Jays bullpen.  After a decent start, he has deteriorated into nothing more than a severe liability.  With David Purcey on the way back, it may only be a matter of time before Tallet is whisked away.

His 2010 numbers don’t look as bad considering how bad he’s been lately: 2-5, 6.44 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 42 K: 33 BB.  Over the past three weeks Tallet has appeared in six games, pitched 10.1 innings, and been thoroughly rocked: 0-1, 9.58 ERA, 2.03 WHIP, 3 HR allowed.

I will miss the moustache….but I won’t miss the pitching.

Stieb threw out the first pitch...with some gas (from daylife.com)

3. Honouring an Ace

Yesterday’s game was an absolute dud with the Tigers thumping the Blue Jays 10-4.  But nobody in attendance seemed to mind because of the wonderful pre-game ceremony to honour Dave Stieb on the 20th anniversary of his no-hitter.  The cerenomy had it all:

Alumni – former player and manager, and current broadcaster Buck Martinez was the MC, with Tony Fernandez, Duane Ward, Jessie Barfield, and Pat Hentgen all on the field with their former teammate.

Memories – the video tribute showed clips of Stieb’s illustrious career, including his All-Star game starts, near no-hitters, and ultimate triumph against Cleveland, along with interview clips from Cito, Paul Beeston, and Bobby Mattick.

From Past to Present – the top four of Toronto’s current starting rotation (Marcum, Romero, Cecil, Morrow) were on the field to present Stieb with a commemorative painting, created by Vernon Wells Sr.

Humour – the painting nearly blew over, prompting quick reflexes from Buck to save the day.

Overall the tribute was fantastic, the bobble head was great, and seeing Stieb was amazing.  Too bad he didn’t make an appearance on the mound – the Jays could have used him.