Category Archives: Weekly Things

The Week That Was: Week 14

dickey knuckle

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 14.

Week 14: July 4 – July 10

Record: 6 – 1

Season-to-date: 51 – 40

AL East: 3rd, 2 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 2 ahead of Houston

  1. Rolling Along

Remember the frustrations of April and May?  Remember the days when the hitters weren’t hitting, the bullpen wasn’t performing, and guys like Donaldson, Tulo, Edwin, and Martin were flailing at pitches and striking out a ton?  Yeah, me neither.  The Jays rolled into the All-Star break with another outstanding week of baseball, going 6-1 against two of the top team in the AL Central (and also two of the teams chasing them for the Wild Card).  Kansas City came to town and managed to score only 7 runs in a three game sweep, before the Tigers came to Toronto and promptly lost three of four.  When the week came to an end and the dust settled, the Jays had outscored those teams 37 to 15, and had cut the gap behind the first place Orioles to a mere two games.  And if you want more reason for optimism, think of things this way: the Jays are 51 – 40 and have been playing for a while without Jose Bautista, survived a horrific eight game slump from Marcus Stroman, and pitched essentially the entire first half without vintage Brett Cecil.  The 51 first half wins are the most since 1992, a year that ended pretty well in Toronto.  Things are looking up.

  1. All-Star Heaven

The 87th All-Star game is set for tomorrow night in San Diego and besides from the amazing uniforms (seriously – I think they’re great!) the game will be very memorable for Blue Jays fans.  For the first time since 2006 (Troy Glaus, Roy Halladay, B.J. Ryan, Alex Rios, and Vernon Wells) the Jays will be sending five players to the Midsummer Classic.  Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, and Marco Estrada were named reserves last Tuesday.  Michael Saunders received over 17-million votes in winning the Final Vote – the second Jay to win that competition.  And Aaron Sanchez was deservedly named as a replacement for Boston’s injured Craig Kimbrel.  Though none of Toronto’s All-Stars will get a shot to participate in tonight’s HR Derby, all but the injured Estrada should get a chance to help deliver home field advantage to the AL in the World Series.  And for the first time in a while, that could prove to be very, very important for a contending Jays club.

  1. They’re Back…

Perhaps the most surprising stat of the first half is this: at the All-Star break, three of the top-10 ERA’s in the American League belong to Blue Jay starters.  Marco Estrada (2.93) is in third, Aaron Sanchez (2.97) sits fourth, and J.A. Happ (3.36) has the 10th best ERA in the AL.  And while those stats are incredible and show that Toronto’s pitching has been criminally underrated this year, none of those guys represent the most important hurlers of the second half.  No, those would be R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman, two guys who had wildly inconsistent and rollercoaster first halves, but who are showing signs of turning things around.  Dickey had yet another miserable April, finishing the month with a 6.75 ERA, but has been absolutely terrific since.  In 14 starts from May onward, Dickey is 6-6 with a 3.10 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and an average of 6.4 innings per start.  In two starts last week he completely dismantled the Royals and Tigers, allowing only 3 ER and 10 H in 14 IP.  Stroman has also come back from the dead in a big way.  After an eight-start stretch that saw his ERA rise almost two full runs, he shut down the Indians on Canada Day, before pitching 8 innings of 2-run, 3-hit ball against Kansas City on Wednesday.  If those two guys can keep it going in the second half, there may be no stopping this team.

Player of the Week

R.A. Dickey, SP

A huge week for the maligned knuckleballer:  2-0, 14 IP, 10 H, 5 BB, 13 K, 1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Down

on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 50 – 41, 4th place, 6 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 40 – 48, 4th place, 22.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 33 – 36, 5th place; Second Half: 14 – 5, 1st place

A – Lansing: First Half: 36 – 34, T-5th place; Second Half: 14 – 5, 1st place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 13 – 11, T-1st

The Look Ahead

The 87th All-Star game followed by a trip to Oakland

July 12 All-Star Game

July 15 – 17 at Oakland

The Week That Was: Week 13

EE Happy

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 13.

Week 13: June 27 – July 3

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 45 – 39

AL East: 3rd, 3.5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: Tied with Detroit

  1. Battle of the Heavyweights

End of June / early July is a bit early to start thinking about potential playoff matchups, but the Indians and Jays sure gave us a tantalizing glimpse of what October might be like last week.  Entering the series the Indians were riding a 12-game winning streak and were sitting comfortably on top of the AL Central, six games ahead of the Royals.  The Jays were scuffling a little bit but were still in the thick of the hunt in the AL East.  On the surface it had the makings of a classic tilt, and for the most part the series didn’t disappoint.  On Thursday, Carlos Carrasco struck out 14 as the Jays offense sputtered.  Friday produced one of the wildest games ever seen in Toronto (more on that below).  The Jays bats finally woke up on the weekend, smacking 30 hits and plating 26 runs to earn the series split.  The four games had a bit of everything: great starting pitching (Carrasco and – finally – a nice start from Stroman), dominant relief pitching (Friday’s marathon),

errors, runs, and lot and lots of extra base hits.  If these teams can continue to play well down the stretch and qualify for October, I wouldn’t be against seeing a rematch.

  1. Marathon Men

The Indians and Blue Jays showed up for Friday’s Canada Day matinee ready to play.  Then they kept playing.  And playing.  And playing.  When it was finally all said and done, the Tribe had outlasted the Jays 2-1 in 19 innings, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of fans who stuck around for all 6 hours and 13 minutes of action.  It was a game that pretty much had it all.  You want great starting pitching?  You got it.  Josh Tomlin lasted six innings for Cleveland, surrendering 7 hits and striking out 8.  Marcus Stroman finally looked like the ace of old, allowing 5 hits and a walk while striking out 6 in 6.2 IP.  You like bullpens?  We saw eight Cleveland relievers (including Saturday’s projected starter Trevor Bauer) shut the door, pitching 13 scoreless innings while allowing only four hits.  The Jays nearly followed suit, as nine men took the mound and allowed one run in 12.1 IP.  We also saw Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney both toe the rubber, and both looked surprisingly competent, despite Barney surrendering the eventual game winning home run.  And finally, the game wasn’t without controversy, as home plate umpire Vic Carapazza had possibly one of the worst games in modern history, calling an absolutely abysmal strike zone that resulted in the ejections of Edwin Encarnacion, John Gibbons, and Russell Martin.  With EE in the lineup, does anybody think the game goes 19?  Didn’t think so…

  1. Return of the Bats

Blue Jay hitters were thoroughly befuddled on Thursday and Friday by Cleveland Indians pitching.  But other than those two games, you would never know that Toronto was suffering from an offensive slump virtually all year long.  It was 2015 all over again as the Jays scored 24 runs in three games in Colorado, then put up 26 in the last two games against Cleveland.  It wasn’t just the usual suspects contributing either, as everybody got into the act.  Devon Travis hit .300 with a home run and two steals.  Barney went 6/19, Smoak blasted two HR, and Ezequiel Carrera scored six runs.  But the real fireworks were provided by the core.  Encarnacion continued his torrid pace three HR, 10 RBI, and a .375 average.  Donaldson scored 11 runs, bashed 3 HR, and drove in 9.  Tulowitzki went deep three times, and Russell Martin had eight hits.  It took a while – nearly half the season – but the lineup, top to bottom, has finally arrived.

Player of the Week

Josh Donaldson, 3B

Just keeps crushing the ball: 12 for 31, 11 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, .387 / .513 / .774 / 1.287

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 46 – 38, 4th place, 6 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 36 – 47, 5th place, 24 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 33 – 36, 5th place; Second Half: 8 – 3, T1st place

A – Lansing: First Half: 36 – 34, T-5th place; Second Half: 7 – 4, 2nd place, 2 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 9 – 8, 3rd, 2 GB

The Look Ahead

A rematch of last year’s ALCS.  Get ready!

July 4 – 6 vs. Kansas City

July 7 – 10 vs. Detroit

The Week That Was: Week 12

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Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 12.

Week 12: June 20 – June 26

Record: 2 – 3

Season-to-date: 41 – 36

AL East: 3rd, 5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 0.5 games ahead of Kansas City

  1. Return of the Funk

The Jays were on a great run through most of June, but over the past week and a half things have taken a downward turn.  Toronto finished a series in Baltimore with two straight losses, and then sputtered last week, alternating wins and losses against Arizona and Chicago.  When all was said and done, they finished the week having dropped five of the past seven games, falling five back of the Orioles.  There hasn’t been just one reason behind the slump either.  The hitting has been inconsistent, with the Jays unable to drive in runners in scoring position.  Double plays have been particularly crushing.  The starting pitching has been problematic, with Stroman continuing to struggle and Dickey surrendering home runs like crazy.  And injuries have crept up, with Bautista and Floyd hitting the DL and Donaldson battling some soreness.  Toronto is five games into a stretch of 30 games outside the AL East.  They need to start getting some wins before the rivals come back around.

  1. Travis on a Tear

Although the team as a whole has slipped a bit lately, the same can’t be said for Devon Travis.  He made his season debut on May 25 and struggled at first, as one would expect from a guy who missed all of Spring Training and the last half of 2015.  But he seems to have shaken off the rust now.  After an 0-1 performance on June 11 dropped his average to .145 and OPS to .423, Travis has taken off.  In his past 12 games he has gone 19 for 47 with 3 HR, 5 doubles, and 11 RBI, raising his season average and OPS to .265 and .717 respectively.  He has impressed John Gibbons so much that the skipper has moved him up to the top of the lineup, trusting him to set the table for Donaldson and Encarnacion.  With Bautista out injured and Tulowitzki just getting himself back in the lineup, the Jays can use some consistency up top.  Travis is giving them exactly that.

  1. One Crazy, Crazy Game

There’s really no other way to describe what happened on Saturday afternoon in Chicago than to call it crazy.  It’s not often that you see one team’s pitching staff battered as thoroughly as the Blue Jays yet come away with the victory.  The Chicago White Sox crushed seven (7!!!) home runs but came out on the wrong end of a 10-8 scoreline.  The game saw many wild and wacky moments, including a bizarre second inning that featured R.A. Dickey striking out the side yet also giving up back-to-back-to-back homers to Brett Lawrie, Dioner Navarro, and J.B. Shuck.  Lawrie’s home run will go down as an inside-the-park job after the ball bounced off the top of the fence but stayed in play – unbeknownst to Blue Jays outfielders who gave up on it after hearing the umpire signal HR.  For all the fireworks, it will go down as a wire-to-wire Toronto victory, but it certainly had the feeling of a game Toronto had no business winning.  Very, very bizarre.

Player of the Week

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Off the DL and starting to hit again: 6 for 17, 3 R, 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, .353 / .421 / .765 / 1.186

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 43 – 34, 4th place, 2 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 32 – 42, 4th place, 20 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 33 – 36, 5th place; Second Half: 3 – 1, 2nd place, 1 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 36 – 34, T-5th place; Second Half: 4 – 0, T1st place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 6 – 4, T-1st

The Look Ahead

Tulo returns to Colorado before the red-hot Indians visit Toronto on Canada Day.

June 27 – 29 at Colorado

June 30 – July 3 vs. Cleveland

The Week That Was: Week 11

Michael_Saunders

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 11.

Week 11: June 13 – June 19

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 39 – 33

AL East: 3rd, 3 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 0.5 games behind Kansas City

  1. Down Goes Bau

Just when everything seemed to be going Toronto’s way, along came news that Jose Bautista was going on the DL.  In what looked like an innocent play, Bau hyperextended his left big toe after crashing into the outfield wall against Philadelphia and was placed on the 15-day DL the next day.  By most statistics Bautista is having a down year in 2016.  He only has 12 HR, a .230 batting average, and is striking out more than usual.  But there’s no denying the presence he brings to the Jays lineup.  He also is getting on base a ton, leading the AL in walks at the time of his injury.  It took almost two full months for the Jays to finally start clicking and it’s a shame that a key piece has gone down right when they hit their stride.  Let’s hope he’s not out for long.

  1. About Time

The Blue Jays entered 2016 with the most fearsome offense in the game, with expectations of bludgeoning opponents to death day in and day out.  Then they suddenly stopped hitting.  A team that was expected to put up 10-run games quite often had only reached double digits twice by June 10th.  Well, it seems like things are finally happening.  The Jays erupted for 10+ runs twice against Baltimore, before reaching that plateau three more times last week.  On Tuesday they destroyed the Phillies 11-3 then fully crushed them again on Thursday 13-2.  They followed that up by slaughtering the Orioles in Baltimore 13-3 on Friday night.  Toronto scored 52 runs in seven games, and that includes being shutout on Monday night.  It took over 60 games but it seems that the bats are finally catching up to the arms.

  1. Saunders Erupts

Quick – who leads the Jays in average, OBP, SLG, OPS, is tied for first in doubles, and is third in HR?  If you guessed Edwin, Jose, or Josh, you’re wrong.  The answer is Michael Saunders, the Canadian who was an afterthought entering 2016 and was almost dumped to the Reds in spring training.  Very quietly Saunders has put up a .309 / .385 / .596 / .980 slash line, hit 15 HR and 17 doubles.  He has done it by hitting in a variety of different spots in the batting order, and he has done it against right handers and left handers.  His 15 HR are only 4 back of his career high and we aren’t even in July yet.  He had the game of his life on Friday night, swatting 3 HR and driving in 8, and came within a few feet of hitting a fourth HR.  A case can be made for a bunch of Blue Jays to get the call for the AL All Star team (EE, Sanchez, Estrada), but Saunders might be the most deserving of all.

Player of the Week

Josh Donaldson, 3B

A huge week: 12 for 27, 11 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 4 2B, 1 SB, .444 / .545 / 1.000 / 1.545

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 37 – 33, 4th place, 7 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 29 – 39, 4th place, 19 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 30 – 36, 5th place, 11 GB

A – Lansing: 36 – 34, T-5th place, 5.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 2 – 1, T-1st

The Look Ahead

A short 5-game week.

June 21 – 22 vs. Arizona

June 24 – 26 at Chicago White Sox

The Week That Was: Week 10

EE Happy

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 10.

Week 10: June 6 – June 12

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 35 – 30

AL East: 3rd, 2.5 games behind Boston/Baltimore

Wild Card: Tied with Seattle

  1. Somebody Woke Up…

There’s no denying that Edwin Encarnacion is a streaky hitter.  There are many examples of how up and down he can be, the most well known being in 2014 when he followed a .250 AVG / .747 OPS April with a 16 HR, 1.132 OPS May.  Well, it seems as though our good friend Edwin is once again on the upswing.  After a miserable early half of the week (0 for 17, 1 RBI after three games against Detroit and one full game plus four at bats against Baltimore) Edwin woke up in a big, big way.  In his fifth AB on Friday night he led off the 10th inning with a walk-off HR, giving the Jays a 4-3 victory, and then almost single-handedly won games on Saturday on Sunday.  On Saturday afternoon EE walked in the 1st, hit an RBI double in the 3rd, walked again in the 5th, belted a 3-run HR in the 6th, then hit a solo shot in the 8th.  Then on Sunday he hit an RBI single in the 1st, doubled in the 2nd, and walked in the 4th, before finally being retired in his final two plate appearances.  Overall he reached base safely in eight consecutive at bats.  The surge improved his season OPS from .755 on Friday morning to .817 on Sunday evening.

  1. Grilli Time

When the Jays acquired Jason Grilli a few weeks ago in attempt to shore up the bullpen, it was greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and a collective groan / chuckle from fans.  After all, the 39-year old was last a truly dominant reliever in 2013, he was coming off a torn Achilles and was sporting a 5.29 ERA thus far in 2016.  Maybe it’s because he is far enough removed from his injury, maybe the change in scenery has reinvigorated him, or maybe being reunited with Russell Martin has worked wonders on his confidence – whatever the case he looks very, very good as a Blue Jay.  Granted it is a very small sample size, but in 4.2 IP Grilli has a 1.93 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 10 strikeouts, and a save.  He also has suddenly taken over the team lead in highly energetic fist pumps.  If he can keep up his effectiveness, it will be a huge win for the Blue Jays as Grilli provides something more important than strikeouts and saves – insurance and much needed rest for overworked closer Roberto Osuna.

  1. A Tale of Two Cities

Let’s play a quick game.  Let’s pretend that the only thing you knew about baseball was what you learned from others, either the local or national media, or by following social media sites.  From those sources, you would have learned two key stories about the AL East.  The first is that the defending champion Blue Jays are having a terrible season.  Troy Tulowitzki can’t hit and is hurt again.  Russell Martin looks awful.  Bautista, Donaldson, and Encarnacion are nothing compared to their 2015 selves.  The rotation has been good but there is an innings limit on Sanchez, and Stroman has regressed significantly.  The bullpen is bad, causing Osuna to carry much heavier a load than desired.  The second story is that the Red Sox made some big offseason acquisitions and look tremendous.  The offense is lighting the league on fire, with Betts, Bradley, Bogaerts, and Ortiz seemingly hitting at will.  The rotation hasn’t looked great, but David Price is coming around, and they have plenty of prospect capital to make a deal for a starter.  Seemingly nothing can go wrong in Boston.  Now, make a guess as to how big of a lead Boston has over Toronto.  Based solely on what is being published, an outsider would easily guess 10, 12, 15 games.  But take a look at the standings this morning.  After taking three of four from Baltimore, the Jays sit only 2.5 back of Boston.  And that is with most of Toronto’s roster struggling and most of Boston’s roster putting up career numbers.  Which horse would you rather be betting on?

Player of the Week

Edwin Encarnacion, DH

All of his damage came in 8 AB: 6 for 25, 7 R, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB, .240 / .375 / .680 / 1.055

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 33 – 30, T-4th place, 3.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 28 – 34, 4th place, 16 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 27 – 35, 5th place, 12.5 GB

A – Lansing: 31 – 30, 5th place, 5.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

A quick break for interleague, and then straight back to the AL East…

June 13 – 14 vs. Philadelphia

June 15 – 16 at Philadelphia

June 17 – 19 at Baltimore

The Week That Was: Week 9

estrada

Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 9.

Week 9: May 30 – June 5

Record: 5 – 1

Season-to-date: 31 – 27

AL East: 3rd, 2.5 games behind Boston/Baltimore

Wild Card: 1 game behind Seattle

  1. AL East Domination

On the morning of Tuesday May 24, Toronto was 22-25, last place in the AL East, and faced a daunting stretch of games: 12 straight against the Yankees and Red Sox.  Anything less than a .500 record could have been seen as devastating.  Six wins would have been treading water, seven would have been good, and eight would have been a great result, but the Jays went out and won nine games, a stretch that has definitely turned their season around.  They went 5-1 against New York and 4-2 against Boston, moving to four games over the .500 mark in the process.  The Jays looked a lot like the team we all expected them to be.  They started by sweeping the Yankees, holding them to a total of three runs in three games, before heading to Fenway Park and very nearly sweeping the Red Sox.  They now sit 19-16 in games against the division, having played by far more intra-division games than any other team.  With (presumably) easier games to come the Jays could be setup perfectly for a big run.

  1. Marco ACE-Strada

A few weeks ago in this column I wrote about how Marco Estrada is developing into the ace of the Toronto rotation.  Now, after his performance last week, I don’t think there is any question – he IS the ace of the staff.  He made two starts last week against New York and Boston and thoroughly dominated them.  On Monday he pitched 8 shutout innings against the Yankees, allowing only 3 hits and striking out 6.  Then yesterday he was masterful against Boston, taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning before allowing a solo HR to Chris Young.  Overall, he pitched 8 innings and allowed 2 runs on only 2 hits.  For the season Estrada now ranks 10th in all of baseball in WAR for pitchers (2.5), 7th in WHIP (0.978), 3rd in hits per 9 (5.304), and 2nd in batting average against (.167).  He is becoming almost automatic.

  1. Offensive MVP?

Quick – who leads the Blue Jays in Average, Slugging, and OPS?  If you guessed any of the usual suspects – Edwin, Bautista, Donaldson, Matin, Tulo – you’re wrong.  The correct answer, with a .289 average, .519 slugging, and .885 OPS, is Michael Saunders.  After surviving a chaotic spring in which he was almost traded to the Reds, Saunders has been thriving in 2016.  Aside from the slash rate he has hit 9 HR and 14 doubles, scored 28 runs, and driven in 19.  His 1.3 WAR is fourth on the team.  Health will always be a major concern for Saunders, but as long as he can stay on the field there’s no reason to believe that his production will dry up.  So far he is making Jays fans very happy.

Player of the Week

Marco Estrada, SP

He has become the ace: 16 IP, 2-0, 11 K : 6 BB, 5 H, 1.13 ERA, 0.69 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 31 – 25, 2nd place, 0.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 26 – 30, 4th place, 12 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 26 – 31, 5th place, 10.5 GB

A – Lansing: 29 – 26, 5th place, 4.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

A brief reprieve from the AL East…

June 6 – 8 at Detroit

June 9 – 12 vs. Baltimore

The Week That Was: Week 8

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Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 8.

Week 8: May 23 – 29

Record: 4 – 2

Season-to-date: 26 – 26

AL East: 3rd, 5 games behind Boston

Wild Card: 3.5 games behind Seattle

  1. A Huge Week

The Jays took three of four from the Twins to end the previous week, but they were still reeling.  They were sitting two games under .500 and in dead last in the AL East, and had a very tough stretch of games ahead – 12 straight against the Yankees and Red Sox.  They then promptly lost the opener to New York 6-0 and looked the worst that they have all season.  But suddenly things turned around.  The bats came alive on Wednesday as they Jays battered Ivan Nova in an 8-4 win.  J.A. Happ continued his incredible season with a dominating performance in a 3-1 win on Thursday.  Then the team got a huge performance from Donaldson on Friday, and an improbable comeback on Saturday to steal the first two from Boston.  Toronto ended the week back at .500, up to third place in the division and right back in contention.  Things still aren’t clicking at full throttle just yet, but slowly all is starting to look better in Blue Jay land.  Late May / early June is when the season turned around in 2015, and it certainly looks like that might be happening again.

  1. Welcome Back Travis

After mustering a mere two hits off Nathan Eovaldi and a cast of Yankee relievers on Tuesday night, with Troy Tulowitzki placed on the 15-day DL and his natural replacement Ryan Goins hitting an MLB worst .148, the Blue Jays decided to end Devon Travis’ rehab stint a bit early.  They activated the second baseman in time for Wednesday’s game in New York, and if Travis had any rust he sure didn’t show it.  He went 1-for-4 with a run in his first game back, then delivered a huge RBI single off of Aroldis Chapman in the 9th inning in his second game.  He then went 4-for-14 with a run and two RBI against the Red Sox over the weekend, including hitting the game winning, walk-off single off Craig Kimbrel on Saturday afternoon.  His season average is now .273, nearly double that of Goins.  Travis likely won’t hit for a ton of power, but his contact and opposite field approach is just what the Blue Jays offense needed.

  1. Concern for Stroman?

Marcus Stroman was incredible in his first major league season, and was even better last year after his return from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of the regular season.  In his first eight starts this season he went 4-0 with a 3.54 ERA, looking every bit the ace that he so badly wants to become.  But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the wheels have come off a bit.  Stroman was absolutely crushed by Tampa Bay on May 17, allowing 7 ER and 13 hits in only 5.2 IP.  A strong rebound start in Minnesota followed, but he couldn’t keep it rolling on Saturday.  Back at home against the Red Sox, and staked to an early 3-0 lead, Stroman fell apart.  He allowed a home run, double, and a walk in the 4th, then three singles and two doubles in the fifth, before being pulled with one out in the sixth.  All in, he surrendered 7 earned runs on 11 hits in only 5.1 innings.  With the loss his ERA, which was 3.54 on May 11, now sits at 4.46.  Is this merely a blip, a couple of bad outings mixed into an otherwise excellent season?  Jays fans hope so.

Player of the Week

Roberto Osuna, RP

He is absolutely dominating: 3.2 IP, 2 Saves, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.54 WHIP, .083 batting average against

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 27 – 25, 4th place, 3 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 24 – 26, 4th place, 9 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 23 – 30, 5th place, 10.5 GB

A – Lansing: 26 – 24, 4th place, 5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

A mirror image of last week.

May 30 – June 1 vs. New York

June 3 – 5 at Boston

The Week That Was: Week 7

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Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at

the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 7.

Week 7: May 16 – 22

Record: 3 – 4

Season-to-date: 22 – 24

AL East: 5th, 6 games behind Baltimore/Boston

Wild Card: 4 games behind Texas

  1. Down to the Cellar

The Jays officially passed the quarter mark of the 2016 season last week, and they find themselves in a position they certainly were not expecting: last place.  After being thoroughly throttled by Tampa Bay at the beginning of the week, the team rebounded nicely by taking 3 of 4 from the last place Twins, but it wasn’t enough to stay ahead of the Rays and the red hot  Yankees.  If this story sounds familiar it’s because it should.  After the games of May 22nd last season, the Jays were also in last place in the AL East, 5.5 games back of first and 6 games under the .500 mark.  With the way that this club is constructed, it’s hard to imagine staying in last place much longer.  But until they shake off the offensive rust and start hitting like they did last year, last place seems like a fitting position.

  1. Bautista Loves Minnesota

Jose Bautista has not been his mighty self thus far in 2016.  His numbers are down across the board, including a sub-.800 OPS just a week ago.  But there is a cure for what ails Joey Bats – Target Field.  In four games in Minnesota against the Twins, Jose went 5 for 17 with 3 HR and 6 RBI, raising his season OPS from .832 on Wednesday to .870 today.  In 21 career games at Target Field, Bautista is now hitting .349 with a 1.324 OPS and 14 HR.  14 HR!!!  That would be a full season pace of 108 dingers!  Needless to say, Jose circles these visits on his calendar.  Unfortunately for the Jays, they don’t visit Minnesota again until next year.

  1. Bullpen Disasters

The struggles of Toronto’s bullpen are now bordering on the absurd, both in the magnitude and in the regularity of its collapses.  After another spectacular meltdown on Saturday (5 runs surrendered in the 8th against the woeful Twins), the Blue Jays bullpen continues to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.  Toronto has now lost 12 (12!!) games when either tied or ahead in the 7th inning.  Even holding on to win half of those contests (hardly unreasonable) would put the team at 28 wins and tied for first place.  And it’s not just one person doing most of the damage either.  Other than Osuna and Biagini (who has looked brilliant), everybody is struggling.  Storen has a 7.80 ERA; Floyd and Chavez have combined to allow 7 HR; Cecil has an ERA of 5.23 and will now miss a month leaving Chad Girodo as the lone lefty.  As a group, Toronto’s relievers have allowed 43% of inherited runners to score, the second worst mark in all of baseball.  In other words, they are doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing.  With a very difficult stretch of games upcoming, the Jays need the ‘pen to rectify itself very quickly.

Player of the Week

Jose Bautista, OF

That’s a bit more like it: 7-for-23, 5 R, 4 HR, 9 RBI, .304 / .448 /  .826 / 1.274

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 22 – 22, 5th place, 3.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 20 – 22, 4th place, 8 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 19 – 26, T-4th place, 9 GB

A – Lansing: 22 – 20, 5th place, 4 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Big week against the AL East.

May 24 – 26 at New York

May 27 – 29 vs. Boston

The Week That Was: Week 6

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Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 6.

Week 6: May 9 – 15

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 19 – 20

AL East: 3rd, 5.5 games behind Baltimore/Boston

Wild Card: 3 games behind Seattle

  1. Melee in Texas

To quote Ron Burgundy: “Well, that escalated quickly.”  If there were hurt feelings, tension, and bad blood between the Rangers and Jays as a result of Jose Bautista’s bat flip, it appeared that nothing was going to happen.  Through six full games and seven innings of the seventh (and final) game, both teams had taken the high road, content to let things play out on the field.  And then everything exploded.  Bautista, archenemy #1 in Texas, led off the 8th and was immediately drilled by a pitch thrown by Matt Bush.  The HBP was clearly intentional, was clearly ordered by Texas management, and was incredibly cowardly in its nature.  The Rangers were obviously afraid of retribution – why else wait until Bautista’s last at-bat of the season?  That doesn’t excuse Bau’s dangerous slide into Odor on the ensuing double play ball, but his anger is clearly justified.  What followed was one of the wildest scenes I have witnessed in years.  The Odor sucker punch, the Donaldson spear, Odor hiding behind his entire team, Gibbons returning to the field after being ejected, the Fielder HBP, and on and on.  Hopefully the Jays can use this as a turning point and start playing like the team they should be.

  1. Back From the Dead

The Jays slow start has been wearing down even the most optimistic fans, but it has sadly galvanized an awful sub-set of Blue Jays supporters: the social media haters.  These are people who delight in trashing struggling players on Twitter, letting everybody know that specific players are awful, overrated, and should be released.  For some reason, the two Blue Jays who are targeted the most are Troy Tulowitzki and R.A. Dickey.  Both got off to terrible starts this year – of that there is no question.  And that is why last week was so satisfying.  In six games, Tulo went 9-for-24 with 3 2B, 3 HR, and 7 RBI.  He saw his batting average rise from .162 to 200 and his OPS jump from .572 to .698.  Dickey pitched an absolute gem on Friday night, tossing 8 shutout innings and allowing only 3 hits with 6 strikeouts.  In his past three starts he has posted a 1.27 ERA in 21.1 IP.  Now if only those two could rub off on Russell Martin….

  1. Struggles, Struggles, and More Struggles

Last season, the Jays were widely criticized for their record in one run games.  The team went 15-28 (.349), and we heard time and again that teams that struggle in one run games won’t stay competitive for long.  The Jays, obviously, won the division and the ALDS.  But this season has started the same way.  After three more one run losses last week, Toronto is now 3-10 (.231) in such contests in 2016, and the criticisms have only increased.  But what’s of a bigger concern (at least to me), is their inability to win games when allowing runs.  In 2015, allowing their opponents to score a bunch of runs wasn’t necessarily sure death for the Jays.  Thanks to their incredible offense, they won 37% of games when allowing 4+ runs (33-56 record).  However, due to their offensive struggles this year, that number is way down: 0%.  That’s right – Toronto is an incredible 0-16 when allowing 4+ runs, mind boggling for a team with Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Martin, and company in the lineup.  Surely this is just an aberration and when the offense picks up the wins will start piling up.  But if you want one specific stat that is a microcosm of Toronto’s 2016 season, this is it.

Player of the Week

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

He’s starting to heat up: 9-for-24, 7 R, 3 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, .375 / .407 /  .875 / 1.282

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 17 – 20, 6th place, 3.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 18 – 17, 4th place, 5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 15 – 22, 4th place, 9 GB

A – Lansing: 18 – 16, T-4th place, 3.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Finally some games against sub .500 teams.  It’s time to heat up.

May 16 – 18 vs. Tampa Bay

May 19 – 22 at Minnesota

The Week That Was: Week 5

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Every Monday during the 2016 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 5.

Week 5: May 2 – 8

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 16 – 17

AL East: 4th, 3.5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 2.5 games behind Texas

  1. One Step Forward…..

The Jays squared off against the Texas Rangers in a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s thrilling ALDS.  For Toronto fans hoping that the much hyped series would breath some life into the moribund Blue Jays, they certainly got their wish.  After losing a tough one on Monday, the Jays bounced back with two straight walk-off wins.  On Tuesday, Justin Smoak tied the game with a HR in the 9th and then won it with a bomb in the the 10th.  On Wednesday, Edwin Encarnacion tied the game with a 2-run shot in the 6th before Russell Martin delivered a walk-off single in the 9th.  Then on Thursday, finally, at long last, the bats awoke.  Toronto pounded Derek Holland, tagging him with 11 ER in only 2.2 IP, and finished the game with 12 runs on 15 hits – both season highs.  For the first time in 2016 the Blue Jays resembled the team that dominated baseball last season.

  1. ……Two Steps Back

And then, just as quickly as the 2015 offense re-appeared, it vanished.  The Dodgers came to town and held the Jays to only 9 runs and 14 hits over the three game weekend series.  With Clayton Kershaw starting on Saturday afternoon, offensive struggles would have been expected in one game, but the vaunted Jays offense was thoroughly held in check on Sunday by rookie Ross Stripling.  But what’s of a bigger concern has to be Toronto’s bullpen.  Nursing a 2-1 lead in the 8th inning, Drew Storen entered the game and promptly gave up a walk and a double.  Not even the great Osuna could escape that jam.  LA took the lead before padding it in the 9th off of Chavez, Girodo, and Floyd.  Toronto has now lost seven times when leading or tied in the 8th inning, a terrible and unexpected result when considering the revamped bullpen.  Now with Brett Cecil heading to the paternity list, things might get worse before they get better.

  1. Estrada to the Rescue

Lost among the scuffles of the bullpen and the offense is the incredible start to the season by Marco Estrada.  Thought by many to be a prime candidate for regression, Estrada has instead started the season even better than he finished last year.  In two starts last week he was electric.  Against the Rangers he went 6 innings and allowed only 1 run and 2 hits.  Then yesterday afternoon he dominated LA for 7 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits with 8 strikeouts.  For the season, Estrada is sporting a tidy 2.39 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, and has 36 strikeouts in 37.2 innings.  In short, he has been dominant.

Player of the Week

Marco Estrada, SP

He seems to keep getting better: 0-0, 13 IP, 11 K, 1.38 ERA, 0.62 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 13 – 17, 6th place, 4.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 11 – 17, 5th place, 9.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: 13 – 16, 4th place, 6 GB

A – Lansing: 16 – 11, 3rd place, 1.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: season not started

The Look Ahead

Heading west for the first time.

May 9 – 11 at San Francisco

May 13 – 15 at Texas