Category Archives: Weekly Things

The Week That Was: Week 18

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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 18.

Week 18: August 1 – August 7

Record: 4 – 3

Season-to-date: 63 – 49

AL East: 2nd, 1 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 1.5 ahead of Detroit (WC1) 2 ahead of Boston (WC2)

  1. Where’s the O?

One of the biggest surprises early on in the 2016 season was the futility of the Blue Jays offense.  Baseball’s top scoring team in 2015 got out of the gates extremely slowly, scoring a mere 4 runs per game in April, and a slightly better 4.3 per game in May (down from 5.5 per game in 2015).  But you can only hold down a lineup stacked with Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulowitzki, Martin, Saunders and co. for so long.  The team plated 293 runs in 51 June and July games, and all was right with the world.  Well, suddenly the runs have dried up again.  In seven games last week Toronto scored a mere 17 times, an average of 2.4 a game.  They only managed 48 hits and 18 walks and struck out a whopping 84 times!  Seemingly only Devon Travis was able to hit the ball, accounting for nearly a quarter of the team’s offense.  Though this is likely just a blip for many guys, there has to be real concern over Bautista who is hitting just .160 with a .660 OPS off the DL.  His season average is down to a rock bottom .218.  The fact that the team managed to go 4-3 during that stretch has to be considered a miracle.

  1. Six Man Rotation

The Aaron Sanchez debate came to a conclusive end last week with confirmation that the young ace would be moving to the bullpen.  And then, strangely, Jays management changed course and announced that the team would be going to a six man rotation in order to keep him starting.  It was a bizarre announcement for a number of reasons (mainly because six man rotations really don’t work – ever), but at least showed Jays fans that management is cognizant of what is happening within the fan base.  I’m not sure how long the six starter experiment will last (probably

not long given that Sanchez will still need more rest), but it didn’t get off to a great start over the weekend.  Francisco Liriano looked solid in his debut on Friday, but both Sanchez and Stroman struggled a bit with extra rest on Saturday and Sunday.  Sanchez coughed up four runs on nine hits in 6 IP, while Stroman was undone by his own shoddy fielding in allowing seven hits and three runs over 5 IP.  Fans should be happy that Sanchez still gets to start, but wary about it lasting much longer.

  1. Royal Love

I’m normally not one to complain about Toronto’s TV and radio broadcast crews.  Yes Buck and Pat can get a bit wordy and annoying on the Sportsnet broadcasts, and yes Jerry has been known to voice his displeasure with certain players on the Fan 590 (see Reyes, Jose), but neither crew has really bothered me.  Until this weekend.  What was true in the postseason last year with the Fox Sports guys, has come home to roost with the Jays commentators: an unbridled passion for the Kansas City Royals.  Buck, Pat, Jerry, and even Joe Siddall were practically falling all over themselves gushing praise on the Royals team.  If you were just a casual fan listening in, you would have thought that KC was the top team in the league.  The way that the crews described KC’s offense (the bunting!  the speed!  the ground balls!) you would have thought that KC was an offensive wrecking crew.  (Note: the Royals are 53-58, second last place in the AL Central, 10 GB of Cleveland, and have scored 3.84 runs per game (27th in MLB)).  I also learned that Raul Mondesi Jr., aside from being the son of a former Jay, is likely a surefire Hall of Famer, and a definite future All-Star.  He was described as an incredible ballplayer, and potential superstar.  (Note: Mondesi is hitting .256 with a .564 OPS, -1 DRS, and -0.1 WAR).  I’m all for giving credit to the opposition, but this weekend was a bit ridiculous.

Player of the Week

Devon Travis, 2B

He looks like a superstar (not Mondesi): 11 for 31, 1 BB, 2 2B, 3 HR, 4 R, 5 RBI, .355 / .375 / .710 / 1.085

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 57 – 59, 5th place, 15.5 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 52 – 61, 5th place, 23.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 33 – 36, 5th place; Second Half: 28 – 15, 1st place

A – Lansing: First Half: 36 – 34, T-5th place; Second Half: 21 – 22, 4th place, 7.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: First Half: 16 – 22, 4th place; Second Half: 4 – 6, T-3rd place, 2 GB

The Look Ahead

Back home for six.

August 8 – 10 vs. Tampa Bay

August 12 – 14 vs. Houston

The Week That Was: Week 17

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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 17.

Week 17: July 25 – July 31

Record: 4 – 2

Season-to-date: 59 – 46

AL East: 2nd, 0.5 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 1 ahead of Boston (WC1) 2 ahead of Detroit (WC2)

  1. First Place!

The most recent edition of the “biggest series of the year” took place last week when the first place Baltimore Orioles came to town.  With Toronto sitting a mere 1.5 games back, first place was up for grabs.  And for the first time since April 5, the Jays moved atop the AL East after back-to-back wins on Friday and Saturday.  Toronto jumped out early on Friday and held on for a 6-5 win, before thumping Baltimore into submission on Saturday.  Russell Martin and Kevin Pillar delivered key hits while J.A. Happ continues to dominate in 2016.  He held the Orioles to 1 run on 3 hits over 7 innings while striking out 11, improving his record to a crazy 14-3.  Unfortunately their time on top of the division was brief because of…..

  1. ….More Bullpen Woes

First some clarification: the Blue Jays bullpen has been very good of late.  Osuna, Grilli, and Biagini are consistently excellent day in and day out.  Bo Schultz has looked good in the 12 innings he has

pitched.  Brett Cecil has not allowed a run in five straight appearances.  But a major league bullpen is typically comprised of seven relievers, and I only listed five names above.  The final two spots in Toronto’s pen have been a revolving door of ineptitude this year.  Aaron Loup, Pat Venditte, Ryan Tepera, and Chad Girodo have been either mediocre or bad.  Joaquin Benoit has looked decent in his first few innings, but Jesse Chavez and Franklin Morales have not.  The two combined to give Baltimore the win (and first place) on Sunday by allowing four runs in the 12th

inning.  Chavez allowed his 9th HR of the season, a three run shot to Adam Jones, after Morales bungled his way through the beginning of the inning.  Thus far, the Atkins and Shapiro era has shown fans a willingness to move on from players and not hang on to them due to contract or track record (see Storen, Drew).  Is it only a matter of time before we can say so long to Chavez and Morales?

  1. Health Concerns

That the Jays are only a half game out of first has to be seen as somewhat of a miracle considering the health issues that have seemingly plagued this team all year.  It started way back in the spring with Edwin Encarnacion and has continued on to this past weekend.  Bautista was lost for a month with turf toe; Martin went down with a sore knee; Estrada and Cecil went to the DL; Tulo and Donaldson have been battling soreness and injury; Travis missed the first few months of the year.  The question of Aaron Sanchez’s arm has been hanging over the team all year long.  Now, the latest injury – a chip fracture on the right thumb of Troy Tulowitzki after he was hit by a pitch on Sunday afternoon.  Just when he was hitting his stride the Jays will lose Tulo anywhere from a day or two, up to two-plus weeks.  For a team with very little infield depth, let’s hope Tulo is back sooner rather than later.

Player of the Week

Russell Martin, C

Finally starting to swing the bat like he normally does: 5 for 14, 7 BB, 3 2B, 5 R, 3 RBI, .357 / .591 / .571 / 1.162

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 55 – 54, 5th place, 12 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 47 – 60, 5th place, 23.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 33 – 36, 5th place; Second Half: 24 – 14, T-1st place

A – Lansing: First Half: 36 – 34, T-5th place; Second Half: 19 – 18, 3rd place, 5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: First Half: 16 – 22, 4th place; Second Half: 3 – 3, T-2nd place, 2 GB

The Look Ahead

Tough week ahead, with four in Houston, a place where Toronto is 2-9 in the past three seasons

August 1 – 4 at Houston

August 5 – 7 at Kansas City

The Week That Was: Week 16

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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 16.

Week 16: July 18 – July 24

Record: 3 – 2

Season-to-date: 55 – 44

AL East: 3rd, 3 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 0.5 ahead of Houston

  1. Pitching Magic

Toronto came home on Friday, winners of three straight and close to taking over top spot in the AL East.  They were then promptly throttled by the Seattle Mariners, losing 2-1 and 14-5 to fall back to three games behind Baltimore.  Entering Sunday the Jays were reeling and really needed a huge performance from J.A. Happ to stop the bleeding.  And as he has more often than not this year, he delivered.  Happ, Cecil, Grilli, and Osuna combined to toss a 1-hit shutout, limiting the Mariners to only six total baserunners.  Not a single Mariner reached third base.  The pitching performance was huge not only because it prevented a sweep, but also because it rescued Toronto’s offense from a miserable weekend.  Including Sunday’s win, the Jays managed only 7 runs on 16 hits, looking nothing like the juggernaut that obliterated the Diamondbacks.

  1. So Long Storen

The

off-season acquisition of Drew Storen was greeted by much excitement by Jays fans.  With the trend being to create incredibly strong bullpens, the Jays looked to have constructed a pen to rival the Royals and Yankees for effectiveness.  After all, Storen entered 2016 with a career 3.02 ERA and 95 saves, and would make the back end of Toronto’s pen unstoppable when combined with Osuna and Cecil.  To say it didn’t work out would be an understatement.  Storen struggled all season long.  After allowing three ER on Saturday to drop his ERA to 6.21, the Jays finally pulled the plug on Drew, designating him for assignment.  Osuna still looks good and Grilli has been a revelation, but Storen’s failure leaves the bullpen in a great state of flux.  With the trade deadline now just one week away, pitching help should be priority #1 for Atkins and Shapiro.

  1. Tulo Lives!

To put it bluntly, Troy Tulowitzki was awful early this season.  He was hitting .107 with a .426 OPS after his first eight games, and by May 27 he found himself on the 15-day DL sporting a .204 average and ,673 OPS.  He was striking out a ton and making several uncharacteristic errors in the field.  But before anybody could even think about the word “regression”, Tulo has turned things around in a big, big way.  Since the calendar switched to July, he has been on fire, posting a .338 average, .902 OPS, and 6 RBI, with 6 extra base hits.  He also recorded a hit in every game last week to extend his hitting streak to nine games.  A healthy and productive Tulowitzki has yet to play at the same time as

a healthy and productive Bautista.  With Jose set to return this week, the two of them could be key for a charge to the top.

Player of the Week

Marcus Stroman, SP

Huge bounceback effort for Stroman in Arizona: 8 IP, 1 W, 8 H, 0 BB, 6 K, 1.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 52 – 50, 4th place, 12 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 45 – 55, 5th place, 22.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 33 – 36, 5th place; Second Half: 18 – 13, 2nd place, 2 GB

A – Lansing: First Half: 36 – 34, T-5th place; Second Half: 17 – 14, 3rd place,

2.5 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 16 – 21, 4th, 3 GB

The Look Ahead

July ends with six more at home, including a showdown with the Orioles

July 25 – 27 vs. San Diego

July 29 – 31 vs. Baltimore

The Week That Was: Week 15

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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 15.

Week 15: July 11 – July 17

Record: 1 – 2

Season-to-date: 52 – 42

AL East: 3rd, 3 games behind Baltimore

Wild Card: 1 ahead of Houston

  1. Same Old Problems

The Jays were rolling heading into the All-Star break, winners of 8 of 9.  The issues that plagued the team from mid-May to early-June seemed to be a thing of the past.  And then the second half started, and back came the same old problems: a bad Marcus Stroman, an inconsistent R.A. Dickey, and a leaky bullpen.  On Friday night Stroman was staked to an early 7-3 lead but surrendered home runs to Josh Reddick, Khris Davis, and Stephen Vogt to tie the game, before Brett Cecil allowed the winning run to drop his record to 0-6.  On Saturday Dickey was rocked for three HR, turning a 2-0 lead into a 5-4 loss.  Then on Sunday it only took Jesse Chavez four pitches to allow two inherited runners to score as the Jays blew a 3-0 lead.  Thankfully they came away with the W on Sunday, but really could have won all three.  Let’s chalk it up to an All-Star break hangover, but any lasting effects might prove devastating.

  1. All-Star Success

Five Blue Jays were named to the AL All-Star team, and all that were eligible to play saw game action last Tuesday night.  Although the contributions by the Jays were negligible – Donaldson, Encarnacion, and Saunders combined to go 0 for 3 with a walk and a run scored, and Sanchez allowed a run on two hits and a walk in one inning – the American League left San Diego with a 4-2 win and home field advantage in the World Series.  While I personally disagree with making the All-Star game itself worth something as valuable as home field advantage, it was nice that for the first time in decades (literally), Toronto entered the break as a contender.  For once, the game itself actually mattered to a Blue Jays fan.

  1. David Ortiz the Troublemaker

Perhaps it’s because this is his final big league season.  Maybe it’s because he is playing so well.  It could be because he is likable and says things with a laugh and a smile.  Whatever the reason, it seems a little bit odd that nobody seems to care about what David Ortiz had to say during the All-Star festivities about Edwin Encarnacion.  For those who missed it, Ortiz – on multiple occasions – stated that Boston should pursue the Jays DH in the offseason when he becomes a free agent.  “There is no better replacement for me than Edwin,” he said, before adding “sorry Blue Jays fans.”  In a profession where even the smallest things can lead to tampering charges, it is surprising – shocking even – that this is seemingly being pushed under the rug.  Maybe it’s nothing worth fretting over, but for a star to be openly lobbying for another player while he is still under contract to another team (a division rival no less) seems upsetting.

Player of the Week

Roberto Osuna, RP

Not much to choose from in a three game week, but Osuna shut the door when called upon:  2 IP, 1 SV, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 51 – 45, 4th place, 9 GB

AA – New Hampshire: 42 – 52, 5th place, 23.5 GB

A+ – Dunedin: First Half: 33 – 36, 5th place; Second Half: 17 – 8, 1st place

A – Lansing: First Half: 36 – 34, T-5th place; Second Half: 15 – 10, 3rd place, 1 GB

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 15 – 16, T-2nd, 1 GB

The Look Ahead

A short 5-game week

July 19 – 20 at Arizona

July 22 – 24 vs. Seattle

The Week That Was: Week 14

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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 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

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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 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