Alex Rodriguez and No. 600 are going to get the bulk of the attention, but the Jays’ (56-52) impressive effort in taking two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx should not be overlooked. Though they ended things on a flat note with Wednesday’s 5-1 loss, the Blue Birds continued to showcase their offensive prowess in scoring 16 runs over a pair of series-opening wins.
Cito Gaston’s focus for the remainder of the season is clear: get his players at-bats and some defensive opportunities in order to help the front office gain a clearer picture of the team heading into next season. And even though the manager likely has no future with the team past this season, he is doing just that. This series, alone, saw Fred Lewis serve as DH, while Travis Snider and Adam Lind has first-time experiences of hitting lead-off and playing first base, respectively. Lewis’ DH stint enabled Snider to get the start in left field on Monday (where he proceeded to highlight his mixed bag development with two doubles and two strikeouts) and Lind’s position change helped ease the transition into his widely-speculated permanent move to first next season. Snider’s lead-off endeavour (an 0-for-5 effort), meanwhile, seemed to accomplish little.
Up the Hill
At the end of the season, Aaron Hill’s 2010 numbers will look abysmal. That is, quite simply, the position he’s put himself in by struggling right through July and toying with the Mendoza line over the season’s first 100 games or so. While a late surge – as he appears to be on the cusp of – will probably do little to change those numbers, they could have a significant impact on his confidence going into next season, a factor far more important than stats. Hill’s hitless effort on Wednesday snapped what had been a five-game hit streak over which he hit .421 (8-19) with two home runs, four runs and four RBI. His average – currently .213 – isn’t likely to improve much this season, but his confidence and outlook for 2011 could.
Late season pitching concerns
On a staff with so little starting experience, late season innings worries were bound to crop up. Gaston has already shown plenty of concern in the status of Jesse Litsch, whose Saturday start against the Rays bears watching. Now, it is Brandon Morrow who has come under scrutiny after allowing five earned runs in 5.1 innings of work on Monday. It isn’t that the converted reliever’s start, in which he collected his eighth win, was particularly bad, but Gaston noticed a drop in velocity on his fastball to the 84-89 mph range. If the team is forced to limit Morrow’s innings down the stretch, it could cause problems for a bullpen short on long relief options.
The stars keep shining
Forgive long-suffering Blue Jays fans for waiting for the other shoe to drop on this season’s highlights. No, the club isn’t in the postseason mix, but the ability of Toronto to play well above pre-season expectations and stay healthy while offering hope for a bright future is sure to make supporters excited and tentative at the same time. That cautious hope starts at the top, in the play of ace pitcher Ricky Romero and surprising power bat Jose Bautista. But the two stars continue to shine, as evidenced by a series in which Romero pitched a complete game two-hitter and allowed just two earned runs while Bautista had four hits, scored three runs, collected four RBI and hit his league-leading 33rd home run of the season.
After knocking the Yankees out of top spot in the AL East, the Jays head home hoping to try and do the same to the Tampa Bay Rays. After an off-day, Brett Cecil will take to the hill against recent no-hit producer Matt Garza.
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Written by Ben Fisher