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Jays kick off 2011 in style

Posted By Ben Fisher On Apr 4 2011 @ 1:00 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

My colleague George Fadel and I will be bringing you all the news notes and opinions on John Farrel’s boys of summer this season through recapping each Blue Jays’ series. The Jays got things off to a hot start, so let’s do the same.

What Happened

It may not have been the sweep that fans attending Sunday’s game had hoped for, but the Jays (2-1) certainly did not disappoint in taking two of three from the reigning AL Central champion Minnesota Twins. Friday’s home opener saw Toronto back to their offensive swagger from last season in a 13-3 win, while Kyle Drabek looked every bit the ace-in-waiting as he notched his first career victory in Saturday’s 6-1 triumph. The weekend ended on a down note, however, with Adam Lind’s bases loaded groundout in the bottom of the ninth ensuring a 4-3 loss to the Twins.

A Closer Look

Welcome to a new beginning: Credit Farrell with not wasting any time in putting his own stamp on the club. After both Rajai Davis and Yunel Escobar each singled to get the Jays’ first two batters of the season on base, a curious thing happened: the two men successfully attempted a double steal. An aggressive mindset on the base paths hasn’t really been in the team’s playbook since the days of Devon White and Rickey Henderson, so it comes as a breath of fresh air from the usually power-happy Jays.

Drabek overtaking Romero?: An interesting study in pitching contrasts was presented between Ricky Romero, the Opening Day starter and supposed club ace, and the youngster Drabek over the first two games of the season. Both hurlers were exceptional and the team would receive a huge boost if the two men were able to pitch like that consistently, but there was a decided dominance in Drabek’s outing that was lacking in Romero’s 6.1 innings of one-run, seven-hit ball. Sure, I’m splitting hairs here, but if Saturday taught us anything, it’s that Drabek may not be the ace of the future, but the ace of the present.

Bautista picks up where he left off: Most, including myself, were expecting some decline in Jose Bautista’s offensive production from last year, given how unlikely his power surge was. The early returns, however, would suggest he is in fine 2010 form, having collected five hits, five runs and two homers over his first 11 at-bats, in addition to four walks. He’ll need some protection in the line-up (paging Messrs Lind and Hill), but even the biggest Bautista doubter has to be encouraged by the start.

Are the snake-bitten Jays back?: Injuries played a minimal role in Toronto last season for the first time in recent memory, but they are already starting to rear their ugly head again this year. In addition to already-injured relievers Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel, Davis’ ankle woes have to be a concern, Hill still doesn’t look like he’s at full health (of course, his confidence is likely shot as well) and Brett Cecil’s puzzling loss of velocity could loom large as the season progresses.

Key to a successful season?: I was asked over the weekend what I thought was the key to 2011 being considered a successful season for the Blue Jays, an interesting question when you consider that they still aren’t expected to contend in the AL East and could reasonably still be a threat to finish last given the apparent rise of the Orioles. This season will be about individual developmental gains, with Drabek, Travis Snider, J.P. Arencibia being the most critical among those currently at the major league level. If the Jays can remain close to their 85-win mark from a year ago while giving some young prospects a taste of the big time and bringing the future of the Jays’ roster into clearer focus, this year will have to be deemed a success.

The other guys: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (combined for just two hits in the series) will come around eventually, but is that enough offence on a club that seems to be sorely lacking in that department? Denard Span looks good as a mainstay atop the order, but even Ron Gardenhire doesn’t seem to know what to do with Delmon Young and guys like Michael Cuddyer, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Danny Valencia will only give you so much. At least Joe Nathan was able to secure his first save since 2009, although even that wasn’t particularly pretty.

Up Next

After an off-day, the homestand continues for Jays as they welcome the A’s in a battle of two of the majors’ best young pitching staffs. Jo-Jo Reyes gets his first start with the Jays against Dallas Braden in the opener on Tuesday, as Davis hopes to return to the line-up against his former club.

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