The Blue Jays (20-20) are back at .500 today thanks to a road series sweep of the woeful Minnesota Twins. Even the 3-0 series score, a trio of wins that extended the team’s streak to a season-high five in a row, didn’t do justice to what was a dominant set that saw Toronto outscore the Twins 22-6, including a Ricky Romero shutout, an extra-inning power surge and Jose Bautista’s three-homer Sunday.
A Closer Look
Jose Keeps Rolling: I find all the hyperbole around Bautista to be a little excessive (seriously, Dan Shulman, did you just suggest the Jays’ slugger as the best player in baseball??), but that shouldn’t take away from the stunning follow-up enjoyed by the 30-year old. His four-homer-in-five-at-bat stretch over the weekend (all of which were absolutely crushed, by the way) put him on pace for 65 this season, while even his non-power offensive stats (.368 average, .520 OBP) are gaudy. Another stat for you: over his last 165 games, Bautista has hit more home runs (65) than he did in the previous 603 (64) of his major league career. Now if we could just get fans showing up at Rogers Centre to offer their support and appreciation…
Forty Games in and I’m Already Looking Foolish: It’s already time for me to eat crow on a few of my earlier instant analyses which haven’t exactly turned out as I’d expected. If you recall, I panned the trade that saw Trystan Magnuson and Daniel Farquhar (who has since been re-acquired by the Jays) head west to Oakland in exchange for Rajai Davis. While he hasn’t hit much, his 11 stolen bases (just six less than the 2010 total of Fred Lewis, of whom I said Davis was a carbon copy) have created runs and helped change the team’s offensive identity. Meanwhile, my early season suggestion that Kyle Drabek was leapfrogging Romero as team ace looks premature, with Romero asserting his place atop the rotation with a dominant outing on Friday while Drabek has struggled to adjust as major league hitters gain a fuller knowledge of his pitching arsenal.
The ‘Pen is Coming Through: Bautista is the headlining star and the central reason that an otherwise struggling Jays club finds themselves just three games out of first place in the division. But even “Joey Bats’” (his nickname according to baseball-reference.com) numbers can’t diminish the contributions of a veteran bullpen unit that has been called upon early and often as the young starting rotation takes their lumps. Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco have looked reasonably strong in late game situations, but it is a holdover group that includes Marc Rzepczynski, Shawn Camp, Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen that has kept the club in games and has carried much of the load in holding leads. It is, however, long reliever Carlos Villanueva who has quietly been the most reliable relief arm, allowing just four earned runs over 22.1 innings for a 1.61 ERA through 12 appearances. All told, excluding the shaky Octavio Dotel and early blow-ups from Luis Perez and ex-Jay David Purcey, Toronto relievers own a 7-4 record with a 2.10 ERA this season.
Time for Lawrie Yet?: Juan Rivera is hitting .208, while Edwin Encarnacion has a .246 average. Brett Lawrie, meanwhile, continues to make a mockery of minor league pitching to the tune of a .321 average and .375 OBP at AAA Las Vegas. The team has already pushed the 21-year old’s “Super 2” status back so that he will be arbitration-eligible no sooner than 2015 and qualify for free agency no earlier than 2018. His defence, while still a looming question, will continue to be so right up until he gets to the majors anyway, so it could be well worth the big league club’s time to see if he can cut it on both sides of the ball.
The Other Guys: That so many MLB observers were caught off-guard by the Twins’ abysmal start is a testament to the organization’s knack for producing competitive, contending clubs despite not having the resources of teams like the Yankees or Red Sox (it’s ironic, then, that their fall has come after opening their wallets for Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau). After all, it’s not like a rotation highlighted by Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano is World Series-calbre, and there was always reason to be wary of Morneau making a completely smooth return from concussion complications. That being said, it is still startling to already hear talk of a fire sale in Minnesota as Mauer, Morneau and Liriano all enter what should be the peak of their careers. Maybe free-agent-to-be Michael Cuddyer needs to go, but to give up hope after a month and a half seems ridiculous.
Something’s gotta give when the Jays put their five-game winning streak on the line against the Detroit Tigers and their seven wins in a row as the two teams meet for a quick two-game set at Comerica Park. Drabek and Max Scherzer get the call tonight in the opener of what is, thankfully, a Justin Verlander-less series.
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Written by Ben Fisher