The Blue Jays (32-31) experienced an even-steven four-games set against the Kansas City Royals in more than one way this week. Not only did they earn a 2-2 split, with the Royals taking the book-end games and Toronto triumphing in the middle two, but they enjoyed a scorching return from one line-up regular (Adam Lind) while losing another (Yunel Escobar) to injury.
A Closer Look
Linding a Hand: Yes, it’s a terrible pun, but at least it isn’t an over-used terrible pun. Anyway, Adam Lind was obviously the story for much of the Royals’ series, as he now has [stats] in six games since returning from injury. We know he won’t keep up the torrid pace, but the early success does point to the first baseman’s impressive over-all 2011 numbers thus far and highlight a Toronto line-up that is coming further and further into focus. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Jose Bautista and Lind are entrenched in the No. 3 and 4 slots, respectively, for years to come and are supported by emerging bats like Yunel Escobar, Rajai Davis, J.P. Arencibia (more on him later) and, should he fully rebound, Aaron Hill. You’ll notice that doesn’t even address contributing veterans like Corey Patterson and Juan Rivera, or farmhands like Travis Snider, Brett Lawrie, Eric Thames or other offensive talents throughout the system.
Jays Can’t Come Through in Clutch: It’s hard to criticize a team’s offence when they count 21 runs over a four-game series, but there’s also a difference between good hitting and clutch hitting. And while the Jays had plenty of the former against Kansas City, they were sorely lacking in the latter. A two-run home run on Tuesday represented the club’s only run support all series in the eighth inning or later and Thursday’s 3-2 loss came after Toronto could not bring anyone across home after the fourth inning. To put it in stat-speak, Jays hitters were 0-9 with runners in scoring position from the eighth inning on, with – get this – five strikeouts and two double play balls. Is there reason for concern? Probably not, but it’s not exactly encouraging on a team with plenty of professional hitters that the Blue Jays aren’t working the count late in key situations. With the Red Sox now coming to town, Toronto could be burned by a club that has traditionally known how to close out games.
Where Does J.P. Rank?: It’s not as though the Jays’ rookie catcher has set the league on fire through his first 2+ months in the majors, but Arencibia has certainly been solid and – most importantly – has improved both offensively and defensively as the season has puttered along. His .249 average and .307 OBP won’t send anyone rushing to any trophy engraving shops, but he ranks second in the league in home runs (10, one behind Mark Trumbo of the Angels) and RBI (32, one behind Washington’s Danny Espinosa). On the other side of the ball, he has developed to the point where manager John Farrell feels comfortable in having him catch all five starters. Unless Arencibia really goes on a tear, the AL Rookie of the Year award will likely come down to pitchers Michael Pineda (Seattle), Zach Britton (Baltimore), Jeremy Hellickson (Tampa Bay) and any late-arriving prospects who may be able to hit the ground running (Lawrie? Eric Hosmer?). But that shouldn’t deter from a first-year performance that has done nothing but solidify the 25-year old’s place as the team’s catcher of the present and future.
Robson is Latest Canadian Blue Jay: You can find my thoughts on the Jays’ 2011 draft here, but the post omitted a significant Day Two selection by Alex Anthopoulos and his staff. RHP Tom Robson projects as little more than a back-of-the-rotation starter (if that), but the fourth rounder (139th over-all) does signal the continuing trend of young Canadians in the organization. The Ladner, BC native joins Lawrie, Adam Loewen and 2010 draftee Marcus Knecht as young canucks acquired on the GM’s watch, highlighting his commitment to growing the game locally. I’ll say it again: don’t be surprised to see the team move their Triple A operations to Ottawa or Montreal once their Las Vegas deal expires at season’s end.
The Other Guys: While there are plenty of good arguments to be made for how the MLB is hardly concerned with parity, the Royals seem to be benefitting from the even-handed elements of the system. Perennial bottom-feeders, they have now accumulated enough elite draft talent to offer encouraging hope for the near future. Hosmer, Monday’s walk-off hero, is producing at the big league level and may never look back, while Mike Moustakas, Will Myers and John Lamb are just a few of the blue chippers who could be ready for the Show before the season’s out. Heck, just look at Thursday’s win, as KC won on the strength of a big day at the plate from Hosmer, a strong pitching performance from former top pick Luke Hochevar, a hold from emerging reliever Aaron Crow and a save from All-Star closer Joakim Soria.
Boston hits town with the red-hot tandem of Adrian Gonzalez and a rejuvenated David Ortiz in tow, but without injured 2B Dustin Pedroia. First up is Jo-Jo Reyes looking for a third win in a row against Jay killer Clay Buchholz.
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Written by Ben Fisher