A lot went wrong for the Blue Jays (79-77) over the standard nine innings during their four-game series against the Angels. They were dominated by some superb starting pitching, lost two games and were outscored 22-13. However, it was extra inning heroics, capped off by an Edwin Encarnacion walk-off home run on Thursday, which helped them take the other two games and earn a split in their final home series of 2011.
A Closer Look
Better Late Than Never: With the two walk-off wins this week, the Jays are ending the year with a 12-0 record in extra innings games at home. Sure, this seems like one of those arbitrary stats that the sport embraces, but it just so happens that no other team has been able to claim an unbeaten record in extras at home (while playing as many such games) in 90 years of baseball. That doesn’t mean that the stat isn’t arbitrary, but it happens to highlight an on-going trend with these Jays: they know how to make a late push. Not only do they win in extras, but they have even tended to make things interesting in the latter stages of what had previously been one-sided affairs. Hell, even on Tuesday night they reeled off four runs over the final three innings and had a pair of runners on in the ninth to turn what had been a 10-2 laugher into a closer-than-it-seemed 10-6 Angels’ win. Hard to know if these cardiac Jays are just young players taking longer to get settled into games, talented hitters waiting to take advantage of fatigued opposing starters or lesser relievers, or if they are simply pushing to compensate for their own underwhelming relief corps. In any event, the 12-0 stat is a nice one to look back on after the season, but it is the rally-friendly, ‘never-say-die’ approach that could really help this club moving forward.
Bautista on the Verge: It will be an interesting final six games for Jose Bautista, who is on the cusp of an extremely rare feat. He currently sits just two percentage points below a .450 OBP for the season, a nice figure that would place him in some pretty impressive company. Only six active major leaguers have ever finished a season at or above the mark (Jason Giambi, Todd Helton, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Lance Berkman and Jim Thome) and only John Olerud (.473, 1993) and Carlos Delgado (.470, 2000) have done so in franchise history. Bautista’s 54 homers in 2010 stand out further as an individual stat (only Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez and Ortiz have hit more among active players and no other Jay has hit as many in a season), but I’ll take 42 round-trippers and a .450 OBP ahead of last season’s 54 with a .378 OBP.
Thames Makes His Push: Eric Thames doesn’t seem to want to wait until next spring to stake his claim to the leftfield job with the Jays. The 24-year old made his case for the 2012 job with a nine-hit effort (including two home runs) over four games against the Angels, a nice surge from a guy who has slumped down the stretch. However, Thames’ hot series has inspired a review of what has been a remarkably solid rookie season for the powerful lefty. He ranks third on the team in slugging percentage (.468), fifth in homers (12) and sixth in hits (92) and batting average (.271). Among rookies, he ranks sixth in runs scored (57) despite having 35 fewer at-bats than anyone else in the top 10, ranks seventh in homers and ranks eighth in slugging percentage. Are his numbers worthy of RoY consideration? No, but they are already good enough for the No. 6 or 7 hole that he’d likely be expected to fill in the 2012 line-up (with no other changes, it seems reasonable to expect a 3-4-5 of Bautista, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie, with Colby Rasmus fitting in there somewhere). His defence remains a work in progress, but he is certainly no worse of a fielder than either Encarnacion or Travis Snider, his likely LF rivals. Snider will still have a shot to prove that he can harness his considerable talents, but Thames might already have the inside track on the job.
The Other Guys: For a team presently on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in, the future – both short and long-term – seems pretty rosy for the Angels. In the short-term, they could get some scheduling help in their desperate push to close in on the two-games-ahead Red Sox in the Wild Card race. Los Angeles plays all of their remaining six games at home, with three games coming against the 70-86 A’s and three against a Texas Rangers squad that may sit some of their regulars with, likely, their postseason standing already secure. Best of all, the Angels will get two starts out of ace Jered Weaver in their final six (Boston, meanwhile, has lost 12 of their last 15 and stumble into a series at Yankee Stadium this weekend). Long-term, the Angels can look ahead to a 2012 season that will likely see the return of Kendry Morales (the team will have to figure out what to do with star rookie Mark Trumbo) and the possible exit of free agent C.J. Wilson from the rival Rangers.
Another spoiler opportunity presents itself for Toronto this weekend, as they visit the Trop to face the also-two-games-out Tampa Bay Rays. While the Jays miss James Shields, they do face the daunting task of getting runs off David Price tonight as he hits the mound against Brandon Morrow.
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Written by Ben Fisher