When we started this blog back in November, we promised to give a realist’s perspective on this Blue Jays team. Since we’re long-time fans, it’s easy to become caught up in the optimism of a fast start, both by the team and by individual players.
On the other hand, I’m also a Toronto fan. I like that hockey team that hasn’t been in the playoffs for six years. I was watching when that basketball team was ousted by the Sixers in 2001, and have been bummed out about their lack of success ever since. Consequently, I watched for all those years that that douche-bag general manager set our beloved baseball team back about a decade after the team was bought and commercialized by that massive cable company.
But enough cryptic talk. My point is that I watched this team jump out to that awesome start last season – WITH Doc on the team – and fall flat on its face by the end of the season. Because of this, you will have to forgive me for not getting ridiculously excited about the fact that our beloved team is over-achieving thus far.
I was back at the Skydome on Sunday, and was a proud witness to the Jays slugging their way past Washed-up Ben Sheets and the relative-no-name Oakland Athletics. That statement should sum up my feelings about this team, and this should be noted for the rest of this season, at the very least. I am not about to say OH MY GOD ALEX GONZALEZ SHOULD WIN MVP AND VERNON HAS TOTALLY REDEEMED HIMSELF FOR LAST SEASON!! WORLD SERIES HERE WE COME!!
Having said that, I won’t avoid giving credit where it’s due.
Yesterday afternoon, the Blue Jays looked good, but not amazing. Yes, they scored nine runs, but those all came during the first four innings, and were all scored directly off of Sheets, who, to say that he looks like a shadow of himself would understate just how terrible he was. Throwing strikes was not a big issue, but throwing pitches that the Jays did not pounce on and crush was just that. It seemed as though every time contact was made, no matter who it was by (Jose Bautista not included), the ball would reach the warning track, and land in just about every gap that the A’s defense left uncovered.
Over this span, Johnny Mac had a double and a triple, Fred Lewis and Aaron Hill hit back-to-back jacks off consecutive pitches, and Alex Gonzalez smacked a two-run bomb in the first to open up a 4-0 lead.
My concern lies in the fact that the Jays’ offense failed to produce a single run off the A’s bullpen duo of Brad Kilby and Craig Breslow in their combined 4 and 2/3 innings of work. They managed three hits and also struck out three times against these relievers who each managed to draw a confused look and a “WHO??” on my part.
Which brings up another point: who the heck are these A’s players, and how is a team with so many no-names sitting anywhere near the top of the AL West?? One of the more recognizable names on their team was Ryan Sweeney, and I’m thinking this is only because it’s still fresh in my mind that Buck Martinez announced a few weeks ago that the Jays had called him up, confusing him with Jeremy Reed (I’m guessing this is either because their names sound so much alike, or it’s because they both happen to be outfielders?). I also noticed that they miraculously still have Eric Chavez on the team, though he’s seemingly a mere shadow of the man who won six Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award back in 2002. According to TSN.ca, his back is too messed up for him to play third base anymore – which was where he won all of those Gold Gloves… too bad.
And yet, despite the fact that this lineup is a poolie’s nightmare, Shaun Marcum still had his troubles with it. I must pretense this by saying that I’m still a big fan of Marcum’s, but having now seen him live twice this week, my opinion of him has been somewhat altered slightly. I would have to guess that this is because of my large expectations of him. Maybe it was his near-no-no on opening day, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s the ace, and Toronto fans tend to have large hopes for its aces.
Maybe I should lighten up a little bit, and remember that a man fresh off missing a whole season with an injury to his pitching arm is not going to pitch like Doc. If I can drill that thought into my head, I’ll probably enjoy this season a little more. But for a man whose calling card throughout his short career has been his control, it was troubling to see him walk four batters on Sunday.
If Marcum can stay healthy, I think he’s incredibly valuable. I think that the troubles he’s experiencing are still growing pains to some extent. When he’s locked in, he’s untouchable. He struck out six against the A’s; the first three of which were caught looking. But his problems on Sunday, and on Tuesday against the Red Sox as well, stem from a habit of trying to be a little too fine. At times, when ahead in the count, Marcum has a habit of rounding out the count and then losing batters at somewhat crucial times. When this happens, his whole routine slows right down, which takes his team-mates, and consequently the fans, out of the game.
But can I really complain? In the two games I saw him this week, he went 13 1/3 innings, allowing 10 hits and 2 earned runs while striking out eleven and walking seven. The sparkling number, of course, is the runs allowed. Marcum gets himself into countless jams, but he always seems to find a way to get out of them cleanly. As a result, his 3.12 ERA deserves far more than his solitary victory, but hopefully the bats will give him more performances like Sunday, and less like Tuesday.
Speaking of the bats, let’s talk about this wildly inconsistent lineup of over-achievers and one man who seems to be fighting for his life to prove that last season was an exception to the rule.
Keeping to the social contract regarding bandwagon-jumping that I discussed at the start of this article, I refuse to buy Vernon Wells’ jersey, beg for his autograph, and shower him with praise in each subsequent post after he has a big game.
Don’t get me wrong, I am impressed. He made a great leaping sno-cone catch in the seventh inning on Sunday, which more than likely prevented a second run from scoring off Marcum in his final inning of work. In both games I watched this week, he hit RBI doubles in the first inning. His production numbers have improved substantially, he hit more than half the amount of homers he all of last season in April alone, and more than a quarter the RBIs. He’s doing very well.
Another guy who’s doing really well is Alex Gonzalez, who has as many homers so far as he had all of last season, and also has three more RBIs than Vernon. He’s also looking pretty smooth on defense. Not bad, for a guy making roughly $2 million bucks this season.
None of you are going to believe me (especially my dear blogging partner), but I’m not surprised about John Buck’s play. Now I’m aware of the fact that can’t block the plate nearly as well as Rod Barajas or Gregg Zaun, but he’s got a sweet swing. Over the course of his career, he’s struggled to hit for average, and as Pete has pointed out, this is probably because he only ever seems to swing for the fences. But, as I mentioned after Tuesday’s game, even when he’s flying out, he’s making great contact – just as Barajas did last season. And surely enough, he went on to smack three homers in one game a couple days later, and was 3 for 4 with three doubles on Sunday.
Seeing as we have a fine Cuban shortstop and the Arencibia/D’Arnaud combination waiting in the wings, I’m pretty happy with Gonzalez and Buck right now. They are plugs, yes, but unlike guys like EE, J-Bau and Brian Tallet, they are pleasures to watch as they delightfully over-achieve. If either of them slips up, as is almost inevitable, given their career numbers, at least we know that those positions are covered moving forward.
So what’s my conclusion to this rant of sorts? Again, while I’m pleased that the team is at .500 after 26 games, and while seeing them win gives me that warm feeling of delight that can only come from seeing your home-town team win games, I’m going to continue to be realistic. While the team looked good against the A’s, the west is not exactly a strong division right now. We also got swept by a Red Sox team that was just swept by the now-7-18 Orioles. I’m glad that the team is winning games, but I will not jump for joy until they experience success later in the season.
In the meantime, it’s good to know that guys like Buck, Wells and Gonzalez are stepping up while guys like Adam Lind and Travis Snider and (no shock, but) Jose Bautista struggle. It’s also good to see that Aaron Hill, fresh off his injury, is starting to find his stroke, after falling a triple shy of the cycle on Sunday.
Tonight, the Jays take their show back on the road to face the 10-14 Cleveland Indians. Now, it’s easy to get arrogant and say that this series will be a joke, given the fact that Vernon Wells and Alex Gonzalez combined have more home runs than the entire Indians team has hit this year, Grady Sizemore’s hitting .207 with no homers, Travis Hafner is hitting .197 with two homers, and the whole pitching staff is made up of even less intimidating names than the Jays’, this is the same kind of attitude I had last week going into the series with the Red Sox. Still, with the Jays’ lineup hitting in bunches, and the starting rotation on the whole looking pretty promising, it’s hard to ignore the rays of optimism that are breaking through the thick fog that the loss of Doc Halladay has blanketed over the fans this season.
Brett Cecil takes on Mitch Talbot at 7:05 tonight.
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