June 2014

A date to remember…

I know, I know… a game does not make a season, no more than the first swallow you see does not mean that Spring has arrived.

But, if ever, the Toronto Blue Jays make it to the playoffs this season, one will have to remember the game played on June 20th in Cincinnati.

Why?

After starting the trip with a split of a four-game series in Baltimore and being swept by the Yankees in New York, the Jays found themselves down 8-0 after only two innings against the Reds.

It would have been so easy for them to hang their head… say we’ll get them tomorrow… and that, after all, it was just a bad trip all together.

But no. The Jays refused to yield and started to hammer away at the Reds while John Gibbons used every page in his book, with the result that the Jays won that game 14-9.

Matter of fact, everybody contributed to this almost historic comeback.

Edwin Encarnacion went deep twice and drove in six runs… Brett Lawrie added three hits, including his 12th homerun… Juan Francisco came off the bench and hit a two-run pinch homer… Munenori Kawasaki chipped in with two hits and despite an error, made an outstanding defensive play to keep the Jays alive… Jose Bautista did not get a hit, but drew four walks and scored twice… Melky Cabrera added two hits and two walks and scored two runs… Erik Kratz slugged a double in the ninth to drive in the go ahead run while Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus also did their part.

Only Jose Reyes, bothered by a foul ball on his leg, did not get into the act.

And one must not forget the pitchers who, after Liam Hendricks and Todd Redmond gave up eight runs in the first two innings, gave up only one run over the next seven innings.

That is really what you call a TEAM win!

Will this victory be used as a booster for the Jays?

Only the next couple of weeks will tell, because the Yankees and the Orioles are breathing down their necks and the Red Sox are playing much better.

One thing is certain, in order to reach the playoffs, the Jays will have to find a way to win in Yankee Stadium where they have lost their last 16 games. This sequence ties the longest losing streak by one team against another since the Baltimore Orioles lost 16 games in a row against the Blue Jays, from August 8th 2009 to June 15th 2011.

Also, the young pitchers like Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison will have to find a way to pitch much deeper into games. In his last start vs the Yankees, Stroman used 98 pitches in less than four innings while Hutchison threw 99 pitches in a bit more than four innings.

And, the day following the dramatic comeback, J.A. Happ gave up three runs on one hit and four walks, after retiring the first two batters in the first inning! As the previous day magic could not be found, Happ made 99 pitches before leaving after four innings and the Jays bowed, 11-1.

To make things worst, in the last game of the trip, the Jays lost 4-3 despite R.A. Dickey pitching almost eight innings and Brett Lawrie suffered a broken index finger after being hit by  Johnny Cueto in the top of the second inning while Jose Bautista left in the third inning, injuring his left leg, running to third on a sacrifice-bunt.

I’m still wondering why a slugger like « Joey Bats » would try to sacrifice himself instead of swinging away!

And Adam Lind is still limping!

The return of a healthy Sergio Santos should really help the bullpen, but the inconsistency of Steve Delabar is a source of worry. His inability to throw strikes forced management to send him back to Buffalo while Brett Cecil has been put on the disabled list.

As the season goes along, it looks more and more like one wishes for the addition of an experienced starter who would give the Jays the depth they need while an experienced reliever would also be welcomed!

Where will they find the solution to their immediate problems? Down the farm system or on the trade market?

It is up to general manager Alex Anthopoulos and it is not an easy one!

He is aware that the 2013 season can not be repeated and that this year, the Jays have to reach the playoffs.

But first things first… the Jays have to get ready for the Yankees who are coming to town for a three-game series, followed by the White Sox…

Not the time to panic… yet!

Yes, the Blue Jays are not hitting  and they are not winning like they did in May, but one must be reminded that it is a very long season… and one must not expect them to keep such a pace over the course of 162 games.

In the Twins series, the Jays started on the right foot as Edwin Encarnacion erased a 2-0 Twins lead with his 20th homerun, a three-run blast in the second inning.

Then, the defense took over for better and for worst. The defense kept the Jays in the lead until the ninth inning, when it allowed the Twins      to tie the game.

Three double-plays kept the Jays in front, but Steve Tolleson could not complete a fourth double-play and Kevin Pillar’s bad judgment transformed a single into a double a a 4-4 tie in the ninth. Luckily, Pillar redeemed himself with the game winning hit in the bottom of the ninth.

If the Jays had a power surge on Monday, they never got going in the second game as they were shut out for the third time in four games, 4-0. They got seven hits, but none with men in scoring position. Brian Dozier struck in the first inning as he got to J.A. Happ with a two-run blast. Happ was not able to complete the thirs inning.

Things did not improve the next day as Phil Hughes handcuffed the Jays over the first seven innings, spreading seven hits while striking out nine batters.

Finally, in the eighth inning, the Jays prevented another shutout, scoring two runs off reliever Jared Burton.

Young Marcus Stroman pitched a decent game, giving up three runs on nine hits over the first six innings. But Bobby Korecky, just recalled from Buffalo, was roughed up for three more in two innings as the Jays lost 7-2.

In the first of four games in Baltimore, it was evident that a team which is struggling, often tries too hard. Jose Reyes was doubled up, going from first to third base on a Melky Cabrera’s grounder in the first inning and an early threat was thwarted.

Then, the Orioles took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a two-run homer by Delmon Young off Mark Buehrle. They were never threatened as the Jays stranded seven runners. Buehrle suffered his second loss as he allowed four runs on eight hits.

The next day, the Jays finally took an early lead when Juan Francisco hit a two-run homer, his 11th of the year, in the second inning. It was the first time in the last nine games that the Jays scored first. For Francisco, it spelled relief as the big man was hitting only ,133 since the beginning of June.

Drew Hutchison had another very strong start away from Rogers Centre, shutting out the Orioles on six hits, no walk, and three strikeouts over the first seven innings.

Dustin McGowan who seems very much at ease in his new role, gave up only one hit as the Jays ended their three-game losing streak with a 4-0 win.

On Saturday, the Jays were able to take the lead, 1-0, on a bases loaded walk, but to no avail. Only one of their nine hits came when they had men in scoring position as dropped a 3-2 decision.

R.A. Dickey suffered the loss and he had to leave the game in the sixth inning with a slight groin pull while Adam Lind was struck by a fall ball on his right foot and had to leave with a contuse. They are both day-to-day.

Trailing 3-1 in the eighth inning,  Jose Bautista tried to scored from first on a double by Encarnacion, but was thrown out at the plate. The play was reviewed, but the umpires upheld the decision. Later in the inning, Brett Lawrie drove Encarnacion home with what could have been the tying run, but it was not enough.

The Jays had to leave Baltimore with at least a split in their four-game series and J.A. Happ made it possible when he shutout the Orioles over the first five innings as the Jays won 5-2.

Casey Janssen recorded his 12th save and the Jays knew they had to get their act together as they now move to Yankees Stadium for a three-game series, a place where last year they were winless in 10 games…

 

Who is the real Drew Hutchison?

After the off-day, last Monday, the Jays had to face the Detroit Tigers on their turf, and in the first game Drew Hutchison and Anibal Sanchez were very sharp over the first eight innings.

Then, it was a battle between relievers and the Jays jumped on Joe Nathan for five runs in the top of the ninth inning as Brett Lawrie hit a three-run shot.

Nevertheless, the Jays had to call upon Casey Janssen to preserve their 5-3 win since Steve Delabar gave up two walks and a three-run homer.

In the second game, R.A. Dickey was handed the win, but I’m sure that if he could do it he would give it to Aaron Loup. The yound lefthander came in the sixth inning with a 3-2 lead… the Tigers had loaded the bases with nobody out!

Loup retired the next three Tigers without giving up a single run.

Melky Cabrera. Jose Bautista and Adam Lind lead the attack as the Jays recorded their 18th win (8-2) in their last 22 games. Cabrera got three hits, including his 10th homer, and drove in two runs while Cabrera also chipped in three hits and two rbis. Lind drove in three more with two doubles.

The next day, the Jays completed the sweep as the beat the Central division leading Tigers 7-3, for theit fifth consecutive victory.

J.A. Happ won for the fifth time this season, allowing only three runs over the first six innings and Janssen came in to get the last out and record his 11th save.

Justin Verlander took the loss as Juan Francisco and Brett Lawrie hit back-to-back jacks to break a 3-3 tie. Cabrera also hit his 10th homer of the season, a solo shot in the last inning.

Then, the Jays came back home to face the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rookie Marcus Stroman was impressive as he gave up only one run on seven hits and two walks for his third major league win while striking out seven Cards.

The Jays took a 2-1 lead as Bautista hit his 15th homerun of the season and Brett Lawrie hit his 11th, tying his personal best.

Jose Reyes sealed the win, driving in another run in the eight inning.

The 3-1 win could have been a much easier affair. In the sixth inning, Bautista stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out.

« Joey Bats » hit a scorcher to second baseman Daniel Descalso and the Cards were on their way to execute their first triple play since Mays 2005. It was, also, the seventh time in their history that the Jays had hit into a triple-play.

Once Stroman left the mound, relievers Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan and Janssen allowed only one runner over the last three innings and the Jays had their sixth win in a row.

But on Saturday, the Jays forgot their bats in their dressing room and they were shutout only for the second time this season. They got only three hits off Shelby Miller.

So, Mark Buehrle suffered his second loss of the year even if he allowed only one run on Randall Grichick first homer.

Aaron Loup, so reliable over the last three weeks, had his worst outing of the season, giving up four runs in less than one inning of work.

And on Sunday, Drew Hutchison’ s Rogers Centre blues were one more time evident, as the Cards got to him for five runs during the first three innings.

Is he Dr Jekill and Mr Hyde… when he starts a game away from the Rogers Centre, Hutchison has an outstanding 2,03 era while at home, his era has ballooned to 8.72 !

The Jays were shutout for the second consecutive game, as they could get only four hits.

The Jays are still in first place… but they can’t hope that the other teams in their division will always loose when they do.

An almost perfect week

A lazy relay from Jose Reyes, in the ninth inning of the first game of the Royals series prevented the Jays from having an almost perfect homestand.

But with an 8-2 performance at home, John Gibbons had every reason to be proud of his players as they now will now face the Central Division leaders, the Detroit Tigers in a 3-game series.

In the first game of the Tampa Bay Rays series, the Jays were merciless against Canadian Érik Bédard, as they greeted him with five straight hits in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead. The Rays tied it up in the third, but the Jays stormed back with three runs in the fourth when Dioner Navarro and Steve Tolleson had solo homeruns.

Drew Hutchison was not sharp, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks without recording a single strikeout. But, nevertheless, he notched his fourth victory of the season.

The Jays kept their winning streak alive in the second game as Mark Buehrle recorded his ninth win of the year even if he was not in top form.

The Jays offense got 13 hits, including Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion (him again!) and Juan Francisco both hit homeruns while Jose Bautista added three hits and Brett Lawrie two .They both had an rbi, as the Jays won 9-6.

If the last eight Jays win were recorded because of their heavy hitting, their ninth in a row went in the books thanks to a strong defence and their outstanding speed around the bases.

White Liam Hendricks was throwing strikes, the Rays were making solid contact… but Anthony Gose and Melky Cabrera robbed them of extra-base hits in the outfield. Francisco and Lawrie also were very sharp in the infield as Hendricks gave up only a two-run homer to Desmond Jennings.

So the Jays and the Rays were deadlocked at 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning when Navarro leadoff with a single. Kevin Pillar pinch ran for him and Gose stepped up to the plate, dropping a bunt. Reliever Carlos Oviedo rushed his throw and the ball sailed toward right field as Pillar sped around the bases and he dove in at the plate with the winning run.

For the first time since May 2009, the Jays were 10 games above .500.

The winning streak ended as the Kansas City Royals came to Rogers Centre.

A lazy throw by Jose Reyes, after two outs, in the top of the ninth allowed the Royals to tie the score, 6-6. It prevented the Jays from extending their winning streak and Casey Janssen from recording his ninth save in a row, even if was not to blame for it.

The loss clouded another outstanding performance from Encarnacion who became only the third hitter, in major league history, to hit two homeruns in a  game, five times, in a single month. Harmon Killebrew, with the Washington Senators in 1959 and Albert Bell, with the Cleveland Indians in 1995, are the only others to do so.

And the next day, the Jays could not buy a hit with runners in scoring position. Although they had eight hits, the Jays stranded 10 runners.

J.A. Happ pitch a pretty good game as he was trailing, 4-1, after seven innings. But he should have been relieved at the beginning of the eight. Two outs later, the Royals got to him for two more runs as he ran out of gas.

On Saturday, the Jays showed no pity for young Aaron Brooks as they scored seven runs in the first inning, sending twelve hitters to the plate.

This made it a lot easier for Marcus Stroman, who made his first career start in the majors. He recorded his second victory in the majors, 12-2, as he allowed only one run on five hits, issuing no walks, and striking out six batters.

Francisco and Lind led the attack with three hits each. Francisco drove in four runs while Lawrie and Lind drove in two each.

In contrast with their previous game, the Jays got nine of their 14 hits with runners in scoring position.

The week ended on a winning note as Buehrle became the majors’ first         10-game winner, shutting out the Royals, 4-0, over eight strong innings, on six hits, one walk and three strikeouts.

Encarnacion’s 19th homerun of the season, a two-run blast and Navarro’s solo shot provided all the support the veteran lefthander needed.