The Toronto Blue Jays have finally turned a corner. They have won six of their last nine and are a very streaky team right now, having a three-game win streak followed by a three-game losing streak, and they are now back on a three-game win streak. Win streak, win streak—bet you didn't think you'd read that as many times as you did in the first few lines.
So what has changed?
Since J.P Arencibia's ninth-inning home run on May 6, they have been a different ball team (I wrote about the impact of that home run here). Although they are only 5-3 during that stretch, the three losses came against three All-Star starting pitchers (reigning Cy Young winner David Price, current wins leader in Matt Moore and arguably the best pitcher in the AL right now and possible All-Star starter Jon Lester). So the three losses were legit when facing those types of pitchers.
Moreover, the hitting has come around, particularly with runners in scoring position (RISP). It was impressive that the Blue Jays scored 10 runs Tuesday night without one home run. Things are jiving in Toronto.
When addressing the first-quarter grades, I am going to split the season into "before J.P's home run" and "after J.P's home run." I believe that the former was the Jekyll to the current Hyde.
Let's take a look at how the team has fared in the first quarter of the season.
BJP (before-J.P Arencibia's home run on May 6)
The Toronto Blue Jays' team OBP in the month of April was the same as an area code in a Toronto suburb, .294. The Blue Jays followed that up with scoring three runs in the first four games of May. They could not cash in any runners without the long ball and had no semblance of a strategy.
The only bright spot was that they had three players in the top five in home runs in the AL.
AJP: (After J.P Arencibia's home run on May 6)
From May 6 to May 14, the Blue Jays have averaged 5.29 runs per game (and that includes being one-hit by Jon Lester). Clearly, the bats have been working during this period. Even in two of their losses they were able to net four runs, thus giving them a possible chance.
Here are a few points to show how things have changed since May 6:
—Melky Cabrera has 19 hits in the first two weeks of May.
—Jose Bautista's averaged has climbed from .213 to .256.
—Brett Lawrie has three extra-base hits (XBH) in the last two games.
—Adam Lind is 8-for-20 (.400) during this stretch.
Things are coming up, Milhouse!
What is there to say? The team's starting rotation had a combined five wins in April. J.A. Happ had to best ERA among starters at 3.86 followed by R.A. Dickey (4.50), Morrow (5.29), Mark Buehrle (6.35) and Josh Johnson (6.86).
Yes, I too am surprised they didn't received an F, but anyone who pretended to see this coming at the beginning of the year is just plain lying.
Although it started out terribly (Happ's injury, Ricky Romero's terrible start) it has since dramatically improved.
In the last five games, the starting pitching has given up a total of eight earned runs, that is an average of 1.6 earned runs per game. None of those starts yielded more than two earned runs per start, which is an excellent feat especially when we had two last-minute substitute starters (Ramon Ortiz and Chad Jenkins).
Dickey started two games and gave up two earned runs in both, which shows that he might be coming around as it gets warmer at the Rogers Centre. Moreover, Buehrle had the best start of the season giving up one run in seven innings against the Boston Red Sox while striking out five.
Clearly, the Blue Jays' rotation is rounding into form. Although Brandon Morrow's start is being pushed back, this is a good sign that the team is getting a stark improvement from its starters.
The Blue Jays had an excellent bullpen throughout the month of April. Their closer, Casey Janssen, did not blow one save, and the ERAs of most relievers were quite good.
Janssen led the squad with a 1.00 ERA in April followed by Brett Cecil (1.23), Sergio Santos (2.08), Steve Delabar (2.35), Aaron Loup (3.21) and Darren Oliver (3.27). The only reason they didn't score in the "A" range is because combined they had eight losses in the month.
Unlike the trend of the other units, the bullpen has gotten worse in the last week. It pitched two excellent games on May 6 and 7, relieving both Buehrle and Happ and not allowing a run. Since then, it has given up a combined 20 earned runs in the last six games. You would think that the grade would be lower, but many (including Brad Lincoln's four earned runs Tuesday night) have not come during pressure situations.
I am not worried about the struggles of this unit since it has been kept too busy due to the lack of innings the starters have gone. The bullpen will rebound.
Not much to say here, Mark DeRosa has had some great plate appearances while Emilio Bonifacio and Rajai Davis has helped on the basepaths, but otherwise it has been average all around.
Bonifacio has pick up his play as of late (five hits in his last two games), and DeRosa and Munenori Kawasaki have been productive as well. I like what John Gibbons is doing at second and short. He is rotating Maicer Izturis, Bonifacio, Kawasaki and DeRosa (only at 2B) around giving them all plenty of time to get into a rhythm, and it seems to be paying off.
Between the four of them, they have 19 hits over the past eight games. Can't complain there.
I was the first to say that if something does not give soon, that Gibby has to go. It seemed he was mismanaging the bullpen, putting out the wrong lineups and mismanaging his infield let alone not motivating the team.
However, with poor performance comes poor managing and with poor managing comes poor performance.
It is easy to say that with good pitching and timely hitting that the manager is doing well, but you can tell that Gibbons has also got into a rhythm with his lineups and is putting the right people in the right situations.
Always known as a player's coach, Gibbons can also cast a death stare when needed. Case in point, Tuesday night Izturis tried to steal third with one out and got caught. Gibbons got after him in the dugout and clearly was unimpressed.
He has good command of the locker room now, and he is playing his matchups right. As mentioned in the previous slide, he is doing a good job of managing the middle infield.
Before J.P's home run, the Jays stood at 11-21. The team looked disinterested, couldn't score any runs and the pitching was a mess.
Many still believed that a turnaround was on the horizon, but no one knew when. It kept getting worse and worse.
I was under the impression that if this slide continued (especially scoring only three runs in four games to start May) into mid-May that Gibbons would be the guy to go—fortunately, things have turned around.
This finally looks like the team many expected coming out of spring training. The hitting has come around, the starting pitching is improving every day and the team has a swagger of confidence.
Although the Blue Jays are "only" 5-3 during this stretch, the feeling around the locker room is that this team is ready to really take off. The first 20 percent of the season was just a "getting to know you" time, and now they are ready to play.
As I mentioned before, many teams start out slow when they bring in big-time top players. The Miami Heat started off slow when the Big Three arrived and then went on to ridiculous winning streaks and turned their season around.
Gibbons, time to channel your inner Erik Spoelstra...
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