The Toronto Blue Jays would like everyone to know that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees aren’t the only AL East teams with playoff aspirations.
In defeating the Red Sox 7-4 Sunday, they completed an opening season sweep of the defending World Champions. Dating back to last September, the Jays have taken seven straight from the Red Sox. For some reason, they just seem to have the Red Sox’s number.
Well, everyone except for Roy Halladay, who, even in a winning effort, was touched for four runs, three of them via the home run.
Halladay, who is one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League, seems to have the same problem against the Red Sox that the Sox have against the rest of the Blue Jays’ staff.
But is it time to anoint the Blue Jays as a serious competitor in the AL East?
I’m not so sure.
The Blue Jays are relying heavily on A.J. Burnett, who is as fragile as that sexy-leg lamp from A Christmas Story.
His stuff is electric, and, when healthy, he’s is the best second-starter in the American League. It’s that pesky “when healthy” thing that keeps setting him back.
In his brilliant performance against the Yankees last week, he seemed to come up lame after a throw to first base. Everyone watching was thinking the same thing: here we go again.
But he was able to tough it out and seems to be fine…so far.
The Jays also need a healthy B.J. Ryan, who is coming off a serious arm injury. They’re talking about limiting him to one-inning saves and only pitching him every other game. I’m not sure they can afford to baby their closer in the AL East, even with a decent backup in Jeremy Accardo.
One thing about bullpens, they need consistency. Shuffling guys in and out of their “spots” can wreak havoc on a bullpen.
Scott Rolen is a decent addition to the lineup, but he’s another walking injury.
Point is, on paper, I like the Blue Jays. But they’re a team loaded with guys who haven’t proven they can stay healthy. Maybe this will be the year, but I’m not buying it until it happens.
Back to the Red Sox, is it time to push the panic button?
(I’ll pause a few seconds for laughter.)
In Boston, we actually ask those questions the first week in April. Seriously. We’re insane.
I don’t buy into the Japan jet-lag theory. I’ve flown places, it doesn’t take that long to get over it. Especially when you work a job where you can basically sleep as long as you want most days.
That said, a 19-day road trip will take its toll on a baseball team. Say what you want about Julio Lugo, but he’s not that bad of a shortstop. And I’m pretty sure David Ortiz didn’t completely lose all of his bat speed overnight.
The Sox are just a tired team right now.
But I don’t expect those effects to linger. If they do, then shame on the Red Sox for not preparing adequately. They knew what they were facing coming into the season.
The shortened spring training is the real concern, at least for the first few weeks of the season. All of the starters are behind schedule, which is leading to the bullpen getting way more work than we’d like.
When you show too much of your bullpen, the results are usually similar to what happened to the Red Sox in Toronto.
Despite all of the negatives, there were some definite positive signs coming off the trip.
J.D. Drew looks better at the plate than he ever did last season. Jason Varitek seems to have rediscovered his bat speed, which is a good thing.
After a shaky first inning in Japan, Dice-K looked decent.
Even Clay Buchholz looked OK, despite being victimized by Sean Casey’s bad fielding.
In all, the Red Sox are exactly what we thought they were.
They can hit, they have some pitching depth, but they might not have enough to win the AL East. Nothing has changed in the first seven games of the season.
Just like the Blue Jays are exactly what we thought they were.
They can hit, they can pitch, but we’ll see if they can stay healthy.
Should be an interesting year for the AL East.
Now, someone go break up the Baltimore Orioles!