Saturday, May 8, 2010

Toronto Blue Jays Taking Flight in 2010


With an 8-2 record in their last ten games, it is safe to say that the Toronto Blue Jays are red-hot again...

After starting the season by going 7-3, things slowed as they dropped 8 of their next 12 games; fans began to wonder if this was a sign of things to come. However, as I wrote during Spring Training here at TVOS, sometimes with a young squad, if a team can overcome the mindset that little is expected of them, they can accomplish great things. Sometimes being a young, unknown team is a good thing; if you do not realize you are supposed to lay down for your opponent and lose game after game, momentum and confidence can grow within the organization. Suddenly, a pitch that used to miss the strike zone rips past batters; a swing that used to take the ball to the warning track is suddenly clearing the fences for home runs. The group of players assembled by first-year General Manager Alex Anthopoulos are the type to put in that extra effort, getting their uniforms dirty, playing with heart and legitimately rooting for each other's success. We are beginning to see signs that this year's Blue Jays squad is for real.

While it is still very early in the season, the importance of these early season wins becomes paramount as the Jays attempt to improve on last year's 75-87 record. Many fans and analysts are surprised to see the rebuilding Jays still in the hunt in the American League East, only 5 games back of the Tampa Bay Rays (if the Jays are red-hot then Tampa is burning down the house they are so hot). The Jays are working well as a team; the pitchers are getting the job done with strikeouts, currently second in the majors with 238 and the team has used the long-ball to their advantage; the batters are first in the majors with 46 home runs.

The first surprise this year has to be the play of Vernon Wells. The much-maligned Wells, the target of ridicule and scorn amongst Jays' fans because of his lack of offensive production and his high-paying contract, has rebounded with a tremendous start to the season. While Wells was a lightning rod for criticism the past few years, he was often playing with nagging injuries. Perfectly healthy going into the 2010 season and the Wells of days gone by has re-emerged. His .331 batting average leads the team, as does his 22 runs scored and 39 hits. With 8 home runs, 12 doubles and 22 RBI’s, he is showing the power that made him an All-Star and the go-to-guy in past years. Perhaps it is simply because he is healthy this season or he has assumed a more active role as leader on the team, but he is on pace for a tremendous 2010, which is exactly what this young group needs.

Another Blue Jay getting it done at the plate is shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Can anyone honestly say that they expected to get so much offence from this veteran, currently in his 12th season in the majors? A former member of the Marlins, Reds and Red Sox, Gonzalez is on pace to match the best season of his career, which came in 2004 while with the Marlins. Besides making the clutch plays in the field, he has already hit 9 home runs and his 25 RBI’s lead the team. He is also tied with Wells for the team lead with 12 doubles.

The Jays are also getting some power at the plate from catcher John Buck (7 home runs), third baseman Jose Bautista (6), DH Adam Lind (5) and outfielder Travis Snider (4). The Jays need to work on their batting average, currently ranked 25th in the majors at .240, but this stat should improve as the season progresses.

On the mound, the Jays have been equally impressive on most nights. As previously mentioned, they are second in the majors with 238 strikeouts and their team ERA ranks 13th at 3.98. Their opponent’s batting average is .238, good for sixth overall in the majors. With the absence of Roy Halladay, they are yet to record a complete game but the bullpen, while shaky at times, has helped carry the load. Their closers have recorded 11 saves, tying them for first with the Washington Nationals.

The strength of the Blue Jays pitching staff lies in the young arms that are growing into everyday major leaguers. The starting rotation of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Dana Eveland has been solidified with the healthy return of Shaun Marcum. While there is a long way to go in the season and the youngsters have yet to travel into Yankee Stadium or the equally daunting Fenway Park in Boston, the starting five have performed well and their confidence will continue to grow with each successful outing and victory. Morrow and Romero are 12th and 13th in the majors in strikeouts with 42 (Morrow) and 40 (Romero).

Marcum is the key to the rotation as he returns to the lineup after missing significant time due to Tommy John surgery. How his arm responds to a full season will go a long way to dictating the overall success of the Jays this year. So far, so good for the young right-hander from Kansas City Missouri... His 48 innings of work is third in the majors behind Arizona’s Dan Haren (49) and surprise, surprise - Roy Halladay (56). It will certainly be interesting to see how Marcum’s arm holds up during the lengthy MLB schedule. All reports indicate that he is ready to be the workhorse the starting staff needs to be a competitive squad.

Through the first month of the season, there have been many great stories on the Jays, too many to document in one article, so look for more Jays talk here at TVOS throughout the season.

Some good news on the injury front for fans of relief pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, the owner of a fire-breathing, half-giraffe/half-moose known as a Garfoose...

Recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, Dirk told TVOS in a recent conversation that he is ready to start tossing again and should be on his way back to Florida soon to prepare for a return to the mound later this summer. A great pitcher and an even greater person, Dirk’s first book, The Bullpen Gospels, has been on the NY Times Best Seller list for several weeks now. Personally, I have read the book three times already and enjoyed every moment of it... Support an awesome individual and pick up your copy today at your local bookstore.

Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr.com

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