Admittedly, the Toronto Blue Jays are only seven games into their season and their record is marginally better than a year ago, but some disturbing trends are beginning to emerge.
First, let's talk about the positives. Melky Cabrera is back and healthy and has already socked three home runs. He's also playing the field with far more range and confidence after having that tumour removed from his back. Maicer Izturis is swinging the bat well and Adam Lind and Jose Bautista are off to decent starts.
R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle each have a quality start (the former also has a shutout) and Drew Hutchison pitched shutout ball for five-and-a-third innings.
Still, there are things to be concerned about. The Jays, though they are tied with the Seattle Mariners for second in the American League with eight home-runs, just one behind the Houston Astros of all teams, they are only hitting .216 as a team and their offence ranks ninth in the AL. Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus and Jose Reyes (injured and on the DL after just one at-bat) have almost been non-factors at the plate.
The pitching has been a mixed bag. For instance, the Jays registered two shutouts in their first six games for the first time in franchise history, yet their team ERA ranks 11th at 4.57. Of the teams in their own division, only the Baltimore Orioles are worse at 5.02. Yet, the funny thing is that the Jays lead the American League in strikeouts with 63, though they have played one more game than a number of clubs.
Here's one stat that can be a staff killer: Through seven games, the Blue Jays have received 39 innings from their starters. That is only slightly better than the 37 innings they got from their starters over the same seven-game span a year ago. They've had to use the bullpen for three innings or more in all but two of their games and, in Dustin McGowan's start Friday night in the home opener and Sunday's Hutchison start against the Yankees, the relievers had to go six-and-a-third and five-and-two-thirds innings, respectively. A staff simply can't sustain that and hope to contend.
Though Dioner Navarro is an upgrade over J.P Arencibia behind the plate, the Jays with Erik Kraatz and Josh Thole having started a game each, as well, have surrended a league-leading 10 stolen bases with only one runner caught.
Of their first seven games a year ago (three-game sets with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox at home and one at Detroit against the Tigers), the Jays lost by four or more runs twice and won another game when they gave up four to Cleveland. This year through seven (four at the Tampa Bay Rays and this past weekend's three-game home-opening set against the Yankees), they were beaten twice by at least five runs and have given up at least seven runs three times. In other words, though they are a game better in their record (3-4 versus 2-5), many of the same problems still exist and most trace back to the consistency
and talent of the starting rotation.
- Through the first week of the season, five of the six divisions are fairly tightly bunched. From first to last in those five, the gap from first to last is no more than two-and-a-half games, while in the AL East, the Blue Jays with all their questions marks are still just one game back of Tampa Bay, a half-game back of the Yankees and a half-game ahead of both Baltimore and Boston.
The surprise team so far in the American League is the Houston Astros. The Astros, who visit the Blue Jays for a three-game series starting Tuesday night, have split the first six games of their season-opening seven-game homestand. They took two of three from the Yankees and are looking for a split of their four-game set with the Los Angeles Angels on Monday afternoon. As mentioned earlier, Houston leads the AL with nine home runs including five on Sunday in a 7-4 victory over the Angels.
A couple of interesting things about the Astros: They are using one of the shortest clean-up hitters in Major League history. Their 5'5" star second baseman, Jose Altuve, is hitting in the four-hole. Scott Feldman, never considered much more than a journeyman, has emerged as the team's number-one starter and is 2-0 out of the gate. The Jays will miss Feldman and promising rookie Jarred Cosart, though, in the three-game set at Rogers Centre.
- The Arizona Diamondbacks are the surprise team in the National League for all the wrong reasons. After losing both games in Australia against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the , they set a franchise record to open the season at 1-7 before downing the Colorado Rockies 5-3 on Sunday. The one bright spot for the D-Backs has been the home run-hitting of former Angels slugger Mark Trumbo, who was picked up in an offseason deal with the Halos. He has already hit five roundtrippers, including one in each of the last four games. The Major League record is home runs in eight-straight gamesshared by Dale Long, Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey, Jr.
- I saw a great old baseball movie over the weekend, the original Angels in the Outfield. It starred Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh. Made in 1951, it chronicled the struggles of the Pittsburgh Pirates and their beleaguered manager whose lives were turned around and their season saved by a group of baseball spirits. Yeah , it was cute and at times a bit cheesy , but it was worth seeing, if only for the location shots of old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and cameo appearances by Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb and Bing Crosby, who was a part owner of the Pirates at the time.
- I was happy to be on hand at Rogers Centre on Sunday to see Derek Jeter add another chapter to his incredible career. With two hits, he passed former Blue Jay Paul Molitor to move into eighth-place on the all-time Major League hits list with 3,320. He needs 100 more hits in this his 20th and final season to pass Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski for seventh. The Yankees are in town twice more this season, June 23-25 and August 29-31.