The last two seasons' injuries have ruined any chances the Toronto Blue Jays might have had of contending, especially those to the pitching staff. This time around the injury bug has bitten hard on the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Tampa Bay has three of their elite starting pitchers sidelined right now. Over the weekend, Alex Cobb strained a left oblique muscle during a stellar performance against the Cincinnati Reds. He's gone four-to-six weeks. Lefty Matt Moore is due to play catch on the side today in Baltimore as doctors are trying to decide if he needs Tommy John surgery or whether his left elbow will get better with treatment and rest. Right hander Jeremy Hellickson, who also has an elbow issue, is hoping to be back in May or early June. Even a team as deep and talented as the Rays can't afford to lose three starting pitchers.
The Red Sox also have problems. Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia has had to return to Beantown to get his left wrist checked out. Shane Victorino is out as well with a thumb injury and 39-year-old closer Koji Uehara is being examined to determine the cause of shoulder stiffness.
The Yankees are no different. They lost their new closer David Robertson to the 15-day DL with a groin muscle pull, first baseman Mark Teixiera is injured again, catcher Francisco Cervelli has a hamstring problem, second baseman Brian Roberts had to sit out with back tightness and team captain Derek Jeter missed two games in a row over the weekend with quad tightness. The Yankees were so thin in the infield, they had to move Kelly Johnson back to third base, rookie Yangervis Solarte to second and have Carlos Beltran play his first game ever at first.
The Baltimore Orioles' biggest concern is star third baseman Manny Machado, who continues to rehab his surgically repaired knee.
The Blue Jays have a few problems of their own with Maicer Izturis tripping on the dugout steps Sunday in Baltimore and spraining his left knee and then having to go on the 15-day DL. On the plus side, Jose Reyes and closer Casey Janssen could be back by next weekend in Cleveland and lefty J.A. Happ is already back up from Triple-A Buffalo.
The bottom line is, the Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays are locked in a three-way tie for first in the A.L East at 7-6. The Orioles are second at 5-7 and the Red Sox are bringing up the rear at 5-8. By the weekend, the Jays should have the healthiest line-up in the division and this is the time for them to take advantage of their rivals' injury woes and do some real damage.
- The team that has really come of nowhere in the first two weeks of the season is the Milwaukee Brewers. Coincidentally, they had an identical record to the Blue Jays a year ago at 74-88. They are off to a torrid start this time around, winning nine-straight through Sunday and a 10-2 record. This is the second-best start in franchise history after 1987 when they started the year 13-0. Their starting rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta have nine quality starts in 12 games, and the staff ERA is a sparkling 1.80.
Ryan Braun has had a good bounce back year, so far, from his Biogenesis PED suspension and has made a successful move from left field to right to clear a spot for youngster Khrys Davis, who is regarded as a budding star. The other big story for the Brewers is closer Francisco Rodriguez, once a star with the Angels. He stepped on a cactus is Spring Training and was still pulling out spines until about a week ago. His left foot, his plant foot when throwing, was so tender that he had to pay extra attention to his delivery to keep it consistent. K-Rod has been perfect so far, going four-for-four in save situations.
The team's payroll, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, is about $103.4 million. Thaat's roughly $29 million less than the that of the Jays. The interesting thing is that they have a dozen players on their roster making the minimum of between $500-534K. In other words, there is a good mix of veterans and youth.
The Brewers lead the NL Central by three games on the St. Louis Cardinals and they open an early season showdown series at Miller Park on Monday night against the Redbirds.
- There is a Milwaukee connection to one of the players the Blue Jays have in Buffalo. Juan Francisco is a 6'2", 245-pound first/third baseman, who was released by the Brewers during spring training. The Jays picked him up to add a little punch with the Bisons. The 26-year-old left-handed hitter has provided just that. In fact, last season he hit 18 homers split between the Brewers and the Atlanta Braves. The knock on Francisco is that he's not every good defensively, but he's turned into a good pick-up for Buffalo especially since the Brewers are picking up $331,967 of his salary.
- Tuesday marks the 11th-annual Jackie Robinson Day where the MLB honours the man who broke the colour barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The year before Jackie broke in with the Dodgers organization, he played with the old Montreal Royals in the International League. I was curious to find out who was the first African-American to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs in that same league. It didn't happen until 1951.
In July of that year, Jack Kent Cooke, the communications mogul who later owned the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Kings, bought the Leafs. A week-and-a-half later, he signed two African-American players, pitcher Leon Day and catcher-third baseman Charlie White. Later in that season, another black pitcher, Frank Barnes, joined the Leafs. He only made two appearances with the club and had an ERA of 45. Of the three, though, according to my research, Barnes is the only one of the trio still alive. He is 87-years-old.
Yankees great Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear the number 42. Now that Rivera has retired, the number 42 will never be worn again.