The Red Sox travel north of the border to take on the much improved Toronto Blue Jays for a three game set over the weekend at the Rogers Centre. To help get us familiar with the soaring Jays is the editor of Jays Journal, Jared Macdonald who gives us an inside look at the Jays. Head on over to Jays Journal to see what questions Jared had on the Red Sox.
1. The Jays recently came off a disappointing road trip that wrapped up by getting swept by the Texas Rangers, prompting some media and fans to cry that the team is not a serious contender. Then they go and sweep a series from the AL East leading Orioles. Is the Jays fan base concerned about this team or do they feel they are legit contenders for the AL East?
JJ – I think that fans are concerned with certain aspects of the team but not too worried about the overall club as a whole. The AL East is completely up for grabs this season and after sweeping the Orioles this week, the Jays are two games back. Considering the team’s offensive struggles so far and the winnable games that they’ve let slip away, I think it’s encouraging to see that the club is within striking distance without having even played their best baseball yet.
2. A slow start by Jose Bautista who is now starting to turn things around. What’s been the reason for the slow start by the home run slugging Bautista and are his struggles now behind him?
JJ – Even though he had more walks (16) than strikeouts (12) in April, Jose Bautista hit just .181 with a .634 OPS in the month. After regaining his timing in May and no longer late on fastballs, Bautista started swinging at more pitches and, lo and behold, he belted nine home runs and rediscovered his power stroke, even if it meant doubling his strikeout total over the previous month.
Bautista’s 13 extra-base hits and .894 OPS in May were a refreshing response to his lackluster start to the season, but they’re not enough to imply that his struggles are entirely behind him. When he’s not arguing strike calls with home plate umpires, Bautista’s getting under pitches and popping up a career-high 21% of the time. Those things, however, pale in comparison when you look at his .566 OPS against left-handed pitching, his .195 average/.717 OPS at Rogers Centre and, worst of all, his .571 OPS with runners in scoring position so far this season.
3. First Adam Lind, now Eric Thames was optioned. How surprised were you by these moves and is this all part of the grander plan to make room for some of the bright prospects we keep hearing about?
JJ – With Lind and Thames, I was far from surprised with the moves, as both players had not been pulling their weight, so to speak. In addition to being a defensive liability in left field due to poor routes, a below-average arm and constantly failing to hit his cut-off man, Thames’ offensive production tanked in May after a hot start in April. With Lind, he just couldn’t get anything going at the plate, swinging at too many bad pitches, and the Blue Jays finally felt they had to get him out of the spotlight and into Triple-A.
The Jays’ heralded farm system doesn’t contain any notable left field prospects close to the majors right now, but the club opted to give 2008 first round pick David Cooper
an extended look at first base to see if he can be a better option than Lind. Left field will likely be occupied by Travis Snider
when he returns from the DL due to an ailing wrist, but a notable minor league signing, Vladimir Guerrero
, has expressed a desire to play left as well so he could get some time there once he’s done getting into game shape in the minors right now.
4. The Jays are in the thick of things through the first two months of the season. First, is this the year they finish strong and push for a postseason birth? Second, play GM for a minute and what moves would you look at making down the road? A big bat, another starter?
JJ – Even though I mentioned in the first question that it was encouraging that the Jays are only two games back as the calendar switches to June, there is still a lot of work to be done and the team can be improved. With almost a full interleague slate and many games against AL East opponents left to play, two elements that haven’t been kind to the Blue Jays in recent years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some kind of upgrade at the trade deadline.
The first upgrade might already be on its way shortly with Guerrero, as even at his worst he’d be better than most of the Jays hitters so far this season. It’s been said that he’s healthier than he’s been in years, and any remote return to form could quickly take care of how the Jays should address their offensive woes.
The second issue comes to starting pitching, and even though it’s been said for quite some time now, the Blue Jays need a bona fide top of the rotation starter. With an impressive free agent crop coming at the end of this season and a multitude of enticing prospects in the minor leagues, acquiring one in the near future doesn’t seem to be out of the question.
5. The bullpen has been a weak spot for Toronto so far. What’s been the biggest reason for this after an offseason of upgrades had everyone optimistic?
JJ – One of the biggest things with the bullpen has been the lack of defined roles after closer Sergio Santos
hit the disabled list. Over the offseason and in spring training, John Farrell stressed that entering this season with more defined roles in the pen was going to be huge. But when ninth-inning duties opened up after Santos got injured, Francisco Cordero
wound up going from an eighth-inning setup role to closing games to a brief mop-up role and back to the eighth-inning, while Casey Janssen
has gone from a seventh inning spot to closing now. Add in that only the left-handers, Darren Oliver
and Luis Perez
, have consistently pitched as advertised as well.
6. Brett Lawrie has raw talent and enough of it to be a superstar in this league. But his fiery emotion and now famous umpire incidents have given him a bit of a reputation. In your opinion do you like seeing the emotion from Lawrie or would you prefer he tone it down a notch or two to try so not to have the umpires against him?
JJ – With Lawrie, both Farrell and fans alike want Lawrie to continue to play the game with the same energy that he always has. It’s enjoyable to watch, as he’s the type of player fans and teammates can really get behind while being the player that gets on the nerves of opposing teams and their fans. Lawrie doesn’t need to necessarily change anything about his personality, but rather change the way he conducts himself in certain situations to avoid another unacceptable incident with the umpires like against the Rays. In terms of developing a reputation to that regard, I don’t think that would be all on Lawrie because other players had issues with umpires before Lawrie, especially Bautista even dating back to last year.