Not really Ernie Whitt. But I imagine him often sophistically engaging in informative MLB talk. Especially the Toronto Blue Jays. Follow on twitter @EWhittExchange. *I am not Ernie Whitt.*
Well, well, well. How ’bout them Blue Jays, eh? A lot has happened over the past 9 games for the Jays, with more upcoming to be excited about. Fast approaching the team record of 11 consecutive wins (1987, ’98), the Jays have enjoyed success from all around the field during their current 9 game winning streak. A team that once had a 10-21 record early in the season has now scratched and clawed its way back up to .500 for the first time since it was 0-0 (which technically is a .000 percentage) before their home game on Opening Day. The encouraging part about this streak, though, is from where the production is coming and how they’ve drastically improved on both sides of the ball.
Before I get to all the sources of production and unbelievable improvement we’ve been seeing from many players, let’s just acknowledge the Kawasaki Phenomenon. As I write this, the chants of “Kawasaki! Kawasaki!” continue outside of the Rogers Centre after a game that saw the larger-than-life shortstop hit an RBI single early in the game followed by a huge game-tying home run with two outs in the 7th, which happened to be his first career home run. The way he plays ball is incredible. The way the fans react to his every (goofy) move and joke is incredible. The way his own teammates react to his every move on the field is incredible. It’s very fitting that, at the dawn of his tenure as starting shortstop for the Blue Jays as all-star Jose Reyes is set to return, Kawasaki would deliver one more game to remember, capped off with his first Major League dinger and a 7-6 come-from-behind Jays win to extend their win streak to nine. Although his overall skill set may be a bit underwhelming, he manages to play the game with more joy on his face and more jump to his step than anyone else Jays fans have ever seen. He is proof that underwhelming talent can captivate an entire fan base simply by playing the game the way it is meant to be played, and it’s very simple. He has fun. Let’s all take a moment right now and have a bow for the phenomenon that is Munenori Kawasaki.
Ok, so now let’s look into this winning streak and the Jays’ improbable rise back to .500. My last blog post spoke about the only real bright spot of the Jays’ season at that point – the bullpen. Since then Casey Janssen has remained electric, converting on every save opportunity but one (hey, we all stumble at some point). One reliever who doesn’t seem to stumble, on the other hand, is Brett Cecil. Since surrendering a base hit during a 2.0 inning May 28th appearance versus Atlanta, he has gone 11.2 innings without giving up a single hit while walking only two and striking out twelve. He’s been virtually untouchable, as have been the entire Jays bullpen over these past nine games.
One of the biggest reasons Toronto has exploded in the recent weeks is the starting rotation. Despite past long-term injury to Josh Johnson and now to Brandon Morrow, other starters have suddenly turned a corner and left their poor starts behind. Mark Buehrle was almost chased out of town after his horrific start to the season, but has since turned in several solid starts, lowering his ERA in each of his last six starts and giving up no more than three earned runs in any of them. He’s been eating up innings and finally found the corners of the plate that make him so successful and is giving the team a chance to win games every time he’s called upon to take the mound.
Many questioned Alex Anthopolous when he opted to sign Chien-Ming Wang, having him take the last spot of the rotation over Chad Jenkins, who had been performing respectably. Wang has responded admirably, with a very solid debut, aside from the one real gaffe when he allowed a 3-run home run to Adam Dunn. He improved on his next start by turning in 7.0 innings without allowing an earned run as the Jays eventually swept the four game series in Texas. There’s no reason to believe that Wang won’t continue riding his sinker-ball to a few more quality starts and it’s only a matter of time before Josh Johnson gets his first win as a Blue Jay (can’t believe I just wrote that), as he’s been throwing BBs since his return from injury. With the way the offence has been swinging the bats, the run support will come.
Adam Lind. Adam Lind. One more time? Adam Lind. You can tell every time that Lind is up at bat that he is seeing every pitch in super slow motion. Hitting everything in sight, he had his average up to .350 and is now sitting comfortably at .338 after hitting another home run tonight in the entertaining win over the Orioles. He’s quickly proving many wrong that he would never return to 2009 form when he hit .305 for the season with 35 home runs, as he is currently tearing the cover off of several baseballs per game. Even Macier Izturis is joining the hit parade as he’s hit for a .314 average over this streak, boosting his worth and keeping himself out of the who-will-be-demoted talk for when Reyes makes his return.
And so here we are. With the Jays now (finally) playing .500 and with Jose Bautista batting a measly .139 over the past nine games, there is reason to believe that the high the Jays are riding could get better. Good hitting is contagious and he’ll certainly pick it up and give the current offence and added boost, and it’s now looking like Reyes could be back with the team in time for a series in Tampa Bay starting this coming Monday. This team has certainly turned some heads recently, because of the wins they’re compiling and because of the way they’re doing it and their great attitudes. That Blue Jay swagger is back, they’re having fun and enjoying the ride. Let’s keep cheering and stick with them as they’re still in the toughest division in baseball and have lots of work left to be done. It’s times like this that I’m proud to say I’m a Toronto Blue Jays fan and can see a bunch of grown men play a kid’s game and have the time of their lives doing it. Let’s strap ourselves in and enjoy the ride, because if the playoffs (I’ve avoided using the P-word until now) are in the Jays’ future, the ride has just begun.
Go Jays Go!