May Jay! May Jay!

I bow to the will of the people; after numerous e-mails, phone calls, text messages, letters, telegrams and rocks through my window with notes attached, I will do yet another column about everybody’s favorite team … the Toronto Blue Jays.

O.K. O.K. I’ve been listening to the little voice inside my head again, but I’m pretty sure you’ve been thinking about contacting me to do a Blue Jays column, and that’s good enough for me.

Yes, my Thorazine supply is up-to-date … why do you ask?

To begin with, if you would’ve told me that come the end of May, A.J. Burnett was on the DL and had only made two starts, Josh Towers went 1-8, 9.00 ERA before being out righted to the minors, Gustavo Chacin had an ERA over five, Ty Taubenheim was in the rotation, Russ Adams had been sent down to Triple-A, keystone partner Aaron Hill had an OPS well south of .650, Troy Glaus had played a game at SS—chances are good that there’d be so much profanity in this column you’d think I was doing an unauthorized biography of David Samson and so much whining, crying, and snivelling that you thought you were listening to a Jann Arden’s Greatest Hits CD.

(When I do run-on sentences I don’t mess around—no siree)

If you’d told me that despite all this they were 28-22 and just 2.5 games out of first, I’d tell you to stay out of my medicine cabinet.

So color me pleased, impressed and still optimistic. Although I predicted that the Jays will win the World Series this year, I did it as more of a lark coupled with the fact that I couldn’t predict the effects of gravity (I don’t call myself Nostradumbass for nothing) anyway, so if I’m gonna predict—pulling the results out of my, um, posterior is probably as effective as sitting down and thinking hard about it as far as results are concerned.

A quick overview (as of 9:00 AM, May 30):

Dept. Total AL Rank AL East Rank
AVG   .299      1       1
OBP   .361      4       3
SLG   .492      1       1
HR      70      3       1
Runs   279      4       2

Dept.           Total  AL Rank AL East Rank
ERA (starters)   4.94      9       3   
ERA (relievers)  4.52      9       3
WHIP (starters)  1.41      7       3 
WHIP (relievers) 1.35      3       2
K/9 (starters)   5.46     11       4 
K/9 (relievers)  7.75      3       1
K/BB (starters)  1.86     10       3
K/BB (relievers) 2.07      4       1

Granted, their offense has been terrific—far better than I expected. Manager John Gibbons finally granted my wish of a left field platoon of Frank Catalanotto and Reed Johnson, and they received a .346/.463/.470 line from there, which is second best in the AL East behind Manny Ramirez. Both are solid defenders. The same can be said of the catching corps of Bengie Molina and Greg Zaun; both are good defensive backstops, and they have posted an aggregate .292/.335/.479, which is also second best in their division. I expected good things out of Alex Rios and he’s exceeded expectations, while Vernon Wells’ hot start give the Jays a terrific outfield both offensively and defensively.

The infield corners have been superbly manned by Glaus at 3B (.256/.356/.580; 15 HR) and Lyle Overbay across the diamond at 1B (.306/.388/.514; 8 HR). If they need a rest, DH Shea Hillenbrand (.338/.373/.548; 7 HR) can fill in.

Their situational hitting, for the most part, has been top notch. With men on base the Jays are best in the AL East (and best in the loop) at .316/.370/.542 and are second best (AL East) with runners in scoring position (.284/.354/.515) and ‘close and late’ (.312/.376/.514). The only area of concern is they’re only fourth best in the division with RISP and two out (.249/.345/.401) .

There’s no nice way to put this, but the middle infield is a mess. If you’re poor defensively here, you’d better rake, and if you can’t rake then you had best be the reincarnation of Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel in Cleveland. Originally the plan was to have Hill at 2B and Adams at SS. Their defense, to put it nicely, was a work in progress, but offensively they were, well … offensive.

Production at second (.234/.270/.322) is worst in the division, and their .279/.330/.397 at short, while better, is still only third best in the East. Adams went sent down, the Jays signed Edgardo Alfonzo, and John McDonald who was seeing some at bats has been DLed. The Jays can afford to carry a light-hitting middle infield at the moment provided they can flash some leather. As of right now Alfonzo is manning second and Hill has been shifted to short—probably for good.

Hardly an ideal configuration at this point.

On the bright side, Adams was sent down to work on his defense, not his hitting. He was actually enjoying a pretty solid month (.306/.386/.490) with the bat before his demotion. Hopefully he can get his glove on straight.

The pitching, is a problem—but not without hope. I worried that the signing of A.J. Burnett might become the nightmare of the Joey Hamilton and Erik Hanson Night of the Living Sunk Cost. The early returns are not promising, however the key word is “early.” Chacin is back off the DL and hopefully can reduce the number of baserunners he allows (not to mention his nasty habit of feeding gophers). He can’t keep depending on his offense to bail him out. Ted Lilly is pitching better than expected. I was against keeping him, and I’m still undecided. Yes, his 4.00 ERA is decent, but if he keeps allowing men on base (86 in 54 IP) it’ll blow up like Barry Bonds’ melon.

On the upside, Roy Halladay has been himself and Casey Janssen—bless his heart—has picked up a lot of slack, and while he doesn’t rack up a lot of strikeouts, he’s stingier than Jeffrey Loria when it comes to issuing walks (7 in 44.1 IP). Taubenheim isn’t ready to start yet but might be a decent option in the bullpen; during his time in the minors he walked only 70 and struck out 269 in 312.1 IP. All things considered I think the Jays can afford to be patient with Burnett. I’d rather have him healthy down the stretch than have him mucking around in the rotation putting a strain on the relief corps.

Speaking of which…

Unlike last year—where Miguel Batista pitched like the offspring of Mike Timlin and Joey McLaughlin and went up in flames like Thich Quang Duc—we have a closer. He’s pitching very well—’nuf ced.

Of course it’s important to get the ball to said closer—especially if the starter can’t go eight innings; which is a normal situation for most teams. Superficially the Jays’ relief numbers don’t look too bad, but let’s take closer B.J. Ryan’s numbers out of the mix and see how the rest of the bullpen is doing:

  IP    H   BB   K  ERA
139.3  141  66 114 5.30

Ouch. More hits than innings pitched, over 4 BB/9 IP and a scary ERA.

You can break this down into two subsets:

  IP  H BB  K  ERA
  70 55 30 68 3.34

  IP  H BB  K  ERA
  59 71 24 44 6.86

(The other innings made up by pitchers with less than 6 IP of relief work.)

The first group is made up of Francisco Rosario, Scott Downs, Justin Speier and Pete Walker. The lower group represents the work of Jason Frasor, Brian Tallet, Scott Schoeneweis and Vinnie Chulk. Both groups walk far too many, although the top group’s 3.86 BB/9 IP is far superior to the latter’s 6.71 BB/9 IP.

This is something I hope the Jays monitor closely, especially when it comes to high leverage situations. Gibbons success this year (or lack thereof) may come down to how he handles the bullpen leading up to Ryan.

The Jays’ offense can probably expect a bit of regression, especially from Rios and possibly from the platoon in left field. Glaus isn’t doing anything he hasn’t done before and appears to be in good health, while Overbay is about where I expected him to be. The Jays have got to shore up the middle infield, but I think more with an eye to defense than offense due to the unsettled nature of the rotation.

Dealing for another starter would help since Lilly and Chacin are surrendering too many baserunners to have any kind of consistent success, Towers cannot be relied upon, and who knows the status of Burnett’s elbow/head? Janssen, while pitching well, is still an unknown quantity, and we’ll have to see how he fares the second/third time around the league. I hope Gibbons can cobble something together out of the men behind Halladay, but his managing of the bullpen is going to be vital.

This is a talented team and the Red Sox and Yankees have a lot of problems of their own. Although it’s early, it appears the Wild Card might not be out of the AL East this year, so Toronto needs to eye the top of the standings. Considering the problems to date and the success of the Jays to date, I remain optimistic.

Go Jays go.

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