Jays Jump Out to Early AL East Lead

We would look rather foolish if we drew conclusions based on the season’s first week. Anything can happen in the span of six games, which is why they play baseball for 162 games spanning six months. The first few weeks, even the first couple of months, centers on stories. A story doesn’t have to carry long-term implications. It just has to be entertaining. The opening week of 2010, thankfully, left us with no shortage of baseball stories.

Heading into the season, the Blue Jays were considered among the worst teams in the league. During the Opening Day chat, a number of panelists agreed that they were the team most likely to lose 100 games. Which, I suppose, means that they project as the league’s worst team. New GM Alex Anthopoulos apparently has a plan to rebuild the squad, but that takes time. It also oftentimes involves hitting the cellar for a year or two and collecting the accompanying draft picks. Yet the Blue Jays have started the season hot, finishing the first week with a 5-1 record, tied with Philadelphia, Detroit, and San Francisco for tops in the majors.

Does this mean that the Blue Jays figure to shock us this year, becoming the scrappy underdogs in the powerhouse AL East? Hardly. In fact, we’ve seen this type of play from the Blue Jays recently — as in, just last year. Through their first six games of 2009 they also finished 5-1, ending the week ahead of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays in the standings. Even Baltimore finished the week near the division’s attic, going 4-1, including two wins in the opening series against the Yankees. While the Orioles fell quickly, though, the Jays continued their hot play for quite some time.

After completing a four-game sweep of the White Sox on May 18, the Jays had played 41 games and held a 3.5 game lead in the AL East. To finish the first week at 5-1 is one thing, but to maintain a lead over the Yanks, Sox, and Rays through 41 games is quite another. Might this team have been for real? They made a compelling case to that point, but again, this is why the baseball season lasts 162 games. In fact, if the season lasted just 62 the Jays would have finished third place in the AL East.

May 18 represented a high point for the Jays. Immediately after they finished that sweep of the White Sox they collapsed. It started with a three-game sweep by Boston. Then Atlanta swept them. Then they traveled to play Baltimore, a team they had swept earlier in the month, hoping to rediscover their winning ways. It did not happen there, as the Orioles also swept them. That’s nine days, nine games, nine losses. The Jays hung around for another couple of weeks, but a four-game losing streak in June put them five games out, and even a sweep of the Phillies couldn’t bring them out of the hole. By the All-Star break they found themselves 11 games out. The only story left for them was the fate of Roy Halladay.

The Jays could have another story brewing this year. Their only loss of the season came on Opening Day, when Shaun Marcum, who missed all of 2008 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, took a no-hitter into the seventh. The bullpen blew that game, but the Jays recovered to take the next five contests. In two straight games they mounted ninth-inning come backs, thwarting since-deposed Texas closer Frank Francisco and then struggling Orioles closer Mike Gonzalez. They followed that up with two convincing wins, putting them atop the AL East as they head back to Toronto for their home opener later tonight.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a situation where the Jays continue their early season surge. Vernon Wells will not keep his wOBA anywhere near .576, even if he does produce a bounce-back season. Alex Gonzalez will certainly fall hard from his .538 first-week wOBA. Dana Eveland will not provide 7.1 innings of shutout ball every time out — and there’s a good chance he won’t do that even one more time this season. Jason Frasor and Kevin Gregg will certainly blow saves. This isn’t to rain on the Blue Jays parade, but is simply a matter of fact. They might get some surprise performances that last all season, but certainly will not get enough to overcome the competition in the AL East.

That’s fine for the Blue Jays. It’s part of the plan for long-term success. I don’t think any of their fans expected them to finish higher than fourth in the East, and the majority, I would think, pegged them as the cellar. That might well come true. After all, in 2005 the Orioles led the AL East through May but finished the season 74-88. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should ignore the story they’re producing right now. Vernon Wells is surging. The pitching staff has handled itself well. Some role players have contributed. While we’ll be telling a different story next month, for now it’s the Jays’ time to bask in the spotlight.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


30 Responses to “Jays Jump Out to Early AL East Lead”

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  1. Temo says:

    “Even Baltimore finished the week near the division’s attic…”

    For some reason, in the world of baseball prose, the opposite of “cellar” or “basement” doesn’t seem to work.

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    • Big Jgke says:

      That’s because nobody likes attic’s. They’re just basements on top of a house. I think ‘penthouse’ would be a suitable baseball antonym.

      mmmmm… thats good analysis right there.

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  2. Jeremy T says:

    I think that the level of competition has had a lot to do with it, too. The Yankees are only a game behind, and they had to play the Red Sox and Rays. The Rangers aren’t terrible, but let’s wait a little longer than 6 games before we say… really anything at all about the Jays.

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    • Jason B says:

      That was the case last year as well, even after 41 games and they had the best April in franchise history. They achieved that mark against lesser-caliber opponents and hadn’t really played many interdivision games at that point. As the calendar got loaded up with games with Boston, New York, and Tampa, the losses began piling up and they slid down the standings to their usual nesting spot (4th).

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  3. DW says:

    The Rays started out 3-3 as well in 2008..I guess that means we will win the division again this year.

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    • Steve says:

      Which team do you play for?

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      • jaw says:

        @Steve:

        I am saying this with respect: is it really that bad to identify strongly with the team you root for by saying “we will win the division?”

        They (whichever “they” you root for) are “our guys” when we root for them; their opponents are “your guys” when “our guys” meet them on the field. That’s part of being a fan with a rooting interest, part of the fun, isn’t it? And isn’t watching baseball supposed to be fun?

        Clearly, it is inaccurate and a bit too emotional to say “us” or “we” when referring to a professional sports franchise or to claim the merits or successes of a franchise as being your own, but when a team’s successes carries such potential to give one happiness, isn’t it a net positive thing to identify with that success and relish it, make it your own, at least a bit?

        If I (hypothetically) self-identify as a “Democrat” or a “Catholic” or a “Chicagoan” or whatever, even though I might not be a paid employee of the party, or the church, or the City, why should I not say “us” or “we” when talking about — or sticking up for — the efforts of those groups?

        Granted, politics, religion, and community matter far more than professional sports, but I think you see my point.

        Again, I am trying to say this all with respect.

        All best,
        -JAW

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      • B N says:

        @jaw: That was easily the longest response to grammar-nazism ever. Though I warn you- Neville Chamberlain tried this approach and it was not as successful as originally predicted.

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      • Steve says:

        Jaw,

        Thanks for the response. No, it’s not so bad at all. I was being a bit of a smartass and now I feel a bit guilty. Went for a cheap laugh, nothing more.

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  4. OTerry says:

    As bad as they Jays project to be, they can still have a potent bunch of bats and decent pitching. The pitching won’t hold up, but if Wells, Lind and Hill have good years, and Snider develops, they will win a bunch of games. I can think of a few teams that are more likely to have 100 losses (PIT, KC and HOU) than the Jays.

    The Jays won’t be great, 82 wins is their peak, but they won’t be 100 losses bad.

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    • Jason B says:

      I totally agree – Pittsburgh particularly, and Houston very likely, should be worse than Toronto (and not based on the first six games of the season; I would have suspected that before the season began).

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    • Tom Au says:

      “If Snider develops.”

      That’s kind of a big if.

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  5. Aaron/YYZ says:

    As always, the Jays’ actual talent level is generally masked by the fact that they play possibly the toughest schedule in baseball. In any other division, this would have been a multiple playoff team success story rather than an also ran the past half-dozen years.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      Actually, playing in the AL East probably only takes a win, maybe two, away from the Blue Jays. If you look back to 2002, even if adding two wins to the Blue Jays and putting them in the weakest AL division they wouldn’t have ever made the playoffs. Although they would have gotten close in 2008 when they had 86 wins; with 88 wins they would have tied for second in the AL Central, one win behind Chicago’s 89 wins.

      http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2010/3/11/1366835/how-unfair-is-the-unbalanced

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  6. Scott says:

    “While we’ll be telling a different story next month, for now it’s the Jays’ time to bask in the spotlight.”

    Oh, we’re basking! I have a feeling this is the high point of the season, which does not make me feel so good…

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  7. xeifrank says:

    Anybody who projected the Blue Jays to lose more than 90 games probably needs to revisit their projection system.
    vr, Xeifrank

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      I don’t see any mention of someone projecting them to lose 90+ games. Is this what you’re referring to?

      “”During the Opening Day chat, a number of panelists agreed that they were the team most likely to lose 100 games.””

      I think you’ve misinterpreted this statement. I’m pretty sure you can figure out the difference.

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  8. Risto says:

    Is this article a late April Fool’s joke?

    Trying to extrapolate anything at all from the firs 6 games of the year is beyond laughable. And even that 6-game window is utterly useless as any kind of gauge for success, since during that span the Red Sox and Rays played the Yankees.

    Geez.

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    • Jason B says:

      I think that’s…pretty much exactly the point of the article. That many of the trends that helped the Jays to a 5-1 start (Wells, Gonzalez, Eveland, et al) shouldn’t be expected to continue unabated.

      Geez indeed!

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    • B N says:

      It’s not quite too early to extrapolate. As a Red Sox fan, the Yankees coming out 4-2 after their schedule thusfar would constitute a “bad start” as those 2 games could easily be the difference in the division.

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  9. Tom B says:

    April is for hope.

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  10. Tyler says:

    Hey, let us have our fun! Toronto fans will need something to enjoy.

    There’s no way our batting keeps up, though it’ll be interesting when Hill gets healthy again and replaces Random McSuckFace (Mike McCoy) at 2nd, since that should be a shot in the arm enough to at least somewhat compensate for the inevitable tailing-off Wells and Gonzalez are apt to experience.

    As others have noted, though, we have some bats now. It’s the pitching that will be the problem. We have a decent pen, but we don’t really have the kind of pitching we need to compete in the AL East.

    Romero’s likely to be good, Marcum’s likely to be good.

    Brian Tallet has given a quality start in 15 of his 32 career starters, with an average score of 47. He’s a good reliever, and a mediocre back-end starter. Eveland had a nice start to the season, but he’s not likely to stay a 7-inning pitcher the whole season; he may not even be in the rotation the whole season. We’ll probably blow a few starts trying to reintegrate Litsch and/or McGowan. Brandon Morrow? We are calling him a starter, but he has 4 quality starts in 16 appearances and I’m not really comfortable enough with his command or his pitching approach to believe in his ability to give us good innings over 25+ starts.

    The Jays should be fun, and won’t be quite epic-fail as some have predicted, I don’t think, but this is just a hot start against Baltimore and Texas… and will likely extend in this upcoming series against the White Sox (*crosses fingers*). It’s not like we’re smacking around the Yankees and BoSox, or even the Angels, Twins or Tigers, right?

    Fun while it lasts, though. :D

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  11. Impossibles says:

    As a Jays fan the nice thing is the 5-1 record has come on the road. All Jays fans know the team has been good at home and awful on the road.

    Toronto has gotten some wierd schedules lately. They don’t play any of TB/Boston/NYY until the 23rd of April.

    August is going to crush this team. 18/28 games against the top 3 AL east teams. (13 in September)

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  12. woodman says:

    Hmm not gonna keep it up? I agree, but Gonzalez just doubled and Wells hit another homer so for now, us Jayys fans should sit back and enjoy the show…

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  13. greenfrog says:

    I predicted 73-77 wins before the season and I still think that’s a reasonable estimate. The team has only a couple of good hitters (Hill and Lind) and a few potentially OK hitters (Overbay, Wells, Snider). They’ll get some good pitching and occasionally strong offensive performances, but contention just isn’t in the cards this year, or realistically next year either. Eventually we should see Wallace, Drabek, Cecil, and/or Stewart called up, but they’ll take some time to develop in the majors as well. 2012-14 is probably the earliest for Jays fans to expect a serious contender, and even that will take some more shrewd moves on the part of Alex Anthopoulos.

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  14. Tyler says:

    Speaking of Snider, what’s the projection on him? His minor league and early majors numbers look a lot like Carlos Delgado’s. I was having this discussion on some forums elsewhere; Delgado looks like a big reach of course, but do you think Snider could be kind of like Joe Carter? 30 2B, 30 HR, 40 BB, .770 OPS kind of player hitting around .270 in his prime?

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