OAKLAND - Any ballplayer who looks at the schedule and sees soft spots is asking for trouble, but the opportunity the Blue Jays have over the next six days can’t be ignored.
After that, they face a prolonged make-or-break portion of the schedule against some of the top teams in both leagues.
With their top two pitchers, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, going to the mound in this mini-series at the Oakland Coliseum, and then with four in Minnesota against the struggling Twins, it is important for the Jays to take care of business the rest of the way on this road trip. After that, they face a rigorous 44-game schedule that stretches all the way through June.
Romero is 4-0 with two no-decisions. He won his fourth in his most recent start against the Rangers last Wednesday when he uncharacteristically lost the strike zone in the fifth inning while working with an 8-1 lead.
The benchmark for Morrow has always been that one-hit gem he tossed at the Tampa Bay Rays two years ago on Aug. 8 when he took a perfect game into the eighth inning and didn’t give up a hit until Evan Longoria’s single with two outs in the ninth.
Morrow felt Friday’s 5-0 win over the Angels was a superior game.
“I missed more bats (against Tampa), but I really think I pitched better (on Friday),” he said. “My fastball command was the key. That’s probably the best I’ve ever been with that.”
When the team returns home next week, it begins a stretch of 16 straight games against teams with winning records, including 10 within their division.
They begin the next home stand Monday with back-to-back two-game series against Tampa Bay and the Yankees, then host the Mets for three interleague games. After that, it’s a rugged road trip to Tampa and Texas, then home again for three against the suddenly-relevant Baltimore Orioles and three more against the Red Sox.
After that, they soon embark on the bulk of the interleague portion of the schedule that has perennially been a house of horrors for Toronto, facing Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Miami in that order.
EYES ON THE GROUND
For the first time in many years, the Blue Jays have employed a full-time advance scout and the early returns are that former catcher Kevin Cash has been delivering some valuable nuggets of information to the Jays’ coaching staff.
“It’s one thing to have eyes on the ground, but even more important when the guy compiling the information has such a good head for the game,” said third-base coach Brian Butterfield. “The stuff he’s been bringing to us is invaluable.”
For years, Butterfield and coordinator Brian Abraham have compiled video on pitchers for the hitters to study, just as Bruce Walton and Abraham provide video of hitters for the pitching staff. Likewise, bench coach Don Wakamatsu has an added body of information available on the bench in-game. Now they have the added value that Cash is bringing to both sides of the advance planning process.
“Kevin has recently been a player, caught games and called pitches against a lot of the guys he’s now seeing,” said manager John Farrell. “In combination with what we generate internally, we feel it gives us the best available information going into a series.”
Cash spent all of spring training with the Toronto coaching staff. That has added to the comfort level of everyone.
“I think it was key for Kevin to be with us all spring because we’ve all become familiar with him and he was able to get a real handle on what I want, what (Wakamatsu) wants and what Bruce Walton wants. Now when we have our video conference on the afternoon of the first game of every series, Kevin is able to sit there and address every phase of the game.
“I’m so impressed with him. This is a really knowledgeable guy, a guy who is on the rise.”
JUST SAYIN' ...
Since the start of May seven days ago, Toronto’s starting outfield of Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus and Eric Thames has gone 9-for-59 (.153) with two HR (both by Bautista), six RBIs, six walks (OBP of .231) and 21 Ks. Bautista is 4-for-21, Rasmus 2-for-18 and Thames 3-for-20.
TOP 5 IMMEDIATE NEEDS OF THE BLUE JAYS
1. More consistency in the middle of the order
If that means dropping Adam Lind into the bottom half of the lineup, so be it. Part of Jose Bautista’s problem is he’s not seeing enough good pitches to hit. He needs a threat batting behind him.
2. A healthy Sergio Santos
Nothing can sap a team’s collective energy like a shaky bullpen, especially when it comes to closing games. Santos’ absence hasn’t been the disaster it might have been but the quicker he heals, the better.
3. One more productive bat
Jays are eighth in on-base percentage at .313, eighth in slugging and ninth in OPS, fifth in runs-per-game. Alex Anthopoulos may need to use some of his many trade assets to deal for some offence.
4. Another arm for the rotation
This was a need the Jays identified, but didn’t address, in the offseason. Drew Hutchison was promoted, perhaps prematurely and that speaks to the lack of major-league-ready pitching depth.
5. Beat up on the also-rans
All due respect to Oakland’s surprisingly good start, the Jays should be thinking about running the table on the final six games of this road trip, two against the A’s, and four in Minnesota.