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June, She'll Change Her Tune: Reflections on the Blue Jays

As readers likely know, Tom and I alternate writing a monthly column on the great site Baseball Reflections.  I thought I'd share my latest piece for the site -- although I'm not sure when exactly it'll be posted there in the next few days (update: it's up there now), it's relevant here today and since it's a bit of a slow day, here you go:

June Reflections on the Blue Jays:

When my partner in crime, Tom, penned his last epistle about our beloved azure corvidae, things were just going great in the Queen City.  He mentioned how much he was enjoying the season thusfar, and confided that he wasn’t sure how long the Jays could keep it up.  The answer to that soon came – not very long.  Almost immediately after his missive, the Jays went into a tailspin in which they were swept in three straight series.  The hits stopped falling in with runners on, the runners stopped getting on, the sliders weren’t sliding quite right, and before you could say "Touch ‘Em All Joe," pow! -- a 9-game losing streak.  The bandwagon almost achieved escape velocity, what with all the people so suddenly jumping off of it.  Folks decried that the Jays were pretenders who fattened up against weak teams but now the real Jays were showing themselves.  The truth, though, is that the Jays are neither as fantastic as their April play would have you assume, nor as dismal as they were during that 9-game losing streak.  Since that losing streak, the Jays are 12-10 (.545), and, well, that’s about the kind of team they are.  Not great, not terrible, but a reasonably well-constructed team with strengths and weaknesses.  Currently, the Jays sit 6 games over .500 (39-33), tied for the lead in the American League wild card race with the New York Yankees.  That’s not such a bad place to be with the season nearing the halfway mark. And the Jays have managed that without significant contributions from Alex Rios (.774 OPS, he has picked it up of late) and Vernon Wells (.688 OPS, though he, too, has come on a bit recently). 

Marco Scutaro continues to defy any rational expectations, reaching base at a stellar .397 clip and playing world-class defense at shortstop.  Scott Rolen’s days of hitting 30+ home runs may be long gone, but Rolen, too, is playing incredible defense, providing highlight reel plays on an almost daily basis, and hitting .332/.396/.485 for good measure.  Aaron Hill has fallen off a bit recently but is still doing the job on both sides of the ball, and Lyle Overbay is having a career year so far (.938 OPS) at the plate and playing his usual stellar defense.  Adam Lind is having a breakout season with a .307/.381/.540 line, 22 doubles, and 14 home runs and he has been particularly hot in June. 

You might have noticed a trend in the rundown of the Jays’ offensive contributors – reference to their stellar defense.  The Jays have one of the best defenses in the league, and that’s gone a long way to helping the pitching staff cope with a medical report longer than an ER ward.  Shaun Marcum, the second-best starter on a fantastic pitching staff last season – Tommy John surgery.  Dustin McGowan, once one of the better-looking young arms in the league – labrum repair surgery.  Jesse Litsch, two seasons of better than 120 ERA+ before his 24th birthday – Tommy John Surgery.  Casey Janssen, considered the number 4 starter headed into camp this year – continued problems stemming from 2008 labrum repair surgery.  Ricky Romero – missed time due to an oblique strain.  And most recently, Roy Halladay – strained groin.  With all those injuries, it’s a wonder that the Jays’ starting corps have been able to hold things together, and their stellar defense deserves a lot of the credit. 

That’s not to say that the Jays’ starters haven’t been equally deserving, if not more so, however.  Rookie pitchers Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Scott Richmond – all have done a great job, as has long-reliever turned starter Brian Tallet.  And while the Jays’ pen has been mercurial at times, particularly ex-closer B.J. Ryan, generally speaking they have gotten the job done, though the loss of closer Scott Downs is a big blow and the fact that he sprained his big toe running out of the batters box in an interleague game makes it sting all the more. 

So, when you think Jays, don’t think "flash-in-the-pan April" or "showed-their-true-colours May."  Think of a team that is contending with a ridiculous injury list and two AL East juggernauts and is still very much in this fight almost halfway through the season.  And if you like to root for the little guy doing his best in trying circumstances, send a few cheers our way, eh?