Sunday, April 8, 2012
Weekend in an Nutshell (Eggshell?)
Despite the multiple “Opening Day” options on the menu, the season never really feels like it’s in full swing until that first weekend, when all of the teams are in action. By Easter Monday, every team will have a full series under their belts, including the Jays, who dropped a 4-3 decision to Cleveland on Sunday afternoon. With a couple of extra-inning wins and a regular old loss under their belts, we can start jumping straight to premature and unjustified conclusions about the state of the team. So let’s get to it, shall we?
There was some speculation as spring training drew to a close that second baseman Kelly Johnson might find himself as the leadoff hitter, after seeing some success out of the spot in exhibition games. I dare say that Johnson, at least for this three game series, was the team’s best hitter, and put in a performance nearly ideally suited to the two-hole. It would have been all the more productive had Yunel Escobar displayed even the slightest bit of effectiveness at the plate, but even batting with few on base ahead of him, Johnson put together a string of three strong days with the bat, including his ninth-inning homer on Saturday that briefly pulled the Jays ahead. It’s been said before, but replacing the massive black hole that was Aaron Hill’s second base production with even a reasonable facsimile of what Johnson has produced in the past is sure to make a big difference this season.
I don’t think anyone would have expected that Ricky Romero would have been outshone on the hill by both Brandon Morrow and Joel Carreno in this series, but that’s what happened. Even with Morrow pitching pretty well and getting a bit unlucky (sound familiar?) and Carreno holding his own in his major league debut as a starter, the team relied heavily on some strong innings from the relief corps, and they largely pulled through. It wasn’t without its hiccups – Sergio Santos, in his first “real” save opportunity on Saturday after Luis Perez cock-blocked his chance on Thursday, got tagged with the dreaded “BS”; Francisco Cordero didn’t look especially sharp finishing things a few innings later. For the most part, though, the bullpen worked pretty well around the baserunners they allowed, and managed to record some big outs at key times, especially in the marathon opener.
It’s important to pull out wins like this in the early season. The offense didn’t do much against the starters, but the bullpen kept things close until the bats could get a crack at the opposing relievers. We might not have seen that in 2011. They might find themselves in the same situation more than a few times this year, and I like their chances of repeating that kind of result.
The hype of the home opener awaits on Monday, and the Red Sox will come to town having dropped three straight at the hands of the Tigers. I think that probably says more about how good the Tigers are likely to be this year than it says about some perceived weakness in Boston, though I do get quite a kick out of Red Sox Nation on the verge of seppuku after this start. There are still some bats in Beantown, and it could still be a long series for the Jays’ pitching staff if they keep hitting like they did against Detroit.
Joel Carreno was shipped back to Vegas after today’s start, which I suppose wasn’t wholly unexpected given the lack of need for a fifth starter again until April 21. Perhaps in anticipation of a tough series against Boston, Carreno was replaced on the roster by Aaron Laffey, headed to the ‘pen as a lefty eighth man. Laffey ain’t no great shakes, but I don’t mind having another stretched-out arm available out of the pen in case the potent Sox lineup sends a starter to the showers early. He’s a “just-in-case” call-up, I reckon. We can probably measure the success of the first home series of the season against the number of innings Laffey gets to pitch, with one being inversely proportional to the other.
Far be it from me to take the Lord’s name in vain on this holiest of weekends, but goddammit is it nice to have baseball back again.