Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The Blue Jay Roller Coaster Ride-2011
The 2011 baseball season is well under way. The Jays have played 54 games and are currently hovering around the .500 mark. They have won 28 games, and have lost 26 games. They are a couple of games behind the Yankees and the Red Sox. What else is new?
That has been the case for many years. The parts change, but the result is usually the same.
For the local fan who seizes the opportunity and heads to the ball park a few times a year, there are always occasions that make the trip worthwhile. For the past two years, most of those bright spots have Jose Bautista’s name written all over them.
He has systematically figured out how to hit major league pitching better than any other player the last couple of years. He approaches the plate in his usual composed manner. He digs in, gets set, awaits the pitch. At that point, he does something that very few other batters have been able to manage: he begins his swing a fraction of a second before other hitters. In a nutshell, that is his secret.
Last year he hit 54 home runs and led the major leagues. He is on pace to hit at least that many this year. Understandably, he is accused of cheating quite often by a host of non-believers. Last year, near the end of the season, I stood, with a group of other baseball scribes, three feet away from Bautista. One of the writers suggested that he might be enhancing his numbers with external medication. He glared at the group and quietly denied the allegation. I believed him.
I am not about to compare him to other home run greats. I hope his picture does not appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That is the ultimate jinx. But it is foolish to suggest that he is in the same company with Hank Aaron, Roger Maris, or Babe Ruth. Bautista is thirty years old. He had only 113 home runs to start this season, including the ones he hit last year. He will finish his career with decent numbers, but nowhere near the totals put up by the greats.
The surprise team of the early season was the Cleveland Indians. They flew out of the gate, distancing themselves from the rest of the pack. Then May arrived, and they are now 13-12 this month, with a couple of rain outs. They play well at home on the turf at Progressive Field, with 19 wins and 6 losses. They have a losing record on the road, and have given up the huge lead they established in April. Historically, that was to be expected.
Last Monday night, the Jays continued to pound the ball. They put eleven markers on the board, while the Indians could only manage a single run. The starting pitcher for the game was Jo-Jo Reyes, and he also finished the game---the first time he has done that in his career. He was also elated because he emerged victorious. It was the first time in 29 starts that he was able to win. He was mobbed by his teammates after the game. Always keep in mind that it is a boys’ game.
After the game, Reyes shared his message: “I was able to keep my composure, and stick with it”. When asked about his success, he continued: “Hopefully, I can start another streak. Hopefully, for the good!”
What will it take for the Jays to lead the Eastern Division of the American League? Solid pitching, which they get, for the most part. Timely hitting from all batters in the lineup, which has not always been the case. Strong bullpen support, again, leaves something to be desired.
Both the Jays and the Indians wore different caps for the game. They should be collected and placed in the nearest dumpster. Truly ugly, and unnecessary.
As long as the Jays wear their hitting caps, as they did last Monday night, Toronto fans will not care how they cover their heads. The three game series with the Tribe concludes Wednesday night.
May 30, 2011