Wow. Finally. It took a while, but for the first time this season, the Blue Jays starting pitching put together a few good starts in a row. For a short while, the seemingly chronic spectacles of relief arms warming in the fifth inning and of offensive outbursts going to waste have been replaced by the type of pitching that is actually enjoyable to watch (only when your team does it of course).
Coming off of a lousy 3-7 road trip through Tampa Bay *cringes face*, Boston, and Cleveland, anybody who knows anything would have told you the reason why the Jays were 12-14 on the year was their starting pitching. They would have been right. For April, the Jays possessed a vomit inducing 4.78 ERA placing them second last in the league (only the Red Sox were worse). With that kind of pitching, all a good offense can do is keep you alive but there’s no way that long win streaks can be forged. This is what the Jays offense was doing. Being two games below .500 in the weak AL East after a mere 26 games certainly isn’t terrible but if not for the bats, their record would have been similar to that of the Indians. The offense has faced some criticism after being Jekyll and Hyde earlier in the season where it seemed like they either scored 12 runs or got a run on three hits. But…consider that for April, the Jays were first in all of baseball in runs scored with 122 and that this happened with Bautista and Encarnacion both not yet producing nearly to their expected levels and with dynamic leadoff man Jose Reyes sidelined with [BREAKING NEWS] an injury. Also, the bullpen, despite all the raging by the fan base, hasn’t been that bad. They really haven’t blown very many games when you look back. No, the problem has been the starting pitching.
I’m kind of going off on a tangent here… but most experts, coaches, and broadcasters agree that starting pitching is the foundation of a good team and my time as a fan has given me no reason to argue. The Jays seem like they’ve had good lineups for a while and it never seems to get them anywhere while the Rays have been sporting a lineup consisting of: who’s that, he’s terrible, isn’t he retired, and Evan Longoria for years yet they’ve been a force to be reckoned with for the better part of a decade. Even this year, the Jays 1-6 record against the Rays has provided more evidence to the old adage “Good pitching beats good hitting.”
Anyway back to topic at hand, after that road trip the Jays came home to take on the Yankees and Red Sox. They went 4-1 in the first 5 of these six games. How was their starting pitching? Well in those five starts, the Jays rotation allowed more than one run just once. Other than in Marco Estrada’s start, the Jays rotation shut down the high powered Red Sox offense and the surprisingly not awful offense of the Yankees. There was a little bit of everything. Sanchez pitched into the EIGHTH inning. Mark Buehrle picked up a win against the Yankees for the first time since Roy Halladay was a rising star and R.A. Dickey finally had a dominant start even though he didn’t strike out anyone. On top of all that, Hutchison managed to not get lit up when staked with a commanding lead. An ERA of 2.12 through that last turn of the rotation was clearly far better than their overall ERA of 5.07 and the record reflects that. Now the question is whether this was an anomaly or a turning point. I think it’s the latter.
Although the starting pitching wasn’t going to be the strength of this team, we all know it’s far better than its looked so far. Hutchison is simply not a guy whose ERA is going to be around 7. There are lots of thoughts about why his start has been so slow including his relative inexperience and his fastball or slider. No matter what the reason, it’s important to realize that he does have a solid track record of 50 major league starts that indicate he will improve. Speaking of track records…Mark Buehrle…That is all. Dickey has had historically slow starts and there’s no reason to think this is any different. As for Sanchez, there isn’t a track record to fall back on but if you’ve been watching him, it’s clear that he’s making gains in every start and learning how to overcome his control issues bit by bit. There is reason to think he’ll improve.
All in all, the Jays rotation has not been good this year but the last time through was great and if you care to use a little logic, you’ll come to the inescapable conclusion that it’s probably going to get better from here.