Colour me surprised with the Blue Jays splitting the opening series against the new age Bronx Bombers, as Toronto hung in there with the predicted playoff squad. Toronto used a few different weapons to get the split, which is promising as the one trick pony Blue Jays of old, are now dead and gone. So what did we learn about the Blue Jays from the opening series of the season?
Kevin Pillar is a bad, bad man.
We all loved Superman in the outfield, but he showed off his multi-faceted offensive approach in this series. Pillar hit .462 in the first four games, with a .500 OBP. He scored the only run for the Jays in their season opener with a solo home run, netting his only RBI of the season.
What was most impressive was his three stolen bases in the series… which all came in the same game… in the same inning… and included a straight steal of home, too.
Pillar’s most enticing asset will always be his defence in centre field, but if he can string together some games with offensive production (1.269 OPS), the Jay’s will be able to surprise a lot more teams with depth offence. What has certainly helped is having Pillar hit later in the order. Previously shoe-horned into the lead off spot, Pillar is much more effective without the pressure to get on base.
Toronto’s Bullpen is For Real
Between Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, and Seung Hwan Oh there have been zero earned runs, only two walks, and a combines six strike outs in seven innings of work. Tyler Clippard, Danny Barnes, and John Axford each have one earned run to their names, inflating their ERA stat, but have been serviceable and added a further eight innings of work out of the pen.
Tepera looks vintage. He delivered his pitches well with great location. Plus, with mid to high 90’s coming out of him, he completely messes with batters after seeing Estrada or Happ through 5+ innings before.
After a bit of a disappointing spring, Seung Hwan Oh has looked great in his two games played and two innings pitched against the Yankees. He has not allowed an earned run, and even has a save to his name following the series finale against the Yanks. He looks like the veteran that the Jays were after in their pen, calm, cool and able to work in versatile situations.
Osuna is great. Not sure why he didn’t get the chance to close when Oh went in the last Yankees game, but regardless he is stellar. In his first games of the season Osuna has not allowed a hit or a walk, adding an impressive strike out against Brett Gardiner. Three consecutive fastballs, three strikes, three different locations, all watched – it was an awesome out for Osuna to secure his first save of the season.
The bullpen will need to keep sharp should the Jays see any sustained success this season. Their starters are good enough to put the team in contention in every single game, but the offence has less pop and will require lockdown pitching to secure games.
Smoak is on Fire
It’s only been four games, but Justin Smoak looks like the same player from his breakout 2017 season. He is currently the owner of ALL Blue Jays offensive stat categories, average (.467), home runs (2), RBIs (8), OBP (.529), and hits (7).
Delivering the offence for a team that has moved out its big boom sticks over the passed two seasons in Bautista and Encarnacion, Smoak is more valuable than just some errant home runs. What has been most impressive has been the spray on his hits; Smoak is using the whole field. A switch hitter by trade, Smoak his both of his home runs from the left side of the plate, and muscles them to opposite centre field. Clearly the big first base man is welcoming the shift defence this season.
A six RBI game is something special, even moreso when you add in hitting the game winning grand slam against a divisional opponent. Smoak will be relied on for his big bat in this line up, along side Donaldson and Granderson who also have some pop. But he truly is a valuable player on both sides of the ball, scooping low, off base throws to first, and ripping line drives out of the air down the line.
It has only been four games, I know, but its promising. What was most impressive in the four game series split for the Blue Jays is the adoption of the new culture of the team. They are not relying on three or four players to produce their offence, and are not running off of the idea of outscoring their problems.
The 2018 Jays have taken on a new persona, strong starting pitching, great relief pitching, and manufacturing runs. Sprinkle in some pop from Smoak and Donaldson, and they Jays have the ability to sneak up on teams around the league. The must frustrating part of playing in Toronto, the lack of access and credit just because of geography, may be the key to their success as they will be able to surprise their opponents. One thing is for sure, the Yankees won’t be taking the Blue Jays lightly this season.