After coming off a pair of series wins where they missed out on the sweep in both circumstances by just one run, the Jays head out to the west coast to face former teammate Vernon Wells and the team with the longest name in baseball, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Joining me for the series preview is Kalup Alexander, Lead Writer of FanSided’s great Angels site Halo Hangout and he’ll be adding his take via a few questions at the bottom of the post. Here’s everything you need to know:
Toronto Blue Jays
2011 Regular Season Record: 4-2, 3rd in A.L. East (1.0 GB)
Los Angeles Angels
2011 Regular Season Record: 3-3, 2nd in A.L. West (3.0 GB)
April 8: Kyle Drabek vs. Ervin Santana
Drabek was electric in his first career start versus the Twins on April 2nd, throwing 7 innings of one hit, one run ball while striking out 7. He retired 15 of the first 17 batters he faced, with the only blemishes being a pair of walks to now-injured Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Drabek had all of his pitches going, favoring his devastating curveball and menacing cutter to get his outs. He’ll look to work on his control in his first career start versus the Angels tonight – as he threw just 54 of his 101 pitches for strikes in his last start – but his raw ability as a power pitcher will definitely make Angels hitters work to get any hits off of him.
April 9: Brett Cecil vs. Scott Kazmir
In his last start against the Twins, Cecil looked like two different pitchers. After striking out the side in the first and mixing up his pitches extremely well over his first four innings – the only blemish being a solo home run by Danny Valencia and his only hit allowed at that point – Cecil pitched differently in the fifth. That inning, he started pitching up in the zone en route to allowing 5 singles a walk. Travis Snider’s cannon throw to get Valencia at home plate helped limit the damage to two runs, but Cecil will definitely look to get past the fifth inning and a mere 75 pitches in his start against the Angels on Saturday. In 2 career starts versus the Angels, Cecil is 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA with 4 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 3 home runs allowed.
April 10: Jo-Jo Reyes vs. Jered Weaver
Every Jays fan knows how Jo-Jo Reyes’ less-than-stellar debut went. Overshadowed by Yunel Escobar’s walk-off homer, Reyes lasted just 3.1 innings, allowing 9 hits and 5 earned runs, with his fifth earned run coming as a sacrifice fly when reliever Carlos Villanueva entered the game. Jays manager John Farrell was interviewed during the game and said that Reyes’ stuff was there, he was just leaving the ball up in the zone too often, and A’s hitters were jumping on it. Reyes’ problem his whole career has been issuing walks, so the one silver lining, if possible, would be that he only issued one walk in his Blue Jays debut. Reyes has never faced the Angels before in his career, and will look to keep the ball down in the zone on Sunday.
Blue Jays: Yunel Escobar
While Adam Lind certainly gets honorable mention in this section, I think every Jays fan will agree that Yunel Escobar has been off to the hottest start. Prior to suffering a mild concussion in a collision with A’s third baseman Andy LaRoche after legging out a triple, Escobar has gone 9-for-19 at the plate, with a 1.342 OPS in his first 5 games. He’s looking like the standout player that he was for the Braves from 2007-2009 in every aspect of his game, as his defense has been excellent as well. With a firm grasp on the no. 2 spot in the Jays’ batting order, look for Escobar to continue to rake when he returns from injury, providing he has no lingering symptoms.
Blue Jays: Juan Rivera
A throw-in in the Vernon Wells trade, Rivera quietly raked during the best spring training of his career, and it seemed he was prepared to succeed in his first season in a Jays uniform. Sadly, the regular season has been very ugly for Rivera so far. While virtually every Jays fan has been on Rivera’s case this season, it’s important to mention that he leads all Jays hitters with 5 walks. Unfortunately, that’s been the only good thing to mention about him. Aside from his ugly 1-for-17 showing at the plate in his first 6 games, Rivera can be seen not running out ground balls, swinging effortlessly at some pitches, and just being the complete opposite of the Jays’ slogan “hustle and heart”. Hopefully he sees playing his former team this weekend as motivation to change his attitude and possibly contribute at the plate as well.
Yunel Escobar remains day-to-day after suffering a mild concussion in Wednesday’s game versus the A’s, however Octavio Dotel was activated from the 15-day DL and Jose Bautista is set to return from a three game absence due to the birth of his daughter.
15-day DL: RP Frank Francisco (right pectoral tightness and right biceps inflammation), SP Brandon Morrow (right elbow inflammation), OF Corey Patterson (head contusion), OF Scott Podsednik (plantar fasciitis in left foot)
60-day DL: RP Jesse Carlson (left shoulder), RP Dustin McGowan (right rotator cuff)
In this section of all series previews, dubbed “3 on 3″, I’ll be asking the opposing team’s writer 3 questions regarding what to expect from the team in an effort to get more information to you, the readers. They’ll return the favor and ask me 3 questions for which my answers will be posted on here and on their site as well. As always, anything that was covered by either myself or the opposing team’s writer is an invitation for any kind of feedback in the comments section below!
Jared: What were Angel fans’ initial reaction to the Vernon Wells trade, and how have they been taking to Vernon Wells now that he has played a few games with lackluster results?
Kalup: There were really three camps regarding the Wells acquisition. 1: The WAR heads who were livid from the moment the trade was announced. 2: The casual fan who recognized the name (Vernon Wells) and were just happy the Angels did something in what had previously been a quiet off season , and 3: The wait and see camp. These folks were cautiously optimistic that Wells could build upon his 2010 season and figured that if healthy and productive Wells would be more than capable of adding power protection in the lineup for Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morlaes and Torii Hunter. With Wells off to a slow start, needless to say the nay sayers are feeling vindicated and those who were positive whiter overtly or cautiously are already showing concern. Wells has hit just .111 with 8 K’s throughout his first 6 games as an Angel.
J: Sticking with the outfield, how has Torii Hunter done since shifting to right field? Is Bourjos, to you, the real deal in center?
K: Torii’s adjustment to right has gone smoothly. Generally the move to right from center is the toughest because the ball from both right and left handed hitters has almost the opposite effect it will in center or left field. I’m not sure if Torii will become an elite right fielder but he has already seen a big increase in UZR/150 (4.50) with move to right field. Defensively Bourjos is already the real deal. The very fact that he pushed Hunter and now Wells to the corners speaks volumes to how the Angels feel about the kid’s defense, especially when you take into account that the Angels appear to largely ignore advanced metrics. Bourjos has a chance to be among the best defensive centerfielders in the game for years to come. Offensively this season and spring Bourjos looks a lot more comfortable. He has incorporated the drag bunt into his game in order to better utilize his blazing speed and he has surprising power that could eventually see him hit 20 -25 home runs annually. For 2011 I think .265/.338/.423 with 12 -15 home runs and 30 stolen bases are well within reach.
J: With Fernando Rodney losing his closing job recently to Jordan Walden, is he the best choice? Or could former Blue Jay Scott Downs assume that role when he returns to action next week?
K: Yes Walden was absolutely the best choice to step in for Rodney. Jordan really impressed the Halos during his call up last year and kept those positive vibes going throughout the spring and in the first few games of the season. His fastball consistently tops out at 98 -100 with late life and when he has command of his slider he is nearly un-hittable. Walden was the rare bright spot in an otherwise disastrous opening series for the Angels pen. Secretly I think Walden was the backup plan to take over for Rodney all along and it’s why the Angels didn’t make any overtures toward Rafael Soriano or the other free agent closers this off season. It also explains why Rodney got the hook after just one blown save. As for Downs he is likely next in line to assume the closers role should Walden falter, but if all goes according to plan Downs will be the final plank in the bridge to Walden.
Kalup: Excluding his obviously bloated contract , everything I’ve read and heard about Vernon Wells portrays an awesome teammate, great humanitarian, and all around good guy. Is this still the sentiment amongst Blue Jays fans? Most of what I saw from Blue Jays fans once the trade was announced was more along the lines of good riddance! Was all of the backlash solely tied to Wells’ contract or is there a large fan segment that feels he underachieved on the field?
Jared: You hit the nail right on the head, because that’s exactly what Vernon Wells is: a fantastic teammate who did countless charity work and was an easy person to like. The problem was, no one liked his contract and, up until last year, his production at the plate. While it’s an adjustment, to say the least, for Jays fans to see someone else manning center field this year, it’s wholeheartedly welcomed. Wells never lived up to his contract in Toronto (not that anyone could) and, combined with his declining range in center field, he was never elite at the plate. With the Jays getting younger and Wells in need of a fresh start, the trade came at a perfect time for both sides. The cost-savings for the Jays in the trade will be monumental for them going forward, and the Angels got to rid themselves of some spare parts and adding to a great outfield that already had Hunter and Bourjos.
While Jays fans are obviously pleased to see Wells’ contract depart, few fans and teammates are pleased to see Wells’ character leave. Regardless of his contract and struggles in Toronto, it’s important to remember that Wells had a full no-trade clause that he voided in order to make the entire trade happen, and fans should be appreciative of that fact.
K: What are Jays fans expectations for Ricky Romero this year? Is he expected to take that proverbial leap forward and become the next Roy Halladay?
J: Romero is entering his third season with the Blue Jays and, just like he improved last year over his 2009 season, Jays fans are expecting to see him improve even further this season. While I wouldn’t go as far as mentioning him in the same sentence as Roy Halladay, Romero is definitely going to show why he’s the ace of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff this year. Last year, he trimmed his 4.30 ERA (4.33 FIP) from 2009 down to 3.73 (3.64 FIP), and he actually made 3 more starts, increasing his innings by 32.
This season, look for Romero to reach the 30 start/200-inning mark again, as his hard work in between starts goes a long way in helping his durability over the course of a 162 game season. He worked hard on his sinker in spring training, and his results through 2 starts so far this season have been more than encouraging. Not only has he allowed just 2 earned runs in 13.2 innings in those starts, but he has kept his hits down and issued only 2 walks – something that, if nitpicking, would be the aspect of his game that he needs to work on the most this season.
K: With the highly touted J.P Arencibia off to a blistering hot start and others ahead of him in the lineup ( Rivera, Encarnacion, Snider) struggling, how long do you think it is before Arencibia receives the promotion to hit higher in the batting order ? Will he have to keep up this pace or will John Farrell likely keep the youngster hitting in the lower 3rd to minimize pressure?
J: In terms of offense, Farrell is taking a conservative approach with Arencibia in the batting order as he adjusts to his first Major League season as an everyday player. He has been on record saying that the priorities for Arencibia are his defense and learning his pitching staff to the best of his ability, and that any contributions offensively are secondary. The thing is, though, is that all but one of Arencibia’s 5 hits in 13 at-bats (.385 avg) have been for extra bases, and when he hasn’t managed a hit, he has still torn the cover off of the ball. For example, in Sunday’s game against the Twins, he went 0-for-3 with a walk, but ALL of his hits were deep fly outs to the warning track, and in clutch situations as well. If it wasn’t for speedy Twins outfielders Delmon Young and Denard Span, Arencibia would have easily gone 2-for-3 and won the game for the Jays in one circumstance.
If he continues to hit, and many Jays fans feel he’s going to do just that, Arencibia could very well be considered to move higher in the batting order, or at least DH on the days he’s not catching. This possibility would only be magnified if Encarnacion takes longer to break out at the plate, and Rivera keeps up his terrible pace there.