Leiter: Jays' offense tough to slow downToronto turning promise into production following last year's disappointment
The Jays' lineup was every bit as strong last season, but injuries to many of their starters, especially Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes, really hurt them. Last year, they were 10-17 in April and about nine games back at the end of May. This year, no one is running away with the division. This year, they are healthy. Much of it stems from having a healthy Melky Cabrera and Reyes at the top of the batting order. I'm impressed with what those two guys can do, because it makes it so much more difficult to navigate through the lineup. And, then you have potent Nos. 3 and 4 hitters -- Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion -- with their home run capabilities, the lineup becomes extremely dangerous. In order to pitch to those two, you have to hope that Cabrera and Reyes are not on base. If they get on, it makes it very difficult for pitchers to navigate the 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup. Add Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie; those guys were also hurt last year. Now you have a pretty deep lineup.
Jays' pitching: Mark Buehrle has been phenomenal:
I'm really happy for a guy like him. He doesn't wow you on the radar gun, but he gets things done by changing speeds and good location. RA Dickey is better this year following an inconsistent 2013. Drew Hutchinson is a good looking young pitcher who has done a solid job. Rookie Marcus Stroman is a power arm who sits at 94 mph with a good curveball who throws a lot of strikes. This is a nice team, and it's not a coincidence that better pitching has put them in this position.
Jose Bautista's hitting for power AND average this season (batting average more than .50 above his career batting average):
Here's a guy who, in previous years, even when he was hitting 54 home runs, he was also taking a lot of walks. That's an odd combination, because home run hitters generally are not high-average guys and don't walk a lot. He'll take his walk, though. And he usually doesn't strike out. He has become more mature, and he has protection. He has great selectivity, and he is not inclined to want to hit a home run every time he's up. He will also hit the ball where it is pitched and that means he will go the other way more.
Melky Cabrera's hitting close to .300:
Historically, he has always been able to hit the fast ball. He's grown up, he's matured. He had health issues last year with his knee and back. He's a tough out; he was a tough out when he was with the Yankees. He's a flat-out good hitter.
Thoughts on Jays bullpen?
I like the Jays' bullpen because it is balanced. Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup are two tough lefthanders. Dustin McGowan has a solid four-pitch repertoire and Steve Delabar has a good arm but can get wild; McGowan and Delabar are their go-to righties leading to their closer. Casey Jenssen, who missed some games earlier this year with a strained oblique, gets it done as the closer. He does not do it with an electric fastball. He has three nice pitches: he's got a two-seam fastball, a 92-94 mph cutter he uses a lot, and a slider, as well as an occasional changeup (thrown mostly to lefthanders). He's incredibly effective, but rather vanilla. The reason you don't know of him is there's nothing that is electric about him. But he has done a really nice job. He had 34 saves in 2013 and is 12 for 14 this year with a 1.29 ERA. He just doesn't have one standout pitch, like Mariano had with his cutter. He just has a fastball that never strays. It just sits in the low 90s.
Evaluating Chase Whitley, who is scheduled to pitch Wednesday for the Yankees:
Whitley is really gaining momentum. I love his changeup-slider combo. Because his fastball sits at 90 mph, he needs to have good control and stay away from the middle of the plate. Whitley's changeup is very effective, especially to lefthanded batters. Whitley's slider has been almost unhittable to righties, who are hitting .083 against his slider. I think Whitley will improve as he continues to get more experience.