The Week Ahead: Moment of truth for Blue Jays

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wells-vernon-blue-jays-100530.jpgThe Yankees, Red Sox, and perhaps, the Rays. That was the common thinking on how the AL East race would go entering the season.

The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t listen to those projections and enter the week at 30-22. They’re only in third place and 4 1/2 games back. But their record would be good enough for at least second place in any other division, and would lead the AL West and NL East.

How are the surprising Jays doing it? Quite simply, they are hitting the ball very, very hard. Led primarily by Jose Bautista (15 home runs), Vernon Wells (pictured, 13) and Alex Gonzalez (10), Toronto leads all of baseball with 85 home runs. And it’s not even close, with the Reds and Red Sox tied for second with 67. They also rank first in doubles, first in slugging percentage and second in runs scored.

The offense has survived slow starts by Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, and more than offset a pitching staff that has been predictably mediocre.

They’ve also been somewhat fortunate with the early season schedule, playing 20 games so far against the Orioles, White Sox, Royals, and Indians, and going 16-4 in those contests.

But things change a bit this week things change a bit, as the Blue Jays play host to the two best teams in baseball – who also happen to be division rivals – in the Rays and Yankees. After that, they head to Tampa for three more games before embarking on an interleague road trip to Colorado and San Diego.

It’s a tough couple of weeks to be sure, and will probably bring the Jays back down to Earth a bit. But get through this stretch with a decent showing and maybe we’ll start to believe.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Phillies at Braves, May 31-June 2:
The Phillies have been struggling to score runs and now must face Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe. The NL East is getting pretty interesting.

Rockies at Giants, May 31-June 2: In addition to the Ubaldo Jimenez-Tim Lincecum matchup on Monday, we get Jeff Francis vs. Matt Cain on Wednesday. Both teams remain in the thick of the NL West race. 

Reds at Cardinals, May 31-June 2: Cincinnati enters the week with a one-game lead over the preseason favorite Cardinals atop the NL Central. Watching Albert Pujols smash three bombs on Sunday can’t help the Reds’ confidence that they’ll stay there long.

Braves at Dodgers, June 3-6: Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Dodgers have been playing much better of late, climbing within two games of first place in the NL West. On top of that, they’re scheduled to get Andre Ethier back on Monday, who has been on the disabled list since May 18 with a fractured pinkie finger, yet still leads the team in home runs and RBIs. Things are looking up in Los Angeles.

Padres at Phillies, June 4-7: Guess which of these teams has a better record entering the week? I’ll give you a hint: The notoriously thrifty Padres are actually considering adding payroll via the trade market instead of trading away star slugger Adrian Gonzalez.

ON THE TUBE
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Phillies at Braves (ESPN)
Wednesday, 8:15 p.m.: Reds at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Marlins at Mets (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Brewers at Cardinals (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rays at Rangers (FOX)
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.: Brewers at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Angel Hernandez made a great call on a tough play

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Fans, and even some writers, tend to jump on umpires when they make bad calls, but rarely if ever point out when they make good calls on tough plays. Angel Hernandez is one of those umpires who gets a lot of flack — and I may suggest even deservedly so — but in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, he made a great call on a very tough play during Thursday afternoon’s game between the Phillies and Marlins.

With a runner on first base and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Phillies leading 2-1, first baseman Brock Stassi laced an Edison Volquez pitch down the first base line. Michael Saunders, who was on first base, came around third base and attempted to score. The relay throw from second baseman Dee Gordon beat Saunders, but Saunders slid expertly to the back of home plate, avoiding the tag from catcher J.T. Realmuto just long enough to slip his hand in and touch the plate. Hernandez ruled Stassi safe with no hesitation because he was in a great position to get a look at the play. In real time, it was a bang-bang play. The Marlins didn’t challenge the call.

The MLB.com video doesn’t have the best angle, but still shows what a close call it was in real time. This .gif from Meghan Montemurro of The News Journal provides the best angle:

Hernandez also made this nonchalant grab of Andrew Knapp‘s face mask when the catcher tossed it attempting to catch a foul pop-up:

Yoenis Cespedes leaves game with pulled hamstring

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The Mets and Braves are playing today and it’s not a great day for the Mets in the injury department.

First they scratched Noah Syndergaard with a “tired arm.” Now they’ve lost Yoenis Cespedes, who pulled up limping at second base following a double in the bottom of the fourth:

The team has announced that he has pulled his left hamstring.

Cespedes, of course, missed three games over the weekend due to hamstring issues. That was merely tightness, however, and following an off day and a rainout, Cespedes played last night without incident. But it now looks as though he’s going to miss some serious time.