TORONTO – There may come a time in the next few years when the Houston Astros are a good baseball team. That time, however, is not now and with apologies to the "It's Early" crowd, with whom we typically should all agree hardly removed from opening day, this three-game home set with the Houston Astros is important to the Blue Jays.
Nobody is suggesting that, say, if Toronto gets swept its season is over. But a check of the math tells you it doesn't help.
The Blue Jays, by virtue of their perch in the American League East, have the unenviable task of playing 76 of their 162 games against their four divisional opponents. They get the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles 19 times each, a veritable meat grinder that can chew up and spit out the hope for a successful season all by itself.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, the Blue Jays go 38-38 against their own division. That leaves 86 games against non-divisional opponents. To get to 90 wins, which likely won't be enough to win the division and may or may not be enough to capture one of the two wild card spots, Toronto would have to go 52-34.
So far, after splitting a four-game series in Tampa Bay and disappointingly dropping two of three at home to the Yankees, the Jays are 3-4 within the AL East.
Houston marks the first non-divisional opponent and due to the make up of the schedule, this is the only time the Astros will visit Toronto all year. It doesn't matter whether it's April, June, or the intensity filled months of August and September, Houston's only here once and when they visit the Jays need to make hay.
More than anything, manager John Gibbons wants his club to better protect home soil.
"I've always said you can't bury yourself early," said Gibbons. "Especially in this division, it's an uphill battle and it's real tough to come back. We're trying to get off to a good start and with more games at home it'd be nice to finish up good at home. You've got to play good at home, it's no secret. Hold your own on the road and play good baseball at home."
JEKYLL AND HYDE ROTATION
The biggest question facing the Blue Jays (3-4) heading into the season centred on the starting rotation.
Could it hold up in the toughest division in baseball?
In the wins, Dr. Jekyll rules the day. When Toronto's lost, Mr. Hyde rears his ugly face.
Here's a look at the numbers through the first seven games:
In the three wins, no runs allowed in 20 2/3 innings pitched.
April 1: Drew Hutchison, 5.1 innings pitched.
April 2: Mark Buehrle, 8.2 IP.
April 5: R.A. Dickey, 6.2 IP.
In the four losses, the starts have allowed a staggering 20 earned runs in just 16 innings pitched (11.25 ERA, averaging four innings pitched per start):
March 31: R.A. Dickey, 6 earned runs in 5 innings pitched.
April 3: Brandon Morrow, 4 ER in 5 IP.
April 4: Dustin McGowan, 4 ER in 2.2 IP.
April 6: Drew Hutchison, 6 ER in 3.1 IP.
Monday's off day has afforded manager John Gibbons the opportunity to flip R.A. Dickey and Dustin McGowan, meaning Dickey will start Thursday's series finale against the Astros and McGowan will open a three-game set in Baltimore on Friday night.
"That'll split up Morrow and McGowan," said Gibbons. "The two guys we're watching a little bit. Put Dickey in the middle and he can eat some innings, anyway."
Dickey has repeatedly said he prefers pitching under a roof, although Gibbons denied the forecasted cool conditions outdoors in Baltimore factored in to the decision.
Jose Reyes, eligible to come off the disabled list from a strained left hamstring on April 16, ran the treadmill and took ground balls during batting practice on Tuesday afternoon.
"I'll know better when I start running and see how I'm feeling," said Reyes. "For now, I'll just take it day by day and see what happens."
Reyes has been hitting to maintain his batting stroke but still has yet to run at full speed.
When Reyes is ready to play, he expects to appear in at least a couple of minor league rehab games before returning to the Blue Jays.
Casey Janssen, out with an abdominal/back strain, doesn't think he'll be ready to come off the disabled list when he's eligible on Sunday.
"Probably not," said Janssen. "I don't know the exact date but I've got to get on a rehab somewhere; hopefully shortly thereafter."
Janssen expects only to need one or two minor league rehab games before he's back with the Blue Jays.
If he continues to progress, it's not unreasonable to expect Janssen to return mid-to-late next week.