The Blue Jays (40-42) have inched past the season’s half-way point with more questions than answers, many of which were brought to light as they lost two of three at home to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The status of the rotation became a hot-button issue once again (Jo-Jo Reyes and Brett Cecil were knocked around), as did the team’s defence. The highlights included a Brandon Morrow gem and Eric Thames’ first career home run.
A Closer Look
A Rotation in Flux: Thank goodness for Morrow seemingly rounding into form (he allowed just one run and struck out 10 over seven innings on Wednesday) because there aren’t many other certainties beyond him and Ricky Romero. Carlos Villanueva has been a tremendously consistent presence, but even the most optimistic Jays fan can’t expect it to last forever. Otherwise, Reyes had his bubble burst a bit on Tuesday, while Cecil looks like he may have been brought back too early. Cecil’s six earned runs over 6.1 innings on Thursday should not have come as much of a surprise considering he was called up after going 8-2 with an unimpressive 5.26 ERA at AAA Las Vegas (it’s a hitter’s league, but still). I don’t fully understand the rush to bring him back at the expense of Zach Stewart, who was perfectly solid through three big league starts. In a year that was supposed to mark a step forward in the development of some of the organization’s young arms, the regression of Cecil and Kyle Drabek is both startling and disconcerting.
The ‘D’ Has to Be Better: Not to let Cecil off the hook here – after all, the error that some are attributing Thursday’s loss to only brought in one of the Pirates’ six runs. But the nature of the error – a dropped ball due to a miscommunication between 3B Jose Bautista and LF Corey Patterson, followed by a Yunel Escobar throwing error – speaks to a larger problem. The defence hasn’t been good (the team misses Vernon Wells and error beneficiary Lyle Overbay in that regard), but most glaring is the communication snafus. It’s the second time this season that Patterson and Bautista have been crossed up, with other players having issues of their own with one another. What does that say about the defensive principles being taught by John Farrell? And what does it say about the players themselves – is Patterson too passive, or is Bautista showing some small signs of superstar-esque entitlement in taking balls he shouldn’t be?
Drabek’s Struggles Continue: I know I’m late on this one, but what is probably the biggest story in the entire organization right now shouldn’t be ignored. That may sound like an overstatement, but the club’s most prized prospect is in a free-fall and there are no easy answers. It isn’t exactly new territory for the franchise (Roy Halladay, whom Drabek was traded for, had his delivery completely rebuilt after a disastrous stretch in the pros), but it is nonetheless alarming. Immaturity issues have been identified as part of Drabek’s struggles, with the Star’s Richard Griffin making the interesting point that this is a kid who was the son of a star pitcher, an All-American, a prized prospect, the AA Pitcher of the Year and was the centrepiece of a trade for the best pitcher in baseball. The team is intentionally keeping him away from AA New Hampshire so that he can’t find the comfort zone of pitching where he’s already had success and would be able to rely on his cutter rather than learning to pitch. Fans and staff, alike, need to be patient through this critical period of his development, but there is certainly a lot of work to be done for a player who isn’t nearly as major league-ready as had been hoped.
The Other Guys: So the Jays don’t have pitching, but the Pirates do? Yes, that is Pittsburgh sitting eighth in the majors in team ERA (3.48, more than half a run better than No. 24 Toronto) thanks to new pitching coach Ray Searage, a lights-out closer and a no-name rotation that is getting the job done for the 41-39 Bucs. Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton and Kevin Correia all boast ERAs under 4.00, while Joel Hanrahan is 23-23 in save opportunities and sports a 1.21 ERA. Aside from pitching, manager Clint Hurdle and local boy Neil Walker deserve their share of credit as well.
Not sure you`ve heard, but Halladay is coming back to town this weekend. Before Doc takes to the mound on Saturday, the Jays-Phils Canada Day series opener goes tomorrow at 1:00pm. Romero will hope for another run support boost against Kyle Kendrick and Philadelphia.
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Written by Ben Fisher