Brett Cecil was all that stood in the way of what would have been a humiliating series for the Blue Jays (51-51) against the Rangers. The Jays were on the receiving end of a 12-2 Nelson Cruz-led beat-down on Friday and then blew a ninth inning lead in Saturday’s 5-4 loss, but recovered on Sunday thanks to Cecil’s first career complete game shutout (a 3-0 win).
*I will also acknowledge being thoroughly made to look like an ass as J.P. Arencibia hit three home runs against the Rangers after I had written him off as being deserving of a minor league stint. While I still don`t take back my criticism of his offensive struggles (although I could have timed it a bit better), I will admit to unfairly disregarding the improvement of his defensive instincts and game management. Arencibia now catches every Jays starter and, according to manager John Farrell, has grown more confident in offering a guiding voice for his pitchers. Also, his most impressive play of the weekend wasn`t any of the three homers, but the instincts shown on making the out at first after allowing a run on Saturday`s ninth inning suicide squeeze play.
A Closer Look
Cecil Bounces Back: If Eric Thames represents the Jays’ big redemption story among position players over the first 102 games of the season (he’s hitting .317 since being recalled on June 23), Cecil takes the title among pitchers. The left-hander was demoted to AAA Las Vegas in late April after tallying a 1-2 record and 6.86 ERA through his first four starts and, even more alarming, suffering a dip in velocity down into the low-80’s despite no noticeable injury concerns. Even a minor league stint that saw him boast an 8-2 record, but an unremarkable 5.26 ERA wasn’t encouraging, nor was his big league return in which he allowed six earned runs. Since then, however, it’s been fairly smooth sailing for the 25-year old (four starts, 2-1 record, 2.40 ERA), culminating in Sunday’s complete game shutout of the high-powered Rangers’ offence. Sure, Cecil will struggle again and have more tough outings, but for now he’s pitching like a front-line big league starter and that is good news at a time when the organization could use some positive signs from its hurlers.
Jo-Jo’s Gone: I suppose it’s possible that no other team will bite on a waiver claim for Jo-Jo Reyes after Toronto designated him for assignment on Saturday, but does that even matter at this point? In leaving the 26-year old lefty open to being snapped up, the Jays basically said that they were prepared to part ways with him despite having invested plenty of time and effort into grooming him and not really having another arm knocking on the door. In short, despite the potential gains of having a young, versatile lefty with a decent arsenal on hand, the Jays were ready to move on. The timing of the move is curious, since the team was under no evident pressure to shake things up or create roster space (Wil Ledezma isn’t likely to make a huge difference here). One of Jesse Litsch, Brad Mills or Zach Stewart will likely get a few big league starts when all is said and done (unless the club feels Henderson Alvarez is ready), but that still doesn’t explain a) why the club chose to jettison Reyes when they did or b) why they didn’t at least give him a shot in a long-relief role.
Bullpen Issues Overblown?: Look, when you’re in late July and your club has converted barely over 50% of its save opportunities (20 saves in 37 chances, or an AL-high 17 blown saves), there are major issues. All of Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel have been failed signings and every member of the bullpen has a blown save on their record aside from Dotel (who’s had just one opportunity) and Ledezma (who still hasn’t pitched). That being said, I am certainly not among the group now clamouring for Alex Anthopoulos to make a trade deadline splash in pursuit of Heath Bell. Nothing against the Padres closer, but he would command a nice prospect haul in return, as well as a fat new contract this winter. It’s an awful lot to sacrifice to bolster what has always been an unpredictable position, one that the Jays may well have an in-house solution to somewhere in the organization (Alan Farina? Danny Farquhar? Dustin McGowan?). Plus, contrary to popular belief, the bullpen has not been a completely abject disaster for the Jays – the group owns a collective 3.64 ERA (good for third in the AL), with Jason Frasor (2-1, 2.98) and Casey Janssen (3-0, 3.14) being among the less-talked-about highlights.
The Other Guys: Is there any middle-of-the-order group currently more imposing than the Rangers` crew of Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Cruz? Andrus has developed into, arguably, the AL’s most well-rounded shortstop, Hamilton is a perennial All-Star, Young is having a huge bounce-back year after being trade bait for much of the off-season and Cruz has continued his transformation into a power hitter dating back to a breakout 2009 campaign. After an impressive series against Toronto (particularly Cruz and his 8-RBI Friday night), the quarter combined for a ludicrous 12 hits, nine RBI and eight runs scored in Texas’ 20-6 thumping of Minnesota last night. And somehow, these Rangers also boast Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli (they won the Francisco trade big-time) and the white-hot Endy Chavez to boot.
Jays are back home tonight for a six-game stand that will first see them host the Orioles. Brandon Morrow puts his five-game win streak on the line against Baltimore’s Jake Arrieta.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher