I’ll be blunt: these three games against the Tampa Bay Rays have seen John Farrell get out-managed by Joe Maddon and the Blue Jays (56-55) get outplayed by the Rays. Maybe it’s just a Tropicana Field thing (the Jays are 10-29 and winless in their past 13 series at the Trop), but the fact remains that Tampa Bay took two of three by manufacturing runs and taking advantage of runners on base (not to mention a brutal Carlos Villanueva start and a porous Jays’ bullpen).
A Closer Look
A Comedy of Errors: Toronto’s 3-1 win on Tuesday featured some offensive highlights, a dominant Ricky Romero pitching performance, some well-timed defence and a solid collective team effort. Wednesday and Thursday’s games did not (well, unless you count some extra inning scoring in Thursday’s finale). Wednesday featured an all-too-hittable Villanueva outing (he went on the disabled list today) and a Jays’ infield incapable of mounting any resistance to Tampa’s small ball, bunt-oriented approach, while Thursday brought another self-combustion on the part of the bullpen, blowing not one but two extra inning leads. Credit some ingenuity on the part of Maddon and the Rays, but the Jays’ infield and relief corps didn’t do their job and Farrell couldn’t match wits with Maddon.
Changes Coming: The cynic in me would suggest that the roster moves made immediately following Thursday’s game served to try and deflect away from the debacle that was the 7-6 extra inning loss, but that’s simply not the case. The organization’s desire to give Brett Lawrie a shot has been long-documented and a long time coming and it probably helps to offer the 21-year old a few games to ease into the role before being thrust in front of a home crowd. Interestingly, Lawrie’s call-up came at the expense of the demoted Travis Snider, meaning that Eric Thames will shift over to left field for the time being. Jays people will dismiss the significance of Snider being sent down as they did last time, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that none of Thames, Colby Rasmus or Jose Bautista are short-term fixes, so Snider will have to actively beat someone out for an outfield slot. As for Lawrie, he’ll likely have the entirety of the remaining 51 games to secure the third base job going into 2012. On the pitching front, Villanueva’s trip to the DL for a forearm strain seems precautionary and Luis Perez will provide another left-handed reliever (the team will work with four starters for the time being), while Farrell’s off-handed mention of Henderson Alvarez highlights how close the 21-year old is to major league duty.
The Future is Now: The hints at Alvarez’s pending arrival speak to how the franchise still boasts prized prospects throughout the minors who aren’t ready for the big-time (ESPN’s Keith Law – a former Jays employee – ranks the farm system as the second-best in the majors). But calling Toronto a ‘team of the future’ no longer seems apt – even if the results aren’t yet there. Consider that at least 60% of the team’s long-term rotation (Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil) is in place, as is much of the line-up. All of J.P. Arencibia, Adam Lind, Yunel Escobar, Lawrie, Thames, Rasmus and Bautista seem to be locked in, with just second base and the DH position unclear moving forward. That’s not to say that pitching farmhands (Alvarez, Kyle Drabek, Deck McGuire, Aaron Sanchez, etc.) or positional prospects (Anthony Gose, Travis d’Arnaud, Moises Sierra, David Cooper, etc.) will have no shot at unseating their big league counterparts, but these Jays will be afforded the chance to grow and produce together.
The Other Guys: What is it with the Rays and the unexpected production they get out of these no-hit, end-of-the-bench guys? Earlier this season, it was Sam Fuld who opened the campaign with a hot bat and offered some surprising early returns for Tampa Bay on the Matt Garza trade. Now, it seems that Robinson Chirinos has filled that role after torching the Blue Jays, going 4-for-4 in the series with a three-run homer and RBI single on Wednesday and two RBI singles on Thursday, including a walk-off game winner. The home run and RBI’s marked Chirinos’ firsts as a major leaguer and he nearly doubled his career hits total, entering Wednesday’s game with five hits in 29 career at-bats.
Lawrie’s debut will come in Baltimore, where Brad Mills will get his second start against recent O’s pick-up (from Texas for Koji Uehara) Tommy Hunter in the opener.
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Written by Ben Fisher