The Blue Jays’ (66-64) series loss to the Royals at Rogers Centre this week (their first home series loss to KC since 2005) had all the makings of one of those ‘dog days of August’ series. But a club with scads of incoming, young talent – as Toronto has – shouldn’t be in a position where they are struggling for motivation. Still, a poor outing by Brandon Morrow, an injury to Colby Rasmus, the struggles of Adam Lind and a shaky bullpen effort on Thursday made for a forgettable Royals’ series.
A Closer Look
Bullpen Overshadows Hitting Rally: Among their 13 total runs over the three-game set, the Jays scored three of them over the first five innings and 10 over the final four. Depending on how you look at it, that can speak to several things. Does this young club take a few innings to really zone in at the plate? Do they need to see a pitcher a few times through? Did a mediocre group of Royals’ starters (Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Jeff Francis) flummox Blue Jay bats? Of course, it could also be an encouraging sign of a team that knows how to get around the bases when it counts. While it still could be a fluke coincidence, it isn’t a one-series phenomenon and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy has to be wondering how he can tap into some of that late inning magic earlier in the game. The bullpen takes much of the blame for Thursday’s loss (and rightfully so, given that the series would have a much different collective feel if not for the seven Royals’ runs allowed over the final four innings), but the team’s bats still need to figure out how to take charge of the game early.
Line-up Shuffle Coming?: Thursday’s game saw Lind and Brett Lawrie move just one spot away from one another in the batting order, with Lind getting bumped to the No. 5 slot and Lawrie ascending to No. 6. You have to wonder just how much more Lind has to fall and how much higher Lawrie has to rise in order to the see two key components of the team’s future swap pass one another. The moves up and down the order are not insignificant for the men, with Lind looking lost through a 1-14 series (including four strikeouts in five at-bats on Thursday) en route to seeing his average dwindle to .257. Lind’s 2011 numbers (.257/.301/22 homers) is starting to bear troubling resemblance to his 2010 season (.237/.287/23). Lawrie, meanwhile, continues to crush major league hitting, even as the Aaron Hill deal and a new crop of call-ups steer some focus away from the phenom. Especially in light of Kyle Drabek’s attitude issues, the team has gone to great pains to avoid rushing Lawrie and keeping him in the bottom third of the order despite his production. But that’s getting harder and harder to do, as Lind provides a gaping hole in the middle of the order and Lawrie keeps producing. Plus, Lawrie’s hustle and energy has been fun to watch and shown any remaining doubters that they don’t have much to worry about – not yet, anyway – when it comes to the character of the 21-year old. Lind, however, may have more teammates to worry about than just the third baseman, as Edwin Encarnacion recently took his place in the No. 4 spot and Rasmus was making strides before being sidelined with a wrist injury on Tuesday.
Down on the Farm: It’s an interesting experience to follow a successful minor league club, where even a playoff contender may find their personnel in flux as their season goes down to the wire. That’s the scenario that the New Hampshire Fisher Cats currently find themselves in, comfortably in the postseason picture by a five-game margin with just over two weeks left. At the same time, though, the starting rotation has been turned on its head. Henderson Alvarez and Joel Carreno have been called up to Toronto, Zach Stewart was dealt to Chicago and Chad Beck was promoted to AAA Las Vegas, robbing the club of a group that had contributed 67 starts and 25 wins. Toss in a Deck McGuire injury and the starting duties fall to a group that includes Rey Gonzalez, Chad Jenkins, comeback kid Dustin McGowan, journeyman Yohann Pino and Nestor Molina, with Drew Hutchinson having just made his Fisher Cats debut. That group has just 40 starts and 15 wins for New Hampshire. It’s always possible that the AA club could get an additional boost come playoff time, including Alvarez and/or Carreno. Here’s hoping they do, since there will be a time for (hopefully) all these guys to see big league duty and a playoff race is one thing they can’t find in Toronto.
The Other Guys: Alex Anthopoulos and Dayton Moore aren’t all that different in their (general) managerial styles. Working for small market teams (well, Toronto is practically an Evil Empire compared to KC, but still), both men have tried to build their team through the draft and by employing a ‘buy-low’ approach on risky pick-ups with high ceilings. So far for Moore, the results are mixed. While Eric Hosmer (2008 draft) looks like a star and Aaron Crow (2009) already is (he made the AL All-Star team this year), Mike Moustakas (2007) is still struggling to adjust to big league pitching and Hochevar hasn’t lived up to the expectations of being the No. 1 over-all pick in 2006 (27-42 career record with a 5.39 ERA). Likewise, the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Jeff Francis didn’t cost much and have yielded some favourable results, but haven’t really done a whole lot for the 54-77 Royals.
The Jays host the Tampa Bay Rays for a four-game set, where a sweep could bring Toronto within a half-game of third-place Tampa (okay, no more dreaming). Alvarez continues to seek his first career win against James Shields and the Rays.
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Written by Ben Fisher