In hindsight, bringing up the thought of the Blue Jays (67-67) sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays over four games probably wasn’t the brightest of ideas. Not when the Rays were arriving with scorching hot rookie Desmond Jennings and both David Price and James Shields set to pitch. In the end, Ricky Romero and homers by Jose Bautista and Adam Lind were all that stood in the way of a four-game Rays’ sweep.
A Closer Look
Jays’ Pitching Comes into Question: The Blue Jays were bound to take some licks on the pitching front this season. Roy Halladay and Shaun Marcum had departed in consecutive off-seasons, leaving youth and inexperience among the starting five and a significant burden on what has been an over-worked bullpen. So the fact that Toronto owns the fourth-worst team ERA in the AL isn’t necessarily a concern. What is a concern, however, is that the foggy long-term picture hasn’t been made much clearer through 134 games. Romero is the unquestioned ace, but then? Neither Brandon Morrow nor Brett Cecil have managed to grasp the kind of on-going consistency needed from the No. 2 and 3 starting spots, Henderson Alvarez continues to look raw (I’d be shocked if he begins 2012 with the big club) and the revolving No. 5 door of Jo-Jo Reyes / Carlos Villanueva / Luis Rivera hasn’t produced a standout. Worse, still, for a club whose fan base is chomping at the bit to return to relevancy is the lack of immediate help in a farm system loathe (and rightfully so) to rush their young arms. The usual suspects of Deck McGuire, Drew Hutchinson, Chad Jenkins, Rey Gonzalez and others may well get to Toronto at some point, but not quickly enough to make much difference next year. On the free agent front, Mark Buerhle, CJ Wilson and Edwin Jackson headline a thin pitching class, with Alex Anthopoulos likely coveting none of the three and probably looking to spend money elsewhere. Besides Romero, who else inspires confidence right now?
Growing MASH Unit Causes Problems: I’m not going to suggest that missing guys like Villanueva, Colby Rasmus and Jon Rauch made much difference in the Tampa Bay series loss, but in the big picture sense of the club’s development, their absences hurt – for different reasons. Villanueva (forearm strain) is a free agent after this season and the Jays want to get him some additional starts down the stretch to evaluate whether he’s worth re-signing. The stark difference in his first half (5-1, 2.99 ERA) and second half (1-2, 9.31 ERA) numbers speak to the need to have him continue to pitch and gauge what can be expected of him heading into next season. Rasmus (wrist), meanwhile, has the centerfield job locked up, but needs to continue to grow as part of the young core in Toronto and gain chemistry with teammates. Rauch (appendectomy) likely doesn’t have a future here, but would temporarily ease some of the pressure on a fatigued bullpen that had taken on a heavy load even when Rauch was healthy.
Down on the Farm: For those seeking early, modest fruits to the Jays’ recent draft strategy, look no further than the rookie-level Appalachian League, where the Bluefield Blue Jays just clinched the East Division pennant on the strength of performances from young players acquired over the past two drafts. Leading the way offensively are 2011 pick (32nd round) Kevin Pillar, who signed early and now has 232 at-bats for Bluefield, where he’s hitting .341 with seven home runs and 36 RBI, and 2010 selection (third round) and fellow outfielder Christopher Hawkins, whose .318 average has come thanks to a torrid .436 mark against left-handed pitching. On the pitching front, 2010 choice (17th round) Myles Jaye and 2010 non-drafted signee Ajay Meyer both rank among the top five in individual ERA league-wide. Pillar, Hawkins and Jaye were all given above-slot contracts by the aggressive Jays.
The Other Guys: A common current viewpoint among optimistic Jays fans holds that the team’s postseason hopes next season could be buoyed thanks to the perfect storm of a club on the rise, mixed with speculation over a possible additional wild card spot being added in each league. Much of the thinking appears sound, albeit speculative – the Jays are certainly on the rise and would surely welcome an extra available spot – but just don’t expect that spot to suddenly come easy. Like Toronto, the Rays are young, talented and clearly exceeding their AL East counterparts at least in terms of current production. Even to reach that extra playoff spot, the Jays would need to leapfrog a Rays club that includes Price, Shields, Evan Longoria and star-in-waiting Jennings. Oh yeah, not to mention the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, all of whom are currently out of the AL playoff picture despite having better records than Toronto.
The Jays close out August with a trifecta against the O’s in Baltimore. First up is Brett Cecil taking the ball against Jeremy Guthrie tonight.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher