The Blue Jays (69-68) shook off another bullpen combustion (this time by the re-debuting Brian Tallet) on Tuesday and settled back in to continue their mastery of the Orioles. Brett Lawrie continued to rake, while Henderson Alvarez earned his first career win in style and Yunel Escobar caught fire as the Jays took two of three.
A Closer Look
Bautista is Well Protected: I offered a pretty bleak picture on the pitching front in my last series recap, but no such picture exists as far as the offence is concerned. Some of the weapons that the still-ailing John Farrell has at his disposal came through in Baltimore. Jose Bautista hit his 39th home run on Wednesday, but it was his line-up protection that really lit up the O’s hurlers. Escobar reeled off two consecutive four-hit games and continues to answer questions about his motor by producing through the dog days of August and now into September. Lawrie hit Thursday’s game-winning home run and extended his mastery of major league pitching (he leads all rookies in average, slugging percentage and OPS). Likewise, Edwin Encarnacion, Eric Thames and Kelly Johnson all used their hot bats to improve their standing with the club heading into next season (Encarnacion’s option seems good as picked up and Thames stands to be the Opening Day left fielder next year, but Johnson could fall victim to being too good, as Type A status would likely result in the team offering him arbitration and Johnson possibly walking away). Toss in Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia and the injured Colby Rasmus and you have yourself one potent, deep line-up.
A Capable Closer Emerges: It’s probably of little comfort to any Jays fan that has endured bullpen ineptitude for ¾ of a season (including Tallet’s Tuesday blow-up), but what was once a case of two useless closers can now be more accurately narrowed down to one. Jon Rauch returns from the DL this weekend to find his closer role in jeopardy thanks to Frank Francisco’s recent string of dominance. Francisco’s save on Thursday marked his 13th straight appearance without surrendering a run. Over his last 16.1 innings pitched, the soon-to-be 32-year old has allowed just one earned run while striking out 13. Now, that stretch only included two save opportunities, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure of the ninth inning role.
Who Gets the Call?: September 1 marks the expansion of major league rosters and, with that, the welcoming of a new crop of minor league talents hoping to stick as part of The Show. For the Jays, much of the influx of young talent (Lawrie, Alvarez, Thames, Joel Carreno and Brian Jeroloman) has already arrived. You’ll hear some people vouch for Adeiny Hechavarria to get the call, but even with an improving bat and a big league-ready glove, he could certainly stand to keep building his offensive confidence up and isn’t really needed in Toronto with Escobar and Johnson manning the middle infield. I am similarly sceptical of call-ups to Dustin McGowan, whose promotion would cap an incredible year of redemption but could stand to avoid the pressure of being back in the big leagues, and Travis d’Arnaud, who would be hard-pressed to find at-bats at the catching position, where Jeroloman can’t seem to find any action already. Conversely, one name you should see on the back of a Jays jersey this month is Adam Loewen. Loewen hasn’t been seen in a major league game since pitching for the Orioles on July 6, 2008, but could be on the cusp of a return as a pending free agent in whom Toronto wants to see what they have. At 27, this would surely be one of Loewen’s last shots at carving out a career in baseball.
The Other Guys: Is Matt Wieters best served behind the plate? Nothing against the 25-year old’s defensive instincts, but the backstop position can be draining, both mentally in terms of play-calling and physically in terms of the pressure on one’s knees. It’s hard to say whether the position has had a damaging effect on Wieters, but his status as a can’t-miss prospect is slowly washing away in a sea of good-but-not-great contributions at the major league level. Nothing against his .267/.330/.410 career stat line through three seasons, but a shift in position may be just what the former Baseball American Minor League Player of the Year needs to get back on track to stardom. He could certainly stand to take some games from 1B Mark Reynolds or DH Vladimir Guerrero.
It’s off to New York for what seems to be a now-annual Labour Day weekend series at Yankee Stadium. Friday night will see Brandon Morrow and Ivan Nova get the call.
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Written by Ben Fisher