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Jays Can’t Dash Rays’ Hopes

Posted By Ben Fisher On Sep 26 2011 @ 2:26 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

What Happened

The Blue Jays (80-79) began their limp to the finish line this weekend against the Tampa Bay Rays, where they earned a surprising 5-1 decision against David Price in the opener, but promptly fell victim to a talented team with everything left to play for with 6-2 and 5-2 weekend losses. By Sunday, the banged up Jays were without Jose Bautista (leg contusion), Yunel Escobar (elbow), Adam Lind (became a father), Colby Rasmus (flu) and Brett Lawrie (hand).

A Closer Look

Team Defence Abandons Romero: Ricky Romero deserved to go out on a better note than as the losing pitcher on Saturday. He allowed just one run over 7.2 innings to cap off the season as one of 13 (likely to be 14 after Josh Beckett’s start tonight) pitchers with 30 or more starts who maintained an ERA under 3.00. While the Jays’ offence could have stepped up more (only four batters recorded hits against Alex Torres and co.), it was the defensive miscues that were particularly glaring, with David Cooper flubbing a pop fly in foul territory and the usually sure-handed Mike McCoy committing a throwing and fielding error. Neither Cooper nor McCoy is expected to factor heavily into the team’s plans for next season, so the defensive theme offers an opportunity to evaluate how the whole club did in the field. J.P. Arencibia’s defensive stats – 12 passed balls (third-highest in MLB) – show that he had his rookie moments, but made strides in terms of game management and now catches all Toronto starting pitchers. Lind looked comfortable at first from the get-go (amazingly, he has the sixth-highest fielding percentage of any regular first baseman) and, ironically, now faces more questions about his game offensively than defensively. Among other position players, Lawrie still has some learning to do, but his athleticism should make him a defensive asset, Rasmus covers a lot of ground in centrefield but had a few head-scratching miscues and still needs to develop chemistry with Bautista. As for the rest of the team, it remains to be seen who joins Escobar in the middle infield and who patrols left field come 2012.

Uncertain About Cecil: A buddy and I were recently discussing which Jay not named Kyle Drabek has seen their stock take the greatest hit in 2011. After deciding than Aaron Hill didn’t count since he is no longer a Blue Jay, we discussed Travis Snider (still too much potential and will have a shot at full-time duty next season), Brandon Morrow (too many flirtations with greatness to be given up on yet), Jon Rauch (basically a bargain bin pick-up to begin with) and Lind (hit well in the first half and still has 1B locked up barring any off-season acquisitions) before settling on Brett Cecil. Cecil followed up a 15-win 2010 with a 4-11 2011 in which h his ERA rose half a run (4.73 from 4.22) and he coughed up four or more earned runs in six of his final eight starts. Injuries played a role, keeping him out for over two months early in the season, but he had plenty of time to bounce back and prove his health. Instead, he is left with no guarantees about a starting spot for 2012 and will almost certainly be made available in trades this winter.

Injuries Open Up Playing Time: Call them the Toronto 51’s or Las Vegas Blue Jays, but the team that takes to the field this week as US Cellular Field against the ChiSox will have a decidedly different look and feel than the regular Jays. As many as five starters could remain out for tonight’s opener and even if the club get some back, it will be a great opportunity for a few September call-ups to make one last push prior to next spring. Cooper and Adam Loewen face the most pressure and could even get middle-of-the-order at-bats, while McCoy, Dewayne Wise and Mark Teahen may all have chances to impress. Kelly Johnson and Eric Thames, meanwhile, will have one more series to make their case for 2012 full-time employment in Toronto. On a related note, pity poor Brian Jeroloman, who has been a major leaguer since August 23 but still has yet to get a sniff of playing time while stuck behind Arencibia and Jose Molina.

The Other Guys: If there was ever a time for the fair-weather Tampa Bay fans to show up at Tropicana Field and support their team (aside from the 2008 World Series run, that is), this would be it. Here they are, sitting one game back of Boston in the wild card race with the Yankees coming to town (and with them, plenty of retired, displaced Yankee fans living in Tampa). They will trot out James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and Price against an underwhelming New York group that includes Hector Noesi, Bartolo Colon and whatever sacrificial lamb gets the meaningless (for the Yanks) Sunday start. It also remains to be seen whether Yankees manager Joe Girardi “respects the process” and puts out his best line-up, or sends out the scrubs (the Noesi start would hint at the latter). Of course, they will still need help, with Boston in Baltimore for a trio against the club that took three of four from them last week.

Up Next

2011 will end in Chicago for the Jays, with one win needed to guarantee a .500 finish. Also of significance this week will be Dustin McGowan looking for his first win in three years tonight against Danny Axelrod and Toronto getting a final look at Mark Buehrle on Tuesday before the left-hander hits unrestricted free agency.

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