It won’t make a difference to those who think the Toronto Blue Jays kissed away the 2012 season when they didn’t pursue Yu Darvish or trade for Gio Gonzalez, but Alex Anthopoulos’s approach at the halfway point of the season hasn’t changed despite his team’s pitching crisis.
The Blue Jays general manager knew he’d need a middle-of-the-rotation starter at some point even before Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek came up lame. Too many young pitchers would be brushing up against innings limitations if the Blue Jays were playing significant games in September. A controllable pitcher, somebody dependable with a few years in the majors, would be preferable to a rental pitcher. That hasn’t changed, despite all the broken dreams and broken arms.
The Blue Jays hit the halfway mark of the 162-game schedule on Tuesday with a 6-3 come-from-behind win over the Kansas City Royals. That left them 41-40 and .500 (10-10) since June 11, when Morrow felt a twinge in his side after nine pitches in a game against the Washington Nationals.
Three days after Morrow sustained his oblique injury, the Blue Jays were also without Hutchison and Drabek because of elbow injuries – Drabek’s necessitating Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery. Going into Wednesday’s game, the Blue Jays’ starting pitchers, since Morrow’s injury, were 4-8 with a combined earned-run average of 7.01, averaging less than five innings a start and allowing a .314 opponents average against.
Ace Ricky Romero has been a mess, describing his funk as akin to being in “quicksand,” while Henderson Alvarez pitches under a red flag after suffering elbow soreness of his own.
This is the definition of a staff running on fumes, and it has affected a bullpen that was already without closer Sergio Santos and is statistically the second-worst in the American League. Only the San Diego Padres have walked more batters than the Blue Jays – in some ways, it is an imperfectly perfect pitching storm. It is a mess.
That the Blue Jays haven’t sunk lower since Morrow’s injury is because of the offence, particularly in the 27 games since manager John Farrell moved Brett Lawrie to leadoff and Colby Rasmus into the second slot. Since the shift, Lawrie was batting .315 with 10 doubles, a triple, three home runs, 25 runs scored and nine walks. He remains capable of changing games with his defence and also on the basepaths – true, sometimes for the worse in that latter department.
Rasmus, who radically overhauled his batting stance after a benching in May and has moved up in the box and closer to the plate, has hit .310 with 16 extra-base hits (including 10 homers) and a .986 OPS. In that time, he’s first in the American League in runs batted in, second in total bases and third in extra-base hits.
Dovetailing with the lineup shuffle was Jose Bautista’s June, when he earned player-of-the-month honours and regained the lead atop the AL home run chase, and Edwin Encarnacion’s continuing career season.
It has presented Anthopoulos with an interesting proposition. Could Encarnacion’s season make him a commodity? He is a free agent after this season and has shown in spurts at first base that he is not the total butcher in the field many think. Yet there will be no negotiations on a new contract this season, according to his agent, Paul Kinzer.
“It’s all about what’s doing right for Edwin,” Kinzer said Tuesday, in a telephone interview. “So, I don’t think we’ll talk during the season. We don’t want any distractions, because Edwin’s having a great year.”
Kelly Johnson is also a free agent at the end of the year, and Adeiny Hechavarria will be here in September. That could expedite the trading of shortstop Yunel Escobar.
But keep this in mind: a side-effect of the pitching injuries is the realization that as deep as everybody says the Blue Jays’ farm system appears to be, there is a gap – possibly a season or two – between the meat of the system down at Single-A Lansing and pitchers who are major-league ready. Chad Jenkins is close at Double A; Deck McGuire not so close. So the supply of young, mid-prospect arms that are always a welcomed sweetener in any deal has been thinned slightly.
Anthopoulos has the same goals in the trade market. It’s the path that’s become more difficult because he is dealing from a position of weakness.