There was always going to be a flip-side to Alex Anthopoulos’s whirlwind winter. Trade away gilt-edged prospects and you accept the risk of a comeuppance.
But no-one, not even those who believed introducing R.A. Dickey and his capricious knuckleball to the rigours of the American League East were a gamble, could have foreseen a Friday game against the Kansas City Royals in late August as being a point of reflection.
Watch: Jays beat Royals 3-2
Forget Emilio Bonifacio’s return to the scene of his frequent crimes against the game; forget the fact one of the players Anthopoulos acquired from the Miami Marlins in that 12-player deal last winter that shocked the baseball world had eight walks and on-base percentage of .377 in the 15 games (prior to Friday) since the Royals picked him up from the Blue Jays – or, just five walks less than he had in 94 games with Toronto.
When the Blue Jays GM sent (among others) Justin Nicolino, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jake Marisnick to the Marlins, and Travis D’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to the New York Mets, chances were a point would come when Blue Jays fans might rue the deals.
But, geez, that was supposed to be 2015 or 2016. Not Aug. 30. Not 2013.
The Jays (61-74) backed Mark Buehrle’s seven innings of four-hit pitching with a pair of early runs on a two-run single by Adam Lind en route to beating the Royals 3-2 on Friday night. Buehrle (11-7) has won six consecutive games for the first time since winning a career-high nine in 2005. He was rescued from some shaky middle relief when third baseman Brett Lawrie made a remarkable play for the second out of the eighth inning, jumping and bare-handing a swinging bunt off the bat of Billy Butler and unloading a throw to first base before he landed.
Casey Janssen gave up two ninth-inning singles, but kept the Royals at bay for his 25th save.
Rookie Ryan Goins got the final out by ranging to his left, snagging Alex Gordon's sharply-hit grounder, and throwing to first while sitting on his rear.
The Royals, possessors of the longest active playoff drought in the major leagues, pretty much where a lot of people would have worst-case scenarioed the Blue Jays in spring training: With a mathematical chance of a division title (81/2 games back, going into Friday) and within shouting distance of an American League wild-card berth but at least guaranteeing meaningful September baseball.
The Royals made two bold moves of their own, acquiring one year of pitcher Ervin Santana before free agency, then landing James Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays for the premier position prospect in the game (outfielder Wil Myers) and pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery.
Shields, who has a $12-million (U.S.) club option for 2014, won’t win the Cy Young Award, but he’s one of the reasons the Royals had the best team earned-run average in the AL. Their bullpen is the best statistically in the AL, and their starters have gone seven-plus innings 47 times, and they’ve logged 8121/3 innings. Blue Jays starters had logged 741 innings going into Friday.
“Their starting pitching is where they’ve struggled in the past,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who was the Royals bench coach for three seasons. “They beefed it up this winter. Santana, Shields. Everybody thought that’s what they were lacking. They had a lot of guys who can play the outfield, and you weren’t going to get Shields unless you gave up what Tampa wanted.”
Anthopoulos took on a lot of money and age this winter and also brought in players who, for the most part, had limited, if any, success in the AL. But even with pitcher Josh Johnson falling off the face of the Earth (remember: Anthopoulos admits Johnson was the focal point of his talks with the Marlins) and Bonifacio contributing nothing but heartache, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes have been the few consistencies for the Blue Jays.
As for Dickey? If he has in fact figured out how to control the knuckleball in the Rogers Centre – Dickey starts Saturday and says he realizes he can’t elevate his knuckler as much as he could at Citi Field with the Mets – the deal might be salvageable.
After Kansas City, the second-longest active drought belongs to the Pittsburgh Pirates – and the Pirates are positioned to slake that thirst.
In third place on this, the 20th anniversary of their second of back-to-back World Series are the Blue Jays, watching a younger Royals team with a payroll that’s $40-million less and wondering whether after all those moves they’re in fact not farther away from the postseason.
There’s some bad history beckoning, folks – a lot earlier than many anticipated.
The Pittsburgh Pirates play the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend in a crucial National League Central series. If the Pirates make the playoffs this year, it would end a streak of 20 seasons (1992) without a postseason appearance. The Pirates’ drought is the second-longest in the majors, sandwiched between the two teams playing at the Rogers Centre this weekend. The longest active playoff droughts in the major leagues:
Kansas City Royals (27 seasons)
Pittsburgh Pirates (20)
Toronto Blue Jays (19)
Seattle Mariners (11)
Miami Marlins (nine)