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The Best Is Yet to Come for 2014 Blue Jays

We’re two days away from August, and the Toronto Blue Jays are still within striking distance of winning the American League East. This is both incredibly exciting, and unbelievably terrifying.

As the Blue Jays begin the final third of the season with a hold on a playoff spot, this is how I feel about the last two months of 2014:

It’s certainly shaping up to be a wild ride.

StrochezAs far back as the off-season, there were many corners of the fanbase who would have happily traded away Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez for pitching help, despite the fact neither had thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues. Now, Stroman is arguably the best pitcher in the organization, and Sanchez is getting his feet wet to potentially join him in the rotation next season. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan anywhere who isn’t insisting general manager Alex Anthopoulos hold on to them with a death grip.

If the season ended today, Toronto would be travelling to Anaheim to take on the Angels in the Wild Card play-in game, and the opportunity to move on to Oakland as the American League wild card team. Would Stroman be the starter for that game? You could make a strong case he should be.

It’s unlikely the Jays are going to make any big splashes ahead of tomorrow’s trade deadline, and why should they? The starting rotation really hasn’t been an issue right now. And hoenstly, if a starter was brought in, who goes to the bullpen? J.A. Happ? Drew Hutchison? Those are the only two you could make a case for, and even then, there’s no guarantee what you bring in is going to out-perform them, unless it’s David Price or Jon Lester, both of which are unrealistic candidates to land in Toronto.

Within the next 2-3 weeks, the Blue Jays will be bolstering their batting order by adding a 30+ home run hitter, a guy who bats .360 against right-handed pitching, and a gold-glove caliber talent at third base (or second, depending how manager John Gibbons is feeling thatday). As Mike Wilner pointed out in his column this morning, there isn’t a team in the league that is going to be making those kinds of upgrades. All the Jays have to do right now is continue to “tread water” (although they’ve been making some powerful strides with a 9-3 mark since the All-Star break) until Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie return.

The biggest area of need right now is the bullpen, the one spot which was thought to be a great strength at the beginning of the season. Sanchez and Dustin McGowan currently represent the bridge to Casey Janssen, along with Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup. Another power right-handed arm would go a long way to easing the concerns of late-game dramatics.

Amazingly, former All-Star reliever Steve Delabar still hasn’t put it together down in AAA. After a string of four scoreless appearances out of five, he’s surrendered runs in back-to-back outings. Overall in Buffalo, he’s thrown 12.1 innings over 15 appearances, allowing six earned runs on 10 hits, with six walks and 14 strikeouts. That’s a 4.38 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, a .227 opponent’s average, and a 10.24 K/9 inning ratio. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but considering he should be doing that in Toronto and not Buffalo, it’s not anything to be thrilled about. Hopefully he can continue to work his way back to form, and provide a jolt to the bullpen come September.

Another inriguing name to look for in September is Brandon Morrow. He continues to recover from a torn tendon sheath in his finger, and the last word was that he could be ready in about a month, and the team is open to the possibility of adding him to the bullpen. A pen consisting of Janssen, McGowan, Morrow, Delabar, Cecil, Loup and another right-handed set-up man sounds awfully good to me. Of course, that leaves Sanchez on the outside looking in, assuming there’s a trade.

The next couple of weeks should provide a good test. They’re currently 4-1 on their 10-game road trip (already doubling their win total from the last 10-game road trip). One more game against the in-shambles Boston Red Sox, and four winnable ones in Houston remain. Three or four more W’s are almost mandatory at this point to keep pace with Baltimore at the very least.

Upon returning home, it’s three against the Orioles, three against the Tigers, then back on the road to Seattle. Nine straight games against playoff contenders, hopefully with a little roster bolstering in the process, to help them determine how they stack up against their counterparts.

If you look deep enough down the schedule, they’re last 10 games are against Baltimore and Seattle, the teams they seem most likely to be battling with for the division and wild card playoff spots.

So, essentially, their fate is in their own hands. Many fans will be happy with a one-game playoff. Others won’t be satisfied unless they get a whole series. And the truly greedy will only smile if another championship banner is dropped at the Dome.

The fans in this city are holding their collective breath. It’s a population that’s been routinely set up for failure and disappointment, in large part due to the struggles of the hockey club in the last three seasons (as a microcosm of their plight over the last decade).

But when you take a step back and realize that this will be the first meaningful baseball in Toronto into the month of August in recent memory, well, that’s something you have to cherish. Get ready, Toronto. It’s going to be a fun ride.

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