The Dodgers and Blue Jays went into the 2013 season with big time expectations, and neither script panned out. However, the boys in blue bounced back, meanwhile Toronto continues to struggle. Scott Cooke of Bluebird Banter kindly took the time answer some questions about the sole baseball team located in Canada.
BEN: Who are the Toronto Blue Jays MVP and CY Young as of now?
SCOTT: It's tough to pick an MVP for the team this year as there's been some players making solid contributions, but no one really lighting the world on fire. I guess the feel good story of Adam Lind would give him the edge for the team MVP in my eyes. Lind is a guy who had a breakout season in 2009, winning a Silver Slugger and hitting over .305 leading to a tremendous amount of pressure being placed on his shoulders. In the years following he completely fell off a cliff never recording a WAR higher than 0.2. But this year the management announced he would only face right-handed hitters, as historically he's struggled against left-handed pitchers being a lefty hitter himself. This helped to revitalize Lind's career and he had nearly a .400 OBP in the middle of June before cooling off a bit as of late, although he is still hitting above a .300 clip. If you couldn't tell, a lot of Blue Jays fans have an extra appreciation of Adam Lind's success this year after watching him struggle for so long.
To give the CY Young to any of the starting rotation this year would be a crime against humanity as they have been horrific. The only pitcher who's started more than five games and still has an ERA under 4.50 is Esmil Rogers, who began the year in a middle relief role. The only fair thing to do with the team CY Young would be to give it to the whole bullpen, which has been one of the rare bright spots of the team this year. Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil brought their careers back from the dead this year and were rewarded with trips to the All-Star Game where they recorded back-to-back strikeouts. Casey Janssen has continued being a shutdown closer going 18/19 in save situations, meaning that on the rare occasions a lead is passed over to the bullpen, it's usually safe.
BEN: After the impressive and busy offseason, many people expected the Blue Jays to compete for the American League pennant. However, at 45-52 and 13.5 games back in the division, what went wrong?
SCOTT: It seems that a lot of things went wrong and the team hasn't been able to recover as of yet. Constant injuries decimated the starting rotation with Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and Josh Johnson all going on the DL, while R.A. Dickey has been pitching this whole season with a sore back and neck. The left side of the infield also has seen third baseman Brett Lawrie go to the DL twice and new shortstop Jose Reyes miss a huge chunk of time on the 60-day DL after an awkward slide severely sprained his ankle.
Besides injuries, a lot of players haven't preformed up to expectations leading to a lot of frustration in Toronto. The arrivals of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and R.A. Dickey have been disappointments so far and the trades this offseason have definitely not bolstered the starting rotation. The hitting has been streaky as well, but most of the blame would have to fall on the starting pitching at this point in the season.
BEN: Do you believe the Blue Jays still have a reasonable shot at making the playoffs?
SCOTT: The team certainly doesn't have a reasonable shot at making the playoffs as they have all four AL East powers in front of them in the standings, but the possibility of the team finally playing to their potential can't be ruled out. In the middle of June the team went on an 11 game win streak that vaulted them back in contention showing flashes of what this team is capable of. Unfortunately, the games following the win streak sunk them into the basement of the division once again. As I noted in a post a few days ago, the 24 games of the unofficial second half are mainly against West Coast teams and the fate of the season likely rests in the team's performance during this stretch.
BEN: Will the Blue Jays be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, and what are some of the most recent rumors?
SCOTT: Whether the Blue Jays will be buyers or sellers at the deadline will likely be decided during the 10-game home stand that the team is in the midst of. If they embark on a 10-game West Coast swing on July 29th in an unfavourable position in the division, some pieces may be dealt.
The usual rumours (there's a ‘u' in rumours up here in Canada!) have been tossed around that the Blue Jays are trying to get Matt Garza to stop the bleeding in the rotation or Chase Utley to shore up the second base position, but it's unlikely these moves pan out. The off-season dealings with Miami and New York basically emptied the minor league system and it doesn't look like a rental player will be in the sights of GM Alex Anthopoulos. The only trade I wouldn't be surprised to hear about would be Josh Johnson being dealt to a contender. Johnson is a free agent after this season and will command big dollars that he hasn't shown he is deserving of this year. Injuries and poor performance have made him expendable, if the Blue Jays can get the right pieces back. The team also has a surplus of solid bullpen arms and a contender short in relief pitchers (such as the Tigers) might overpay for one of Toronto's arms.
BEN: On paper, the pitching rotation seemed stacked but it didn't pan out. Are R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle beginning to show any signs of life?
SCOTT: It's tough to say if they're really coming around or not as injuries have really clouded their performance. It seems R.A. Dickey has begun to find his knuckleball recently as he recovers from soreness that his plagued his 2013 campaign and the results are slowly looking better. Mark Buehrle's mid-80's fastball will always be up and down so depending on the day, he could dominate a lineup or not last 5 innings depending on his command.
Josh Johnson has probably been the most disappointing off-season acquisition as he hasn't pitched to his ability at all in what is likely his only year in Toronto. He hasn't often put two good starts together back to back and the fan base has started to question whether the trade with Miami was really worth it in the end.
BEN: The Blue Jays bullpen ranks amongst the best in the MLB, featuring Steve Delabar, Casey Jansen, Brett Cecil and more. Did you expect that unit to be elite?
SCOTT: I think everyone considered it a possibility that the bullpen would be strong this year, but the pitchers they assumed to be leading the charge were Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, and Casey Janssen. While Janssen has held up his end of the bargain, injuries have limited the success of the other two, especially Santos who has been out since April for the second straight year.
Brett Cecil was a starter that got tossed in relief as a last ditch effort to save his career and with the help of a weighted ball program introduced by Steve Delabar has found some fastball velocity and a tighter curveball. Delabar has also put it all together after being traded to Toronto at the deadline last year for a spare outfielder in Eric Thames. His fastball-splitter combination has been dynamite and between the two All-Star relievers the setup role has been in good hands for Toronto.
BEN: Colby Rasmus always possessed immense talent, but it never fully clicked. However, at .262-16 home runs and 48 RBI, Rasmus may be on the right track. How has Rasmus picked it up as of late?
SCOTT: Colby Rasmus seems to split Blue Jays fans' feelings as he strikes out almost a third of the time, but also leads the team in WAR! I'm not sure too much has changed with him, other than taking a few more walks and not getting down on himself after striking out so much. His defense and speed in centrefield also saves him from more criticism as he consistently robs the other team of base hits. It should be interesting to watch the second half of the year to see if Colby continues to be one of the best players on the team while having a K% north of 30%.
BEN: Everyone knows about Jose Bautista, but Edwin Encarnacion clearly owns the teams most lethal hitter honors. Will Encarnacion keep up the current pace during the home stretch?
SCOTT: It's over a season and a half now that Encarnacion has been tearing the cover off the ball, so I would have to assume it would continue for the rest of the season (hopefully). He's a bona fide power hitter these days and the combination of Encarnacion and Jose Bautista should be a threat in the middle of the Blue Jays' lineup for years to come.
BEN: Designated hitter Adam Lind normally belts home runs with ease, yet struggles average wise. On the contrary, in 2013, Lind's long balls have dropped off slightly at 11 but his average is at .303. What will Lind's final stat line look like?
SCOTT: I went in-depth on Lind in the first question so I'll keep this relatively short, but he changed his approach this year and it seems to have worked. In an interview with Fangraphs he said he was only swinging 90% so he was more controlled in the batter's box, which explains the higher average and lower home run numbers. I took a look at his plate discipline in a post a while back and he's swung very rarely this season leading to a much more successful approach that, although sacrificing some power, has turned his career around for the better. At the end of the year Lind should still be around a .300 hitter if he stays patient, with around 20 home runs I'd guess, which will do just fine for Blue Jays fans who suffered through three years of horrible production from our loveable first baseman.
BEN: Series Prediction?
SCOTT: It looks like the Blue Jays will avoid Greinke and Kershaw during this series, which is definitely a plus for Toronto as good pitchers have made them look silly this year. There's a complete mystery as to who will be the fifth pitcher in the rotation coming out of the All-Star Break so besides the unknown, the Dodgers will go up against surprise ace Esmil Rogers and surprise dud Josh Johnson. Putting aside all bias, I'd have to think the Dodgers will take two out of three from Toronto making the Blue Jays' next series against Houston extremely crucial. It should be fun to watch though, and I know many Blue Jay fans can't wait to see Yasiel Puig in our home stadium.