A brief look at an opponent we play this week.
Offense: Kelly Johnson-2B, Yunel Escobar-SS, Jose Bautista-RF, Edwin Encarnacion-1B/DH, Colby Rasmus-CF, Brett Lawrie-3B, J.P. Arencibia-C, David Cooper-1B/DH, Rajai Davis-OF. Bench: Omar Vizquel-INF, Jeff Mathis-C, Eric Thames-OF.
TOR R/G: 4.81. CHW R/G: 4.81. AL AVG R/G: 4.40.
Every now and then I feel bad for the Blue Jays. Over the past decade or so, they've only really had three bad seasons and four seasons that may have landed them a playoff spot if they didn't play in the AL East. But they do play in the AL East. So it goes. Kelly Johnson is one of those players where it's pretty hard to get a solid reading on them. His BABIP alternates from great to atrocious seemingly every year, making him look like a different player each season. His peripherals tend to stay the same, he has legitimate 20-25 homerun power, and can throw in 10-15 steals just for the heck of it. He's good defensively and is a bit underrated in the world of second basemen. His double play partner, Yunel Escobar was also once a Brave, making for a weird reunion tandem north of the border. Baseball is neat like that. Yunel is off to a poor start this season, having bad luck on balls in play and hitting for reduced power. He had an off season like this back in 2010 when he was traded to the Jays, but bounced back quite nicely last year. True talentwise, he's a slightly above league average hitter with low double-digit homerun power that can play a good but not spectacular shortstop. This up the middle combination is in that defensive tier just below ours (Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez) and Texas' (Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus) in the AL.Jose Bautista has one of my favorite nicknames in all of baseball currently (Joey Bats). It harkens back to a simpler time when every member of the Wu-Tang Clan decided to come up with mafia nicknames for themselves. We were all so young back then. Something has been slightly amiss all season with his bat though. He's walking a bit less, hitting for a bit less power, and having incredibly bad luck on balls in play. He'll still end the season near the top of the league in homeruns, but his two year reign as the top power hitter may be coming to an end. He's improving as a right fielder, but is still below average. Not Carlos Quentin bad, more like Josh Willingham bad. But the Blue Jay's haven't really needed Bautista to hit like Bautista because Edwin Encarnacion of all people decided to not only live up to his potential, but actually surpass it. Like I said on White Sox Off Day, it doesn't seem like it was too long ago that Encarnacion was just a powerful but terrible defensive third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. Edwin seems to have fully bought into Dwayne Murphy's hitting philosophy and it has worked. He's matched his last two seasons' productivity already and is doing a passable job at first base when not DHing. If his bruised hand allows him to play all three games, I'd expect him to go yard at least once this series.
Colby Rasmus appears to have decided to never again live up to the promise his 2010 season showed. The shiny prize Alex Anthopoulos obtained in the essentially three team trade with us and the Cardinals for Edwin Jackson (and the esteemed Mark Teahen) has managed a .630 OPS to go along with his 68 OPS+. He's what would happen if Beckham could play center field. He's still young (turns 26 in August) so he could always turn it around, but it's beginning to look more and more like he'll just be an okay starter and not an All-Star. Brett Lawrie is the reason Toronto can be considered an elite defensive infield team when not talking about first base. Yeah, he's a hothead who stupidly threw his helmet in a manner that was destined to hit an umpire, but he's only 22-years-old. I can think of more than a few stupid things I did at that age. Hell, I'm still doing some of them two years later. If Gold Gloves were truly based on merit, Lawrie would be a yearly contender from here out. His OBP is likely to hover around or just above league average, but he's got 20-20 potential to go along with his great glove. He's going to be fun to watch for a while.
J.P. Arencibia may not be in Toronto for much longer since top prospect Travis d'Arnaud has shown that the Eastern League and the PCL can't slow him down, much less contain him. J.P. has great power for a catcher but doesn't hit well enough or draw enough walks to profile at any other position. You can live with a ~.310 wOBA from your catcher. You can't live with that at a corner infield slot. He's about average at catching thieves, but has allowed a league leading six passed balls this season. d'Arnaud abides. I know nothing about David Cooper other than what little the internet can tell me. I do know that if he ever winds up playing in the Pacific Northwest (I'm looking at you Mariners), a man with the name D. Cooper must use this as his at bat music. Must. In a neat wrinkle, Cooper was chosen right after Lawrie in the first round of the 2008 draft. In time, Cooper should become a solid to good first baseman, hitting 20-30 homeruns a season with good plate discipline. Don't let the fact the he's walking about as much as Dayan Viciedo fool you, he's always had a solid eye in the minors. I love finding out who the ninth hitter is on teams we rarely play because it lets me discover that guys like Rajai Davis are not only still in the league, but are occasionally starters. Rajai is a speed demon who still hasn't somehow grasped the nuances of playing left field. He can draw a walk and steal a base, but that's about it for skills.
TOR RA/G: 4.41 R/G. CHW RA/G: 4.07. AL AVG RA/G: 4.35.
And that right there is why the Blue Jays struggle to move up from the middle of the pack. Until the pitching improves Toronto won't be competing for much more than the second Wild Card space. Ricky Romero is the nominal ace of the staff, though in all honesty that title belongs to Brandon Morrow. Romero is an above-average pitcher, but likely not the beast his .242 BABIP against last season made him seem to be. He gets a good amount of strikeouts (7.22 career K/9) for such an extreme groundballer (54.7 career GB%). He's had some control issues this season, as evidenced by his career high 4.79 BB/9. He throws a low-90s four-seamer, a changeup, a curveball, and a sinker. Brandon Morrow continues to make the Brandon League trade look confusing and foolish for Seattle. Morrow seems to have learned how to handle being a diabetic starting pitcher just fine. It would be nice if he could trim his BB/9 down a little bit more, but a K/BB of 2.82 is still pretty nice. Brandon throws a mid-90s four-seamer, a slider, a changeup, and a show-me curve. His stuff is great and he's one of my favorite non-White Sox pitchers to watch.
Henderson Alvarez confounds me. How can a guy with a damn near 1 K/BB ratio who strikes out less than three hitters per nine innings manage an ERA under 4? It's baffling. Especially when he's a groundballer who has already given up 12 homeruns this season! WHO ARE YOU AND HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS?!?!?!?! That .258 BABIP needs to correct itself or I may lose my mind. Yeah, he has a great infield defense behind him but they can't make up for his flaws forever. This conjurer chucks a sinker around 93 mph, a four-seamer in the same range, a slider, and a changeup. Former top prospect Kyle Drabek looks like he's lost his ability to pitch. He once had good control in the minors, but it hasn't been seen since he first started getting shellacked in the majors last season. Until he rediscovers that he doesn't have to walk an equal amount of hitters that he strikes out he won't be long for a major league rotation. The only thing keeping him afloat right now is a .264 BABIP against, aided once again by the strong defensive infield. He's prone to homeruns, allowing 1.31 per nine innings so far this year. Drabek tosses a sinker around 93 mph, a four-seamer about the same, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup.
Drew Hutchison is the youngest member of a very young rotation, but is having the best season outside of Morrow. Hutch has demonstrated fantastic command and control of his pitches throughout the minors, so it won't be long or unexpected when his K/9 creeps up and his BB/9 sinks down. He's a guy to keep an eye on. He throws a four-seamer and a sinker in the low 90s, while mixing in a slider and a changeup. Casey Janssen is the next man to assume the mantle of closer for the Jays this season, after Sergio Santos' injury and Francisco Cordero's ineffectiveness. He's a more traditional closer than what we've been exposed to recently, actually able to record strikeouts instead of just inducing groundballs. Casey uses a low-90s four-seamer, a cutter, a curveball, and a slider.
Outlook: Toronto has a pretty solid squad this year. But so do we. 5-5 season series split.