Richard Griffin Baseball Columnist
Promoted as the Blue Jays' most important home series of the century, the three-game set at the Rogers Centre came and went with little of note decided regarding any playoff hopes.
Following Thursday's 2-1 loss vs. the O's the Jays still look up and see only Baltimore ahead of them in the AL East. It's when they look over their shoulders that the Jays become concerned. Just 1-5 in their last six games, there are suddenly five teams within 3.5 games for the second wild card.
Jays' left-hander J.A. Happ made one mistake in his six innings of work, allowing a two-run homer to catcher Caleb Joseph in the fourth inning. It was the fourth straight start for Joseph in which he had homered. All-star catcher Matt Wieters has been on the DL since May 11 with a right elbow strain.
It was a second tough loss in a row for Happ, who lost 3-1 at Houston in his last outing. Over his last two starts, the 31-year-old has allowed just three earned runs in 14 innings.
But for the second straight start, the Jays could score just one run in support, a solo homer by Anthony Gose in the fifth.
It was also the second straight outstanding start by a Jays pitcher. In the final two games of the series, Drew Hutchison and Happ combined for 16.2 innings, allowing just five hits and three runs, striking out 20.
The Jays need their two veteran starters to also step up.
More injury woes beset the Jays in the first inning, when Melky Cabrera was drilled just above the right elbow in the first inning by O's starter Miguel Gonzalez. The initial X-rays were negative, but it was a direct hit and you could hear Cabrera grunt before the ball even arrived. He's listed as day-to-day, which in the world of the Blue Jays' time estimates could mean anything from a day to the DL.
Injuries have made this season a struggle for the Jays, but then again, what's new?
They are trying to compete for their first post-season berth in 21 years with five players that should be platooned — five of 12 position players on the roster. That's too many.
On Friday, Steve Tolleson will return to the active ranks after the birth of a child, becoming the Jays' sixth platoon-worthy player. The most likely candidate to head back to Triple-A Buffalo at that point is lefty reliever Rob Rasmussen.
The major positions of right-left necessity, especially with the loss of Brett Lawrie back onto the disabled list — replacing fractured finger with strained oblique — are second and third base.
When Adam Lind returns from the DL, likely at the start of next week in Seattle, it will help with the DH platoon. Lind will bat against right-handers and Nolan Reimold will likely face southpaws.
In the meantime, it's a mix-and-match situation with lefty swingers Juan Francisco, Mune Kawasaki and Ryan Goins, juggled against right-handed bats Danny Valencia and Reimold.
Then when Edwin Encarnacion returns to play first base, sometime next week, there will need to be yet another decision, but in the meantime, the Jays struggle to find combos to compete.
“Look, ideally you have nine guys who play every day, you don't have to platoon,” GM Alex Anthopoulos said in a far-reaching media session prior to the game. “But I think one of the advantages is that it does bring a team together a little bit more. Everybody feels like they're a part of the team.
“I remember when I used to follow the (Montreal) Expos as a kid. It felt like that whole club they all had a part in winning. There's a little bit more camaraderie. You hear it all the time. Guys think they're not part of the team. They don't get to pitch, they don't get to play. Everybody gets to take part in the team and I think that's one of the small byproducts. Look, all that said, I'd still rather have an all-star at every spot and have those guys play day in, day out.”
The biggest problems for this Jays team are now at second and third base, where Lawrie was expected to be an anchor to build around for the final two months of their post-season chase.
But with Lawrie likely out until at least the middle of September, the Jays will be scrambling.
Consider the Jay that has started the most games at second base is Kawasaki, with just 30 starts out of 116 games. Compare that to the Yankees, who thought they had a problem at second base and acquired Stephen Drew from the Red Sox.
The Jay that has started the most games at third base is Francisco with 51 starts. The Yankees thought they had a problem at third base and acquired Chase Headley from the Padres. In hindsight, with Lawrie back on the DL, does Anthopoulos wish he had been more aggressive?
“Not for what it was going to take for us to have to surrender for some of those players,” Anthopoulos stated.
“Some deals where the acquisition cost you're just completely uncomfortable with, it's an easy decision. There's a lot of great players that you'd love to have, but at a price point it doesn't make sense for us. That's when some are a lot easier to say no to. There wasn't any deal that we really had to agonize over. We never got close because it wouldn't have made our team better.”
If that's the case, that's sad.