Friday, May 22, 2009

Blue Jays endangered atop the AL East?

Bring back Jim Clancy! Photo from this site.

The Blue Jays still have the best record in the American League even after getting swept by the Red Sox this week, so picking the Cito Gaston-led Jays to finish last and predicting Toronto management would have to resort to holding post-game concerts with fellow ‘90s relics in order to lure fannies into the seats looks pretty foolish right about now. (You know what else looks really freaking horrible? Picking the Indians to win the World Series. Yeesh.)

That said, the Jays didn’t do much this week—or last week against the Yankees, more on that red-hot team in a bit—to disprove the skepticism that surrounded their fast start. The Jays have gone 26-12 against the Orioles, the AL Central and the AL West, but just 1-5 against the Yankees and Sox.

And the Jays went 0-5 in games not started by Roy Halladay, which only underscores how thin the Jays are behind their annual Cy Young contender. Scott Richmond, Brian Tallet, Brett Cecil and Robert Ray fill out the rotation, but Richmond is the only one who might be in the Jays’ optimal rotation. Casey Janssen, Shawn Marcum and Dustin McGowan are all on the disabled list and rookie Ricky Romero (say that five times fast) went on the shelf after four impressive starts and was optioned to Triple-A upon his activation.

The non-Halladay quartet had a 8.34 ERA against the Yankees and Sox. Subtract Tallet’s solid numbers—he allowed four runs in 12 innings over two starts—and Richmond, Cecil and Ray were lit up the tune of a 14.34 ERA in just 10 2/3 innings.

Fortunately for the Sox and the Yankees, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has no plans to shuffle the rotation. Of course, he also admits in the linked story that the Jays are “…making this up as we go” and that he could change his mind at any moment, so stay tuned.

Keep an eye, too, on how the Jays respond to Ricciardi’s ways if they continue to falter (and they’ll be tested plenty with 35 of their final 47 games prior to the All-Star Break against teams currently at or within a game of .500). Matthew Pouliot of makes a pretty good case that the Jays have long been more interested in saving money than winning games, as evidenced most recently by the demotion of Romero despite his 1.71 ERA. Will be interesting to see if any cracks in the fa├žade begin to appear if the Jays fall out of the running.

As for those fast-charging Yankees, who are now only a game behind the second-place Sox and 1 ½ games behind the Jays: I was shoveling dirt on the Yankees less than three weeks ago and declared not even a month ago that their approach to player development was something less than successful, but I should note that not only are they the hottest team in baseball, but that their starter and closer last night were both homegrown, as were five of the players in the starting lineup.

That said, unlike with my Indians and Blue Jays predictions, I’m not quite willing to cut bait on my original forecast of third place for the Yankees. After winning nine in a row—the last seven against the Twins and Orioles—let’s see how the Yankees fare once they resume playing the varsity this weekend, when the defending World Series champion Phillies come to The House Nobody Can Afford To Visit to begin a stretch in which the Yankees play 19 of 23 games against teams currently within a game of .500.

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