That Texas series seemed to display many of the tools the Blue Jays are going to need moving forward if they are to even remotely have a chance at October baseball. With all the AL teams beating up on one another it seems safe to assume that 92-94 wins will win the division. One team could run away with it perhaps but the balance of all the teams at this stage seem to point to no clear cut favourite. Each team has had injury to core players but has managed to weather the storm relatively intact. Heck, the only team that needs a big winning streak to get into the conversation is the Blue Jays. If we take 94 wins as the amount it would take to win the East or even a wildcard, the Jays have to go 67-33 from here on out. That’s +34 baseball from here on out. It has been done before…here and there…but if we keep winning series and not sweeping a few then we may already be dead in the water thanks to the putrid April they played.
The White Sox are playing about the same level of ball as we are but their problem stem from a lack of hitting. As a team, the White Sox are hitting a “robust” .236. That ranks last in the AL and 26th on all of baseball. Alex Rios is doing his best to carry the team (.288, 11 HR, 33 RBI, 9 SB) but after that it is a general mess of underachievers. Some have had their moments but the poster child for the ineptitude of the offence can be gleaned from one player: Paul Konerko. His career slash line is .282/.357/.495 with 428 career home runs in 15 seasons. His slash line for 2013? .235/.298/.358 with 6 dingers. Without another power bat to complement some of the team speed it has been a nightmare for the White Sox. Are we seeing a swift decline of their all-star first baseman? We shall see.
Game 1: R.A. Dickey (5-7, 4.66 ERA) vs. Dylan Axelrod (3-4, 3.73 ERA)
Game 2: Chien-Ming Wang (4-4, 2.33 ERA) vs. Jose Quintana (3-2, 3.95 ERA)
Game 3: Esmil Rogers (1-2, 3.60 ERA) vs. Chris Sale (5-4, 2.68 ERA)
Dickey turned in a masterful 8 1/3 innings of 2 hit shutout baseball last time out and he claimed to have felt more comfortable throwing his different speeds of knuckleball. It would appear that the injuries to his back and neck have subsided a bit and we are seeing the true form of a Cy Young Winner. That being said, he is still only one start removed from giving up 6 earned runs in back to back games against the Orioles and Braves. I aim to give him the benefit of the doubt but the leash is still very short. If he starts getting teed off on by the inept hitting of the White Sox then there could be more trouble on the horizon.
Dylan Axelrod is slowly shaping up to be a decent major league pitcher. In his last 3 starts he is 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA. He is durable enough that he is averaging about 6 innings per start. If he can get his pitch count lowered you could perhaps be seeing the replacement Mark Buehrle in Chicago. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys or walk a ton either. Opponents are hitting .258 off him so far. He is the type of pitcher whom batters make consistent contact on yet he seems to get out of bad situations relatively unscathed. Last year he was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA anf 14 Ks against the Blue Jays so he definitely can be had.
A welcome addition, hopefully, to the starting rotation will be the reclamation project that is Wang. He posted some very good numbers in AAA but is that because he is back to the 19 game einner form of a few years ago or is he just treading water and trying to pitch until his pension kicks in? He seems like a gamer and his soft tosses and sinkers may get the better of the White Sox bats. But even though the Yankees have had issue with their rotation they never brought him up. Makes you wonder.
What has been said about Axelrod seems to hold true for Quintana. His numbers are not too shabby this year so taking a look deeper into the numbers shows a kid who is slowly improving. His BAA against has dropped from his career norm and last time out he pitched 7 2/3 innings giving up 4 earned. Right in line with his overalls. His problem seems to stem from consistency. In his last 10 games he has given up 0 runs twice, 2 runs twice, 3 runs twice and 4 runs four times. That isn’t too bad a spread considering he hasn’t given up more than 4 runs in those 10 games. This game should be a close one…with many runs.
Rogers seems to be turning into this seasons Carlos Villanueva. Give him the ball and when he takes the mound he is going to keep you in the game and give you a shot to win. In his last 19 2/3 innings he has given up only 5 earned runs. He seems to have harnessed the power in his arm and has become a truly needed swing man for our patchwork rotation. If we keep stretching him out we could have the long reliever we need that isn’t Brad Lincoln. We know that with Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey we have a steady top 3. Add in Wang and that leaves one more spot that should be taken by Brandon Morrow once he is cleared and ready to play. Until then I have faith that Rogers will be as good as any pitcher we could throw up there.
Opposite Rogers we have the power arm of Chris Sale. He has become arguably the ace of the White Sox staff. He just recently gave up a game winning grand slam to the A’s Josh Donaldson that ended his 17 inning scoreless streak at home. That is just an aberration. In his last 10 starts he has given up 3 runs or less in 8 of those contests. His K:BB ratio is almost 3 to 1 in that span. With an overall WHIP under 1 (0.92) he has become a true ace. This game could be decided pretty quickly if Rogers faulters a bit. I am hoping for a pitchers duel but unfortunately I don’t see the Jays pulling this one out.
Probable Starting Lineups
Toronto Blue Jays
After a torrid month of May (.337/.446.548) Jose Bautista has gone back to his putrid April form. So far in June, Bautista has given us this slash line (.176/.222/.206) in 34 AB’s. I know he can be streaky but it seems very odd this year. He still has a temper (as evidenced by his tossing yesterday) and I wonder if he is being forced to chase more bad balls because the umpires are calling more strikes on him. I love a passionate leader but I also prefer that our leader lead by example. Until he stops whining and just bears down at the plate this will always be an issue and it is one that is getting rather old rather fast.
Aside from Rios there is one player who seems to have picked it up the last 10 games and that is the speedy and fun to say Alejandro De Aza. He is hitting a robust .366 in his last ten games and has become a fixture in the Sox outfield. The worry is that sometimes hitting can be contagious in an MLB dugout and if just one more of Dunn or Konerko or Beckham can show the form that they have in previous years this could be a problem for the Jays staff. Every team has their cycles of hitting and not hitting. I pray we have hit the White Sox on a downturn.
I know we need sweeps to get back in contention but it isn’t going to start here. With Chris Sale on the mound it is almost assuredly going to be a win for the Sox and it goes to reason that our stingy bullpen is due for a bad game. I would love to assure you all that the Jays are going to sweep but it just doesn’t seem in the cards. They will take 2 of 3 and continue their slow ascent up the AL East ladder. If we can get to .500 by the end of this month then we definitely have a chance to make some noise. If we play .500 ball this month then you can kiss those post season dreams goodbye until next year. The winning needs to start now.