The Toronto Blue Jays can match up the heart of their batting order and their ace pitcher against any roster in baseball. It’s the more unpredictable inclusions of their 25-man playoff roster that have the ability to lift them above and beyond, or drag them back into Toronto’s familiar realm of disappointment. We’ve already identified the slugging Justin Smoak as a Blue Jays X-factor, and Dalton Pompey’s late-game speed could give opponents fits. Coming in third on our list of top-5 playoff X-factors is R.A. Dickey.
Trending now: 5 reasons the Blue Jays should fear the Rangers
The knuckleballer has enjoyed a slow and steady throughout the season, dragging his ERA from north of 5.00 to a mark of 3.91 to end the season. He also managed to even out a very lopsided record and escape at 11-11, so the hope is that Dickey’s signature pitch remains “on” throughout the playoffs.
We’ve all experienced the off days with Dickey, and if one strikes in October, manager John Gibbons won’t exercise the same patience that we saw throughout the heart of the summer. Dickey’s first issue will be his environment, as the veteran’s home and road splits are drastically different in 2015.
At the Rogers Centre, Dickey has posted an impressive 9-3 record with a 3.11 ERA. Away from home, these numbers have fallen to a 2-8 record with a 4.83 ERA. This is why, despite the fact that Marcus Stroman is the second best pitcher on this roster, I support scheduling Dickey behind David Price in game two of the upcoming ALDS. A controlled and domed environment could potentially benefit Dickey, and I have no interest in finding out how his knuckler acts on a cool, windy day.
Thankfully for the Jays, Dickey has been trending very much in the right direction. In his six starts since September 1st, he’s recorded a 2.43 ERA and held opponents to a .188 average. His unusual pitching repertoire has also been known to benefit the pitcher throwing behind him, which could be advantageous, albeit minimally, to the Jays in a lengthy series.
Russell Martin is expected to stick with Dickey for the playoff run, but don’t rule out the possibility of Josh Thole being added to the roster in the situation that Toronto is victorious in the ALDS despite a rocky outing from Dickey. Even when he’s pitching his best, passed balls can eat up Blue Jays catchers and lead to advanced runners.
If Dickey continues in the same groove he’s been in, he also offers the Blue Jays the potential to work on short rest if a combination of factors ever deem that necessary. I’ve always wondered how uncomfortable it would make an opposing lineup to follow David Price with R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball out of the ‘pen, but I’ll keep that stashed deep in my hypothetical file for now.
With no playoff appearances to speak of, and all fancy stats aside, it’s hard not to feel good for Dickey as a human being. His road to this moment has featured more challenges than many of his teammates, and being so close to the end of a remarkable career, he’s earned this. That doesn’t mean I won’t be holding my breath for the first inning, though.