It’s a bad practice to find flaws in victories, but the Blue Jays game three win on Monday left more question marks in the bullpen. As John Gibbons struggles to find the right formula without lefty stud Brett Cecil, the number of trustworthy arms out of the bullpen continues to shrink. With R.A. Dickey on the mound later today in game four, this situation could further impact the Jays’ on-field managerial decisions.
We saw a hint of this in how long Gibbons allowed Stroman to work despite clearly not having his best stuff. Even removing Stroman after the fifth inning would have been relatively justified, but instead, Gibbons pushed him through the sixth and into the seventh. The results were fine, but the decision itself was a little nerve-wracking. And telling.
The current bullpen, as I see it, has three relief options that John Gibbons can turn to with any level of confidence. Aaron Sanchez and Mark Lowe have looked strong, and despite the ninth-inning blast, Roberto Osuna continues to be the team’s most important reliever.
Aaron Loup pitched very poorly in Kansas City and Liam Hendriks did little to earn increased opportunities, while LaTroy Hawkins and Ryan Tepera seem to be on the outside looking in. With this dynamic, Gibbons may be forced to trust his starter’s a little longer than he should. Or, perhaps, be tempted to move a starter into the bullpen a la David Price in the ALDS.
This issue can obviously be covered by a strong outing from Toronto’s starters, but Monday’s game was ‘Exhibit A’ on how quickly a big lead can bleed away without a shutdown bullpen. This team misses Cecil more than they’d like to admit, and I’m confident his presence could have helped in the sixth inning of game two, as well. With him out until a potential World Series appearance, the Blue Jays have become extremely limited.
Given the quick turnaround from Monday night into the late afternoon start today and another coming tomorrow, arm fatigue will become an issue. Especially with the young Sanchez and Osuna, who are working to keep this ‘pen afloat single-handedly. Unfortunately, this is a situation where Gibbons will need to look at the remaining names on his paper and simply pick. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Hawkins get another look, and while that’s little cause for optimism, this has reached the point where the pitchers themselves need to put their foot down and step up.
All eyes now turn to Dickey, and he’ll need to go much deeper than his 4.2 inning outing against the Texas Rangers. He did look strong in that outing and will be pitching in the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre, so if he can pound the zone, he’ll have a long leash to work with.