Blue Jays stumble deeper into bullpen mess


The Toronto Blue Jays were struggling to find consistent relief options out of their bullpen, and that’s before dropping game four of the ALCS by nearly two touchdowns. With R.A. Dickey failing to get out of the second inning alive, Liam Hendriks worked 4.1 brilliant innings, but from there on out things were not managed as well as they could have been.

Cliff Pennington eventually became the first position player to take the mound in an MLB playoff game, a nice participation price for the fans that suffered through the blowout, but John Gibbons‘ usage of LaTroy Hawkins, Ryan Tepera and Mark Lowe ahead of him left much to be desired.

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It’s important to properly frame any criticism of a manager, because more often than not, there’s one decision made that sends the remaining dominos crashing down. For Gibbons in game four, I feel this decision was made with a belief that Hawkins and Tepera could combine to give him three innings, or perhaps even close out the remaining four.

Hawkins had done little to inspire confidence leading into this game, and with Tepera likely representing the 25th spot on the roster, these two were meant to be the front line. Taking bullets for the more valuable arms behind them, and while that’s not a glamorous task, it’s important.

From this innitial mistake made by Gibbons, a chain of events were set off that led to Mark Lowe coming in to a game that he never should have seen. Hawkins was horrendous, allowing three earned on two hits and a walk without recording an out, while Tepera served up batting practice for 1.2 innings.

Putting that level of trust in Hawkins and Tepera, despite the fact that they should have performed significantly better, could haunt the Jays in game five later today. Or perhaps, as I’m beginning to suspect, it pushes Gibbons’ hand to make David Price available in a relief role if necessary.

Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna were obviously saved from the wreckage, but potentially eliminating Lowe from the picture with 29 pitches leaves the Jays praying for a Herculean effort from Marco Estrada. Aaron Loup was also not used, but as Shi David of Sportsnet tweeted after the game, he left the team just after first pitch for unspecified reasons. Loup had, however, missed time to deal with a family matter earlier in these playoffs.

Player performance is an issue here, but as someone who’s been quick to defend Gibbons through the season, I feel it’s important to raise an eyebrow and grumble “Huh?” when necessary. For better or for worse, Gibbons’ options may be so limited in game five that his decisions are almost made for him. Dickey’s start ensured a battered ‘pen, but through the tricky scope of hindsight, there was a better way.

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