On Monday, the Red Sox were on a roll and despite their injury woes, they were 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees and were looking to close that gap.
Now they are five games out after a brutal sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, who snatched second place away from a Sox team whose injuries are finally catching up to them.
With the All-Star break quickly approaching, the battered Red Sox head north of the border to face off with the Blue Jays before the season's half-way point. The Jays (43-43) currently sit in fourth place in the AL East but are now closer to the Sox then they were a few weeks ago.
Despite their place in the standings, the Bluebirds have been a surprising team, mostly because they have not collapsed in the absence of their former ace and current Philadelphia Phillie Roy Halladay. In fact, their rotation has been extremely solid over the year. Pitchers like Rickey Romero (3.39 ERA) Shaun Marcum (7-4 record) have been leading the way while their surprising lineup leads the league in home runs with 130.
With stats like that, the Red Sox cannot take their last series before the break lightly, especially considering their injured state and the rough schedule they will face when play resumes. With such weight leaning on this series, we've brought in Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter to answer some questions about the Jays.
NESN.com: The Blue Jays’ rotation has been able to keep it together despite Roy Halladay leaving town. In fact, guys like Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum have been flourishing. Has the success of the young rotation been a surprise, or were these pitchers just hiding behind Halladay?
Tom Dakers: I wouldn’t say a surprise, we knew we had a bunch of good young pitchers but the surprise might be that they have been so consistent. Normally young pitchers have their ups and downs but our guys seem to have, for the most part, kept a pretty even keel. The star, at the moment, is Brandon Morrow. Every start he had, early in the season, brought people to our site telling us how he would never be a decent starting pitcher. Those folks have disappeared with Brandon’s 1.91 ERA and 3.40 SO/BB rate in June. It is hard not to like a guy who strikes out more than a batter an inning.
NESN.com: The Blue Jays are leading the majors in home runs with 130. Their impressive pitching staff ranks sixth in the league in strikeouts. Yet the team still is in fourth place in the AL East. What is holding them back? Where have they struggled?
T.D.: We hit a ton of home runs, but we don’t hit singles. We are at the bottom of the AL in batting average, hitting just .238 as a team. We don’t take a lot of walks either, so our OBP is also last in the AL. Power does occasionally go into little slumps. We just came into a five game homeless streak and when we don’t hit the ball out of the park, we don’t score.
NESN.com: While the Blue Jays have been fielding a pretty good team all season, attendance at the Rogers Centre has been at all-time lows. Why are people staying away, and how can that change?
T.D.: It sort of sucks to be in the AL East. It is a pretty tough division. Management keeps telling us fans that ‘this isn’t our year’ but ‘our time is coming’. It is tough to sell tickets when you start the season telling your potential customers that you aren’t going to be any good.
To change it? Winning. Convincing the fans that we’ll be in the hunt would go a long way. They do seem to have a plan now. We seem to be putting together the sort of pitching staff needed to compete and we have a number of good prospects in the minors now. I think the fans need to be sold on the idea that they do have a plan and things will improve.
NESN.com: With the trading deadline approaching, are the Blue Jays looking to be buyers or sellers? What do you think would be best for the club?
T.D.: We should be sellers. We have a lot of attractive pieces that other teams should be interested in. Scott Downs and Jason Frasor, in the bullpen, are each in the last year of their contracts. They both look to be A or B type free agents, so anyone wanting them in a trade would have to be willing to give up something useful.
We have a number of good young pitchers so if someone offered enough, I’m sure Shaun Marcum would be available. And we have a veteran infielder, having good seasons that might interest someone. Lyle Overbay, Alex Gonzalez and/or AL home run leader Jose Bautista. Also, All-Star John Buck is hitting well and could help a team who has had some injuries at the catcher position. Subtle hint.
NESN.com: A major part of the Halladay deal was the acquisition of prized Phillies prospect Kyle Drabek, who just threw a no-hitter in Double-A and looks to be in Toronto sooner than later. What other prospects on the horizon can help the Jays’ future look brighter?
T.D.: Catcher A.J. Arencbia has 22 home runs and a .300 average in Triple-A Vegas, he should take over behind the plate no later than next year. Brett Wallace will be playing first for us next year, sooner if Overbay leaves in a trade. Brad Emaus, a blogger favorite, is hitting .327/.429/.531 in Vegas. Adeiny Hechavarria signed a large contract as an international free agent and the Jays figure he’ll be manning short for us in a year or two. And there are a number of pitchers knocking on the door too, Henderson Alvarez, Chad Jenkins and Zach Stewart are all a year or so away from trying to break into our rotation. So the future does look pretty good.