MacArthur: Better pitching, power needed for Jays' resurgence

Scott MacArthur
8/17/2014 7:33:56 PM
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CHICAGO - This road trip, the Blue Jays' last of the three-city variety and the last against non-American League East opponents, hasn't gone according to plan.

Really, this road trip is an extension of the entire month of August, which hasn't gone according to plan.

After Sunday's 7-5 loss to the White Sox, a game in which Toronto dug a deep hole early only to claw back but fall short, resulted in another lost series to a Chicago team with no playoff aspirations.

The Jays are 1-5 on the road trip, with two in Milwaukee to go, 4-11 this month and fell behind yet another team - the Yankees - as baseball's playoff push kicks into its final six weeks.

Star slugger Jose Bautista, known for his pragmatism when assessing the current state of affairs, didn't deviate from the course.

"We've got to play the same way we would if we were in first place," said Bautista. "We've just got to come out here and try to win every single game and just hope that the guys that are ahead of us lose enough games that we gain that ground. That's pretty much all you can control is the way you play and then hope for everybody else to lose some games. That certainly can happen. It happened to us."

Players wake up on Monday morning members of a third place team. The Yankees beat the Rays on Sunday, moving ahead of Toronto in the division. The Jays are seven and a half games behind AL East-leading Baltimore.

New York also moved ahead of the Jays in the hunt for the second wild card spot. Toronto is four games back of the leader, Seattle, and with Detroit and the Yankees in between, the waters get increasingly muddied.

The pitching staff (4.90 ERA in August) is showing signs of fraying. Drew Hutchison followed up a tough start in Seattle with a poor outing on Sunday. Hutchison gave the Jays seven innings but he allowed six, two-out runs in the first inning thanks to, among other things, two walks, a grand slam and a two-run home run. The offence chipped away but couldn't overcome the damage.

Edwin Encarnacion hit his first home run since returning from the disabled list, a positive sign for a ballclub that thrives off the home run and suffers more than most teams without it.

Month-by-month, here are the Jays' home run totals:

April: 31
May: 47
June: 28
July: 25
August: 7

"It wasn't like we didn't have any shots," said manager John Gibbons after Sunday's game. "We had them on the ropes and at the ballpark on a day the ball was flying we couldn't elevate anything, other than Eddie's ball. And we need that. We need that to win."

So it's off to Milwaukee where, like Chicago, the Jays will be spared the Brewers' best starting pitcher. Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson will provide the mound opposition for the two-game series, under National League rules, which begins on Tuesday.

It's the next chance for the Jays to right the ship.


Looking at the numbers, breaking it down into different blocks of time, Brett Cecil has the perfect description of his second season working in the Blue Jays' bullpen.

"I feel like the whole season for me has been up and down," said Cecil. "I started off well, seven appearances and everything to show for it. Then I had a couple of bumps and I feel like since then it's continued to be up and down."

Working backward from the most recent chunk of outings, Cecil's run hot and cold.

From July 20 to August 16: 12 appearances, 11 of which were scoreless, posting a 2.70 ERA.

Between June 11 and July 19, Cecil had nine outings in which he allowed four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings (6.75 ERA).

For the approximately month-long span from May 11 to June 10, which coincided with the club's hottest stretch of the year, Cecil appeared in 11 games, pitching 7 2/3 scoreless innings.

After 10 scoreless appearances to start the season, Cecil's first hiccup came between April 24 and May 11 when he posted a 10.13 ERA over eight outings.

Like left-handed relief counterpart Aaron Loup, who's already walked more than twice the number of hitters this season than he did in 2013, Cecil's been bitten by the base on balls. He's walked 21 batters in 39 2/3 innings this season, compared with 23 in 60 2/3 innings last year.

The culprit isn't health. Cecil said he feels fine after battling elbow pain late in 2013. The problem is with his mechanics. He's been falling off to the third base side too often as he completes his delivery.

"With throwing so many curveballs, trying to figure out how to keep my fastball in the zone when I want to throw it," said Cecil. "It seems like I'm way up in the zone or way down in the zone so I've got to find that happy medium."

Toronto's 4.26 bullpen ERA is fifth-worst in baseball. It comes on the heels of a 2013 year in which the relief corps was the bright light in a down year, posting a 3.37 ERA (ninth-best) while pitching the third most innings (552 2/3).

What role carryover fatigue has played in the decline is a matter of debate.

"As far as I'm concerned this has been another successful season to this point, out of the bullpen, and hopefully it only gets better," said Cecil.

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