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Ferguson: Blue Jays have to upgrade at second base

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Scott Ferguson
7/19/2013 1:51:45 PM
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With the proverbial second half of the season about to begin, there is no question the Blue Jays have to upgrade at second base, either now or in the off season. Brett Lawrie may well fill the void at second base, but of course that would leave a hole at third.

Earlier this week, the Yankees inquired about Padres switch-hitting third baseman Chase Headley and were basically told he wasn't available. Headley, after a stellar season a year ago, is only batting .229 with seven homers and 31 runs batted in this time around. Still, he is highly regarded and will become a free agent after next season. At some point, San Diego may be forced to move him if they can't agree on a new contract. But failing Headley, maybe the Blue Jays should take a look at Padres second baseman, Jedd Gyorko.

Gyorko won the Brooks Wallace Award in 2010 as the best Division 1 shortstop while playing at West Virginia. He's playing second base now with the Padres, mostly due to the presence of Headley. His defence is considered average at best, yet he's only made one error at second this season with a .996 fielding percentage. Scouts figure his best position, though, is third base where in a brief stint this season he's made two errors.

Gyorko's only 24-years-old and in just his first year in the majors. He's known most for his bat, hitting .272 so far this season with eight homers (six in May) and 25 runs batted in. It's interesting, as well, that his manager at Double A San Antonio last season was Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons. So there is a connection.

Gyorko may not be available, since he's only making $490,000s this season and won't be eligible for arbitration until 2016 and free agency until 2019. He's the type of player a smaller market team such as San Diego would be likely to hold onto. Still, it might be worth a call because you know the Jays won't be in the bidding for Robinson Cano in the off season to fill that 2B void.

A year ago, much was made - and rightly so - of Baltimore's incredible record in one-run games  (29-9), the best win percentage in that category in the modern baseball era, as well as their 16-2 record in extra-inning games. Both combined to be a big factor in putting the O's in the post-season for only the third time in 20 seasons.

For whatever its worth, there are two teams in the American League and one in the National on somewhat similar runs this season. Oakland is 19-11 in one-run contests and 7-3 in extra inning decisions. Cleveland, maybe a bit of a surprise, is 18-9 in one-run games and 5-1 in extra innings. Both teams have deep bullpens, though Cleveland's underachieved a bit in the first half.

In the National League, Arizona is 21-12 in one-run games and 10-4 in extra innings. On the flip side of that, though in the Senior Circuit, St. Louis is only 12-10 in one-run games and just 1-4 in extra-inning games, yet the Cardinals lead the National League Central, by a game on Pittsburgh and have the best record in the majors at 57-36.
 
You could excuse the Boston Red Sox for looking over their shoulders and hearing footsteps. After a tremendous first half under John Farrell, they cooled off a bit, going 5-5 heading into the break and their Division lead is down to two-and-a-half games on hard-charging Tampa Bay, which has won 14 of its last 16.

The prime concern with the Bosox is their starting pitching, and in particular Clay Buchholz. The veteran right hander, who was putting up Cy Young-like numbers in the first half, is still being bothered by pain in the back of his right shoulder. He's had two MRI's this season that found bursitis but no structural damage in his shoulder.  Buchholz was due to be examined again at some point on Friday to try and discover if there is something more wrong that might have been missed earlier. If Buchholz ends up gone for the long haul and Jon Lester continues his up and down ways, Boston may have trouble even holding on to a wild card spot unless they can deal for a top notch starter.

The Rays look like the team to watch the rest of the way. They've won nine out of 10 and 14 of their last 16. Their starting rotation, including David Price, is almost completely healthy again and Alex Cobb, who got nailed in the head with that line drive, could be back in a couple of weeks. The Rays staff has put together 15 consecutive quality starts, shattering the club record of nine set three years ago.

This is not the team, the Blue Jays needed to be facing coming right out of the chute at Rogers Centre to begin the second half. If the Jays finish the season in the second division and miss the post-season, they need look no farther than their record against their own division to see why. They are only 18-27 against the East with 31 to go. They'd have to win 20 of the remaining 31 just to hit the break-even point of  38-38, and that doesn't figure to be nearly good enough.

Brett Lawrie  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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