After 46 days as front-runners, the Jays have fallen back to earth. A loss to the Oakland Athletics coupled with a surging Baltimore team means the Jays now share the lead in the AL East. It took an amazing month of May to build up a lead, and an unimpressive month of June to tear it down.
So where does it go from here?
As we enter the final week before the All-Star break, the Jays have been forced into a familiar strategy: ‘damage control’. Every team will face its share of injuries throughout the season, but the timing of these injuries and the manner in which the team is able to weather the storm often proves the difference between the winners and ‘the early trip to the golf course’.
Brett Lawrie’s absence continues to be felt, as it will until late July. Though it’s worth noting that Munenori Kawasaki has managed, for the moment, an above-expectation performance at second-base. We had just enough time to notice Colby Rasmus’ return to centerfield before a collision with the wall jammed his right wrist and took him out of the lineup – again. The Jays are treating the Rasmus injury as ‘not serious’, though it feels we may have already been down this road.
In the meantime, the Jays cope with injuries by plugging holes wherever possible; going as far as giving first-baseman Edwin Encarnacion multiple starts in left field. The results have not been stellar, but a team does what it needs to do to ensure its best hitters are in the lineup.
The Jays dropped the first of a four-game series in Oakland on Thursday, but hope to rebound on Friday with young fire-baller Marcus Stroman taking the mound. The Jays then play a series against the Los Angeles Angels and another against the Tampa Bay Rays before pausing for the All-Star break. There’s a psychological advantage in holding first-place heading into the various All-Star week festivities. Hopefully the Jays can keep the Orioles playing catch-up.
Reliever Brett Cecil will rejoin the team on Friday after being sidelined these past three weeks. Cecil initially suffered a strained groin muscle during a game in Baltimore on June 13th. Feeling recovered, Cecil then appeared in a game five days later in New York, but proved that the injury was not behind him. After a stint on the disabled list and multiple rehab appearances in AAA-Buffalo, the Jays hope their All-Star lefthander is back to full form.
Buzzword of the Week: Five Tools
There are five ‘tools’ that baseball scouts refer to when evaluating players and prospects. Though the game is surely more complex, these five tools lend an estimation of the skills possessed by an individual player. These tools are:
1) Running Speed. Of the five tools, running speed is thought to be the least teachable skill. Though minor improvements can be made, for the most part you’re either fast or you’re not.
2) Throwing Arm. This is considered the least important skill. Though possibly a great defensive weapon, the difference between an average arm and an above-average arm will have less impact than all the other tools.
3) Hit for Average. Good hitters know to hit to all fields and to assess situations in order to help the team. Hitting for average requires good decision making and good pitch selection at the plate.
4) Hit for Power. The long ball hitter brings not only run-scoring opportunities, but also an intimidation factor that can sometimes force teams into mental mistakes.
5) Fielding. Scouts often say that a player has ‘good hands’. In reality, many factors will contribute to players that ‘make difficult plays look easy’. Some of these include good fundamentals, agility, muscle memory, placement, and being able to ‘read’ a batter.
The rare ‘five tool player’ is a player that possesses above-average skills in all five of these categories. More commonly, young prospects generally have two (possibly three) tools that come somewhat naturally, and teams work to develop the skills to compensate for the tools they lack.
Former Blue Jays who are considered to be ‘five tool players’ include Dave Winfield (who was drafted out of college by teams from the MLB, the NFL and the NBA) and gold-glove outfielder Rickey Henderson (who also holds MLB records for most career stolen bases and most games led off with a homerun).
So what have you learned?
The Jays currently share first place with their AL East rivals the Baltimore Orioles. Injuries have forced the team into some unconventional tactics. Rasmus is hurt, but Brett Cecil returns. There’s a week’s worth of games left before the All-Star break, and it should be priority number one to stay on top. This means timely contributions from ‘five tool player’ Jose Reyes right down through ‘work-in-progress’ Anthony Gose.
For now, we’ll call ‘em like we see ‘em and get you our scouting report next Friday with more future projections on the best damn (and only) ball club north of the border.