Deadline deals turns Toronto from disappointment to title contender
In April, the Toronto Blue Jays should have been the class of the American League East — at least on paper. Thankfully, baseball games aren’t played on paper, they’re played on grass and dirt — except at the Rogers Center in Toronto where the game is played on turf.
April and May were ugly for the Jays, as they spent their spring near the bottom of the division and six games under .500. June was what we expected when the Jays went streaking for 11 straight wins and a total of 18 in the month. But the success was to be short-lived.
Fast forward to July 28, when the Jays were eight games behind the first-place New York Yankees, the farthest from the top they had been all season. By this point an argument could be made that Toronto was arguably the most underwhelming team in all of baseball, especially with a top-10 Opening Day payroll of $122.5 million.
But on that fateful Tuesday, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to shake things up, in a big way. In the most surprising move of what was this season’s trade deadline frenzy, Anthopoulos made a deal to trade former perennial All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and two minor leaguers to Colorado for veteran relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and Troy Tulowitzki, perhaps the game’s best shortstop.
What has happened since is something out of an Aaron Sorkin script. The Jays and Anthopoulos have pushed their chips to the center of the table with a “World Series or bust” mentality. But Toronto has been anything but “bust” since adding Tulo. In fact it’s been nothing but sweet victory.
Two days after acquiring Tulo, Anthopoulos struck again, trading for Detroit ace David Price. The move was almost expected, but the cost for Price was higher than the Tulo deal, as the Jays relinquished top pitching prospect Daniel Norris. But when your franchise hasn’t made a postseason appearance in over two decades, the future can wait a season or two — Anthopoulos saw this and acted accordingly.
Price, a pending free agent, is likely nothing more than a rental for the remainder of the season, but for the time being the Jays have the ace they’ve desperately needed for years. Since the trade, Price has been unhittable surrendering just one earned run and six hits in two starts with two wins, and 18 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched. Price, a Cy Young Award candidate, now has a season ERA of 2.88 and strikeout-to walk ratio of 4.59.
Adding Price obviously improves the Jays’ rotation, but he doesn’t necessarily make up for the marginal remaining cast members. The Toronto pitching staff is stuck in the middle of the pack in terms of runs against (14th), team ERA (14th) and WHIP (10th), which could spell trouble in a potential seven-game postseason series against the likes of an Astros or Angels lineup that is packed with power.
What the Jays lack in pitching, they more than make up for with a power-packed offense of their own that rivals that of the Canadian men’s national slow-pitch softball team. The Jays were already tops in baseball in runs scored, doubles, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage, and OPS — and that was before adding the resurgent Tulowitzki. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons’ lineup card now features four players from the 2015 All-Star Game (Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson) along with slugging DH Edwin Encarnacion.
The only question lingering in the aftermath of the addition of Tulo’s big bat is how well his regenerative frame can hold up playing the most athletically demanding position on the most degenerative surface in baseball. But that can wait, the Jays are too busy going for it all right now.
The additions of Price and Tulowitzki have ignited the Blue Jays and their tormented fan base, as they have won nine of their last 10 games and 11 of their last 12. Toronto is currently riding an eight-game winning streak, with the last three victories coming in the Bronx this past weekend via a sweep of the aforementioned first-place Yankees.
The Jays’ recent success has turned the Rogers Center from a building full of restless fans, impatiently waiting for the next Maple Leafs disappointment, to a raucous crowd that rivals the most rowdy of Rush concerts.
Excited Jays fans aren’t just packing out the Rogers Center, but also tuning in to watch them on TV in record numbers. According to the Toronto Sun’s Brendan Kennedy, Jays games during the current hot streak have almost doubled and that current audience numbers on Sportsnet are reaching over a million sets of eyes.
What was once a team on the verge of being a seller and overall disappointment at eight games back, has morphed into a legitimate World Series contender in a little less than a fortnight. Entering Tuesday's action, Toronto was just a game and a half back of New York for first in the AL East, and a half-game up in the Wild Card race.
The AL East could see the Jays at the top of the heap as soon as Wednesday night and perhaps a few games ahead by the end of this coming weekend when the Yankees come to the Rogers Center starting Friday evening.
Thus far Anthopoulos’ gamble has paid short-term dividends for Toronto and put the rest of the AL on notice — there is a mighty baseball force building north of the border.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.