Toronto’s intention was to coming flying out of the second half gate like Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, but after two games, those betting baseball find them at 0-2 heading into Sunday.
The Blue Jays trail both Boston and division-leading Baltimore and winning nine of 11 to get themselves back in the race, Toronto is 1-3 since July 9th and is danger of being swept by the lowly A’s. While dropping a series in the middle of July is not a death blow, at the end of season, every win and loss does count. (I’m taking a bow for that cliché)
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Coming into this year, the importance of J.A. Happ (12-3, 3.36 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) to Toronto would have not been deemed a big deal. Yet Happ is their leading winner and is known for pitching better in the second half of the season than the first. The dozen victories already ties a career-high and his ERA and WHIP are well below career norms of 4.06 and 1.35 respectively. Why the turnaround – Aggressiveness. In the past, Happ would nimble when ahead in the count, now when he is 0-2 or 1-2, opposing batters are hitting a pathetic .110 against him in 100 at bats.
There is a good chance this will be among the last few starts Rich Hill (9-3, 2.25, 1.09) will make in Oakland uniform before the trade deadline. A washout as a starter with the Cubs and Orioles from 2005-09, the 36-year lefthander was sensational late for Boston last year in September and picked right up with the Athletics. Even Hill cannot explain his late career success, other than pitching with confidence and eating up batters with two strikes, with 90 punch-out’s in 78 innings.
Toronto Offense Rounding Into Form
After a lethargic start, the Blue Jays are starting to mash as expected and have move from 4.5 to 4.9 runs per game. The balls have started to fly over the fence, now third in the AL in home runs and second in on-base percentage. With a variety of starting pitching issues (that’s another article), Toronto not only today, but the rest of the season needs to average 5 RPG the rest of the way to make playoffs.
Oakland Back to Faceless Crew
With the A’s expected to be sellers this month, both Hill and Josh Reddick are likely targets for opposing teams, with possibly another player or two available part of package deal. At 4.2 RPG, it’s not like Oakland steamrolls opposing pitchers. They are in the lower third of league in home runs and compared to the “Moneyball” days, they are last in the AL in OBP.