Deadline Deals Have Blue Jays Flying High


Looking to end the longest playoff drought in all of Major League Baseball, now having reached 21 years, the Toronto Blue Jays have made no bones about it — they’re going all-in this year.

A flurry of moves made by GM Alex Anthopolous at last month’s trade deadline appear to be paying off, as the team has gone 12-3 since that July 31st deadline.

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As they get ready to face the Phillies for the second time in three weeks, the Jays come to Philadelphia with a 65-54 record. They are just a game behind the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East, and have a 3.5 game hold on the top AL Wildcard spot. Suddenly the Jays have become one of the most exciting teams in the league.

Throughout the 2015 season, Toronto been paced by their powerful lineup, consistently a nightmare for pitchers around the league. The lineup features 2010 and 2011 home run champion Jose Bautista, two-time All-Star Josh Donaldson, four-time All-Star Russell Martin, and Edwin Encarnacion, who has hit 20 or more home runs in five of his last six seasons. The four sluggers have combined to hit 95 home runs this season.

In one of the more stunning moves in MLB trade deadline history, Anthopoulos pulled out all the stops and traded for the face of the Colorado Rockies franchise, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Since coming to Toronto for Jose Reyes and prospects, Tulowitzki has made an already potent lineup even more dangerous.

Any pitcher you want to throw out there, we match up against them with the pieces we have. Defensively, and the starting pitching now with the length of our bullpen, we got a lot better, so there are really no weaknesses on this team” ~ Jays’ catcher R.Martin

In his first game with his new team on July 29th, “Tulo” had quite the debut to endear himself to the Blue Jays fans. Facing Jerome Williams and the Phillies, the shortstop went 3-5 with two doubles, as well as a towering home run in his second at-bat as a Jay. In his first ten games with the club, Tulowitzki went 10-37 (.270) with two home runs and five RBIs.

The Toronto offense comes into the series sitting in first place in all of Major League Baseball in runs scored (622), doubles (225), total bases (1762), RBIs (600), slugging percentage (.440) and OPS (.769), a true juggernaut.

Recognized as a power hitting team, Anthopoulos made sure to add a contact hitter to the lineup in former Phillies’ centerfielder Ben Revere, a speedster who can hit for average and steal bases, to balance out the the Jays’ lineup. The Jays believed in Revere so much that they handed him the left fielder’s job and designated infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia for assignment. At the time, Valencia was batting .298 with 7 home runs and 29 RBIs in 58 games.

The biggest and boldest move of the deadline may have come when Anthopoulos agreed to a trade for 2012 AL CY Young Award winner David Price of the Detroit Tigers, who had fallen out of playoff contention in the AL Central. The Toronto GM paid a hefty price to acquire the star pitcher, sending three top prospects to the Tigers, including lefty pitcher Daniel Norris, the 18th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America.

Owning a career 95-55 record before the deal, Price has been brilliant in his first three starts in a Blue Jays uniform, all of which have been wins for the club. In his first start, he tossed 8 innings of one-run ball against the Minnesota Twins, allowing just 3 hits and striking out 11. He followed that performance up with 7 shutout innings against the division rival Yankees, and turned in another quality start against the Bronx Bombers six days later.

To shore up the bullpen, Anthopoulos got two experienced arms to lead the team down the stretch. Veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins (acquired in the Tulowitzki trade) has been magnificent as a bridge to 20-year-old breakout closer Roberto Osuna, who is 13 for 14 in save opportunities. The 42-year-old Hawkins has given up just a single run in his 6.2 innings of work since the trade, recording five punch-outs.

The team also was able to snag 32-year-old righthander Mark Lowe from the Seattle Mariners. Lowe has playoff experience with the Texas Rangers in both 2010 and 2011.

Though the new additions have certainly provided a boost, the mainstays have done their part as well. On their recent run of success, which included an 11-game winning streak from August 2 to August 13, the old holdover faces played a big factor.

In the rotation specifically, the ageless Mark Buehrle (13-5, 3.31 ERA) the crafty knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (7-10, 3.96 ERA) and a resurgent Marco Estrada (10-7, 3.20 ERA) together have recorded 19 quality starts since the first of July. After a move from the rotation to the pen in late July, youngster Aaron Sanchez has fired scoreless frames in 10 of 12 relief outings. Even more impressive, veteran lefty Brett Cecil has hurled 15.1 scoreless innings in relief dating back to June 24.

The aforementioned big boppers in the Jays’ lineup have also been playing well of late. In the Jays’ last 15 games, Bautista is hitting .305 with 7 long balls, 14 RBIs and a .729 slugging percentage. Encarnacion is a hitting at a .377 clip during this span and has also posted a .477 OBP, while Donaldson has mashed 6 homers and scored 14 runs. Collectively they comprise the most feared group of power hitters in the league.

In a recent game against the Yankees, Jays’ catcher Russell Martin talked to Mike Mazzeo of about the team’s advantages in all phases of the game.

This is the best team I think I’ve been on right now,” Martin said. “I mean, just the length of lineup — even the pieces we have on the bench. We match up against any pitcher. Any pitcher you want to throw out there, we match up against them with the pieces we have. Defensively, and the starting pitching now with the length of our bullpen, we got a lot better, so there are really no weaknesses on this team.

It’s clear that the moves the Blue Jays have made show that they’re tired of missing the playoff party. If they don’t beat out the Yankees for the division crown, they will have a great chance to earn one of the two AL Wild Card spots (they currently hold the top spot).

Though that July 31st trade deadline has passed, Anthopoulos isn’t done adding to his club. Just over a week ago, he traded for seasoned vet Cliff Pennington for infield depth, and then signed recently released outfielder Chris Heisey, who belted 18 home runs with the Reds in 2011.

The additions the Jays made at the trade deadline have them set up to end the 21-year playoff drought at Rogers Centre, and have Jays’ fans geared up for a deep October run. With their formidable lineup, reestablished starting rotation, and upgraded bullpen, it’s easy to see how the Blue Jays could be holding up the Commissioner’s Trophy when it’s all said and done.

The Jays and Phillies meet for a quickie two-game series at Citizens Bank Park starting tonight night at 7:05. Dickey takes the mound against Phils’ rookie Aaron Nola in the first game of the series. In the finale, a pair of southpaws face each other as Buehrle opposes another Phils’ rookie in Adam Morgan.