Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Updated: May 29, 1:28 AM ET
Blue Jays can stop daydreaming about October

ESPN.com

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Vernon Wells and the offense need to supply the Blue Jays with a bit more power.

By Chris Singleton, ESPN

With a losing streak that reached nine games thanks to Wednesday's rough 11-inning loss against the Orioles, it's an understatement to say the Blue Jays are struggling. What's going on? They are still getting hits and are still the American League leaders in batting average, but they don't seem to be getting timely hits the way they were earlier in the season. In the first eight games of this skid, they were hitting .154 with runners in scoring position. They produced runs Wednesday, but the bullpen imploded in the 12-10 loss.

The Blue Jays have been getting opportunities but just haven't been able to capitalize and break games open. Early in the season, they were mashing the ball and scoring lots of runs, but they have struggled recently to get big hits.

Just Tuesday night, Scott Rolen came to the plate with the bases loaded with two outs in the fifth inning leading 2-1, but he flied out to center and the Jays wound up losing the game. That was one of several opportunities to break this streak that they've missed recently. Every team goes through this type of thing from time to time, and the Blue Jays have good hitters, although maybe not as much power as you'd like to see. Rolen, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells need to live up to their potential as sluggers for the team to be successful against some of the stronger teams in the league.

It wasn't exactly a fluke that the Jays held a division lead for several weeks this season. It's just like when the Kansas City Royals swept the Tigers in Detroit at the start of last season and led their division briefly before facing reality. Toronto's run was long enough that people started to at least wonder whether the Jays could compete all season.

Another concern for the Blue Jays going forward is the depth of their pitching staff. Roy Halladay is a given, but beyond him, they've been lucky to have the rest of their starters pitch as well as they have. How long can they maintain that? History tells us that most times it won't endure over the long haul of a season.

Another thing is that the strength of the rest of the division has caught up with the Blue Jays. Even though they might have been a little slow out of the gate this year, the Yankees and Red Sox are what they are. For the Jays to match what Tampa Bay did a year ago will be a tremendous challenge. The Jays should remain fairly competitive, but if New York and Boston play to their capabilities, Toronot will get left behind soon enough.

Last year, the Rays had tremendous timing. Not to take away from what Tampa Bay accomplished, because the Rays played great and made the World Series, but they made their run in a season in which the Yankees were fighting multiple injuries. They matched up well against the Red Sox, but I'm not convinced that will be the case two years in a row for the teams in the second tier of the division. A lot of things need to come together for the teams in the AL East that can't come close to matching payrolls with New York and Boston.

It's not over, by any stretch, but playoff expectations are not realistic for the Jays. Although a good team and a strong organization, Toronto doesn't have the horses right now. It's hard to see the Jays any better than third in this division. If they were in any other division, they could possibly be in line for a title or a wild-card spot. Sure, they might be better than a lot of people expected this year, but it's not going to be enough to get the Jays into October.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: May 26 | May 25 | May 24 | May 21 | May 20

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
G. Sheffield, NYM5WasBergmannBot 7: 1-1, 0 Outs. 2 on.
B. Abreu, LAA1CWSColonBot 7: 1-2, 0 Outs. None on.
J. Guillen, KC4DetLyonBot 8: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
T. Hunter, LAA11CWSLinebrinkBot 9: 1-1, 1 Outs. None on.
M. DeRosa, Cle8TBGarzaBot 6: 0-0, 2 Outs. 1 on.
A. Huff, Bal8TorRomeroBot 2: 0-0, 1 Outs. None on.
C. Pena, TB16ClePavanoTop 7: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.
A. Dunn, Was15NYMHernandezTop 7: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Wednesday's homers

ON DECK: THURSDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Dodgers at Cubs, 8:05 p.m. ET

Randy Wells has pitched solidly in his three starts for the Cubs. He has a 1.50 ERA, and opponents are hitting just .219 against him. He doesn't have a win to show for it, though, posting an 0-1 record over those three starts. Despite pitching well all year, Randy Wolf hasn't had much movement in his win-loss record, either. Seven of his past eight starts have been no-decisions.

Braves at Diamondbacks, 9:40 p.m. ET

The best pitching matchup on a light day of action. Derek Lowe has been consistent his past three starts, giving up exactly two runs each time out. In fact, Lowe has given up two runs in five of his 10 starts this season. Dan Haren continues to improve his impressive strikeout-to-walk numbers. He has 63 strikeouts against only nine walks this year.

Red Sox at Twins, 1:10 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett finally seems to have settled in, allowing three or fewer runs in each of his past four starts. Beckett is 2-0 with a pair of no-decisions in those outings. Anthony Swarzak is coming off a strong debut: He tossed seven shutout innings for a win against Milwaukee on Saturday.

For the rest of Thursday's schedule, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: THURSDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
1 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Eric Young

BBTN MINUTE: CUBS' ISSUES WITH UMPS

INSIDE EDGE

Who has had the most trouble with the fastball? Who has handled it well? Inside Edge tracks the top and bottom 10 hitters in terms of their batting averages against fastballs

Top 10 Hitters: vs. fastballs
Minimum: 324 pitches faced. League average BA is .285.
Juan Pierre, LAD .466
Kevin Youkilis, BOS .462
Joe Mauer, MIN .448
Victor Martinez, CLE .444
Jason Bartlett, TAM .422
Justin Upton, ARI .420
Aaron Hill, TOR .414
Carlos Beltran, NYM .411
Miguel Cabrera, DET .408
Michael Young, TEX .407
Bottom 10 Hitters: vs. fastball
Brian Giles, SDG .186
Chris Young, ARI .188
Colby Rasmus, STL .188
Chris Davis, TEX .189
Jose Lopez, SEA .191
Clint Barmes, COL .194
B.J. Upton, TAM .195
David Ortiz, BOS .196
Jordan Schafer, ATL .200
Josh Willingham, WAS .203

WEB GEMS

WEDNESDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
JohnsonRandy Johnson moved one win away from career victory No. 300 by tossing six strong innings against the Braves. Johnson allowed one run over six innings, striking out five without issuing a walk for his 299th career win. Johnson's victory not only moved him closer to a milestone but also helped the Giants finish off a sweep of the Braves.
WORST
Matsuzaka• Yes, the Red Sox had a hard time finding the strike zone Wednesday. More to the point, they had a hard time finding the catcher's mitt. Boston's pitchers, most notably Daisuke Matsuzaka, combined to throw six wild pitches in a loss against the Twins. The six wild pitches tied the modern-day record. The four Matsuzaka fired off on his own equaled the Red Sox's club record, which was set 80 years earlier.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Blue Jays No Manny? No problem.

The Dodgers have hit better without Manny Ramirez, who is serving a 50-game suspension. Entering Wednesday, they've hit .291 since May 7, one day after losing Ramirez. L.A. hit .288 before the suspension. The Dodgers' slugging percentage hasn't decreased dramatically, either (.458 with Ramirez vs. .444 without him). And Manny's replacement, Juan Pierre, has slugged .625 over the past 18 games -- better than Ramirez's .606.

Even though the batters have experienced a slight drop-off in their performance against opponents' fastballs, they have improved against every other type of pitch.

Pitch type Before suspension After suspension
Fastball .321 .313
Curveball .165 .309
Slider .236 .269
Changeup .245 .280

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF THURSDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy AJ Mass examines the five games on Thursday's slate.

Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Thursday. Daily Notes