Written by Joshua Howsam, Jenn Smith, and Bennett Brauer
Hot Corner Power Hour
Blue Jays franchise cornerstone Josh Donaldson has had an odd season. He had a really rough stretch between injuries, yet he is currently sporting an impressive batting line of .268/.391/.558. The average may be low, but the OBP and SLG are right there with his MVP season of 2015 and his near MVP season of 2016. His TAv of .312 sits fourth in the American League (WELL behind overall leader Mike Trout at .368) as well.
All of this was certainly helped by Donaldson’s current extreme hot streak. In his last three games, Donaldson has five home runs and nine hits in 15 plate appearances, good for a .643/.667/1.786 line during the short stretch. Those three games were so potent that his overall slugging percentage rose 36 points from .522 to .588. This also allowed him to once again reach the 30 HR barrier for the third straight year.
Donaldson’s hot corner counterpart, Mike Moustakas, is having one heck of a power season of his own. Coming into the season with a career high of 22 home runs set 2015, the Royals third baseman has blasted 36 long balls so far in 2017.
Unlike Donaldson, however, the free agent to be has struggled mightily in the power department of late. In his last 27 games (25 starts) dating back to August 16th, the man they call “Moose” has hit only one home run with an overall line of .216/.296/.307.
As his performance has gone, so has that of the Royals. Kansas City found themselves right in the thick of the wild card race in August. In fact, on August 23rd the Royals sat three games over .500 (64-61) and just a half game out of the wild card. Since that time though, they have gone 9-15 and are only very much on the fringes of contention with 13 games to play and 4.5 games back.
And while KC could be hoping that Moustakas being on the road could help them in this series with his extreme splits (he has an OPS 149 points higher on the road – .909 – than when playing in cavernous Kaufman Stadium – .760), the pitching matchup isn’t ideal for him.
First up is sinkerballer Marcus Stroman and his overall home run suppressing ways, who will then be followed by two lefthanded pitchers in Anderson and Happ. And despite a similar batting average against opposite-handed pitchers, Moustakas sees his OBP/SLG vs righties (.322/.544) drop heavily when he faces southpaws (.287/.464).
So the Jays will be looking to ride their hot third baseman in an attempt to finish out the season with dignity, while the Royals are going to be pleading for a return to form from theirs.
Looking Towards the Future
Perhaps the single most glaring difference between this season and last for the Blue Jays is the state of the starting rotation. The 2016 pitching staff was remarkably healthy and, despite employing a six-man rotation towards the end of the season to protect Aaron Sanchez’s arm, the Jays used just a total of only seven starters (with the seventh of those being just two spot starts by Drew Hutchison). Compare that to this injury-plagued season that has resulted in 14 different pitchers getting the ball to start a game.
To say that the Jays lack starting pitching depth is an understatement and it is one of the concerns that the front office must address during the offseason. With Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, and Aaron Sanchez (though it is impossible to know whether or not his blister issues and subsequent ligament damage will carry forward) locks for next season and seemingly mutual interest between player and team in re-signing Marco Estrada, there remains one spot that has to be filled.
Enter Brett Anderson.
The left-hander was signed to a minor-league contract back in August after being designated for assignment and subsequently released by the Chicago Cubs. Anderson has since made four starts for the Jays in what is clearly an audition for next spring. The remaining games are meaningless for the Jays in terms of the standings, but their evaluation of Anderson’s performance will determine whether or not they offer the pending free agent a contract this offseason.
In 17.2 innings over his first three starts, Anderson posted a 3.06 ERA with opposing hitters batting .273/.269/.485. In his most recent outing, however, Anderson was pulled after just 4.1 innings due to a “hot spot” on his pitching hand. After the blister issues that have plagued Sanchez – and other pitchers around the league – the Jays had every reason to proceed with caution.
As of right now, Anderson is scheduled to make his next start this Wednesday against the Royals. The Jays will be looking for two things: for Anderson to at least match his first three starts for the Jays and for his hot spot to no longer be an issue.
This one start alone will not be the deciding factor in what – if anything – the Jays offer Anderson this offseason. He is slated to start two more times on the road, first in Boston this coming Monday and against the Yankees in the final game of the season. And there is no doubt that the front office will want to have options aside from Joe Biagini come spring training. But this game is still important and Anderson would be an ideal fit. Despite his injury history (he was transferred to the Cubs’ 60-day DL in June due to a back injury), Anderson is just 29 years old. The Jays ought to be able to sign him relatively inexpensively, which would provide them with the flexibility to pursue other offseason needs and create real minor league depth with the likes of Joe Biagini, Chris Rowley, and fast-rising Ryan Borucki waiting in Buffalo. A solid end to Anderson’s season would give the Jays every reason to offer him a contract.
The End of Two Eras
The Jays are Royals, while playing different styles of baseball with two different brands of front offices, have very similar recent franchise trajectories.
After decades of disappointment, both teams peaked mid-year of their first year in the playoffs, 2014 for the Royals, 2015 for the Blue Jays. The cores and front offices of both teams were called into question many times before finding lightning in a bottle.
For the Royals, they lost a heartbreaking Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, at home, before winning the 2015 World Series in New York against the Mets. The Jays are a slight microcosm, topping out at the ALCS both times, in 2015 against those same Royals, and in 2016 before this year’s pedestrian season.
What they have in common, however, is that this will probably be the end of the road for both of those successful runs.
The Royals’ core could look very different next year, with key cogs Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Jason Vargas and Lorenzo Cain all scheduled to become free agents at the end of this season.
The Jays began looking different last year by losing superstar Edwin Encarnacion and will almost certainly lose former star and face of the franchise, Jose Bautista, and at the end of this season. Combined with Marco Estrada’s free agency and the incoming Free Agencies of Josh Donaldson and JA Happ at the of 2018, the Jays will also probably look completely different from their mini heyday moving forward.
As the old expression goes, get a good look at both of these teams during this series, because they will look a lot different next time they play each other.
Lead Photo © Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports