For what it’s worth, Brett Lawrie would be happy to have John Gibbons back as manager.
“He’s had a positive impact on me, he’s had a positive impact on everybody,” said Lawrie about the Toronto Blue Jays embattled bench boss.
“He keeps things positive, he tells us to keep pushing and that there’s always something to prove. He’s always there for us and I’d back him up if anything happened to him.”
And that might be worth thinking about, since it was only six weeks ago that there were a rapidly diminishing number of Blue Jays fans who wanted Lawrie back as Toronto’s third baseman of the present, let alone the foreseeable future.
There were a growing number who looked at the batting average, the attitude, the combustibility, and figured Lawrie was a liability rather than an asset.
Heads have cooled somewhat. Certainly Lawrie seems to have calmed himself — that along with a steady diet of at-bats and some good health have seen the 23-year-old emerge as perhaps one of the best hitters in baseball over the month of August.
Gibbons was publicly and privately supportive of Lawrie during his early-season struggles and his patience is looking like wisdom now.
After going 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in the Blue Jays’ 5-2 win over the New York Yankees Monday night, he’s now hitting .362 for the month with an OPS of .921 — third and fifth respectively among MLB players with at least 90 at-bats in that period.
The last time Lawrie was this good was two years ago when he made his magical debut. His exciting potential was a big reason to believe in the Blue Jays heading into the 2012 and even the 2013 seasons. Now that he’s closer than ever to actually realizing it is at least one bright spot heading into 2014.
And while one good — even great — month doesn’t make a season or a career, in the case of Lawrie it’s not unreasonable to think that it’s proof that after just 926 major league at-bats he’s showing he’s a pretty good bet to deliver on the promise he set Toronto on fire with in August 2011 when he hit .326 with an OPS of 1.026.
Everything in between, it’s fair to say, have been growing pains, with no period more painful that the first half of this season when injuries and a rush back from them saw Lawrie hit just .204 before the all-star break.
Those who know Lawrie best say that what’s more significant is that Lawrie has actually grown.
“As good an athlete as he is, he was going to get hot at some point,” said Mark DeRosa, the veteran locker mate who has helped Lawrie channel his inner Red Bull. “But what I’m proud of (him), he’s hot because of a plan and adjustments he’s made.
“It just didn’t happen. If you put a side-by-side of him from April or spring training and it’s two different guys. Couple that with him watching a ton of video with Eddie [Edwin Encarnacion] and formulating game plans and going to a plate with an idea and allowing his true ability to come through and it’s pretty fun to watch. “
The Blue Jays, it goes without saying, haven’t been fun to watch since their 19-7 record in June — a mark accomplished while Lawrie was hurt and some took that as proof the Jays might be better off without him.
Which is the problem with trying to find scapegoats for Toronto’s lost season. The Blue Jays team ERA in June was an AL-best 2.94 — or nearly two runs better than it’s been any other month this year.
And the Blue Jays’ team ERA for August, during Lawrie’s torrid hot streak? It’s 4.79 so far — the best indicator for the club’s 9-16 record over the same period.
All of which brings us back to Gibbons and why making changes when things are going their worst is not always the wisest course.
The calls for his head have been many recently. The logic is mainly: The team has played some ugly baseball and somehow he’s responsible, either because he’s not demanding enough or exacting enough or simply that he’s the manager of an underperforming baseball team and there must be blood, fair or not.
Gibbons isn’t about to plead his case or beg for forgiveness. He’s been fired before — in Toronto no less — and has been around professional baseball his entire life. He knows that fairness isn’t really part of the equation.
“Everyone gets fired in this business sooner than later,” he said before Monday’s win. “You haven’t really done anything if you haven’t. “
Firing Gibbons for the sake of change may look good or even feel good, but there’s a legitimate question whether it will do any good.
Changes may be quite reasonably coming at the conclusion of such an unhappy season, but as Lawrie’s in-season rebound indicates, those that believe the only improvements the organization can make would come from a few gallons of gasoline and an open flame might want to think twice before striking that match.
In Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, Jose Reyes and potentially Lawrie, Toronto has some of the best position players in the game. They have a depth of quality arms in the bullpen. They have starting pitchers who have performed well before and quite reasonably will again. There are some promising arms returning from injury and others shining in the minors.
As Lawrie’s example shows — changes can come quickly and be for the better.
It’s been a brutal season, but the ritual letting of managerial blood can’t reasonably be expected to stop the bleeding. Time — along with improved starting pitching — at least offers the prospect of healing all wounds.
A symbolic gutting of the manager offers no guarantees.