Keri: Francisco Liriano could be ideal reliever for Blue Jays

MLB writer Jonah Keri explains to Baseball Central why he believes the Blue Jays are still the most complete team in the division, ahead of the Red Sox and Orioles.

The Toronto Blue Jays are the most complete team in the AL East, says MLB analyst Jonah Keri.

In a guest appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Friday afternoon, Keri explained how the Blue Jays could further strengthen their roster with an internal tweak.

“The depth moves have helped,” Keri said on Baseball Central. “I would love to see (Francisco) Liriano in the bullpen, but if (Marco) Estrada gets lit up or (R.A.) Dickey isn’t pitching well then they can’t do that. If there was an optimal roster where (Aaron) Sanchez comes back from his A-ball hiatus and Estrada is healthy, then you should put Liriano in the bullpen and make him the number one left-hander and roll with what they got.”

Liriano, 32, was acquired by the Blue Jays right before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline to fill a role as a depth starter, a move that was expected to send Sanchez back to the bullpen. The veteran lefty has made three starts for Toronto, going 0-1 with a 3.57 ERA.

Brett Cecil, who didn’t allow an earned run in July, August or September last year, has struggled to a 4.94 ERA this year with a diminished strikeout rate and an inflated home run rate. Keri believes that Liriano could give the team flexibility as a left-handed relief option if Cecil continues to struggle in his current role.

Despite the Blue Jays’ recent trouble scoring, Keri believes the team will rebound.

“The hitting should come around. (Jose) Bautista should hit again and they should become the best team in the division,” Keri said. “If you can’t hit with runners in scoring position, that stuff is the best possible problem to have because it’ll correct itself by the virtue of regression. So I’m not really worried about that.”

In Keri’s view the biggest threat to Toronto is the Boston Red Sox, who are tied with the Blue Jays atop the division entering play Friday. Boston’s starting pitching has come around in recent weeks, yet other weaknesses have emerged.

“It’s actually a pretty good rotation but the problem is the bullpen isn’t that reliable,” Keri said. “Our old friend, (John) Farrell is managing very weirdly. He gets to the seventh inning of every game and it’s a big problem because he doesn’t know what to do. If you push starters further, the third or fourth time through the order, there’s a penalty (to that approach) and every starter in the majors has more difficulty getting guys out. That’s what happened against Tampa Bay and they blew the games late.”

The Orioles are right in the race as well, trailing Toronto and Boston by 1.0 game after a successful series against the Washington Nationals. Even so, Keri believes the Orioles are the least likely of the three teams to win the division title.

“They have a particularly tough schedule,” Keri said of the Orioles. “Their out-of-division (games) are tougher. And Chris Tillman is hurt. It’s a big issue. Tillman might be only out for two or three weeks but there’s only five weeks left in the regular season. He’s missing half of the rest of the regular season for a team with a thin rotation. I’d put them as a third candidate.”

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