Wilner: Injuries not main reason Jays faltered

Injuries aren't the main reason the Toronto Blue Jays aren't going to be in the post-season. (AP/Pat Sullivan)

TORONTO – It’s only fitting, the way this entire season has gone, that the Toronto Blue Jays would beat the New York Yankees – the team that has thoroughly owned them all season – and get mathematically eliminated from the playoffs anyway.

Not that it wasn’t a foregone conclusion long ago. The Blue Jays took themselves out of any sort of playoff contention by losing 19 of 26 following their eleven-game winning streak. It’s really only been a matter of time since then, thanks especially to the losses of pretty much every player in the line-up.

The fateful moment arrived when the Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays about an hour after the Jays shut out the Bronx Bombers. If it hadn’t happened then, they’d have been eliminated an hour later when the Cleveland Indians beat the Kansas City Royal.

Oh, the finality of it all.

Listen: BlueJaysTalk Sept. 17

With Edwin Encarnacion (minor wrist surgery) and Brett Cecil (precautionary MRI for elbow soreness that he says everyone believes is not ligament-related) both shut down for the season, the Blue Jays will march into the final 12 games of the season with seven of the players with whom they started on April 1 out of action.

Another three (J.A. Happ, Jose Reyes, Sergio Santos) are on the field, but missed close to half the season because of injury, as did Brett Lawrie, who was on the disabled list on Opening Day.

The only starting position players to survive the season without losing at least a month to injury were J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind. The only pitchers to do likewise were Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Casey Janssen, Aaron Loup, Darren Oliver (only out three weeks) and Esmil Rogers.

That’s kind of crazy, but injuries aren’t the main reason the Jays won’t be in the post-season.

The team kicked off the season 10-21, with horrible starting pitching and even worse defence, and they spit the bit for a month after the franchise record-tying win streak.

So what happens now? Good question.

The starting pitching must be improved, but how can Alex Anthopoulos go out into the market (trade or free agent) and do better than Dickey, Buehrle and Josh Johnson were supposed to be in 2013? He can’t. Dickey and Buehrle haven’t really been the problem – everyone else has.

The Blue Jays are next-to-last in the major leagues in starting pitchers’ ERA and third-last in innings pitched from their starters, but Buehrle and Dickey have combined to throw over 400 innings with an ERA of 4.19 (not great, but hardly awful) and neither of them have missed a start all year.

What about everyone else, you ask?

Well, everyone else has combined to throw just 431 2/3 innings (an average of just UNDER five innings per start) and have posted an ERA of 5.44.

And that’s not just the Ramon Ortiz and Chien-Ming Wangs of the world. That includes 26 starts from Johnson and Brandon Morrow, who were counted on to be major contributors this season.

Morrow will be back, Johnson likely won’t.

With Morrow coming off a nerve impingement that cost him the last two-thirds of the season, he can’t really be counted on as a top-of-the-rotation guy, which was the hope coming into this year.

Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison will be back and healthy, but neither of them has even had a good six weeks in the majors, let alone been part of a contender’s rotation.

The ideal thing to do with J.A. Happ, Ricky Romero, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins is to have one of them be the fifth starter while the team looks to find somebody better. That somebody may wind up being Sean Nolin or Marcus Stroman.

There’s definitely a lot of work to do in rebuilding a starting rotation that just spent an entire winter being rebuilt, but there are other things that will help the process along.

For starters, the Blue Jays’ defence will unquestionably be better in 2014. Toronto badly missed the presence of Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie. The team are sure to have a mobile left fielder next season with Melky Cabrera either recovered from the spinal tumour or not recovered and replaced. Whether or not Ryan Goins is the future at second base, the team has realized how important it is to have a guy who can catch the ball at the keystone – especially after watching Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio struggle with the glove for the first three-quarters of the year.

Improved glovework will help the starting pitching a great deal.

What will also help is that Toronto couldn’t possibly have three years in a row in which everything that could possibly go wrong does.

Could they?

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