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Edwin Encarnacion Is The Key To A Toronto Blue Jays’ World Series
The Toronto Blue Jays have completely changed their roster this offseason and appear ready to stake a claim to the AL East. The Blue Jays’ last truly phenomenal ballclub was the 1994 team that got cut short by the strike. After that, baseball fans in Toronto felt scorned by the American sport and attendance suffered. As the 90′s faded into the 2000′s, the Blue Jays began to feel the ills associated with life in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, and attendance suffered more. But in 2013, the Blue Jays look like they will be relevant again and their fans are excited, with good reason. However, putting so much stock in Edwin Encarnacion’s ability to repeat his monster 2012 scares me.
In each of the past two years the Blue Jays have not struggled to score runs, ranking 7th out of 14 AL teams in 2012, and 5th in that same statistic in 2011. They’ve been held back largely by inconsistency in the rotation. Consider their starters had a 4.55 ERA in 2011 (24th) and saw that number rise to 4.82 in 2012. Worse, they’ve made due with a patchwork of guys due to injuries. Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek are extremely talented, but can’t seem to stay on the mound for any worthwhile period of time. Ricky Romero, my preseason pick to finish third in the Cy Young voting, managed a 5.77 ERA one year after posting a 2.92. The Blue Jays think they have remedied those flaws with the addition of knuckleballer Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and stalwart Mark Buehrle. Keep in ming that Kyle Drabek due back at some point to provide some depth. I’m not entirely convinced, but I’m not voting against a rotation that looks like this:
- RA Dickey
- Josh Johnson
- Mark Buehrle
- Brandon Morrow
- Ricky Romero
All that considered, they’ve currently got Edwin Encarnacion in the four hole. That proposition scares me given Encarnacion’s recent ascent to so much as a good hitter. Edwin was very good in 2012: .280 average, 42 HR, 302 Total Bases, 110 RBI. He was a legitimate top 10 hitter in the American League and finished 11th in the MVP voting on a team that lost a bunch of games. He had an absolutely great year and combined with Jose Bautista provides the Blue Jays with two right handed sluggers for the middle of the order. The Jays went out and added a splash of speed in Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio to hit in front of these guys. I’m concerned that they may think too highly of Encarnacion’s turnaround and have built around a guy who could regress to his pre-2012 numbers.
Consider that Encarnacion has hit more than 17 home runs just three times in his 8 year Major League career. He has played 150 games just once and his 13 steals in 2012 mark a career high. He absolutely had a career year in 2012 and I’m not so sure he’ll be able to repeat it. The Major Leagues are littered with guys who had one career year and were never the same offensively. Andruw Jones once clubbed 50 home runs and is now taking his talents to Japan. Kelly Johnson once hit 26 homers, hit .284, and played over 150 games. And who remembers when Jeff Francoeur hit .293 with 29 homers and 103 RBI’s as a 22 year old? Hell, Dallas Braden threw a perfect game. Baseball is a fluky game, and Toronto fans need to be wary of Encarnacion’s potentially fluky 2012.
Encarnacion’s importance to this team cannot be understated. Jose Bautista is going to do what he does. He’s an absolute freak. However, teams that want to win the World Series need at least two mashers in the middle of the lineup. Look at what the Tigers were able to accomplish with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Look at how the Rays eternally struggle to score runs with just Evan Longoria. Look at what happens to the Phillies when one (or both) of their mashers (Ryan Howard or Chase Utley) is out. Look at the 2004/2006 Red Sox combination of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Baseball lineups need to be deep. Encarnacion is the lynchpin to the depth of their lineup.
If Edwin is what he was in 2012 (an MVP caliber player who experienced the same type of hitting renaissance as Jose Bautista), then this Blue Jays team could win the World Series even if their rotation experiences an injury or two. If he is not; if he is the guy he has been for most of his 8 year career (a 17 homer, .260 hitter), the Blue Jays will need major contributions from all of their recently acquired assets as well as the continued growth of Brett Lawrie if they want to be above .500.
Stat of the Day: The worst starting pitching staff constructed since 2000 (by ERA) was the 2003 Rangers squad that posted a combined 6.24 ERA. By WAR, the distinction falls to the 2007 Nationals rotation that managed a cumulative -0.2 WAR.