Game 134 Preview: Kansas City Royals vs. Toronto Blue Jays

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

The Blue Jays were supposed to be contenders, and now they're pretenders. That rhymes.

The Toronto Blue Jays made a big splash last winter with some big time acqusitions like Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, Josh Johnson, and R.A. Dickey. Many projection models before the season had them as a serious contender for the division title, with many prognasticators picking them as a dark horse for the pennant. Yet here we are heading into the last month of the year with the Jays sitting in last place with the fourth worst record in the league.

When I was 11, the Royals were coming off a season in which they had the third best record in all of baseball, yet failed to make the 1989 playoffs. With owner Ewing Kauffman wanting to see a second championship for his franchise, the team splurged on pricey free agents like reigning National League Cy Young winner Mark Davis, 19-game winner Storm Davis, and long-time veteran pitcher Rich Dotson. I still remember buying Bruce Weber's baseball preview, flipping to the end to see Bruce predicting a Royals-Padres World Series. I asked my dad in February if we could get World Series tickets that fall. This was going to be greatest season ever.

But it turned out Mark Davis was a bit of a one-year wonder, Storm Davis had been completely propped up by great run support and a large ballpark, and Rich Dotson was washed up. Bo Jackson and Bret Saberhagen each missed a good chunk of the season with injuries, and the Royals finished 75-86, a game out of last place. I threw my Bruce Weber book in the trash.

This year's Jays have been racked with injury as well. Reyes, not surprisingly, has missed much of the season due to injury. Third baseman Brett Lawrie and outfielder Melky Cabrera have also missed large chunks of time. And the starting pitching has been devastated with injuries. Thirteen different pitchers have made a start for the Jays, and only Dickey and Buerhle have made more than 20 starts. Johnson turned into an absolute disaster, and young pitchers like Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, and J.A. Happ have been awful. The club has had precious little depth, so Mickey Storey, Neil Wagner, Ramon Ortiz, Thad Weber, Aaron Laffey, Justin Germano, and Dave Bush - names you might expect in the Atlantic League - have had to pitch for the Jays this year.

Reyes and Lawrie are back, but the Jays are missing their entire starting outfield - Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, and slugger Jose Bautista. Toronto can still line up four above average hitters in their lineup - Edwin Encarnacion (142 OPS+), Adam Lind (124), Reyes (112), and Lawrie (106). But there is a huge drop-off after that, with no other regular posting an OPS+ over 80 other than the handful of at-bats given to rookies Moises Sierra and Ryan Goins. The Jays are second in the league in home runs, but tonight there will only be three home run threats in the lineup - Encarnacion, Lind, and big whiffer J.P. Arencibia (20 HR but 16 walks and 128 strikeouts!)

The Jays pen sports an above average ERA of 3.44. Sergio Santos, Aaron Loup, Brett Cecil, Darren Oliver and closer Casey Janssen have had decent seasons. But as I said before, the rotation has been an absolute mess. Mark Buerhle gets the start tonight, and he's put together a pretty typical Mark Buehrle season. Not that many strikeouts (6.2 per nine innings), not a lot of walks (2.3), and about a league average ERA, all while working quickly. The Royals have seen a ton of Buerhle over the years - this is his 50th career start against KC, and he's predictably won a lot of them (22-12 career record against the Boys in Blue). But he's 35, playing far away from his beloved pitbulls and playing out the string in a lost season north of the border. Now is the time to extract some revenge.
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