10/04/12 10:00 AM ET
Injury wave doomed Blue Jays in 2012
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
A season that began with aspirations of reaching the postseason for the first time since 1993 instead ended in disappointment. It will be remembered as the year of the injury -- one during which updates from the medical staff became a seemingly daily occurrence.
Toronto remained in the thick of contention during the early stages of the year, but losing three starters essentially at the same time, with the heart of the order following suit not long after, proved too much to overcome.
"I think we felt we had bodies; looking back, what you learn from it is just the reliance on young guys," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said when asked if there were any regrets about how he constructed the team -- particularly the starting rotation.
"Relying on health is probably the biggest thing, and relying on health with some of the younger guys is the biggest thing. There are a lot of teams that have done it -- they rolled out a bunch of guys. It looked like we were going to be able to do it, and even in 2010, we did it. But I think more than youth, it was just having bodies, having more and more bodies to protect us. You can never have enough."
Toronto's season was almost a tale of two different teams -- with the first and second halves bearing almost no resemblance to one another.
The Blue Jays owned one of the best starting rotations in baseball during the early stages of the year. Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, Henderson Alvarez, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek formed an admirable quintet that ranked among the American League leaders in almost every major pitching category.
Then misfortune struck, as Morrow, Hutchison and Drabek all suffered major injuries during a four-day span in June. Morrow wouldn't return until late August, and Hutchison and Drabek were both lost for the season following Tommy John surgery.
Just when it appeared as though the injuries would be impossible to overcome, an underachieving offense sprung to life. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion led the way by becoming the most potent duo in the Majors, while others like Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie helped carry the Blue Jays through long stretches.
That kept Toronto within a few games of an AL Wild Card spot until the injury troubles hit again. This time, it struck the offense, as Bautista, Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind all hit the disabled list.
The series of blows proved to be too costly, and from July 30 on, the Blue Jays posted one of the worst records in the league.
"It's changed, obviously -- if you would have asked me at the beginning of August, I felt our offense was outstanding, and it was," Anthopoulos said. "We were leading all of baseball in runs scored, and the bullpen really came around. But you realize six months is six months.
"I'd say when evaluating our team, we're always best to evaluate it month by month or third by third, but really, have your final evaluation at the end of the year because things change. From that standpoint, the rotation, I think we got through it ... but you have to do it over six months."
It wasn't all bad news this season, as Encarnacion finally tapped into the raw power Toronto always thought he possessed. The veteran first baseman/designated hitter established himself as one of the league's premier run producers and surpassed the 40-homer and 100-RBI plateaus for the first time in his career.
If Encarnacion is able to duplicate those numbers in 2013, his production would go a long way toward helping the club find its footing offensively. When Encarnacion and Bautista are healthy at the same time, the Blue Jays have the ability to start one of the quickest-striking lineups in the game.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, though, a handful of this season's injuries will linger into 2013. Drabek and Hutchison are expected to be out until at least next year's All-Star break, while left-handed reliever Luis Perez is facing a similar timeline.
That means a carry-over effect is unavoidable, and it will be up to the GM to plug the necessary holes.
"The guys you lose going into next year, that's obviously the hardest part about it," Anthopoulos said. "It just reinforces more than ever -- and I know this is a year that we've had more [injuries] than anybody else, or we've ever had in this organization -- the notion of continuing to add depth.
"Even when we have young players, prospects, even if we think they can come up here, do a good job and be solid, if they have options left, let's just stockpile that depth and they can all just wait [in the Minors]."
The Blue Jays will go into the offseason adding as much talent as possible in an effort to prepare for more injuries in 2013, should history repeat. But at the same time, they have to be thinking this season was an outlier that won't be repeated.
Here's a closer look at some of the key points from the 2012 campaign:
Record: 73-89, fourth in AL East
Defining moment: The Blue Jays' season took on a surreal feeling during the middle of June. The first to go down with an injury was Morrow, who sustained a left oblique injury during the first inning of a game against Washington. Two days later, it was Drabek leaving in the fifth with a right elbow injury. Fewer than 24 hours after that, Hutchison also went down with a torn ligament in his right elbow. The series of blows left the Blue Jays scrambling. They spent the next few weeks trying to piece together a rotation, and while their staff did eventually get sorted out, the situation serves as a perfect example of the bad luck Toronto encountered this year.
What went right: When healthy, Morrow proved that he could perform like a frontline starting pitcher. Before his injury, the righty led the AL with three shutouts and had established himself as a bona fide ace. ... Top prospects Anthony Gose and Adeiny Hechavarria received their chance to compete at the next level. Despite slow starts, both players eventually showed glimpses of their high-ceiling talent, and the experience they gained this season should prove beneficial in the long run. ... Rajai Davis surpassed the 40-stolen base plateau to become one of the biggest threats on the basepaths in the game. ... The Blue Jays' new uniforms, which went back to the franchise's more traditional look, were met with rave reviews in Toronto and around the game. ... Veteran Omar Vizquel passed Babe Ruth on the all-time hits list with a pair of singles during a game at Yankee Stadium in September.
What went wrong: The series of injuries simply couldn't be overcome. The Blue Jays set a franchise record by using 32 pitchers, while multiple unproven rookies were also forced into action offensively. ... Romero went from being the club's best pitcher to one of the league's biggest disappointments. He began the season 8-1, then proceeded to lose 13 consecutive decisions, posting an ERA that exceeded 5.00 for most of the year. ... Lind opened the season as Toronto's cleanup hitter, but by late July, he was playing for Triple-A Las Vegas. Lind did return a month later, but he no longer has a guaranteed job heading into next year because of his poor performance. ... Kelly Johnson helped carry the team early by hitting eight homers with an .804 on-base plus slugging percentage in 36 games, then saw his performance drastically drop for the rest of the year. The pending free agent likely no longer has a future with Toronto. ... Closer Sergio Santos was the club's prized offseason acquisition, but by April 20, he was gone for the year with a right shoulder injury. ... Toronto's biggest battle in Spring Training was for playing time in left field, with Eric Thames and Travis Snider competing for the starting job. By the end of July, neither player remained with the organization.
Biggest surprise: Two years ago, Encarnacion was available to any team that was willing to take a chance on him. But thankfully for the Blue Jays, nobody else did, as he passed through waivers and remained with the organization. Now, he finds himself as one of the best power hitters in the game, having enjoyed a breakout season. Encarnacion ranked among the AL leaders in almost every major offensive category all season long. He became the eighth player in franchise history to reach 40 homers, and midway through the year, he was rewarded with a new three-year, $29 million contract extension.