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The Toronto Pitching Pipeline

Despite a red-hot start it's looking more and more like this year will wind up being another also-ran summer for the Blue Jays. Toronto has the grave misfortune of playing in the American League East, easily the most competitive division in baseball where the team's 43-42 record is good for fourth place, eight games behind the Boston Red Sox.

For comparison's sake: 46 victories are good for a share of first place in the AL West and sole possession of first in the NL Central. Meanwhile win totals of 45 and 43 lead the AL Central and NL East, respectively. Geography can be a fickle mistress.

Strong hitting got Toronto off to a scorching start as the team led just about every major offensive category in all of baseball. The Blue Jays still rank in the top 10 in average, slugging and on-base percentage but what's been more interesting has been how Manager Cito Gaston's club has stayed afloat despite having injuries ravage the team's starting rotation.

In 2008, eight pitchers combined to start all 162 of Toronto's games: Roy Halladay (33), A.J. Burnett (34), Jesse Litsch (28), Shaun Marcum (25), Dustin McGowan (19), David Purcey (12), John Parrish (6) and Scott Richmond (5).

Of those eight, only half have made starts for the Blue Jays this season: Halladay, the team's ace (who happens to be on the trading block), Litsch, Purcey and Richmond. So what happened to the other guys? Burnett signed a fat free agent deal with the Yankees, neither Marcum nor McGowan have pitched this season due to injury and John Parrish is somewhere floating in the ether of the Orioles system as he battles his own injuries.

Yet despite losing 34 wins out of their starters, Toronto is still having a decent season thanks to an impressively well-stocked arsenal of arms. 12 different pitchers have already made starts for the Blue Jays through 85 games. Eight of them are 27 years old or younger and many of them have also been on the disabled list this year. Halladay just came off the DL, Richmond just went on and rookie Ricky Romero has spent time there as well.

Somehow this real life streaming of pitchers has the Blue Jays plugging away with the 15th best team ERA (4.28) in the majors. It's a truly phenomenal feat and credit should go to both Gaston and General Manager J.P. Ricciardi who is responsible for the likes of Romero (24 years old, 2.96 ERA, 7-3 in 12 starts) and Brett Cecil (22, 2-1 in seven starts).

Just last night they threw out some guy named Marc Rzepczynski who became the sixth rookie the team has started this year and all he did was throw six innings of two-hit ball against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Even Gaston didn't see that one coming, as he told the Associated Press, "He pitched a lot better I think than all of us felt he was going to pitch. He will certainly get another chance."

The question now becomes how long can they keep it up? Toronto still has a combined 37 games against the team with the best record in the AL (Boston), a team that spent the GDP of a mid-sized country during the offseason (New York Yankees) and the reigning AL Champions (Tampa Bay). Also, given their youth, many of these pitchers will be taxed as never before so increased innings may cut into both their effectiveness and their opportunities.

For now though, enjoy the unexpected spectacle that is Toronto's pitching staff.

By CJ Holley  |  July 8, 2009; 10:14 AM ET
Categories:  Blue Jays  | Tags: cito gaston, j.p. ricciardi, roy halladay, starting pitching, toronto blue jays  
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I dont think Halladay will be traded unless someone blows them away with an offer. They are shaping up to have a great staff next year if Halladay returns and they can stay healthy. Halladay, Romero, Marcum, McGowan, and any of the other rookies is a great staff. With some decent hitting they will compete in the AL East.

Posted by: anfony79 | July 8, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Hypothetically, if the NYY said, "Sure, we'll take on Vernon Wells's contract and send you Phil Hughes and Austin Jackson," wouldn't Toronto have to do the deal?

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | July 8, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

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