Top of the morning to you, gamers, and welcome to Brett Lawrie Week. If you came for the opening ceremonies (including free balloons and pony rides), Andy has you covered here. If you want to consider Lawrie's potential rank against other corners — when he actually gets the corner tag, which will take five games — come join me here. If you're part of the Travis Snider Sympathizers, we don't have any immediate help for you. Please hold the line and a counselor will be with you shortly.
Meanwhile, there's another problem with this Blue Jays club: the stench emanating from the bullpen. Is there a closer in the house?
The Jays lost to Tampa Bay in 12 innings on Thursday, 7-6, and it might have been the most frustrating loss of the season. Toronto handed away leads in the bottom of the 10th and 11th, then watched the Rays walk off with the victory in the following frame. Manager John Farrell is going to have an ulcer at the end of this season.
De-facto closer Jon Rauch is one of the scariest men in baseball from sight alone — he stands 6-11, has a freaky neck tattoo and generally carries a mean-looking demeanor. But no one in baseball is scared when Rauch actually throws a pitch. He's blown five of his 15 save chances (including Thursday's giveaway), he's allowed nine homers in just 46.2 innings of work, and he's carrying a 4.44 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. He's allowed at least one hit in 11 of his last 13 appearances.
The main challenger to the throne isn't any better. Frank Francisco's ERA and WHIP are higher than Rauch's, despite a zesty strikeout rate (37 punchouts in 33.2 innings). He's no gemstone. He's only 10-for-14 in save chances this year.
Casey Janssen has the best stats in the bullpen, at least by the surface numbers (2.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, nine walks against 31 strikeouts) but the Jays have been reluctant to use him as the ninth-inning guy, for some reason. Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel have been shipped out of town. Anyone have a cell number on Billy Koch? Or is it just time to give up on this bullpen and wash our hands of it for the season?
At least these Torontonians can hit; that's how the club is staying afloat this year. The Jays are fifth in the majors in runs scored, an underrated part of the rough-and-tumble AL East (the Red Sox are first in runs, the Yankees second). If Lawrie comes even remotely close to living up to his press clippings, the lineup will be downright nasty.
As for Snider's demotion, we can't say it came as any great shock. He's posted a .217/.208/.314 slash since the All-Star break, and he's collected 33 strikeouts against one measly walk over the last 24 games. He didn't give the club any logical alternative, he didn't force a difficult decision. Eric Thames has come back to earth of late, but he deserved to keep his spot in the lineup. Look for him in left, Bautista in right, and Lawrie at third base going forward.
• Alexi Ogando continued to laugh at the Regression Police (okay, he's laughing at me too), working 6.2 strong innings at Detroit en route to his 11th victory. He's given up three runs or less in six straight starts and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Arlington effect? His ERA is actually lower at home, and his WHIP is just a shade higher in Texas. Even if he pitches down to his 3.41 FIP or 3.75 xFIP for the rest of the year (as the BABIP and HR/FB rates normalize), this is still a useful arm, someone we can use with confidence. Score another one for the inventive Rangers. Ogando gets the Mariners next week, obviously a good draw.
At least we can look at Brad Penny and mock with full confidence. Penny allowed 11 hits and five runs to the Rangers and didn't strike out anyone. You could have called this "Texas Batting Practice" and no one would know the difference. If Penny starts a playoff game for the Tigers, something is horribly wrong.
• Mark Trumbo's Heaven and Hell Tour keeps rolling along. You grimace at the .297 OBP and the 80 strikeouts against 19 walks, but you love the .488 slugging percentage and the 21 homers. Eight steals aren't bad for a corner, either, though he's been caught four times as well. Trumbo had a homer and four RBI as the Angels kicked around Francisco Liriano Thursday night, and he's climbed up to 47 percent owned on the Yahoo! ledger. If you'll push the Trumbo tag past 50 percent this weekend, I'll stop writing about him. Deal? Help a brother out.
Liriano's ERA pushed over 5 at the end of the night, and his WHIP (1.46) leaves a mark as well. He might be the most erratic arm in the AL right now, the prince of variance. He's allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his starts (including the no-hitter back on May 3), but he's been reached for seven runs on three occasions, and you'll see a lot of messy 4s and 5s on the ledger. The strikeout rate is still respectable, but it's hard to trust a pitcher who can't post two punchouts for every walk. Be good to yourself, step off this roller-coaster ride.
• There is no Santa Claus, there is no Easter Bunny, and there is no playoff baseball likely for Pittsburgh in 2011. Sorry, kids, we have to start opening ourselves up to the truth. The Cubs — the frigging Henchmen of Hendry — rained on the Pittsburgh parade with an improbable four-game sweep, capped by a 7-6 victory Thursday. Carlos Marmol saved three of the wins and has 13 strikeouts against four walks over his last nine appearances. The slider is back, the closer is back. Marlon Byrd is a Chicago bat of interest: he's at .319 over the last month with 14 runs and three homers, but he's unowned in 81 percent of Yahoo! pools. Not a sexy player, perhaps, but he's a useful one.
• Eric Young could be headed back to the bench when Carlos Gonzalez returns, but he's going to have fun while he can Young stole his third base of the week (and his fifth in six games) as the Rockies ran past Washington on Thursday. He also reached base four times, with a hit and three walks. Would it be the worst thing in the world for Jim Tracy to actually commit to a young player and use the final quarter of the year as valuable evaluation time? Ah, don't get me started. Huston Street struggled in the dreaded "just an inning of work" assignment, allowing three hits and two runs in the ninth.
Speed Round: You don't win friends with salad but you do save games with Salas. The underrated Fernando Salas recorded the last four outs at Florida, picking up his 20th save in 23 opportunities. With a strikeout per inning and just 13 walks, this is a story that should continue the rest of the year. … The pesky Indians got a key split in Boston, taking the final game behind Carlos Santana's homer and Asdrubal Cabrera's two steals. Erik Bedard was ordinary in his Red Sox debut (5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 5 K). All Cleveland eyes will be on the set Friday night, when Ubaldo Jimenez toes the rubber in Arlington. … You want clutch, we present Adam Dunn to you. His ninth-inning homer at Chicago rallied the White Sox to within five runs, but his teammates couldn't rally. The hacking Sox didn't draw a walk in their embarrassing four-game whitewash, and that approach at least partially explains the stunning 10-strikeout game from Ivan Nova. … J.J. Hardy homered again at Kansas City before a sore ankle knocked him to the bench. He doesn't think the injury is too serious. … The Marlins are calling for Hanley Ramirez (shoulder) to return on Saturday. Meanwhile, Omar Infante is in limbo after breaking his middle finger in Thursday's loss to the Cardinals. … Shin-Soo Choo (thumb) is taking batting practice and should be back sometime from the middle to end of the month. … Justin Morneau (neck) is ready to begin a rehab assignment. … Brandon Belt, sadly, is back to Triple-A Fresno. … Yadier Molina is taking his five-game suspension like a man - he's not contesting it. He sat out his first game Thursday against Florida. … Toolsy outfielder Trayvon Robinson is expected to be called up to the Mariners on Friday. You'll find plenty of power and speed on his minor-league resume. . . Enjoy Ryan Doumit responsibly, until he gets hurt again. He's always had a decent bat. … David Freese earned an RBI the tough-guy way, taking a change-up off the noggin with the bases loaded. Hopefully he's okay. … I'm off to chase tile for the weekend (seriously, read this book, watch this documentary and check out this article). Dr. Behrens and Dr. Evans will take good care of you.
Photos courtesy Associated Press