If the St. Louis Cardinals succeed in knocking Atlanta from its perch atop the National League wild-card standings, a couple of former Toronto Blue Jays will have played an important role.
Relief pitchers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski, who were part of the eight-player July trade that sent young outfielder Colby Rasmus to Toronto, entered play Monday having allowed a combined one earned run over their past five appearances.
Dotel, who has fared better than Rzepczynski overall since the deal, got two outs in the eighth inning Sunday to earn the win in a comeback 3-2 verdict over the Chicago Cubs that moved St. Louis to within one game of Braves.
Five days earlier, Dotel threw five pitches for the victory against the New York Mets, just hours after recording his second save for the Cardinals third this season — another five-pitch effort to help down another one-time Jay, Roy Halladay, and the NL East-leading Philadelphia Phillies.
"We knew what he was capable of, but we hadn’t seen him [this season]," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa of Dotel in an interview with the St. Louis Dispatch last week. "We didn't know what kind of shape he was in, how much life he had.
"He's pitching like he has his whole career, which has been very effective."
Dotel, 37, has served in a variety of roles — closer, set-up man and starter — in his 13-year major league career for 12 different teams.
He has settled nicely into a late-inning role with St. Louis, which closes out the regular season this week with three games at Houston.
In 27 appearances with the Cardinals, the right-hander has a 3-2 record, 3.18 earned-run average and 30 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings pitched. His ERA with Toronto was 3.68 in 68 games.
Rzepczynski, too, is thriving down the stretch. The left-hander alternated between specialist usage and long-relief duties shortly after his arrival in St. Louis, but hasn't reached two innings in any outing since Aug. 23.
Working the longer outings allowed Rzepczynski to refine his changeup and give him added confidence.
"He has potential as a starter at some point in his career," La Russa said. "And he can pitch to one or two hitters. That's exactly what he arrived as, with that potential, not to start this year but maybe in his future."
Rzepczynski's ERA is nearly a full run higher with the Cardinals (3.92 to 2.97 in Toronto) but he's buckled down at the most important time of the season.
Rzepczynski opened the top of the ninth inning Saturday with St. Louis trailing 1-0 and induced Cubs' slugging first baseman Carlos Pena to ground out before giving way to Jason Motte.
On Sunday, Rzepczynski faced one batter in the eighth, Pena, and struck him out.
Dotel and Rzepczynski are only two Blue Jays sent packing this season who could say a change of scenery has made a difference in their play.
Here are the others:
- Aaron Hill/John McDonald, Diamondbacks: Hill has turned his season around since joining the National League West champions. With a double in Sunday's 5-2 win over San Francisco, the second baseman extended his hitting streak to five games and upped his batting average to .328 and his on-base percentage to .388 in 30 games with Arizona. He went .225, .270 in 104 contests with the Jays this season.
Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers didn't acquire McDonald for his offence — he was hitting .250 in 2011 at the time of the trade and is batting .192 since. The 37-year-old defensive specialist has made just one error in 16 games.
- Mike Napoli, Rangers: Sure, he was only a Blue Jay for four days and never wore the team uniform for a game — Napoli was flipped to Texas after arriving from Anaheim in the Vernon Wells trade — but the catcher/first baseman's career season is worth mentioning. Having never posted a batting average above .273 in his first five major league seasons, his second-half tear in 2011 has pushed it to .318. Napoli also has tied his major league high in homers with 26 (in just 358 at-bats) and surpassed his previous best in RBIs with 69.
- Juan Rivera, Dodgers: There's little doubt a move to the National League and pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium has agreed with the former Blue Jays designated hitter/first baseman/outfielder. The 33-year-old is hitting .288 with a .348 on-base percentage in 208 at-bats since being acquired in a July 12 trade. Rivera's .776 on-base plus slugging percentage while playing for Los Angeles is also 110 points higher than during his 70-game tenure with Toronto.
- Shaun Marcum, Brewers: As many predicted, the former Blue Jays right-hander has thrived with a move to the National League, helping the Milwaukee Brewers clinch the Central Division. In 32 starts, Marcum has tied his career high of 13 wins set last year and boasts his lowest earned-run average (3.13) in three full major league seasons. He also has held opposing batters to a .225 average. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos sent Marcum to Milwaukee at baseball's winter meetings last December for Canadian infield prospect Brett Lawrie, who shone after being summoned from AAA on Aug. 5.
- Scott Downs, Angels: Just when Blue Jays fans thought the left-handed relief pitcher couldn't be stingier, the 35-year-old has been nearly unhittable this season for Los Angeles. In 60 games, Downs has a 1.34 earned-run average, nearly half a run lower than his previous best of 1.78 in 66 contests with Toronto in 2008. And for the first time in his major league career, Downs has held the opposition to a sub-.200 average (.199). He left Toronto as a free agent, signing a three-year, $15-million US last December.