If the Toronto Blue Jays were to somehow win their remaining 27 games this season, they would finish with 87 victories, which still likely wouldn't be enough to catapult them into the playoffs.
That's what nine wins in 32 games since the beginning of August will do to a team that was flirting with .500 and on the fringes of the American League wild-card race at the end of July.
Although injuries ravaged their pitching staff in June, the Jays' downward spiral truly began when cleanup hitter Jose Bautista, starting catcher J.P. Arencibia and leadoff man Brett Lawrie were knocked out of the lineup between July 16 and Aug. 3.
Heading into their series finale against the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday night, the Jays sit 15 games under .500 and in last place in AL East.
But the club's playoff-starved fans - who last witnessed post-season baseball in Toronto in 1993 - have, for the most part, been understanding. They realize that the bulk of the team's misfortunes can be attributed to the club's near record-breaking number of injuries this season.
Fortunately, some of the Jays' key players are starting to return to action. Right-handers Brandon Morrow and Jason Frasor have rejoined the pitching staff, while Arencibia and first baseman David Cooper are also nearing returns.
And while it's too late for the Blue Jays to salvage their 2012 campaign, there are still several interesting storylines for their fans to follow in the season's final month.
Here's a rundown:
1. Who will make the best case for a rotation spot in 2013?
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has said that Morrow and Ricky Romero are the only pitchers guaranteed a rotation spot in 2013. Although with 12 straight losses, Romero may no longer be a shoo-in.
Acquired from the Houston Astros on July 20, southpaw J.A. Happ, who has posted a 3-1 record and registered 34 strikeouts in 29 innings in five starts, is making a strong impression, as is impending free-agent right-hander Carlos Villanueva (see below). On the other hand, Henderson Alvarez, who owns a 6.56 earned-run average in nine second-half starts, might be pitching himself out of the 2013 rotation mix.
The Jays will use a six-man rotation during the latter part of September, so left-hander Aaron Laffey, who has been serviceable in 11 starts, will also have an opportunity to audition.
2. Will the Jays re-sign Villanueva before he becomes a free agent?
Boasting a 3.50 ERA in 12 starts, Villanueva has been the Jays' best starter since being added to the rotation on June 29. A spot starter/middle reliever in his two seasons in Toronto, the 28-year-old, soon-to-be free agent has said that he'd like to be a full-time starter.
A representative on the executive board of the Major League Baseball Players' Association, Villanueva will be acutely aware of his market value. Anthopoulos, as per his policy, won't confirm or deny if contract discussions are taking place.
3. Is this the end of Brett Cecil in Toronto?
In his nine major league starts this season, Cecil has registered a gaudy 5.72 ERA and his 15-win, 2010 campaign seems like a distant memory.
Over the course of his career, Cecil has been much more effective against left-handed batters (.231 batting average) than right-handers (.289), so the Jays feel that the 26-year-old, who will be out of minor league options next spring, may be most effective as a left-handed relief specialist. The Jays will test him in this role this month.
4. Will we see more of Adeiny Hechavarria at second base?
With Kelly Johnson underperforming and headed for free agency, Hechavarria could see more time at second base this month. Many believe that Yunel Escobar (shortstop) and Hechavarria (second base) are the club's double play combination of the future. But while Hechavarria's glove looks ready for the big leagues, his bat doesn't. This month he'll have an extended opportunity to show that can hit big league pitching.
5. Can Adam Lind play his way back into a regular role?
Lind's poor production and chronic back woes have the Jays' brass questioning whether he can be a regular contributor in the future. A Silver Slugger Award winner in 2009, Lind has endured three consecutive subpar campaigns and was demoted to AAA Las Vegas for a 32-game stint this season.
Since returning from AAA, Lind has hit .277 with four homers in 28 games, but Anthopoulos's recent comments that Travis d'Arnaud could see at bats at designated hitter in 2013 and the stranglehold that Edwin Encarnacion now has on the first base position doesn't bode well for Lind.
6. Who will be the left fielder in 2013?
Rajai Davis, who has a $3-million US option for 2013, is receiving the bulk of the playing time in left field, but Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell have said they prefer the fleet-footed outfielder in a part-time role.
Since his July 31 call-up, Moises Sierra has played right field and has fashioned a strong arm and a decent bat, but the 23-year-old Dominican has also been erratic on the basepaths and in the field.
The most electrifying left field candidate is Anthony Gose. But as exciting as he is to watch, Gose has struck out 36 times in 29 big-league games and must prove that he can handle off-speed pitches before the Jays will reward him with a roster spot.
7. Will the Jays sign John Farrell to a contract extension?
With Bobby Valentine all but fired in Boston, speculation has begun again that the Red Sox are interested in Farrell. The Jays manager, who served as the Bosox pitching coach from 2006 to 2010, refuses to discuss the rumours. But with Farrell headed into the final year of his contract and the Jays set to participate in a series at Fenway this weekend, these rumours will only intensify.
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