The Toronto Blue Jays have dropped three of their last four after that incredible 11-game win streak. They are still just four games back of Baltimore for the second wild card slot, but it's pretty clear, if the Jays are going to stay in the thick of the fight, they must upgrade their starting pitching.
One bad start Thursday night shouldn't necessarily turn Chien-Ming Wang into a write-off, but face it; Wang was generally regarded as stop gap when the Jays got him, and with the uncertainty about the return dates of Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ, Alex Anthopoulos has to strike while the Jays still have a chance to make some noise in the race.
I'll bet there will be more scouts in the press box Friday night at Miami than there will be fans in the seats. The Padres are taking on the Marlins and both starting pitchers are rumoured to be on the block. Edinson Volquez, who's (5-6) 5.67 ERA will be facing one of the few recognizable faces the Marlins have left in righty Ricky Nolasco, who's 4-7 with a 3.68 earned run average.
The Dodgers are rumoured to be willing to pay a pretty hefty price to get Nolasco, but the Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays are looking for rotation help as well. Boston could be getting desperate now that Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are both hurting, while the O's don't seem to have a definitive ace. The Blue Jays have reportedly already scouted Volquez at least once.
Nolasco, who is 30-years old, is making $11.5 million this season and is an impending free agent. Volquez turns 30 next week and comes a bit cheaper at $5.725 million for this season. He too is in a contract year.
Nolasco has the better career ledger at 80-71 with a 4.43 ERA and once won 15 games in a season. Volquez is (49-46) with a 4.65 earned run average.
Those aren't the only two said to be available. The Blue Jays were one of several teams at Milwaukee Thursday night scouting Cubs righty Matt Garza. The scouts were well rewarded for their time. Garza, coming off an elbow procedure that delayed the start of his season, was outstanding for the Cubs. He scattered eight hits over seven innings and struck out a season-high of 10 to boost his record to 3-1. The Cubs downed the Brewers 7-2. Garza, an imposing figure at 6'4 and 215 pounds, is making $10.25 million this season and can walk at the end of the season. He's 29-years-old and has never quite fulfilled his potential, racking up a career record of 60-62. An old friend, Chicago sportscaster George Ofman, is speculating Garza could be dealt before the weekend is out but Texas is rumoured to be the team to watch out for if the bidding steps up.
One thing that really makes Garza enticing to the Jays is that he won 34 games over a three year span pitching in the AL East with Tampa Bay, including a 15 victory season in 2010.
Another possibility is the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo. He's only 6-7 this season with a 4.20 ERA, however, over his career in Milwaukee, the 27-year-old is 75-50 with a 3.69 earned run average. Arizona has been looking closely at him.
The problem for the Jays is that the price tag on any of these starters is going to be driven up by the number of teams that are interested. The Blue Jays also gave up a flock of prospects last year to get the likes of R.A. Dickey (Travis D'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard) and Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle ( Henderson Alvarez and Adeiny Hechavarria).
The July 31 non-waiver deadline is still just over a month away but if the Blue Jays are going to stay in contention, they may have to be creative and strike now.
Quite a week for a couple of Blue Jays "fan faves." Munenori Kawasaki, who captured the hearts of the fans and his teammates, was optioned to Buffalo to make room for the return of Jose Reyes. The very same day, Pittsburgh designated John MacDonald for assignment. For the 38-year-old Johnny Mac, you wondered if his career might be over.
Talk about reversal of fortunes, after Thursday night's game, Kawasaki was called back up to replace Melky Cabrera on the roster after he went on the DL with a sore left knee that had been bothering him for the bulk of the season. Then, the Pirates swapped MacDonald to the Phillies and all was right in the Baseball Universe.
The Pirates, incidentally, have pulled into a first place tie in the NL Central with St. Louis and appear poised to end a 20-year string of missing the post-season. The Blue Jays, of course, are right behind them with a 19-year playoff drought.