NEW YORK -- Edwin Encarnacion needed no further prompting when asked what the Blue Jays needed to most improve upon in the second half.
"I think the starting pitching," he said. "If we want to win, we know and they know we need to pitch better."
The numbers back up Encarnacion's statement. What's more, Encarnacion's All-Star numbers give him the platform to offer an opinion few other position players could share.
Toronto enters the break with the second-highest starters' ERA in baseball. At 5.07, only Minnesota's (5.23) ranks worse.
Pundits figured the Twins would have a poor rotation but R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle were supposed to be the backbone of a revamped Blue Jays' rotation that would propel the club to its first playoff appearance in 20 years.
Encarnacion is hitting .264/.345/.476. He has 25 home runs and his 67 since the start of 2012 are third most in baseball behind Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis.
He's a leader, respected not only in his own clubhouse but around the game.
"We have the talent in the clubhouse and I know the pitchers can do better than they've been doing," he said. "We just need to focus in the games and I know things are going to change."
Jose Bautista, voted to New York City by the fans, pointed the finger at himself.
"We're totally capable of playing a lot better baseball than we've shown," said Bautista. "We just need to play better as a team. Like I said earlier today, I'm number one on that list. I've been very inconsistent this year and I need to pick it up some and bring that consistency that I know I can bring to the table and bring more of a steady production and help the team win more games."
Trade talk will intensify once the schedule resumes later in the week. The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is looming. Toronto has been linked to the Cubs' Matt Garza, to the extent that scouts have been watching his starts, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos says he won't acquire a rental player. Garza's contract is expiring so he falls into the hands off category.
Whether or not moves are made is irrelevant to at least one Blue Jays' All-Star.
"I would take the perspective of that (Alex) doesn't think we need to make a move because he thinks we can do it with what we have," said Brett Cecil. "That's just me personally. I would hope all the guys, even without talks of trade or anything, would think that we could do it without any types of moves or anything like that and I would hope guys would take it that way if we didn't make a move."
The Blue Jays are 45-49, in last place in the American League East, 11.5 games behind division-leading Boston. Toronto is 8.5 games behind Texas for the second American League wild card spot.
BORAS TALKS PEDs
In the wake of ESPN reports that Major League Baseball will seek to suspend as many as 20 players with alleged links to Biogensis, super agent Scott Boras put out the call for due process.
"If we have positive analytical we have no issue," said Boras. "Now we're in an area where we've got negative analytical and yet we've got circumstantial pursuit on non-analytical cases. That is in the rules, that is in the rules but it is causing a problem in the game. The problem is it's affecting the masses that are innocent. It's affecting the integrity of the game and we have to look at that as to how we approach that. Do we allow the witch hunts? Do we allow the early speculation?"
Among those with alleged links to Biogenesis, a now defunct Miami-based anti-aging clinic that peddled performance enhancing drugs, are the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez and Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.
Rodriguez is an admitted steroid user but he claims to have stopped after departing the Texas Rangers following the 2003 season.
Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, tested positive for a banned substance shortly afterward but the case was thrown out when a judge ruled the sample's chain of command had been compromised.
Others, like Texas' Nelson Cruz, have never had a positive test.
CONFIDENCE IS KEY
Cecil admitted to TSN.ca he lost confidence in himself during his trying seasons of 2011 and 2012.
It's a fragile thing.
"I think a lot of players would tell you that it's not because they have all the confidence in the world in themselves," he said. "Sometimes it's not necessarily the most truthful thing that's coming out of their mouths. I know as far as me, I mean I told you guys, 2011 and 2012 I still had all the confidence in the world but I really didn't, I really didn't."
Prior to his scoreless inning in Baltimore on Saturday, Cecil had allowed runs in two consecutive appearances for the first time all season.
He admitted, even then despite his brilliant year, his confidence began to waver. The difference now? Cecil trusts his repertoire.
"Back in 2011, 2012, even when I had a good outing I still didn't know if my stuff was good enough to play up here and when I got knocked around I really didn't think it was good enough to play up here," he said. "After the last two outings I know my stuff plays up here and it's just a matter of how I'm going to deal with the little things that I did wrong and how am I going to take it into my next outing."
MUTUAL RESPECT AMONGST VOTTO AND ENCARNACION
Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Votto were teammates with the Cincinnati Reds from 2007-2009.
Votto, Toronto born and raised, had high praise for an old friend.
"Edwin was one of my favourite teammates," said Votto. "Actually, whenever we made the trade for Scott Rolen, for the first month or so whenever Scott would start chirping at me I would tell him how much I miss Edwin. You know, 'I really miss Edwin, I wish we wouldn't have made that trade, Scott.' I'm very fond of him and I'm really, really happy for his success and I hope he keeps it up because it's fun watching him on the highlights hit all of those home runs."
"He loved the way I acted," said Encarnacion, whose outgoing personality runs counter to Votto's more reserved countenance. "He loved it. We enjoyed all moments when I was there in Cincinnati with my old team."
TAKING IT ALL IN
Four-year-old Edwin Encarnacion Jr. was sitting on dad's lap during the afternoon media availability session.
Each player is seated at his own podium and the assembled media can wander at their leisure.
Young Edwin was a trooper. The session was held in the open air of the concourse inside the home plate entrance to Citi Field. With a humidex reading outside of close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and hundreds of bodies roaming a confined space, it got a little warm.
Brett Cecil was looking most forward to having his three-year-old son, Bryton, on the field with him during the home run derby.
Steve Delabar had pictures taken with family members including his wife, infant daughter, parents and in-laws, all of whom traveled to New York to share his first time All-Star experience.