Toronto Blue Jays: 5 Players That Need to Step Up to Contend for the AL East

Tim Mackay@@TMackers19Correspondent IJune 15, 2012

Toronto Blue Jays: 5 Players That Need to Step Up to Contend for the AL East

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    With Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek both injured, the Toronto Blue Jays need a drastic change in order to contend for a playoff spot in 2012.

    A common benchmark for judging baseball teams is looking at their trends after 60 games.

    Game 64 is tonight at Rogers Centre and the playoff outlook is not exactly appealing. 

    Before the season started, it was apparent that any significant injuries to one of Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero or Henderson Alvarez would cause serious issues regarding the starting rotation. 

    Ideally, Morrow misses only a few starts. But still, the Jays inconsistent offense also needs a boost. The Jays need to look at this part of their season as an opportunity to prove themselves. It's their chance to show that they are resilient, determined, and good enough to win the toughest division in baseball. 

    With that in mind, here's a look at five Blue Jays that need to step up in the next few months.

Ricky Romero

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    Above all else, the Jays need steady starting pitching. 

    With Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek both out for unconfirmed amounts of time, Romero has to become the rock that the Jays can rely on. 

    The call-ups replacing Morrow and Drabek will obviously be important as well, but having a dominant force at the top of the rotation who can pull the team out of a slump every five games can be huge. 

    Avoiding devastating tailspins—like losing 10 games in a row, for example—will likely be the deciding factor as to whether the Blue Jays will be playing significant games in September. 

    Romero has the power to make or break the rest of the Jays season. 

Jose Bautista

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    Okay, so Romero and Bautista are probably the most obvious choices for this list, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. 

    On the surface, Bautista has not been himself for the majority of 2012.

    Looking at his numbers, however, he has produced very effectively. He's tied for third in home runs, tied for fifth in RBI and has created 6.2 runs per game.

    Just because his batting average is well below where it should be doesn't mean Bautista has been a complete failure this season.

    He's also hitting .293 in June and has almost matched his output in May in half the games.

    That being said, he'll need to continue to create offense while the Jays go through some injury issues.   

Yunel Escobar

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    It may surprise some, but Yunel Escobar is very important to the Jays success as a team. 

    Last season, he was second to Jose Bautista in wins above replacement amongst batters. 

    He provided them with a reliable leadoff hitter which seemed to stabilize Toronto's lineup. 

    It allowed for a sense of comfort amongst the team that they could count on Escobar to get on base and generate runs. 

    2012 has been a struggle for Escobar. 

    In comparison, he created 5.5 runs per game in 2011 and has produced only 2.9 so far in 2012. 

    From a batter who is supposed to be a spark plug, Escobar simply hasn't done his job. However, if he can get his on-base percentage closer to his career mark of .360, it'll go miles towards keeping the Jays afloat.  

Drew Hutchison

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    With Morrow and Drabek both injured and two call-ups filling the holes at the end of the rotation—whether it's Aaron Laffey or God forbid Brett Cecil—Drew Hutchison has been penciled in to the number three spot.

    That might make the majority of Jays fans throw in the towel on the 2012 season.

    They would have a point considering it would seem impossible to contend for the AL East title with a 21-year-old call-up as your third starter. 

    However, Hutchison has shown flashes of brilliance.

    His performance against Baltimore in late May and against Boston in early June were spectacular. It's a bit of a reach to suggest that Hutchison can throw seven scoreless innings every night but, as a true fan knows, it could happen. 

    And if it did happen, the Jays would have that difference-maker in getting them over the hump.

    The fact is, the Toronto rotation is in tatters and someone not named Romero or Alvarez needs to emerge as a legitimate workhorse starter for the team to stay in the hunt. 

    Hutchison could be that someone. 

Alex Anthopoulos

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    The Jays need to make a trade. 

    If the organization's playoff drought is going to end in 2012, Anthopoulos has to make a deal. 

    Ideally, he would bring in a power arm that is both experienced and reliable. Nothing too fancy, but someone who can provide stability to the rotation and rack up innings. 

    Names like Cole Hamels, Jair Jurrjens and Gavin Floyd should come up in Anthopoulos meetings. 

    As much as Jays fans would love to have a young prospect emerge as the savior of the 2012 season, it's much more likely that Anthopoulos can add a big pitcher closer to the deadline. 

    If the team stays close to the big boys in the AL East for the next month and a half, it will make it much easier for Anthopoulos to finally pull the trigger on his big move. 

    Other general managers seem to be waiting on the Jays to make a big splash and with injuries piling up and the team struggling. Anthopoulos must be feeling the pressure to add either a big-name starter or another power bat.