Just when you thought things had come together for the Toronto Blue Jays, they start going to pieces all over again. In Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, both Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie had to come out after suffering injuries. The additional frustration is that this was just after it looked like the Jays’ lineup would finally be firing on all cylinders with Colby Rasmus back this week after spending time on the DL with a hamstring injury. Now they’re at least one man down for a month, or maybe even two.
The immediate concern is how much time Lawrie will have to miss with a fractured index finger on his throwing hand. Recovery time might take a month, perhaps longer. The silver lining is that there will still be plenty of time for him to put in a live-game rehab stint in the minors and rejoin the Jays for the stretch run.
In the meantime, manager John Gibbons will have to continue to rely on a moving-parts infield that he’s employed to good effect, just without his best option in Lawrie. Juan Francisco hasn’t gotten much regular playing time at third base lately because he's manning DH while Adam Lind gets over a foot injury, but once Lind recovers, you can anticipate another three-headed playing time split between second and third base, with Francisco starting against most right-handed pitchers at the hot corner, Steve Tolleson facing all lefties, and Munenori Kawasaki getting most of the time at the keystone. It’s a disparate mishmash, one that invites risk -- Francisco’s defense, Kawasaki’s bat -- while exploiting what each of them can contribute. Suffice it to say, Jays fans should continue keeping score in pencil, since Gibbons should be busy in-game.
But the additional concern is that we also have to see how much time Bautista might miss. Given his history of breaking down and the fact that he hasn’t played a full season since 2011, you can understand the Jays’ quickness to take him out of a game, even with the outcome in doubt. Even with his five-year slip in the power department -- with his isolated power (SLG minus AVG) amounting to more than 130 points of slugging lost -- Bautista has been on track to hit 30 homers while generating tons of scoring opportunities with his 17.6 percent walk rate.
The big-picture problem is that these kind of overlapping injuries are what could keep the Blue Jays breaking away from the AL East pack, with the even greater danger that they could undermine their bid altogether. Losing Bautista, Lawrie, Rasmus and Lind for varying chunks of time saps the most reliable quality the Jays’ offense has been banking on: power, producing the most homers as well as the best ISO in the American League. Finding someone like Francisco on the scrapheap isn’t a feat easy to repeat, even for a GM as canny as Alex Anthopoulos, and this isn’t a lineup with the kind of depth to afford multiple hits of this magnitude.
The fun upshot of this is that if nobody breaks away, you might see the four teams with legitimate shots to win the AL East (the Jays, Yankees, Orioles and Red Sox) bidding aggressively for help at the trade deadline. All four have holes, even before losing players to injury. Deciding the division champ may well wind up being a matter of finding out which team is the most adaptable as well as which team makes the best deal.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.