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Blue Jays hanging tough despite pivotal injuries

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays find themselves sitting with an even record at the All-Star break despite what can best be described as a tumultuous first half of the 2012 season.

Toronto has remained within striking distance of an American League Wild Card spot for pretty much the entire year. That was expected from the up-and-coming club, but the fact that it occurred while the Blue Jays lost three-fifths of their starting rotation makes it a more impressive feat.

The Blue Jays have managed to remain competitive even after injuries to Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison dealt the club a series of devastating setbacks.

"I think when we started out the season, we felt like we would have a bit of an improved record, but I don't think we foresaw three starters going down as well," Blue Jays manager John Farrell recently said. "Offensively, I think we've performed as anticipated. Over the last few weeks, we've scored a lot of runs and we've been very good offensively."

Toronto's first half is almost a tale of two different seasons. It began with some erratic production by the offense as the starting rotation helped carry the club through April and most of May.

That changed in June, when three starters went down with injuries within a span of four games and the offense began to pick up the slack. Now, midway through July, it's the bats leading the way as Colby Rasmus, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are each enjoying productive seasons at the plate.

First-half awards
MVP: Jose Bautista Despite a slow start to the season, Bautista recovered and re-established himself as the game's premier slugger.
Cy Young: Brandon Morrow Prior to getting hurt in early June, Morrow was one of the best pitchers in the AL, as indicated by his 3.01 ERA and three shutouts.
Rookie: Drew Hutchison Hutchison was one of the Blue Jays' most reliable starters until he was shut down in mid-June with a right elbow injury.
Top reliever: Casey Janssen Janssen became a solidifying force at the back end of Toronto's bullpen following an early-season injury to projected closer Sergio Santos.
The group is one of just a handful of Major League trios with more than 50 RBIs each. It marks the first time since 2006 that the Blue Jays have had at least three players to accomplish that feat prior to the All-Star break.

Bautista and Encarnacion have also teamed up to become the most powerful duo in the Major Leagues. They have combined to record 50 home runs, which is the highest total by any pair of teammates in the big leagues -- the Yankees' Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are second at 43.

Overall, the Blue Jays rank third in the AL with 430 runs scored. The consistent production of late has been the main reason they have been able to survive with a decimated rotation.

"When you look at the total number of runs scored through the halfway point -- you never go into a season with an earmark on a given number -- I felt like we were going to have a well-above-average offense, and that has been the case," Farrell said.

"But we've had to deal with some challenges, and I think the guys most importantly have responded to them favorably. The biggest thing to me is the effort and energy which guys bring every night, and that has been outstanding."

Players to watch in second half
Edwin Encarnacion Encarnacion is having a career season, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep up his current pace prior to becoming a free agent at the end of the year.
Ricky Romero Toronto's No. 1 starter is coming off the worst first half of a season during his Major League career and will need to regain his ace status if the Blue Jays hope to remain in the hunt for postseason play.
Henderson Alvarez The second-year hurler struggled through an inconsistent first half and needs to regain the late action on his sinker in order to find similar success to his rookie campaign.

Now the attention shifts to the second half of the year. Morrow is expected back at some point in August, and Hutchison could be back as well, but Drabek is out for the season following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

That puts even more pressure on their replacements, who so far have managed to step in after a rough first turn through the rotation to provide at least an element of stability.

Two of Brett Cecil, Aaron Laffey and Carlos Villanueva will need that trend to continue unless general manager Alex Anthopoulos is able to find a suitable fit prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31.

"When you see guys going out six and seven innings, yeah, that's stability, regardless of the names that are in that starting-pitching assignment on a given night," Farrell said. "The injuries we've sustained, it has been a bit of a rallying cry to a certain point, and guys' character has risen to the top.

"We continue to go out with a very good approach offensively night in and night out to give whoever is on the mound an opportunity to be in line for the win."

Toronto Blue Jays