For a while now, it's seemed like Marco Estrada has been struggling with something that he's not telling us about. After a dominant first half that saw him make his first All-Star team while posting a 2.93 ERA, something didn't look right.
He limped into the All-Star break, skipping out on the game itself to rest his long-injured back in hopes of having a strong second half push into the postseason. That hope though proved to be just that, a lost dream. A sad drop off of production. Since the All-Star break, Estrada has watched his ERA inflate to 3.78 on the season (5.47 since the ASB), his K/BB ratio decline, his spin-rate on his fastball plummet and his overall velocity decrease.
Marco Estrada had high spin and movement on his fastball. That's definitely changed over the last few months.. pic.twitter.com/HysSf5ndft— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 9, 2016
Thursday, thanks to Jon Morosi, we found out why. Marco Estrada has been pitching with a herniated disk in his back. Estrada had received cortisone shots several times this season for what was said to be just an inflammation issue but with this news, the baseball world discovered it was a much more serious issue.
This news came just a day after Josh Donaldson spoke to the media about his ambiguous hip injury that forced him to miss the series against the Tampa Bay Rays and may leave him out of the lineup for the series opener versus the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and beyond.
It seems lately that Murphy's Law is really giving the Jays a well-directed kick to the groin at the worst possible time.
Right now, there doesn't seem to be any definitive answers for how the Jays are going to respond to these issues. There's only so much you can do about replacing Donaldson (you can't replace him) but the Jays do have a deep enough rotation to potentially skip a start from Estrada. In Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A Happ, Francisco Liriano, and R.A Dickey, the Jays still have a rotation that is capable of pitching five games without needing any immediate relief.
The confounding problem with that option is that Estrada has the ability to be the best pitcher of that core. Sure, according to baseball analyst and stuff creator Mike Sonne, Marco's "stuff" has been declining since the start of June--a decline he links to Estrada's likely injured back--but that's not to say he can't find his form for a short-sample to help the Jays (literally) limp their way into the postseason. It is concerning though that by pitching Estrada through the rest of the season, you run the risk of furthering the injury to the point of making him unpitchable in the postseason (if they get there) or watching him continue to struggle needlessly in the closing stretch of the 2016 campaign.
There's no easy solution here. The Blue Jays are playing with fire here no matter what way you look at it.
This Blue Jays season right now feels a lot like the Daytona 500. After 199 forgettable laps, the Jays are on the home stretch without a scheduled pit-stop but still in contention as breakdown after breakdown starts to occur with the car. First the power-steering starts to fade. Then the radio communication goes black. As the finish line gets closer and closer, you hope nothing else breaks down and you can hold on. You pray what you have is enough.
At this point, with everything on the line and nothing left in the tank, that's all you can do.