By: Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
TORONTO - When David Price was traded to Toronto at the end of July, the veteran southpaw brought with him a unique form of motivation. One that he's carried with him since his days as staff ace of the pitching-heavy Tampa Bay Rays.
Taped neatly inside of his locker is a small piece of paper with a seven-word notation inscribed on it's face. The note simply reads that "If you don't like it, pitch better", a mantra that the Murfeesboro, Tennessee native has instilled within his psyche over the course of an impressive eight year career in the show.
For Price, the quotation reminds him that, as a pitcher, he can control a significant portion of his fate when out on a mound and, in doing so, take accountability for his own performance every fifth day.
As for his new teammates, they too can relate to the five-time All Star's words of wisdom.
When the Blue Jays headed north at the end of Spring Training this April, it was apparent that their strength came in the form of a potent, star studded offense. An offense that, prior to the injury of potential ace right-hander, Marcus Stroman, had Vegas odds makers slotting Toronto into the top spot in the American League East ahead of the upcoming season.
Unfortunately for the Jays, Stroman fell victim to a knee injury this March, thus creating a ripple effect that, in addition to sending shock waves throughout Toronto's clubhouse, caused doubt among the club's supporters well in advance of Opening Day.
Resilient in their design, the Blue Jays propelled forward and using what had already become a prolific offense, slugged their opposition relentlessly.
Despite the explosive nature of their bats, Toronto struggled to gain a foothold in the East. Using an 11-game win streak to climb back in the thick of things in early June, the club began to fall flat once again, limping in to the All Star break looking both mentally and physically exhausted.
Down but far from out, the club used the break to both recharge and refocus their sites on top spot in the East.
Remaining around the .500 mark in the weeks that followed the Mid-Summer Classic, General Manager Alex Anthopolous used his farm system, a position of strength, to pry the likes of Ben Revere, Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins and Troy Tulowitzki away from rival clubs.
For the Jays, these acquisitions undoubtedly made the team stronger. However many would argue that, despite the flurry of moves, Anthopoulos failed to address one of the teams most glaring weaknesses: the starting rotation.
Save for Marco Estrada and whats become an expected positive showing from Mark Bueherle, Toronto's starting five had been plagued with a rash of inconsistencies en route to posting a pre-ASG earned run average of 4.18.
All told, they had used a total of ten starters on the season in an attempt to find a suitable replacement for Stroman in 2015. Of the ten, three were rookies... Two of which would be dealt away at the deadline.
Following the layoff, Blue Jay hurlers showed signs of improvement, but, thanks in part to their vested GM, the best was yet to come.
On July 30th, Toronto and Detroit finalized a deal that sent Price north of the border in exchange for a handful of highly touted prospects. In addition to receiving a bonafide Ace, the move also added length to the Jays pitching staff in its entirety.
No longer would Aaron Sanchez be forced into the Jays rotation upon his return to Toronto. Instead, he would slide back into a comfortable role as the 8th inning man ahead of Roberto Osuna, thus giving the club added depth in the pen.
But that's not all...
Surprise standouts Liam Hendriks and Bo Shultz would be shifted down a slot, with new comer Hawkins rounding out the mix as Toronto's hard throwing right hander's ahead of the two headed monster in Sanchez and Osuna. Lefties Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup could now be used in optimal situations thus giving the Blue Jays an added boost in their now realigned relief corps.
Ahead of Friday night, Toronto relievers had yet to allow a run over their last 25 innings of work. The last time a Blue Jays bullpen went at least 25 innings without yielding a run you ask?
Arguably revitalized by a strengthened bullpen, Toronto's rotation went off in the coming weeks, and given where the Blue Jays stood with regards to their upcoming schedule, the timing couldn't have been better.
Ahead of their ace's start against the second place New York Yankees on Friday night, the rotation had posted a cumulative win/loss total of 12-0 to go along with an overall ERA of 2.17 in 15 games dating back to July 29th.
Their dominance has helped produce a second lengthy winning streak that's turned the Blue Jays from an intriguing offensive powerhouse into a well rounded club that has quickly become the talk of baseball, reigniting a playoff starved fan base in the process.
At the end of the day, one pitcher does not a team make and although it's nearly impossible to truly quantify Price's impact on this staff, his arrival certainly helped launch the Blue Jays into first place.
Without putting too fine of a point on things, the Blue Jays have started to "pitch better".