J.A. Happ's Return Will Make or Break Toronto's Playoff Hopes

Benjamin KleinContributor IIIMay 24, 2013

J.A. Happ's eventual return could propel a run to the playoffs for Toronto.
J.A. Happ's eventual return could propel a run to the playoffs for Toronto.Abelimages/Getty Images

Between poor pitching and a severe injury, 2013 has not been friendly to Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ.

Happ was drilled with a comebacker off the bat of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings on May 7. Happ was rushed to the hospital and was later diagnosed with a minor fracture to the left side of his skull, according to Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com.

Happ also managed to twist his knee while falling to the ground, but it will not require surgery, reports Chisholm.

Happ was placed on the 15-day disabled list by Toronto a day later and on Friday was moved to the 60-day DL, according to Andrew Simon of MLB.com. July 7 is now the earliest that Happ can return, but as Shi Davidi of SportsNet reports, he’s still waiting on his knee to fully recover:

Before the injury, Happ hadn’t been pitching very well. He made seven starts for the Blue Jays, going 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA in 33 innings of work. He had some serious command issues, though, averaging 5.18 walks per nine innings, the most of any Toronto starter with at least five starts.

The Blue Jays have started the season on a poor note, entering Friday in the cellar of the AL East, 8.5 games behind the division-leading New York Yankees. While most of the team has yet to click yet, the starting rotation has clearly been Toronto’s biggest weakness.

Over the winter, though, it appeared the Blue Jays would have a very strong staff. They acquired R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets and Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins. None of those three have an ERA under 4.50.

The Blue Jays in general have the fourth-worst starting rotation in baseball in terms of WAR, according to FanGraphs. They’re walking more batters every nine innings than all but two teams in the league. Things just haven’t gone according to plan for the team north of the border.

Once Happ comes off the disabled list, presumably after the All-Star break, in my non-professional opinion, it’s make-or-break for the Blue Jays. He can either spark this team and potentially lead them to a postseason berth or he can continue to pitch like he did before getting hurt and Toronto can battle for a top draft choice.

Toronto certainly has the talent to make a strong second-half push, but everyone is going to have to hit and pitch their best, including Happ.

Since 2009, though, Happ hasn’t been very good. He went 6-4 with a 3.40 ERA and a 4.84 BB/9 in 2010 between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros. He went 6-15 in 2011 with Houston and 10-11 with the Astros and Blue Jays last season. This season has easily been his worst nightmare, though.

In Happ’s first full season in the big leagues, he looked great. He went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 35 appearances (23 starts). He had solid command of nearly all of his pitches and looked to have a high ceiling. As I mentioned, he’s been a bit of a letdown ever since.

Happ is more than capable of pitching like an ace—or at least a front-of-the-rotation stater. It may be a bit bold to say, but the remainder of the Blue Jays’ season rests in the left hand of Happ.

His teammates will want to put as many runs on the board as possible for him once he returns, and if he can have a couple of quality starts, Toronto could turn its season around. But it could go even more south just as quickly.