The Wednesday Takeaway
The Athletics have won 16 of their last 18 games, flying higher than any other team in the league since the All-Star break. Last night, the Blue Jays became the latest victims of their wrath, falling out of the sky in a 16-0 defeat.

Wednesday’s win was a memorable one for Oakland: The A’s tied the franchise record for the largest margin of victory in a shutout, Coco Crisp—who had three home runs on the season coming in—went deep twice, and Josh Reddick made a catch that sparked the quote of the day, “Yes, I am part spider,” in the clubhouse after the game. For the Blue Jays, it was one to forget.

Toronto Sun beat writer Bob Elliott began his game story by delivering the good news: “Well, the home run horn at the Rogers Centre still works.” The only good news for starting pitcher Ricky Romero was that the horn went untested during his 1 1/3 innings on the mound.

Before his catcher, J.P. Arencibia, left the game with a broken hand, Romero made him work. He threw 66 pitches, only 34 of which went for strikes, and many of which missed by more than a foot. He gave up four hits, including doubles by Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, but it was the six walks that did him in.

Arencibia somehow retained his sense of humor in the face of both the insult and the injury: “I drink a lot of milk, I’ll be back quick.” Romero shot straight: “It’s completely embarrassing, it’s tough to look my teammates in the eye. This was pathetic. Horrible.”

Wednesday’s disaster was the lowest in a season of lows for Romero, who has gone from burgeoning ace to the bad side of Jonathan Sanchez in less than a year. Before last night, he was 4-0 with a 1.70 ERA in his last six starts against the A’s. Now, he has a 10.48 ERA over his last six starts in general. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—if you double that span to 12 starts, Romero has a 7.69 ERA, the product of 11 home runs and a 43-to-38 K/BB in 64 1/3 innings.

The 27-year-old lefty is still inducing plenty of ground balls, but his walks and homers have risen while his strikeouts have plunged. He is paying dearly for mistakes in the middle and upper parts of the strike zone. And more than half of his sinkers are being taken for balls.

Romero has given no indication that an injury is behind his struggles, but as Jason Collette said in the afore-linked tweet, the Blue Jays might have to place him on the disabled list “for his own sanity.” As Dirk Hayhurst put it, he is “a foreigner in his own mind.”

A former major-league pitcher and veteran coach, manager John Farrell should know as well as anyone the cure for Romero’s malaise. He echoed the concerns about Romero’s mindset, saying “It goes back to, once again, going back to trust his abilities, trust his stuff, because there is plenty of stuff there,” and noting that he is expected to make his next start. If the team does give Romero one more chance, it would likely come on Monday night at Safeco Field—as friendly a matchup as he could ask for.

Now back in the American League East cellar, and with their odds of surging up the wild-card standings worse than 1-in-20, the Blue Jays ought to put Romero’s future ahead of their rapidly dwindling 2012 hopes. They have nearly $23 million invested in the southpaw from 2013-2015, and whether his ailment is mental or physical, it needs to be righted for them to contend next year.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • As of the time I wrote this sentence, James Shields was still listed as the Rays’ probable starter for their series finale at Camden Yards. The 30-year-old right-hander is among the pitchers who may be on the block, and the Angels were among the suitors for his services. Assuming he’s not scratched, Shields will look to build off of his most recent start, when he tossed 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball against the Mariners, giving up only four hits while striking out 10. Prior to that outing, Shields had allowed at least 10 hits in four straight starts, bloating his ERA from 3.72 to 4.39 since June 16. The Orioles will counter with Chris Tillman, who is 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA in five career meetings with the Rays (12:35 p.m. ET).
  • The time has come for some long-awaited debuts, as Starling Marte joins the Pirates outfield and Matt Harvey takes the mound for the Mets. The 23-year-old Marte hit .286/.347/.500 for Triple-A Indianapolis, with 12 homers and 21 stolen bases, and he has a chance to develop into an above-average big-league starter. Harvey, who is also 23, has made 20 starts for Triple-A Buffalo this year, compiling a 112-to-48 K/BB in 110 innings; he has number-two starter potential. Marte is likely to be in Clint Hurdle’s starting lineup for the series opener in Houston (8:05 p.m. ET), while Harvey will lock horns with Wade Miley in Arizona (9:40 p.m. ET).
  • Two starts ago, Yovani Gallardo recorded a career-high 14 strikeouts in a win over the Pirates. In his most recent outing, he tied a career low with only one strikeout—his lowest total since Aug. 20, 2010—in a loss to the Reds. After a rough April, the 26-year-old righty has logged a 3.05 ERA in 94 1/3 innings over 14 starts since the beginning of May. With the Nationals in town, he’ll be tasked with slowing down the red-hot Ryan Zimmerman, who is 33-for-80 (.413 average) with eight doubles and nine home runs this month (8:10 p.m. ET).
  • Robinson Cano’s decision to leave Billy Butler off the American League’s Home Run Derby squad appears to have sparked a power surge in the 26-year-old designated hitter’s bat. After going deep in yesterday’s 11-6 loss to the Angels, Butler now has four home runs and a .327 average since the All-Star break, giving him 20 big flies for the first time since the 2009 season. As the Royals travel to Seattle, they will look for Butler to lead the way against Thursday’s Mariners starter Jason Vargas; he has gone 5-for-11 with two home runs in their previous encounters (10:10 p.m. ET).

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Billy Butler's power surge started long before Cano snubbed him; his HR pace in April and May this year was by far the highest of his career. He actually would not have been a horrible choice for the Derby.
I saw a rumor the Royals might move Butler .... Missourians might burn down Kaufmann if that were to happen.