Aug 7, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (48) is congratulated after leaving the eighth inning in a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. The Baltimore Orioles won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

J.A. Happ: The Toronto Blue Jays' Big Game Hunter

At the start of the season, our collective focus rested largely on Mark Buehrle. He was the first pitcher in the major leagues to reach 10 wins and he was a key part of the Toronto Blue Jays’ early season success. Without him, they probably wouldn’t be part of the playoff conversation now.

Jul 25, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Carlos Beltran (36) rounds the bases after hitting a home run off of Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mark Buehrle (56) at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 25, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Carlos Beltran (36) rounds the bases after hitting a home run off of Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mark Buehrle (56) at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After Buehrle began to struggle, our focus quickly shifted to rookie phenom Marcus Stroman. The young pitcher has already exceeded all expectations set for him this year. Based on his quick and successful transition to pitching as a starter in the MLB, it’s fair to label him the Jays’ potential ace of the future. No one is questioning his stuff or rapid maturation at this point anyway.

In the background, however, has quietly sat J.A. Happ this entire time. He’s arguably been the team’s second best pitcher since June, taking on big foes with ease. Happ might not be fun or easy to watch – he seems to labour through every pitch – but his results speak for themselves.

Happ is 3-3 in his last 10 appearances, but this hides the fact the bats have left him high and dry on several of these occasions. He’s only allowed 24 runs in 56 innings of work (3.86 ERA) during this stretch (Stroman, in comparison, has allowed 18 runs in 62 innings of work (2.61 ERA) over the same period while R.A. Dickey‘s numbers are very similar to Happ’s numbers). Of course, Happ was hit hard and often in some of these games, but he also posted a pair of strong outings against the Baltimore Orioles and kept the New York Yankees within striking distance on the road.

(If these numbers don’t exactly impress, it should be added that Happ pitched 0.2 innings of relief work in a 10-3 beat down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays last month, surrendering two runs.)

When the Jays have needed a big win over the last three months, Happ has been there. He beat the Detroit Tigers, Orioles and Chicago White Sox in June (the win against the White Sox denied the opposition a four-game sweep of the Jays at the Rogers Centre); the Boston Red Sox in July – a win sandwiched between two quality road starts against the Tampa Bay Rays and Yankees – both places were the Jays are notoriously bad; and the Orioles in August.

Jul 27, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (48) throws during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

He also began the current month with a solid road start against the lowly Houston Astros, but the Jays’ offence did nothing on their end of the deal.

To put this in the simplest terms possible, Happ has been one of the Jays’ best pitchers (whatever that implies) since June, especially on the road. He might not have the same electric stuff as Stroman, but he’s been more reliable than Buehrle and Drew Hutchison over this span.

If the Jays’ season came down to a one-game playoff matchup today, the start would probably go to either Stroman or Happ – that’s how reliable Happ has been for the Jays since June – and we might even get the answer tonight when Happ takes on the Seattle Mariners in another critical road game.

Does he have one more big night in him? We’ll have to wait and see.

Let us know your thoughts on the Jays’ unsung hero in the comments section below.

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Tags: J.a. Happ Marcus Stroman Mark Buehrle Toronto Blue Jays

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