40 home run potential.
We’ve heard about this before about Edwin Encarnacion, even as the Toronto Blue Jays slugger was struggling to piece together a consistent season with his job potentially on the line. Even as he was fumbling about at 3rd base for years, earning the (mostly irrelevant now) nickname E5. Back then, 40 was just a number, and a mostly ridiculous(-ly hopeful) one at that.
40 is a reality now, though; and with a plenty of games left in the 2012 season, Encarnacion is showing up inclination of stopping there either. In a season where a lot of expectations were not met (mostly from the pitching side of things), Encarnacion is poised to bust right through even the wildest expectations of the most ardent of Encarnacion fans. Number 40, as it were, left the park last night in a somewhat-surprising context – a 3-run bomb hit off Felix Hernandez, one of the elite pitchers in the league who, on paper, was set to dominate the Blue Jays lineup at home. Instead, Encarnacion capped off what was arguably Hernandez’s worst start so far in 2012 (7 ER is a season-high), and collecting RBI 102 along the way.
The homer, while hardly as surprising as Adam Lind’s 2-run shot off Hernandez earlier in the game, puts Encarnacion in some elite company. He’s one of two players in the MLB to hit the 40 homer plateau this season, trailing Josh Hamilton by just one, and is – well, this one is kind of obvious – the only other Blue Jays player besides Jose Bautista to hit at least 40 since Carlos Delgado did it 10 years ago. Power isn’t Encarnacion’s only game either; with 13 steals already to date, he could well be looking at a 40/15, .950+ OPS season, which is probably more complete than anyone would have given him credit for, and more than overlooks any defensive deficiencies on the field.
Not that I think the team should really be putting Encarnacion and defense in the same equation anyway. He’s started 66 games at 1B for the Blue Jays this season, splitting about equal time in the DH, and has shown no significant batting splits between the two. So I’m sure that the Blue Jays would be “comfortable”, so to speak, to go forward with Encarnacion at 1B, but if there’s a better fielder available who would otherwise be in the lineup as the DH, why do it? Some folks just aren’t meant to play defense, even if 1B tends to hide that deficiency well.
Besides, it’s the bat that the team wants, right? Much like Jose Bautista’s 54-homer breakout in 2010, Encarnacion has proven so far to be another diamond-in-the-rough type that the Blue Jays have discovered at virtually no cost. The team has put together an elite 3-4 pair in the lineup for next season without spending elite-type money. Like Bautista, I think there’ll be a lot of pressure for Encarnacion to repeat the performance he’s had in ’12 next year, even if it’s to convince some of us that this is a real thing coming from a guy who was essentially cut by 2 different teams only 2 seasons ago; but perhaps, years from now, we’ll be talking about the breakouts of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion – and hopefully the ensuing post-season runs in the mid-2010s – as the greatest achievements in the Alex Anthopoulos era of the Blue Jays.