It all revolves around Bautista

Blue Jays batter Jose Bautista pops out against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago,...

Blue Jays batter Jose Bautista pops out against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Ill., Sep. 26, 2011. (FRANK POLICH/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:32 PM ET

CHICAGO - In an overall sense, the Toronto Blue Jays are general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s team. On the field, they are manager John Farrell’s team. But when it comes down to what makes this club tick, this is slugger Jose Bautista’s team.

It has taken less than two calendar years for Bautista to migrate from being a player on the verge of unemployment to one who is at the centre of this team’s universe and its unquestioned leader.

He is two games from the conclusion of what could be an MVP season. In the run for the league’s most prestigious award, Bautista says, unashamedly, that he would vote for himself if he could.

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “Wouldn’t you?”

What occupies a more prominent place in Bautista’s thoughts is the future of this team as Anthopoulos and Farrell try to mould it into a contender.

“We’ve had a number of roster moves and people coming in and out of the team,” said Bautista, speaking before Monday’s 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Dustin McGowan made his final start of the season for Toronto but did not have his best command, allowing three runs on four hits and three walks. Included in those hits was a three-run homer by Chicago’s Tyler Flowers.

The Jays managed just five hits, including pinch-hitter David Cooper's two-RBI double with two out in the ninth that made the game close. The game ended on a bases-loaded strikeout by Adam Lind.

“We do have some areas to address,” said Bautista, “just like any other team and I’m sure Alex and his team will be on top of that.

“When next season rolls around and we show up for spring training, then we’ll see what people we have in place. I don’t think we’re that far from contending. You just look at some of the peripheral numbers from this year and if we win 10 more games of the 24 blown saves that we had, then we’d be playing 20 games over .500. That’s a huge number right there, just from finding more stability at the back end of the bullpen.

“With more consistency, a little better health, guys doing a better job of what they’re capable of doing, nobody has to do anything extraordinary. I don’t think we have to wait two or three years to win.”

What Bautista desperately needs is help on offence, players who can protect him batting in front and behind him. He leads the league in intentional walks with 24. Curtis Granderson, another MVP candidate, has not been walked intentionally all season. But Granderson bats in the New York Yankees cocoon of high-calibre hitters

Maybe with a full season of Brett Lawrie and a better version of Adam Lind, opposing teams might be more inclined to pitch to Bautista. Or maybe Anthopoulos has some other ideas in mind.

For his part, Bautista is critical of himself for his inability match his gaudy first-half numbers after the all-star break.

At the break, he had 31 homers, an on-base percentage of .468 and a slugging percentage of .702.

In the second half, he has hit just 12 homers with a .417 OBP and has slugged .488.

A lot of players would be happy with those second half numbers, but Bautista isn’t a lot of people.

“I knew I had to be patient and not go out of my strike zone to be successful,” said Bautista. “I was able to do that in the first half and it’s why I ran into problems in the second half because I was not able to maintain that patience.

“When you’re riding that wave, you want to hold on to it as long as you can. It can change overnight. I rode the wave for a long time but it’s been a battle since then.”

He’s also critical of his impatience with runners in scoring position.

“Even though I walked more in those situations than others, that’s when my batting average was at its lowest. At those times I was going out of the strike zone, chasing pitches.”

Bautista authored this impressive season against the backdrop of signing a five-year, $65-million contract in March. People either loved the deal, or hated it.

“I didn’t start the season out to prove the critics wrong or to justify my salary,” he said. “I feel good that I came out here and helped my team win on the times that I did. That’s what I take pride in. Not silencing critics or any other aspect of my contract situation.”

Priority or not, that’s exactly what he’s done and converted a lot of those critics into admirers.

Whether that translates into an MVP award is beyond his control. He may have to settle for being the catalyst that turns the Blue Jays into a winner.


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