The Game That Had It All

Upper Deck Insight 22 April 2015 | 0 Comments

Jose Bautista;

image from Canadian Press

 

Quite the ballgame at the ol’ dome last night.  It may have been a dark and dreary Tuesday night outside, but inside the Jays and Orioles were turning up the heat old style.

The Jays 13-6 win had it all.

If you like offense, you were happy.  There were 19 runs scored on a combined 28 hits.  The Jays knocked out 16 hits, including 5 doubles and 3 home runs.  Edwin Encarnacion hit two of those bombs, including an absolutely mammoth blast to the fifth deck in left field.

Prefer defense?  The unbelievable Kevin Pillar made yet another highlight reel catch, robbing Adam Jones of extra bases in the 7th, saving two runs, and turning the catch into a double play in the process.   There was also some not-so-good defensive plays, with three errors, and a few other plays that very well could have been called errors.  Or “airs” as Buck Martinez would say…

There was some great baserunning, with Dalton Pompey scoring from third on a ground ball to short, and speedster Dioner Navarro stretching a double into a triple (technically it was a double plus a base on an error, but let’s give him the benefit).

There was the return of former fan-favourite Travis Snider to Toronto, and the mind-boggling reaction of thousands of fans to welcome him back with a chorus of boo’s.

And of course, there were some heated emotions.  Once again a Baltimore Oriole pitcher threw a pitch behind the head of Jose Bautista, who promptly turned around and belted a 2-run home run to deep centre.  The real fireworks began in between innings, with Bau and Adam Jones exchanging pleasantries.  It looked as if a brawl was imminent, but cooler heads prevailed and the rest of the game played without incident.  After the game, Gregg Zaun ran his mouth a bit, calling the Blue Jays (for all intents and purposes) soft for not hitting an Oriole in return.  If Zaun has his way, Adam Jones will be beaned with a 90+ MPH fastball tonight, in a “don’t mess with us” move by Aaron Sanchez.  Will that be productive for anybody involved?  No, especially because Sanchez would likely be made a example with a suspension by MLB.

Believe it or not, last night’s game even had some pitching.  Mark Buehrle wasn’t great, but he was good enough, notching a quality start to go to 3-0.  And Marco Estrada struck out the side in the ninth, and looked very good doing it.

Oh – and how could I forget the return to Toronto of Buck “Blanche” Showalter?  Nobody in baseball looks angrier, grumpier, and downright more crotchety than the 85 year old woman managing the O’s.

buck-showalter2-300x300 (1)enhanced-buzz-3306-1275589610-25

The Jays sit at 7-7 after last night’s epic.  Let’s hope for something similar tonight.

The Week That Was: Week 2

Weekly Things 20 April 2015 | 2 Comments

donaldson walk off

Every Monday during the 2015 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 2.

Week 2: April 13 – April 19

Record: 2 – 5

Season-to-date: 6 – 7

AL East: T-4th, 1.5 GB of Baltimore/Boston

Wild Card: 1.5 GB of 2nd Wild Card (Baltimore/Boston)

1. Home Woes

The Blue Jays celebrated the launch of the new home season in style on Monday at the Honda Home Opener.  MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was in town, there was a nice player introduction ceremony, and the dome was packed.  The team then went out and lost to the Rays, dropped 3 of 4 overall to Tampa, and followed that up by losing 2 of 3 to the Braves.  You have to go back to 2010 to find the last time Toronto started 2-5 at home, and that team didn’t have visions of contending like this one does (not with Kevin Gregg and Fred Lewis on the roster).  Whether it’s the new playing surface, the fact that it’s the first time playing at home for a bunch of guys on the roster, or the added pressure of playing in front of their own fans, the Jays did not look good all.  In a very tight AL East, defending your home turf will be critical, so the Jays need to turn things around in a hurry.

2. Travis to the Top

Most of Toronto’s hitters have gotten off to very slow starts, which makes what Devon Travis is doing all the more remarkable by comparison.  The rookie was tearing it up in the number 9 hole, and was rewarded with a promotion to the leadoff spot when Jose Reyes went down.  Travis went 10 for 25 last week with 2 HR and 2 doubles, good for a .400 average and 1.143 OPS.  For the season, his OPS of 1.053 puts him 8th overall in the American League, and his 12 RBI are tied for third.  He was forced to leave yesterday’s game after taking a pitch to the ribs, but the x-rays came back negative, which is good news for the Jays.  At this point, they need his bat in the lineup.

3. The Catch of the Year

Kevin Pillar is turning out to be quite a pleasant surprise early on.  He is swinging a pretty hot bat, but it is his glove that has become the talk of the league.  After making a few highlight reel plays in Baltimore, Pillar turned in a catch of the year candidate on Wednesday night.  It was one of the best catches I have ever seen.


 

Player of the Week

Josh Donaldson, 3B

Donaldson was bumped up to the 2-hole and responded by going on a tear: 11 for 29, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, .379 average, 1.143 OPS, and one massive walk-off HR.

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 7 – 3, 2nd place

AA – New Hampshire: 5 – 6, 5th place

A+ – Dunedin: 5 – 6, T-4th

A – Lansing: 8 – 3 , 1st place

The Look Ahead

A day off on Monday, before finishing the 10-game homestand against the Orioles.

April 21-23 vs. Baltimore

April 24-26 at Tampa Bay

Don’t Panic, It’s Early – Bautista and Other Early Season Baseball Oddities

Upper Deck Insight 17 April 2015 | 0 Comments

panic_button

It’s Friday April 17th, we are 10 games into the 2015 season and already there are signs of panic among Jays fans.

Bautista isn’t hitting!  Donaldson hasn’t gone deep!  The offense is crap!  The pitching is inconsistent!  Russell Martin sucks!

All of those things are true at this point.

But here are two things to consider:

1. 10 games of the baseball season is just over 6% of the schedule, or the equivalent of 5 games into the NHL season and about 1 NFL game.  In Week 1 of the NFL, New England was crushed by Miami, but lo and behold they went on to win the Superbowl.  Through 5 games in the NHL, the New York Rangers were 2-3, the St. Louis Blues were 2-2-1, and the Winnipeg Jets were 1-4, yet all three wound up making the playoffs.  Message #1: Relax, it’s early.

2. Despite all of those thing about Toronto being true, they are 5-5.  Think about how bad they have looked at times this season and how inconsistent the players have been.  Then realize that they are 5-5.  The first place Red Sox are 6-3, meaning Toronto is only 1.5 games back.  If they were 0-10 and 10 games behind, there might be reason to be concerned, but not now.

What should also calm the masses, is something that Pat Tabler said last night (shocking, I know, that Tabler said something useful).  He said that if the season is broken up into 10 game chunks and Toronto goes 6-4 in all of those they will end the season with 96 wins.  Well let’s go one step further.  Let’s say they alternate those 10 game chunks at 5-5 and 6-4.  That will put them at 88-89 wins at the end of the year, exactly the number that both AL Wild Cards had in 2014.

The bottom line is this: Donaldson will not end the season with 0 HR.  Bautista will not hit .152.  Martin will not finish with a .292 OPS.  Hutchison’s ERA will be lower than 6.97.  Todd Redmond and his 16.62 ERA are gone.

We are in good shape.

Besides, if you think the Jays have it rough, take a look at the rest of these early season starts.

1. The World Series favourite and potential 100-win juggernaut Washington Nationals are 4-6 after a 2-6 start.  Three members of the best rotation in baseball (Strasburg, Gonzalez, and  Zimmermann) have a combined ERA of 6.61.

2. Preseason darlings Seattle and Pittsburgh are both 3-6, good enough for dead last in the AL West for the Mariners.

3. The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants are a miserable 3-8, last by a mile in the NL West.  They are scoring on average a woeful 2.91 runs per game.

4. Bryce Harper has 16 strikeouts in only 38 at-bats.  He is on pace for 260 strikeouts this season.

5. Starling Marte one of the top young players on the Pirates, is hitting .103.

6. Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Carter, and Anthony Rizzo combined to hit 106 HR in 2014.  So far this year they have 2…total.

7. Cole Hamels has allowed 7 HR in only 18 IP.

8. Clayton Kershaw, Jeff Samardzija, and Madison Bumgarner all have ERA’s over 5.25.  Masahiro Tanaka, Jon Lester, and Jeff Weaver all have ERA’s of 7.00 or above.

I have a sneaking suspicion that virtually all of those stats above will reverse themselves before the season is over.

Why?

Because it’s early – don’t panic.

The Week That Was: Week 1

Weekly Things 13 April 2015 | 0 Comments

Bau Bomb

photo from Getty Images

 

Every Monday during the 2015 season, 500 Level Fan will take a look back at the week that was, giving readers a snapshot of all things Blue Jays, including three top stories and the Blue Jay player of the week.

This is what happened in week 1.

Week 1: April 6 – April 12

Record: 4 – 2

Season-to-date: 4 – 2, T-1st AL East, Tied for 2nd Wild Card

1. Flip Flop Batting

Coming into the 2015 season the Jays were thought to have one of the most powerful and fearsome top-5’s in all of baseball….and then a significant drop off at the bottom of the order.  Through one week of the season, that hasn’t materialized.  Primarily due to slow starts by Donaldson, Bautista, and Martin, the Big 5 (including Reyes and Encarnacion), have combined for a .250 average, .700 OPS, 3 HR, 18 RBI, and 31 strikeouts.  The rest of the team, led by Devon Travis, have combined to hit .235 with a .678 OPS, 3 HR, 14 RBI, and 19 strikeouts.  If you remove Jose Reyes from the equation, the other members of the Big 5 drop to a .202 average and .631 OPS.  Of course, there is no reason to be concerned – as the weather warms up, the power numbers will start to increase.  On the contrary, this can be seen as relatively encouraging: if the rest of the team can stay within 100 OPS points of the Big 5, it will give the team a much more balanced lineup than first anticipated.

2. Fireball Arms

The Jays bullpen was considered a real weakness heading into the season, and through one week of the season, not much has happened to ease those concerns.  Aside from unbelievable starts for rookies Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro (and also Liam Hendriks), the bullpen has looked shaky.  Not including the kids, Toronto relievers have pitched 13.1 innings, posting a 6.75 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 2.0 K/BB ratio.   But let’s talk about those kids.  What a start to two careers!  Osuna and Castro have combined to pitch 7 innings, with zero earned runs, a 0.57 WHIP, 8 strikeouts, and a 4.0 K/BB ratio.  The week culminated with Castro being named closer and going 2 for 2 in save opportunities.  Unfortunately the two of them can’t pitch everyday, so the rest of the bullpen arms will need to step it up.

3. Don’t Get Him Angry

Since his breakout 2010 campaign, one thing is very obvious about Jose Bautista: don’t get him angry.  When pitchers throw at him or when umpires call borderline pitches against him, more often than not Bautista takes out his anger on the baseball.  Nobody should know that better than Orioles reliever Darren O’Day.  On more than one occasion, O’Day has riled up the big Toronto slugger only to watch his next pitch sail 350 feet over the outfield fence.  You’d think he would have learned by now.  But yesterday, in the 8th inning of a one-run game, O’Day was called in to face Bautista with a runner on base, and showed to the world that he still likes to play with fire.  He threw behind Bautista with a pitch, which resulted in an angry glare back to the mound.  With steam coming out of his ears, Bau delivered the ultimate statement by hitting yet another bomb off O’Day, effectively putting the game out of reach.  It’s not often that a non-closing reliever vs. a hitter becomes must-see TV, but this rivalry has definitely reached that plateau.

Player of the Week

Jose Reyes, SS

It was tempting to go with Castro or Osuna, but Reyes couldn’t be overlooked.  He paced the Jays with 10 hits in the week, finishing with a .417 average, .444 OBP, .944 OPS, 2 2B, 3 R, 3 RBI, and a stolen base.

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 1 – 2, 4th place

AA – New Hampshire: 3 – 1, T-1st

A+ – Dunedin: 2 – 2, T-2nd

A – Lansing: 3 – 1 , 1st place

The Look Ahead

The Jays return home, with the Home Opener set for tonight against Tampa Bay.

April 13-16 vs. Tampa Bay

April 17-19 vs. Atlanta

The Kids Are Alright

Upper Deck Insight 10 April 2015 | 1 Comment

Castro

photo from Getty Images

 

Let’s play a game.  I’ll ask a question, and you spit out an answer immediately, with no time to think about it.

Here we go: coming into the 2015 season, name one team you would expect to play six rookies?

I’m sure the majority of the answers would have been teams like Minnesota, Houston, Arizona, maybe the Cubs.  In other words, teams that are either going into, in the middle of, or coming out of rebuilds.  Teams that will likely finish the season in or around last place and can have their rookie prospects develop at the major league level with little pressure.

The Toronto Blue Jays are not one of those teams.

The Jays are clearly in win-now mode, evidenced by another offseason spent acquiring difference makers.  Adding Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, and Michael Saunders to a core of Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Dickey, and Buehrle was meant to push the Jays to the top of the AL East in 2015.

Yet the Toronto Blue Jays are also the answer to my question: the team that entered 2015 carrying six rookies on the major league roster.

It is a decision that goes against conventional baseball wisdom.  It is a decision that is both ballsy and dangerous.

And it is without a doubt, the 100% correct decision.

Sports teams are defined by their motives.  Some want to build for the future.  Others want to tear down the present.  Some want to protect their assets by keeping them in the minors. Others want to see gradual on-field improvement.

The Jays want to win.  And the best way to win is to put your best possible team on the field.  Plain and simple.

Yet so often general managers fall prey to the old ways of thinking, methods that have been used by old baseball personnel for decades and decades.  Young players are often labeled by terms such as “raw”, “unseasoned”, and “needs polish”.  Scouts and old-school managers prefer experience, prefer to have guys who “have been there before”, and tend to reward past performance.

That is what most fans expected with this year’s Jays team.

Take second base.  When Alex Anthopoulos acquired Devon Travis in the offseason, it was widely assumed that he would be the second baseman of the future and would spent most, if not all, of 2015 in Buffalo.  The masses expected the 2B job to go to either Maicer Izturis or Ryan Goins.

In the rotation, even after Stroman went down, nobody was expecting Norris and Sanchez to be named starters.  One maybe, but not both.  No, the role of fifth starter was destined for one of the following: Todd Redmond, journeymen Randy Wolf or Jeff Francis, or maybe even Johan Santana if he was healthy.  Memories of John Thomson, Tomo Ohka, and Chien Ming Wang danced through our heads.

The same thing took place in the bullpen.  Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna were destroying batters in the spring with an arsenal of downright filthy pitches.  But they were both only 20 years old.  They needed to “learn how to pitch” still, needed more time to “polish their raw talent”.  Despite having a truly awful 2014 season, Steve Delabar made the All Star team in 2013, a feat that meant he deserved another shot to at least start the year in Toronto.

But a funny thing happened.  A truly inspirational and gutsy thing happened.  Instead of listening to the crusty, old, conventional baseball wisdom, Anthopoulos actually watched the games and saw what everybody else saw.  Travis was flat out better than Goins and Izturis.  Sanchez and Norris were flat out better than Redmond, Wolf, and Francis.  Castro and Osuna were flat out better than Delabar.  If the Jays were to truly contend in 2015 they needed to put their best team on the field, so AA went with the kids.

In an era where things like “accrued major league service time” are driving decisions more than wins and losses, AA’s decision is refreshing.  And the kids look pretty good so far too.  It’s only been one series, but with the extra pressure of opening day, in terrible weather, in Yankee Stadium against vaunted Yankees?  Not bad at all.

The rookies make the team more exciting, and more watchable.

And, more importantly, they make the team better.

500 Level Fan Reader Poll – 2015 Edition

500 Level Fun 7 April 2015 | 0 Comments

readers

For the fourth consecutive year, 500 Level Fan has decided to let the readers – the fine, educated, and outstanding readers – take over.

This year I am asking several Jays related questions, both team and player related, and even threw in a fun question for the field.

So without further ado, here are the results of the 2015 500 Level Fan Reader Poll.

1. Who finishes with the most home runs: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, or Josh Donaldson?  And how many will he hit?

The answer is overwhelming: Bautista is the man.  67% of responders say Jose will hit the most out of the “big-3″.  22% sided with Edwin, while only 11% went with Donaldson.  In terms of numbers, the max was pegged at 56 bombs, the min was 34, and the average came out to be 41.

2. Who starts the most games at second base this year?

The poll went out to the field before the opening day roster was announced, which might explain why there are so many Goins answers.  That, or the readers don’t have a lot of faith in Devon Travis.

Devon Travis – 56%

Ryan Goins – 33%

Maicer Izturis – 11%

3. Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar will both get at bats this season.  Who puts up the best overall numbers by season’s end?

The question was a bit vague, something that was evident in the responses.  But the overwhelming majority said that Pompey is the man to watch, with one respondent going so far as to say that Pillar will be so bad that he will be sent to the minors.

4. Predict the team leaders in each of the following stats: Batting Average, OPS, Stolen Bases, ERA.

Batting Average: Jose Reyes (56%), Josh Donaldson (22%), Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion (11% each)

OPS: Jose Bautista (78%), Jose Reyes and Josh Donaldson (11% each)

Stolen Bases: Jose Reyes (70%), Ryan Goins / Dalton Pompey / Devon Travis (10% each)

ERA: Drew Hutchison (38%), R.A. Dickey and Daniel Norris (25% each), Aaron Sanchez (12%)

5. Predict one outrageous event that will happen in 2015

Quite the range of outrageous predictions here.  Enjoy!

– The Jays rip off a 20-game winning streak in June/July

– Aaron Sanchez throws a perfect game

– A fan runs onto the field during a game, fields a foul ball, then fires the ball to the first baseman before being caught and kicked out

– Daniel Norris is arrested for cocaine possession in his van

– In a non-Jay event, A-Rod rekindles his romance with Madonna

– Ricky Romero makes his way back to the big leagues with Toronto, only to fail spectacularly

– Edwin Encarnacion accidentally hits John Gibbons in the groin when a bat slips out of his hands.  Gibbons misses 6 games.

– Jays win the World Series in game 7, with Marcus Stroman making a surprise return to win the deciding game

– R.A. Dickey wins 20 games and finishes second in Cy Young voting

6. How many wins do you expect from the 2015 Blue Jays, and where will they finish in the standings?

What a difference a year makes.  Last year, readers were so jaded and disappointed from 2013 that the win predictions were very low.  This year?  Not so much.

The minimum number of wins predicted for the team was 81, with the max being 96 and the average being 90.  44% of respondents thought the team would win the AL East, with a further 33% believing they will win enough games to claim a Wild Card spot.

The optimism is back.  Now the team has to come through.

Thanks to everybody for fiilling out the ballot. Good luck with your picks!

Check back for a mid-season update and an end-of-season results column.

25 Blue Jay Predictions for 2015

500 Level Fun 6 April 2015 | 1 Comment

logo

Over the course of the past week, 500 Level Fan has posted a series of divisional previews, and a host of blatantly incorrect 2015 predictions.

Today I wrap up my season prediction columns with a look at what’s in store for the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays, just in time for this afternoon’s opener.

Here are 25 predictions about Toronto’s upcoming season.  Enjoy!

1. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson combine to hit over 100 HR.

2. Both Bautista and Donaldson finish in the top-7 of AL MVP voting.

3. Four Toronto rookies finish in the top-10 of AL Rookie of the Year voting.

4. Devon Travis never loses the second base job, fending off challenges from Izturis and Goins, and finishes with very nice rookie numbers.

5. The Blue Jays miss the bat of Melky Cabrera in LF, as Michael Saunders struggles to stay healthy and Kevin Pillar struggles to stay productive.

6. Despite losing Marcus Stroman and being labeled as a weak spot by pundits, Blue Jay starting pitchers finish in the top half of all of baseball in ERA….

7. …Mainly because Drew Hutchison has a breakout season, with a sub-3.00 ERA and a 9+ K/9 ratio.

8. After using 23 different relief pitchers in both 2013 and 2014, the Jays continue to cycle through arms in 2015.  Looking for the best possible bullpen, Toronto once again uses 23 relievers this season.

9. One of those relievers is Steve Delabar, who makes a surprise return to the big leagues in June.

10. Dioner Navarro is traded before the deadline.

11. Russell Martin proves more than adequate at handling Dickey’s knuckleball, meaning that after Navarro is dealt the Jays call up A.J. Jimenez to serve as Martin’s backup, as opposed to Josh Thole.

12. Jose Reyes plays over 145 games.

13. After struggling against them for years and years, the Jays finally win the season series against the Yankees.

14. Dalton Pompey provides one of the highlights of the season with a 5-hit game.

15. A year after completely falling apart in August with a 9-17 record, Toronto erases those memories by going 19-8 in the month this year.

16. This year’s winner of the “no-name reliever who comes out of nowhere to have a very nice season” award is Colt Hynes.

17. Devon Travis puts up better number across the board than Brett Lawrie does in Oakland.

18. Toronto scores over 20 runs in a game, twice.

19. On Tuesday April 21, the Jays host the Orioles, and Baltimore’s Travis Snider is given a nice ovation by the home crowd, before striking out 3 times against Blue Jay pitching.

20. In his comeback season from his steroid suspension, A-Rod does absolutely nothing against the Jays, finishing with 1 HR and a sub .200 average.

21. The Jays rip off a 10-game winning streak and two separate 6-game winning streaks.

22. A Blue Jay finishes in the top-5 in the AL in stolen bases

23.  Mark Buehrle exceeds 200 IP yet again.

24. Toronto enters September within 3 games of the AL East lead.

25. The Blue Jays clinch a playoff spot during the season’s final series in Tampa Bay, ending a 22 year drought.

2015 MLB Season Predictions

Around the Majors 4 April 2015 | 1 Comment

Crystal Ball

Over the past week and a half, 500 Level Fan has posted a preview of each of MLB’s six divisions.  Now it’s time to up the ante.  No more “previewing”.  It’s now time to “predict”.

As always, my predictions should not be wagered upon by anybody, because they will likely all be wrong.

Like last year, the 500 Level Fan predictions column will be split over two days.  Today I’m going to cover MLB predictions, including final standings, playoff results, award winners, and some miscellaneous categories.  Next, I’ll put my focus on the Blue Jays, with some individual and team predictions.

So sit back, read on, try not to laugh, and get ready to comment.

American League Predictions

East

1. Toronto

2. Boston

3. Baltimore

4. New York

5. Tampa Bay

Thoughts: They burned me two years ago, but I’m going all in once again.  Donaldson and Martin will boost the offense just enough to offset the loss of Stroman, and the young pitchers will come through…..Boston will be better than last year, but I’m not at all sold on Sandoval or Ramirez…..The loss of Cruz will really hurt the offense, and the injury clouds continue to hover over both Wieters and Machado.  That will prevent a repeat.…..No Jeter will take a while to get used to, as will the sight of a declining and unwanted A-Rod.  There are far too many question marks in New York this year…..If any team can surprise, it can be Tampa.  They have a great collection of young arms, but not a lot of help for Longoria.

Central

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Kansas City

5. Minnesota

Thoughts: They are aging, hurting, and showing some rust, but Price, Cespedes, Miggy and co. will keep the Tigers at the top…barely…..I believe in Cleveland.  A lot of young talent in the field, at the plate, and in the rotation.  Plus they have the defending Cy Young winner in Corey  Kluber.…..It was a huge offseason in Chicago.  Expect the new bullpen, Samardzija, and Abreu to make the White Sox a contender…..The Royals were magical last year, but expect a step back.  Alex Rios is never the answer…..The future is coming in Minnesota, just not in 2015.

West

1. Seattle

2. Los Angeles

3. Oakland

4. Houston

5. Texas

Thoughts: They were close last year and the addition of Nelson Cruz should be just enough to push the Mariners into the playoffs as division champs.…..The Angels look good on paper but a lot of their players look to be on the wrong side of the career arc, and that will keep them behind Seattle…..The gap between the top 2 and the rest of the division is huge.  Even after a crazy winter, Oakland is still the best of the rest (even with Lawrie).…..Houston, at long last, is on the way up.  Their win total should be higher that last year.…..The Darvish injury is crushing for Texas.  They’re done.

Wildcards

Indians and Angels

Stat Leaders

HR – Jose Abreu, CHW

RBI – Jose Bautista, TOR

Average – Robinson Cano, SEA

SB – Jose Altuve, HOU

Wins – David Price, DET

ERA – Felix Hernandez, SEA

K – David Price, DET

Sv – Greg Holland, KC

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Robinson Cano, SEA

Cy Young – Felix Hernandez, SEA

Rookie – Daniel Norris, TOR

Manager – John Gibbons, TOR

Bounceback Player – Jason Kipnis, CLE

Most Disappointing Player – Pablo Sandoval, BOS

First Major Player Traded – Chris Davis, BAL

National League Predictions

East

1. Washington

2. Miami

3. NY Mets

4. Atlanta

5. Philadelphia

Thoughts: With that rotation I don’t see how Washington misses the playoffs.  100 wins is a real possibility…..Giancarlo Stanton is the real deal, and sadly for Jays fans it looks like Henderson Alvarez might be as well……The Wheeler injury hurts, but the return of Matt Harvey might be enough to push the Mets over .500…..The Heyward trade still puzzles me.  Atlanta looks to be a team on the way down……It’s going to be a long, long year in Philly.  Will Utley and/or Howard be dealt?

Central

1. Pittsburgh

2. St. Louis

3. Milwaukee

4. Chicago

5. Cincinnati

Thoughts: If anybody is going to knock of the Cardinals it’s the Pirates.  McCutchen is a perennial MVP candidate, and the return of A.J. Burnett is more important than you think……They are always in contention and this year will be no different.  The addition of Heyward will keep the Cards right near the top of the division…..With Gomez, Braun, Lucroy and co., the Brewers should score runs.  If they can prevent them they might surprise a few people……I buy the Cubs as baseball’s next super power, but not until 2016.  This year will be about discovering just how good some of the young guys can be…..The Reds need huge years from Votto and Bruce to avoid the basement.

West

1. Los Angeles

2. San Francisco

3. San Diego

4. Arizona

5. Colorado

Thoughts: The Dodgers have the best roster top to bottom in the West, and even if they didn’t Kershaw would still pitch them into the playoffs……The loss of Sandoval won’t be crushing, but the pitching looks thin behind Bumgarner……The Padres were very active and should be much better, but where will everybody play?…..The Archie Bradley watch is on in Arizona….If Tulowitzki and Gonzalez can both stay healthy the Rockies can surprise.  But that was also said last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and on and on.

Wildcards

Cardinals and Marlins

Stat Leaders

HR – Giancarlo Stanton, MIA

RBI – Paul Goldschmidt, ARI

Average – Buster Posey, SF

SB – Billy Hamilton, CIN

Wins – Max Scherzer, WAS

ERA – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

K – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Sv – Craig Kimbrel, ATL

Awards

MVP - Andrew McCutchen, PIT

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Rookie – Gregory Polanco, PIT

Manager – Clint Hurdle, PIT

Bounceback Player – Joey Votto, CIN

Most Disappointing Player – Nick Markakis, ATL

First Major Player Traded – Chase Utley, PHI

Playoffs

American League

Wildcard Round – Indians over Angels

ALDS – Tigers over Mariners, Jays over Indians

ALCS – Jays over Tigers

National League

Wild Card Round – Cardinals over Marlins

NLDS – Nationals over Cardinals, Pirates over Dodgers

NLCS – Pirates over Nationals

World Series

The playoff drought will end.  Why not pick the Jays to win the whole thing?  After all, this is a Jays blog – did you expect anything else?

2015 Division Preview – American League East

Upper Deck Insight 31 March 2015 | 0 Comments

AL East

Welcome to the final edition of 500 Level Fan’s divisional preview series.  Today’s focus is on the AL East, the home of the Blue Jays.

Defending Champion

Baltimore Orioles

Past Five Champions

2014 – Baltimore

2013 – Boston

2012 – New York

2011 – New York

2010 – Tampa Bay

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 96.2

Best Player

Jose Bautista, Jays

After two injury shortened and disappointing seasons, Bautista reclaimed his position as best player in the division with a huge 2014.  He finished T-5 in the AL with 35 HR, T-7 with 103 RBI, 4th with a .928 OPS, and T-7 with a 6.0 WAR last year, and if all goes well in 2015 he might improve on all of them.  Hitting smack in the middle of a lineup that includes Jose Reyes, Russell Martin, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson, J-Bau should see plenty of RBI opportunities and plenty of protection.  If they Jays are to take the next step and finally break the 20+ year playoff drought, it will be Bautista leading the way.

Honourable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Jays; Adam Jones, Orioles

Best Pitcher

None

The AL East used to be the place where you’d find elite arms.  Think Clemens, Pedro, Halladay, Schilling, Mussina, Price, Shields, Lester, etc.  But things have changed.  Heading into 2015 there is not a single pitcher who stands out above the rest.  Instead there is a very interesting mix of arms.  You have guys who could be elite if they stay healthy: Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda (Yankees).  You have intriguing young arms poised to break out: Smyly, Cobb, and Archer (Rays); Hutchison, Norris, and Sanchez (Jays); Gausman (Orioles).  You have guys who might or might not be good: Dickey (Jays); Miley, Porcello, and Buchholz (Red Sox); Tillman and Jimenez (Orioles).  I don’t think it’s possible to pick just one.

Honourable Mention: See above

Three Storylines For 2015

1. Going For It, Version 2.0

At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Alex Anthopoulos decided the time was right to blow up the farm system and go for broke.  The Jays brought in R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Melky Cabrera, and promptly finished dead last.  After an encouraging step forward last season, AA once again decided to go all-in this winter, acquiring Russell Martin, Devon Travis, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders.  With superstars Bautista and Encarnacion only signed until the end of the 2016 season, the time is now for the Jays.  They still have holes – the bullpen remains a question mark, the rotation is young and untested, the Stroman injury was tough to swallow – but so does the rest of the division.  It’s up to the players to make sure that 2013 does not repeat itself (and 1993 does).

2. From Worst to First to Worst to….?

Boston has been all over the place recently.  The Red Sox finished dead last in 2012, won the World Series in 2013, and went right back to last in 2014.  So to make sure the rollercoaster once again trends up, Boston management opened their wallets in the winter.  In are former World Series hero Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, and Wade Miley.  They join a team loaded with young prospects who all might be poised to breakout at the same time, including Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts.  But it’s not all cupcakes and flowers in Beantown.  Jon Lester spurned them for the Cubs, leaving the rotation bare of an ace-like arm.  Ramirez will be playing left field for the first time in his career.  Sandoval appears to have spent the offseason eating (and eating, and eating, and eating).  By all accounts the team is better – but by how much?

3. Not Your Usual AL East

Remember when it was called the AL Beast?  That seems like so long ago.  Gone are the days when the Yankees and Red Sox would battle at the top and the rest of the division would fight for third.  What we have this season are five teams that each have flaws, strengths, and major question marks hanging over them.  Tampa Bay lost their GM, manager, and a good amount of players, yet still bring back a bevy of young arms and Evan Longoria.  The Yankees are getting older and now have to deal with A-Rod, but might benefit from full seasons from Pineda and Tanaka.  Baltimore won the division handily last year, but enter 2015 without Markakis and Cruz, and with injury clouds hanging over Wieters and Machado.  The Jays and Red Sox (discussed above) are not without their issues.  This is a division that is almost impossible to predict, mainly because it’s possible to envision a scenario in which any team can take it.  That means 2015 should be tons of fun.

Interesting Stat

The following are actual statistics put up in 2014 by Tampa Bay Rays catchers: .524 OPS (dead last), 5 HR (dead last), .194 average (dead last), .250 SLG (dead last).  Those numbers were compiled by Jose Molina (.417 OPS!), Ryan Hanigan, Curt Casali, and Ali Solis, who were beyond miserable.  A lot of negatives were said about the Rays in the offseason as they offloaded Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, and Joe Maddon, but they made some very under the radar moves in acquiring catchers Rene Rivera and John Jaso.  Nobody is going to confuse those guys for Buster Posey or Russell Martin, but with OPS’s last year of .751 (Rivera), and .767 (Jaso), the Rays may be poised to improve their overall catcher OPS by over 200 points.  In the grand scheme of things that might be worth a couple of extra wins, which in this division might end up being huge.

Who Should Win

Boston

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

2015 Division Preview – American League Central

Upper Deck Insight 30 March 2015 | 0 Comments

alcentral

Welcome to part five of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the AL Central.

Defending Champion

Detroit Tigers

Past Five Champions

2014 - Detroit

2013 – Detroit

2012 – Detroit

2011 – Detroit

2010 – Minnesota

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 92.0

Best Player

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

By all accounts the Tigers slugger had a down year in 2014.  But for Cabrera, a down year is relative: .313 average, .895 OPS, 25 HR, 109 RBI – all top-10 (or near top-10) numbers in the AL.  Though he might be starting to show some signs of decline, as evidenced by the ankle issues that plagued him all year, he is still the cream of the crop.  Consider this: he has finished in the top-15 in MVP voting for 10 consecutive years.  If he can lead an aging Tigers squad back to the playoffs once again, expect to see that number reach 11.

Honourable Mention: Jose Abreu, White Sox; Michael Brantley, Indians

Best Pitcher

Chris Sale, White Sox

Chris Sale has to be wondering what it will take to capture a Cy Young award.  He has been arguably the best pitcher in the American League over the past three seasons (40-26, 626 strikeouts, 2.79 ERA) but has been eclipsed in each of those years by some outstanding individual seasons by others (Price, Scherzer, Kluber).  As a consolation prize he takes my award for the AL Central’s best pitcher.  He topped the AL last season in both ERA+ (178) and K/9 (10.8), and posted career best numbers in both ERA (2.17) and WHIP (0.97).  He will miss the beginning of 2015 with a broken foot but might be pitching for a contender when he returns.

Honourable Mention: David Price, Tigers; Corey Kluber, Indians

Three Storylines For 2015

1. What Can Kansas City Do For an Encore?

The Kansas City Royals were baseball’s darlings last season.  After making the playoffs for the first time since 1985, they promptly put on a pair of glass slippers and danced all the way to game 7 of the World Series.  It was an incredible run that included a remarkable Wild Card win over Oakland in perhaps the best game of the year.  The young core that everybody in baseball was waiting to arrive finally came together.  So what do they have in store for 2015?  A big challenge.  The enter the year missing several key components of last year’s team, most notably ace James Shields, but also Nori Aoki and long-time DH Billy Butler.  Both will be missed.  Can Alex Rios return to his younger form?  Can Edinson Volquez help replace Shields?  Will last year’s long run have a negative impact on the power arms in the bullpen?  KC may need positive answers to all of those questions to find their way back to October.

2. Wheelin’ and Dealin’ in Chicago

Something got into the executives in the Windy City this offseason.  The Cubs took the prize for busiest National League team, and the White Sox won the AL prize.  They made a few huge moves to improve their pitching, including dealing for Jeff Samardzija, and signing both David Robertson and Zach Duke.  They also brought in Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera to add to a lineup that includes last year’s rookie of the year Jose Abreu.  That means both the offense and the defense should be better, and for a team that won 73 games last year, that also might mean a big turnaround is in order.  In a division that looks wide open, that just might make them contenders.

3. A Crumbling Dynasty? 

The Detroit Tigers have been an AL Central dynasty in recent years.  They have finished .500 or better in six consecutive seasons, capturing four straight division crowns.  But they have been unable to win in the playoffs mainly due to a weak bullpen.  So with some solid closers available for hire in the offseason, it was a little bit surprising that Detroit decided to keep Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, and Al Alburquerque as their key relievers.  To add to their list of potential problems is the fact that two of their perennial MVP candidates look to be fading a bit.  Cabrera’s numbers were down across the board last year, and he is coming off offseason ankle surgery.  Justin Verlander had one of the worst years of his career, with his velocity and strikeouts way down, and his ERA way up.  Couple that with the loss of Max Scherzer to free agency and the Tigers, for the first time in years, just might be vulnerable.

Interesting Stat

Joe Nathan and success have gone hand-in-hand for most of his career….except for last season.  Of all American League closers, Nathan’s 35 saves were 5th most in the league – but that is where the good news ends.  He blew seven saves (tied for the most), and his 4.81 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and -0.2 WAR were the worst by far.  If Nathan falters, the next man in line might be Joakim Soria, who was Texas’ closer before being acquired by the Tigers at last year’s deadline.  The problem?  His WAR of -0.1 wasn’t much better than Nathan’s.  In a division that already had Glen Perkins and Greg Holland, and acquired David Robertson in the offseason, Detroit’s end-game options must be better.

Who Should Win

Detroit

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

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