Three Things From Week Sixteen

Weekly Things 21 July 2014 | 0 Comments

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Promising.

If there’s one word to describe the beginning of the second half for the Jays it would be promising.  Sure they were shut down by Yu Darvish on Friday night, but they responded with two straight wins, scoring 13 runs in the process.

Of course, there is always a caveat.  In this case there are two.  The first is that the Rangers are one of the worst teams in baseball and have been decimated by injuries.  The second is that the Jays actually lost ground to New York, Tampa Bay, and Boston, and are now almost closer to last than they are to first.

But hey – a series win is a series win.  Now it’s time to go out and sweep Farrell and the Red Sox.

Here are three things from week 16:

Week 16: July 14 – July 20

Record: 2 – 1

1. Colby vs. Colby

Colby Lewis used to be a good pitcher for the Texas Rangers.  From 2010 – 2012 he pitched over 500 innings with a sub 4.00 ERA, and made it to two World Series.  But he missed all of 2013 and has been absolutely terrible thus far in 2014: 6.37 ERA and a 1.84 WHIP in 89 IP.  So maybe he was just frustrated on Saturday, because I can’t truly believe that he would be that stupid.

With the Jays up by two in the fifth, Colby Rasmus came to the plate with two out and the bases empty.  The Rangers were playing an extreme pull shift against Rasmus, so he decided to simply bunt to the wide open left side of the infield and trot to first.  If your opponents are going to give you a hit, why not take it?

Except that’s not how Lewis saw it (via mlb.com and Big League Stew):

“I told [Rasmus] I didnt’ appreciate it.  You’re up by two runs with two outs and you lay down a bunt.  I don’t think that’s the way the game should be played.  I felt like you have a situation where there is two outs, you’re up two runs, you have gotten a hit earlier in the game off me, we are playing the shift, and he laid down a bunt basically simply for average.  He didn’t steal within the first two pitches to put himself in scoring position.  That tells me he is solely looking out for himself, and looking out for batting average.  And I didn’t appreciate it.”

First of all – what?  As many other writers have pointed out, there are so many things wrong with that statement.  For one, the “unwritten rules of baseball” shouldn’t apply here.  I can see if Toronto was up 10-0 in the 8th inning that Rasmus would be better off not bunting.  But with a 2-0 lead in the 5th, when your team has been struggling for weeks to score runs?  No, not at all.  In fact, what Rasmus did was just the opposite of what Lewis thought – it was good, smart baseball.

For what it’s worth, Ramsus refused to be drawn into a war of words, simply saying he was trying to help his team win.

As for Lewis?  He’s an idiot.

2. Mune Up…

It’s no secret that the Blue Jays are struggling mightily to score runs right now.  Injuries to Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion have placed three of the team’s top-5 hitters on the shelf, and have forced the rest of the roster to step up.  What is not surprising is that the lineup has not been able to do so on a consistent basis.

However, what is surprising is that one man HAS been able to step up.  No, it’s not Bautista, or Reyes, or Rasmus.  It’s not Navarro or Kratz or Cabrera.  That man is none other than Munenori Kawasaki.  Since being recalled on  June 17 to replace Lawrie, the normally light-hitting Kawasaki has been hitting the ball a ton.  Sure he still doesn’t have a lot of power, but a .300 average and .351 OBP have rewarded him with a bump up to the #2 spot in the batting order.

What’s more is that Mune has been getting even better.  Going into tonight’s action he is riding a 8 game hit streak in which he has hit .382 with a .824 OPS.  Those are numbers one would expect from Melky not Mune.    If only the rest of the team would follow suit.

3. …Bau Down

Things have been almost the exact opposite for Jose Bautista.  Toronto’s slugger and leader has fallen on hard times since Edwin’s injury.  Whether he’s trying too hard to carry the offence, or whether opposing pitcher’s have decided to not give him anything to hit (or likely a combo of both) Bautista is really struggling.

Since Encarnacion went down, Jose is 9 for 45 with only 2 extra base hits (both doubles), 3 RBI, and 12 strikeouts.  He is slugging a mere .244 and sports a .514 OPS.  He hasn’t hit a home run since July 2nd, and his season OPS has plummeted from .964 to .903.

It’s hard enough for the Jays to win games without EE in the lineup.  It’s downright impossible when Bautista is struggling too.

Fun With Mid-Season WAR

Around the Majors 16 July 2014 | 0 Comments

Today is officially the worst day on the baseball calendar.  There is literally nothing happening today – no games, no home run derby, no All-Star events.  Absolutely nothing.

So why not take advantage of this quiet time to have some fun looking at mid-season WARs!  I did this at the beginning of the season when sample sizes were incredibly small.  Now, with over half the season in the books, we should be getting a clearer indication of who has been good and who has been bad.

And who has been downright awful.

Player WAR

 mid year WAR best

 The above tables show the best players in baseball in terms of WAR. For total WAR (which combines offense and defense to provide a full view of a player), most of the names in the top-10 are guys you’d expect: Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Trout, Stanton, McCutchen, Goldschmidt.  Josh Donaldson is proving that last year was no fluke, and guys like Seager, Lucroy and Brantley have blossomed.  Jason  Heyward is a bit of surprise.  Jose Bautista is the top Blue Jay, ranking 18th in the majors.

Offensively, there are no real surprises, aside from perhaps Brantley.  Two Jays rank in the top-10 which is great to see.  Likewise, there are no real surprises on the defensive side of the ball either, as baseball’s top defenders are well recognized.  The biggest disappointment has to be that Ryan Goins is still considered Toronto’s top defensive player, despite not playing in the big leagues for months.

 mid year WAR worst

 

This where things get interesting.  In terms of baseball’s worst total WAR, a few of those names jump right off the screen, namely Raul Ibanez, Matt Kemp, Domonic Brown, Jedd Gyorko, and Alfonso Soriano.  These are former All-Stars, former near-MVP’s, and guys who were still extremely useful to their teams as recently as 2013.  We knew they were having down years in 2014, but this has to be considered a heavy disappointment.  It’s also interesting to see that Brad Glenn put up a -0.4 WAR with Toronto in such limited playing time.  That’s rough.

Two other points to make.  1 – how bad of a fielder does Matt Kemp have to be to put up a -2.4 WAR?  That is abysmal, and much, much worse than Castellanos.  2 – I think Jays fans will agree that Melky Cabrera is MILES ahead of last year in terms of his defense – yet he is still ranked 1,042nd in the majors.  Imagine how his dWAR would have looked if he played a full season last year?  Yikes.

Pitcher WAR

 mid year WAR pitcher

 

You can’t argue the top-2 in terms of WAR.  Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez were the starting pitchers of last night’s All-Star game.  But how about Toronto’s Mark Buehrle slotting in at #3 in all of baseball, tied with the great Clayton Kershaw?  Very impressive.  The two biggest surprises for me are Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel, one current and one former Cub.  Was not expecting that kind of performance from those two.

On the worst WAR list, it is no surprise to see Ernesto Frieri.  The former Angels closer was just horrendous early in 2014.  It also seems as if Edwin Jackson is on this list every year.  How he keeps finding pitching jobs is beyond me.  Finally, poor Sergio Santos ranks 595th in major league baseball.  It might be time to cut ties with him before he sinks any lower.

Halfway Home: Revisiting My 2014 Predictions

Around the Majors 15 July 2014 | 0 Comments

Crystal Ball

The 2014 MLB mid-season lull is in full effect.  The Blue Jays are off until Friday night, meaning we have four days of dead air ahead of us.  (No, the home run derby doesn’t count).  To help fill the empty space, today I will take a look at just how bad my 2014 predictions look so far. 

American League Predictions

East 2014 AL East

Thoughts: What can you say really.  Boston and Tampa Bay have been the biggest flops in baseball and the Jays have surprised everybody.  However, Tampa is starting to surge, and with the AL East actually being baseball’s weakest division (how weird does that sound), a crazy Rays comeback might not be out of the cards just yet.

Central 2014 AL Central

Thoughts: Absolutely, 100%, nailed it so far!  I expect the Tigers to maintain the lead the rest of the way, and the biggest battle to be between the Royals and Indians for second – and potentially a Wild Card spot. 

West 2014 AL West

Thoughts: If it wasn’t for Texas it would be two clean sweeps in a row.  Nothing has gone right for the Rangers this year and they might very well suffer the dubious distinction of finishing behind the Houston Astros.  Oakland, LA, and Seattle are making a serious case to have three playoff teams come out of the West.  

Wildcards

I predicted the A’s and Red Sox.  Oakland looks like a sure bet for the postseason, but maybe as the AL West champ.  The Red Sox look horrendous – and I couldn’t be happier!  Currently the Angels and Mariners lead the way. 

Stat Leaders 

2014 AL Stat Leaders

Thoughts:  Hey – I got Felix Hernandez for ERA leader right!  Unfortunately that’s about the only thing I’m even close on.  To be fair, Prince Fielder’s injury hampered that pick, and I’m not sure anybody could have predicted Justin Verlander’s regression.  I have a funny feeling that I might also nail the Mike Trout prediction by the end of the year. 

Awards & Miscellany

MVP – Mike Trout, LAA

- I think you’d have to consider him the favourite right now.

Cy Young – Justin Verlander, DET

- He has really fallen hard this year.  Probably not even in the top-10 right now.  This is currently King Felix’s award to lose.

Rookie – Jose Abreu, CHI

- He currently leads the majors with 29 HR, so he is the odds on favourite to win this award.

Manager – Brad Ausmus, DET

- This award is wide open right now.  Ausmus is right in the mix, along with Bob Melvin of Oakland and Lloyd McClendon of Seattle.  But a big second half could put a number of other guys in the mix (including John Gibbons).

Bounceback Player – Albert Pujols, LAA

- With 20 HR already, he has already eclipsed his 2013 total.  I’ll stick by him.

Most Disappointing Player – Carlos Beltran, NYY

- .216 average and .671 OPS and looking older by the day.  I think I nailed this one!

First Major Player Traded – Colby Rasmus, TOR

- Not yet…

National League Predictions

East 2014 NL East

Thoughts: If not for the Phillies I would have fully nailed this division.  As it stands, Philadelphia is awful, and it looks like the race for first is going to go right down to the wire.  Miami looked like a contender early on, but have since faded.

Central 2014 NL Central

Thoughts: At least I got the Cubs right.  Milwaukee has outperformed expectations to this point, but are currently really struggling and might drop back to fourth in a week or two.  I had high hopes for the Pirates, and they appear to have turned a corner, but still have a lot of work to do to reach a playoff spot.

West  2014 NL West

Thoughts: So far so good at the top, but I was way off on Arizona, and I expected much, much less from San Diego – though the bottom three are so tightly packed that anything can happen.  

Wildcards

I predicted San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and currently the Giants and Braves hold down the spots.  But the Pirates are only 3 games back, so still very much alive.

Stat Leaders 

2014 NL Stat Leaders

Thoughts: A much better performance here than in the AL.  My picks of Kimbrel, Kershaw, and Goldschmidt were all pretty good, and Marte is in the top-5 for steals.  Injuries derailed my picks of Gonzalez and Fernandez, but both were playing pretty well before they went down, so that makes me feel a bit better.

Awards

MVP - Bryce Harper, WAS

- Not looking too good right now as he has battled injuries this year.  This award is probably wide open right now.

Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, LAD

- Looks like it will boil down to him or Adam Wainwright.  Both deserve it.

Rookie – Archie Bradley, ARI

- Yet to play a big league game. 

Manager – Matt Williams, WAS

- Very much in the running.

Bounceback Player – Justin Morneau, COL

- With a .312 average, .846 OPS, and 13 HR this one looks good!

Most Disappointing Player – Ryan Howard, PHI

- Second in the NL in strikeouts, batting .220 with a -0.5 WAR.  He is certainly in the running.

First Major Player Traded – Cliff Lee, PHI

- Still might go, but Jeff Samardzija beat him to it.

Three Things From Week Fifteen

Weekly Things 14 July 2014 | 0 Comments

Bautista14

Ugh.

The All-Star break couldn’t come soon enough.

Here are three things from week 15:

Week 15: July 7 – July 13

Record: 2 – 4

1. Houses of Horrors

Yankee Stadium.  Tropicana Field.  The West Coast.  Where are three places the Blue Jays hate playing?

Toronto’s failure to win in Tampa Bay has been well documented, and the club blew yet another golden chance to end a long run of futility in Florida.  After winning Friday night the Jays were given a gift when David Price was scratched from his Saturday afternoon start.  Surely this would be the long awaited series victory at the Trop!  But no – a bullpen implosion (yet again) cost the Jays the win, and they limped out of Tampa with their tails between their legs after being shutout yesterday.

But there is something just as bad about the West Coast for Blue Jay fans.  The team never seems to play well in California (or Seattle), and this past week was no exception.  After being dismantled by the A’s in Oakland, the Jays headed to Angels Stadium and promptly lost 2 of 3 to the Angels, including a very winnable game where – you guessed it – the bullpen gave it away. 

So the Jays ended the first half of the season with a 2-8 road trip, but good news awaits.  The teams opens the second half Friday night with a seven game homestand against the reeling Rangers and Red Sox.  The ship has to be righted now, or else it may never will. 

2. Injuries, Injuries, and More Injuries!

First Brett Lawrie.  Then Edwin Encarnacion.  Now Adam Lind and Nolan Reimold.  Toronto’s disabled list is seemingly growing by the day.  And that list doesn’t even include Jose Bautista (playing with a sore hamstring), Jose Reyes (sore shoulder), Colby Rasmus (wrist), and Munenori Kawasaki (hamstring).

It’s hard enough to win in this league when a team is fully healthy, but it is downright impossible when players are dropping like flies.  Toronto simply doesn’t have the depth – either on the bench or at the minor league level – to deal with a barrage of injuries.  Which means there are two options.  The first is for Alex Anthopoulos to get on the phone and fix this team.  Make some trades for healthy bodies who can help the lineup immediately.  It’s pretty clear that guys like Anthony Gose, Kevin Pilar, and Brad Glenn don’t have what it takes to hit in the big leagues. 

The second option is to embrace some non-traditional healing practices and start using them during the All-Star break.  I’m talking about ointments, teas, rubs, grains, anything that can heal a broken bone or a tender muscle.  Get Lawrie to start ingesting coconut oil, and Edwin to start drinking weird smoothies.

That might be our only hope.

3. Dickey Gettin’ His Groove Back

Times have been tough lately.  The Blue Jays have been losing games like crazy and are threatening to throw away all the good they did in May.  But maybe, just maybe, not everything is going wrong. 

In his past three starts, it certainly appears that R.A. Dickey has turned his season around.  He has pitched extremely well in losses to Oakland and Tampa Bay, and a victory over the Angels: 21 IP, 15 hits allowed, 4 ER, 7 BB, 16 K, 1.71 ERA, 1.05 WHIP. 

Remember that last season Dickey had a tremendous second half.  If the last three starts indicate the beginning of another second half surge, perhaps the Jays aren’t as dead as we all thought they were.

The Gashouse Gang – Songs on a Pink Couch

500 Level Fun 11 July 2014 | 0 Comments

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Every now and then 500 Level Fan is lucky enough to be given an exclusive look at new and exciting baseball related items, anything from books to speaking engagements.

Today I am excited and privileged to present the latest instalment of the wildly successful “Songs on a Pink Couch” series by renowned musician Darrin Davis.

The song – “The Gashouse Gang” – was partially co-written by yours truly and will appear on Mr. Davis’ upcoming album “Almost Home” (to be released later in 2014).  The album is based on the life of Davis’ grandfather Fred, who grew up on the farmlands of Ontario in the 1930′s.  ”The Gashouse Gang” is about Fred’s love of the game of baseball and is based on the great St. Louis Cardinals team of 1934, featuring Dizzy and Daffy Dean.

Part of what I love (and everybody loves) about baseball is its tradition.  The game has changed tremendously since the 1930′s, yet at the same time it hasn’t changed at all.  Each player in the modern game draws comparisons to those of yesteryear and many of the terms used in the ’30′s are still spoken today.

For that reason, I thought I’d present a short glossary of the terms used in “The Gashouse Gang”.

Ebbets Field – The home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 – 1957, with some of the craziest field dimensions of all time (297 feet down the right field line and 484 (!!!) feet to centre)

Red Barber – Radio broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Yankees across four decades (1934 – 1966)

Spartan wireless – Ontario manufactured tube radio popular for listening to baseball broadcasts in the 1930′s

Lou Gehrig – Nicknamed the “Iron Horse”, Gehrig was a star for the Yankees from 1923 – 1939, playing in a major league record 2,130 consecutive games, a record that stood until 1995.

Lefty Gomez – Star pitcher for the New York Yankees (and later the Washington Senators) from 1930 – 1943.  He won five World Series titles with the  Yankees.

Murderers Row – Nickname for the first six batters of what many believe to be the greatest baseball team of all time, the 1927 Yankees, featuring Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri (soon to be replaced by the June version of the 2014 Blue Jays – Kawasaki, Cabrera, Francisco, Tolleson, Kratz, and Lind.)

Dizzy, Daffy and the Gashouse Gang – The Gashouse Gang was a nickname given to the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, the World Series Champions featuring All-Star pitching brothers Paul “Daffy” Dean and Jay “Dizzy” Dean.  The team was referred to as the gashouse gang due to their propensity to wear unwashed, dirty, and smelly uniforms on the field, and their generally shabby appearance.

Pine Tar – A sticky material produced from the carbonization of pine wood and used by baseball players to improve the grip on bat handles.

Diamond Thirst – A term coined by lifelong baseball minor league players to describe why they can never leave the game (Kevin Costner’s line referring to this was actually cut from Bull Durham – true story)

Ty Cobb – Considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of the game.  Considered by all to be the most vile, rude, racist, and miserable man to ever play.  Was known to sharpen the spikes of his cleats to cause maximum bodily harm to infielders as he slid into second or third base.  Once beat up an armless, heckling fan with a shoe.

Enjoy the tune – and be sure to purchase the album to hear 500 Level Fan’s vocal debut!

 

To pre-order a copy of “Almost Home” by Darrin Davis, please click here.

To subscribe to the weekly “Songs on a Pink Couch” video series, please click here.

Also check on the Darrin Davis Band on Facebook.

 

 

Can This Season Be Salvaged?

Upper Deck Insight 10 July 2014 | 1 Comment

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Oh for the merry old days of May, when life was good, summer was coming, and the Jays were kings.

Those were the days when our band of ballplayers could do no wrong.  Edwin Encarnacion was hitting every pitch out of the ballpark.  Jose Bautista was reaching base three times a game.  Juan Francisco was useful.  Even Liam Hendricks was winning.

Those days feel like so long ago. 

It’s funny that back then the main question on the lips of fans was ”will we have home field advantage in the playoffs?”

Now the main question has reverted to “can this season, that once looked so promising, be salvaged?”

On the surface, the answer is likely no.  Coming into the season the Blue Jays five best hitters were Bautista, Encarnacion, Reyes, Lind, and Lawrie.  Right now three of them are on the DL for at least the rest of July, and the other two are playing hurt.  The rotation is wildly inconsistent and the bullpen has been pretty consistently terrible.  Toronto’s most reliable hitter over the past few weeks has been Munenori Kawasaki.

That is not a good thing.

But there is still hope, and here’s why:

1. They will make a trade.  I mean, they have to make a trade don’t they?  There are superstars out there who could be had in a blockbuster deal, guys like David Price or Troy Tulowitzki or Chase Utley or Starlin Castro or Cliff Lee.  But there are also useful major league players who wouldn’t cost as much.  Sure the impact wouldn’t be as dramatic, but a guy like Daniel Murphy would be an upgrade to the roster.  Even a player like Gordon Beckham – seemingly down and out for years – would be a better addition to the lineup than Ryan Goins.  There is no way that Alex Anthopoulos can sit by and idly watch the team that he worked so hard to improve last year, finally succeed, only to crumble in front of his eyes.  There is just no way – is there?

2. There’s no denying that the Blue Jays have been one of the worst teams in baseball over the past three weeks.  But as of right now they are still 3 games over .500 and only 2.5 games out of first place in the AL East.  That alone is why this season can still be saved.  The AL East is not only down in 2014 – it is historically down.  The way things are going now, there is a good chance that 85 wins may take the division.

Seriously – Baltimore is hot now but has run up-and-down all year long.  Boston looks lost.  Tampa Bay is making a move, but dug themselves such a huge hole that they are still miles below .500.  And the Yankees are extremely banged up, with 4/5 of their rotation out (Pineda, Sabathia, Nova, Tanaka), and Beltran and McCann looking like busts. 

The division is winnable.  The players will get healthy.  And I still believe that a trade is on the way.

We can still do this.

500 Level Fan’s 2014 All-Stars and No-Stars

Around the Majors 8 July 2014 | 0 Comments

allstar

The 2014 MLB All-Star rosters were announced Sunday night, and the Blue Jays had three players named to the AL squad.  Sadly, due to Edwin Encarnacion’s quad injury, only two will be traveling to Minnesota, but the selection of Jose Bautista and Mark Buehrle were both very well deserved.

But how about the rest of the teams?  That’s where I come in.  Today 500 Level Fan will unveil the fifth annual 500 Level Fan All-Star teams.  These are players that would be in the All-Star Game if I had my way.  And just for fun, I’ll also be announcing the fourth annual 500 Level Fan No-Star teams, a list of players who are really, truly, and brutally awful.

So sit back and enjoy 500 Level Fan’s All-Star and No-Stars for 2014:

Catcher

All-Stars: - Salvador Perez (Kansas City, AL) and Jonathan Lucroy (Milwaukee, NL)

- Both Derek Norris of the A’s and Devin Mesoraco of the Reds have better numbers than Perez and Lucroy, but have only just over half the number of at-bats.  So while they have been very impressive, Perez and Lucroy have been equally impressive across a much larger sample size.  Lucroy in particular has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball, with a .326 average, .907 OPS, and 4.4 WAR. 

No-Stars – Jose Molina (Tampa Bay, AL) and Travis d’Arnaud (New York, NL)

- With a -1.4 WAR and a .191 slugging percentage over 136 AB, Molina has actually been worse than J.P. Arencibia was for the Rangers.  d’Arnaud’s time will come, but it clearly isn’t happening this year: .286 OBP, -0.8 WAR, 1 demotion to the minor leagues.

First Base

All-Stars: - Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto, AL) and Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona, NL)

- Before going down with an injury on Friday, Edwin was having a season to remember with 26 HR, 70 RBI, and a .959 OPS.  If not for the DL stint 40-50 HR was a real possibility.  Goldschmidt is proving that last year was no fluke, with a 1B best .960 OPS and 4.1 WAR on a last place Arizona club.

No-Stars – Nick Swisher (Cleveland, AL) and Ryan Howard (Philadelphia, NL)

- Nothing has gone right for Swisher this season, evidenced by his league worst -0.7 WAR and sub-.200 average.  But at least Cleveland isn’t paying him Ryan Howard’s salary.  Howard’s 14 HR are nice, but the .231 average, -0.2 WAR, and 107 strikeouts are not.

Second Base

All-Stars - Jose Altuve (Houston, AL) and Chase Utley (Philadelphia, NL)

- A lot of great options in the AL this season, but none have been better than Houston’s diminutive 2B.  Altuve leads the AL in hitting, has a solid .813 OPS, has nearly as many walks (22) as strikeouts (26), and has swiped 39 bases.  Utley has turned back the clock in Philly to the tune of a .791 OPS and 2.8 WAR.

No-Stars – Eric Sogard (Oakland, AL) and Jedd Gyorko (San Diego, NL)

- Sogard had a nice year in 2013 but has been poor in 2014, and is currently sporting a miniscule .224 slugging percentage.  Gyorko was a breakout star last year, and the Padres expected big things after signing him to a nice extension.  But he has been both injured and awful: .162 average, -1.4 WAR.

Third Base

All-Stars: - Josh Donaldson (Oakland, AL) and Todd Frazier (Cincinnati, NL)

- In a spot normally reserved for Adrian Beltre, it has been Donaldson having the banner year in the AL West.  His 19 HR and 63 RBI are tops among all third baseman, and his defense has been fantastic.  Frazier is having a huge breakout year for the Reds with 17 HR and an .849 OPS, almost single-handedly keeping Cincy afloat in the NL Central.

No-Stars – Mike Moustakas (Kansas City, AL) and Mike Olt (Chicago, NL)

- Royals fans keep waiting for Moustakas to take the next step, but he only seems to be going backwards.  Currently sits under the Mendoza line and has already been sent back to the minors once.  Olt was a prized slugger acquired in the Garza trade last year, and hasn’t disappointed power-wise with 11 HR.  But he has struck out in almost 40% of his plate appearances and is hitting a major league-worst .147.

Shortstop

All-Stars: - Alexei Ramirez (Chicago, AL) and Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado, NL)

- Yes Jeter is starting, but Ramirez should be.  His numbers are outstanding: 8 HR, 41 RBI, 14 SB, .723 OPS, 2.3 WAR.  Tulowitzki has slowed down a bit after his meteoric start, but still leads all SS in just about every offensive category: 18 HR, 47 RBI, .349 average, 1.044 OPS, 5.4 WAR.

No-Stars – Xander Bogaerts (Boston, AL) and Everth Cabrera (San Diego, NL)

- Boston’s rookie has shown flashes of brilliance, but also prolonged stretches of awful-ness.  He has struck out 84 times with a mere .675 OPS.  Cabrera is coming off the Biogenesis scandal, and it seems to have impacted his legs.  Known for his speed, he has only swiped 13 bases while being caught 7 times – a ratio that won’t bail out his .546 OPS.

Outfield

All-Stars: - Jose Bautista (Toronto, AL), Michael Brantley (Cleveland, AL), Mike Trout (LA Angels, AL), and Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh, NL), Giancarlo Stanton (Miami, NL), Carlos Gomez (Milwaukee, NL)

- Bautista and Trout have become staples in this category, and both might be having their best all-around seasons yet.  Brantley has been terrific for the Indians, with a .323 average, .898 OPS, and a perfect 10-for-10 in stolen bases.  In the NL, McCutchen, Stanton, and Gomez are just getting better and better.  The trio have combined for 47 HR, 35 SB, and 12.0 WAR.

No-Stars – Robbie Grossman (Houston, AL) and Domonic Brown (Philadelphia, NL)

- Grossman proved to be a very useful player in 2013 but has been mostly useless this year.  In over 130 plate appearances the Astros OF has managed just 7 extra base hits, a .158 average, and a .536 OPS.  Things have been ugly for Brown this year as he tries to follow up last year’s breakout campaign: only 5 HR and a major league-worst -1.7 WAR. 

Starting Pitcher

All-Stars: - Felix Hernandez (Seattle, AL) and Adam Wainwright (St. Louis, NL)

- Somehow King Felix is getting even better, and this year he finally is getting run support.  He has a 10-2 record to go along with a sparkling 0.89 WHIP, 2.11 ERA, and 145 strikeouts in 136.1 IP.  Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw have both been fantastic in the NL, but Wainwright has been just a bit better.  He leads baseball with a 4.7 WAR and a 1.79 ERA.

No-Stars -  Clay Buchholz (Boston, AL) and Edwin Jackson (Chicago, NL)

- Not much has gone right for the defending champs, not the least of which has been the performance of one of their supposed “aces”.  Buchholz has been horrendous in 2014 with a 6.11 ERA in 13 starts.  I think it’s clear that despite having great stuff, Edwin Jackson will never figure it out.  He continues to defy logic by never missing a start, yet never pitching well.  This year’s numbers: 1.52 WHIP, 5.05 ERA, 45 walks.

Non-Closing Reliever

All-Stars: - Dellin Betances (New York, AL) and Jonathan Broxton (Cincinnati, NL)

- Betances has been a revelation out of the Yankee bullpen, with an astounding 79 strikeouts in 52.1 innings, to go along with a nasty 0.75 WHIP.  Broxton has reinvented himself in Cincinnati as Chapman’s setup man, and has been dominant: 0.76 WHIP, 0.62 ERA in 29 IP.

No-Stars – Alexi Ogando (Texas, AL) and Brian Wilson (Los Angeles, NL)

- Ogando was once a rising star in the Rangers rotation and bullpen, but has been a major disappointment in 2014, allowing nearly two baserunners per inning.  The bearded one has flopped so far as a Dodger (though to be fair he has been better lately): 1.88 WHIP, 5.64 ERA. 

Closer

All-Stars: - Greg Holland (Kansas City, AL) and Huston Street (San Diego, NL)

- Holland is picking up right where he left off a year ago with a 50:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 1.04 WHIP, 1.93 ERA and 23 saves.  Francisco Rodriguez and Craig Kimbrel have received more attention than Huston Street, but Street has been nearly perfect for the Padres: 23/24 in saves, 0.78 WHIP, 1.13 ERA, and only 7 walks allowed.

No-Stars – Ernesto Frieri (Los Angeles, AL and Pittsburgh, NL)

- So bad, he counts for both leagues after a midseason trade.  Frieri has allowed a mind-boggling 27 runs in only 33.1 innings, for an ERA of 7.29.  How he managed to save 11 games is beyond me.

We Are Toronto

Upper Deck Insight 7 July 2014 | 0 Comments

rebirth

The sky is falling.  The world is ending.  Life as we know it is over.

Why you ask?

Because the Toronto Blue Jays were just swept by the best team in baseball.

Head on over to any social media website and see for yourself.  As far as most Jays fans are concerned, 2014 is over.  Actually, we all might be better off if the 2014 season never began in the first place.  That’s what people will have you believe.

In all honesty, the entire act is getting old.  This whole “woe is me, I cheer for Toronto” sentiment has got to stop. 

It will be tough, I realize that.  Decades spent watching our sports teams consistently lose has jaded an entire generation of fans, leaving them sarcastic, jumpy, and angry, like a caffeine addict denied his morning coffee.  The three biggest draws in the city have been working together to build a castle of ineptitude that has done nothing to appease the hunger of Toronto’s rabid sports followers.  The Raptors have only been past the first round of the playoffs once in 19 seasons.  The Leafs haven’t made a Cup final since 1967, and have only been to the playoffs once since 2004.  The Blue Jays have the second longest playoff drought in baseball, 21 long years since Carter propelled us to the top.

All of which has turned Toronto fans hostile.  Even the on-and-off field success of two of our other franchises are not properly celebrated.  After years of unfathomable futility, Toronto FC shocked the soccer world with a huge offseason.  After failing to start the season 10-0, a host of fans are now anticipating – no, expecting – a collapse to the basement.  When the Argos won the Grey Cup a few  years ago, instead of reveling in the city’s first major championship in years, we spent our days lamenting the fact that Toronto doesn’t have an NFL team.

At the risk of over-generalizing, I have to ask: what is wrong with us?  Us, the Toronto sports fan?

Here are some cold, hard facts: the Jays have lost four in a row and 19 of the last 28 ballgames.  Two of their most important players will most likely be out for the entire month of July.  The hobbled offense only managed to score four runs in Oakland, and now travel to LA to face the red hot Angels, before heading to Tampa to take on the red hot Rays.  Of that, there is no denying.

But do you know who else lost four games in a row this season?  The Oakland A’s, from May 22 – 25.  Do you know who else went on an extended rough patch, losing 12 of 17 in May and June?  The Detroit Tigers, who scored fewer than four runs a game in that stretch.  What do both of those teams have in common?  They both overcame rough patches, and both sit in first place in their respective divisions.

Will the Blue Jays turn things around and right the ship?  Who knows.  Hopefully they will.  One thing for certain is that they are not as bad as they have looked in the past few weeks – just as they definitely were not as good as they looked in May.  I can say that, because that ridiculous 20 – 4 stretch they went on works out to a 135 win pace.

But just because the last three weeks haven’t been kind, the fickle and thin-skinned Toronto fans have abandoned the team.  Alex Anthopoulos, who was hailed as a genius in May for bringing up Stroman and signing Juan Francisco, is now an idiot for not adding a right-handed power bat in the winter.  John Gibbons, who was a managerial savant for his handling of the pitching staff during the hot streak, is now stupid and out of his element, because he left R.A. Dickey in too long for a few of his starts. 

And the Jays, the team in general, have gone from baseball’s darlings and a fun team worth supporting to the end, to a bunch of underachieving, no-good losers who will be lucky to stay out of last place, let alone over .500.

That is our city.  That is what we have to put up with.  Those are our “fans”.

But here is a message for all you who breed negativity.  The Toronto Blue Jays have 47 wins.  That is three more than the New York Yankees.  That is eight more than the defending World Series champion Red Sox.  That is six and nine more wins than the pre-season picks to win the AL East (Tampa Bay) and the AL West (Texas).  And that is probably 10 or 15 more than anybody expected them to have at this point in the season.

The bottom line is that the Blue Jays have 72 games left to make up two games on the Orioles.  Do they need help?  Yes – a trade or two would be nice, as would some better luck (and maybe the replay system actually, you know, working…) 

But is this season falling apart, awful, and practically over? 

Hardly.

So enough already.  Enough crying, enough pouting, and enough whining. 

If you’re going to say anything at all about the Blue Jays, make it this:

Go Jays go.

Three Things From Week Thirteen

Weekly Things 30 June 2014 | 0 Comments

photo

What could have been…

After a tough road trip the Jays returned home to face their closest pursuers, and the team that just swept them a few days earlier, the Yankees.  Without Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista the Jays were in tough, but knuckled down and took two of three, before winning the first game in a four-game set against the White Sox.  Facing a team that is struggling to prevent runs, things were looking up for a possible sweep and a 6-1 week.

Instead, the team lost the final three games against Chicago, blowing late leads both Friday and Saturday before being shut out Sunday.  They only managed to score 7 runs in the final three games.

So what could  have been a fantastic week that saw Toronto reassert itself at the summit of the AL East ended with a whimper.

But hey – we’re still in first!

Here are three things from week 13:

Week 13: June 23 – June 29

Record: 3 – 4

1. At Least There’s Good News

It’s hard to find a silver lining when things are turning sour, but Jays fans can take solace in the scoreboard.  While Toronto was busy dropping winnable games, so were Baltimore and New York.  The Orioles lost two straight at home to the last place Rays and remain 1.5 back of Toronto.  Meanwhile, the Yankees lost two straight at home to the Red Sox, and failed to move closer than 2 games back.

But before we get too comfortable, the Boston Red Sox (yes, the terrible, horrible Red Sox), are suddenly only 6 games back.  Yes they are still 6 games under .500, but suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, they are crawling back into contention.  Even the Rays have closed the gap to 10 games.  Both teams are still a long ways back, and if the Jays start winning again they can render that progress moot.

But they have to start winning again – now.

2. The Up-and-Down World of R.A. Dickey

If there ever was a start that could serve as a microcosm of R.A. Dickey’s season, it happened on Friday night.  Dickey was absolutely brilliant through the first four innings: 12-up, 12-down – 6 by strikeout.  The knuckleball was dancing and making Chicago hitters look foolish.  And then, just like that, it was gone.  A leadoff home run to Jose Abreu in the fifth.  A second home run to Dayan Viciedo two batters later.  Two more HRs surrounding a walk in the 7th inning gave the White Sox a 5-2 lead, and effectively ended the game.

That has been Dickey in 2014.  He has had stretches where he has looked unhittable, bringing back memories of his Cy Young season.  But he has alternated those stretches with stretches of poor pitching, where he loses control of his knuckleball and walks batters and gets hurt by the long ball.  Very often, as was the case on Friday, those stretches happen in the very same game, just innings and batters apart.

This is shockingly obvious when you look at his splits.  Below are Dickey’s ERA’s by inning this season (he has only pitched into the 8th inning twice):

1st:  2.12

2nd:  2.65

3rd:  1.59

4th:  2.65

5th:  9.92

6th:  2.19

7th:  16.88

He has surrendered 18 runs in 16.1 5th innings, and 10 runs in 5.1 7th innings.  That is not good at all, but it is also impossible to manage. If he was consistently being shelled in the 7th inning only, Gibbons could pull him after 6 each start, but that’s not the case.  Perhaps a more telling stat is how he fares when facing a lineup for the second and third time.  The first time facing a batting order in a game, Dickey holds them to a .196 average and .598 OPS.  Second time through those numbers increase to .250 average, .732 OPS – not great, but not bad either.  But then the third time through: .306 average, .998 OPS.

Maybe batters can figure out the knuckler the third time they see it.  Maybe Dickey just doesn’t have the stamina.  Whatever the case, his up-and-down season needs to even out sooner rather than later and save John Gibbons some stress.

3. I Can Get a Chicken Hot Dog, Which is Cool

It doesn’t matter if the Jays win the World Series or lose every single game the rest of the season.

After seeing Colby Rasmus wearing a fully tucked long sleeve shirt, a pair of khaki’s, and a backpack, all is right with the world.

Halfway Home

Upper Deck Insight 27 June 2014 | 0 Comments

Halfway

Last night marked the official halfway point of the season for the Blue Jays.  81 games down, 81 remaining.

And what a first half it has been.  When the first pitch was thrown on March 31, expectations were extremely low, and only sunk lower a few hours later after the Jays were thumped by David Price and the Rays, and Jose Reyes was placed on the disabled list.  A month later, after using a Jonathan Diaz / Ryan Goins double play combo, and watching a bullpen without Casey Janssen give away game after game, the Blue Jays finally hit last place.  Another terrible season had begun.

But something funny happened.  Maybe it was the return of Janssen that did it.  Maybe it was the shuffling of the rotation, with McGowan moving back to the bullpen to stabilize the relief corps.  Maybe the team just decided that enough was enough, and a second straight last place finish wasn’t good enough.  Whatever the reason, the Jays took off, making this first half one of the most enjoyable in recent memory.

With 81 games in the books, Toronto is 45-36 and holds a two game lead over Baltimore in the AL East.  They are on pace for their first playoff birth since 1993, and their first meaningful September games since 2000.  And best of all, the team has evolved into one of the most exciting teams in baseball.

They have exciting young pitching in Stroman and Hutchison.  They have crafty veterans in Buehrle and Dickey.  They have a vaunted offense, led by Bautista and Encarnacion (who both sit in the top-10 in the AL in WAR, Slugging, OPS, Runs, HR, and Walks).  They have power, speed, and patience at the plate. 

What has been most impressive for me about this first half surge, is that they have been able to sustain it for such a long time.  Yes they hit a bit of a bump on the recently completed 10-game road trip, going 3-7.  But aside from a sweep in Yankee Stadium, they were able to grind a out a series split in Baltimore, then returned home to take two of three from New York.  I don’t think last year’s edition of the Blue Jays would have been able to do that.

All we have to do is take a look back to last season to prove it.  After going on a season saving 11-game win streak, the team played 7 of the next 8 series against potential playoff teams.  They lost 2 of 3 to Tampa, 3 of 4 to Boston, 3 of 4 to Detroit, 2 of 3 to Cleveland, and 2 of 3 to Baltimore, before being swept in a pair of 3 game series by Tampa and the Dodgers.  Just like that they were 10 games under .500 and buried in last place. 

Call it character, call it desire.  Give credit to the starters, to the hitters, even to manager John Gibbons who has done a heck of a job.  But the 2014 Blue Jays have refused to roll over.

Are there still problems?  Absolutely.  With Lawrie injured, the infield is weakened.  The club could use another solid starter to help with a playoff push.  If Bautista misses much more time, that will become very problematic.  The relievers still walk far too many batters.

But none of that can take away the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays are in first place halfway through the 2014 season.

That is as good as it gets.