Confidence and Winning

Upper Deck Insight 27 August 2015 | 0 Comments

celebrate

There is something special about these Blue Jays.

It’s been fairly obvious over the past three weeks that the team is really, really good, but it took the last two games for it to really sink in that they are a special group.

On Tuesday night, Mark Buehrle didn’t have his good stuff but still found a way to grind out six innings and keep the Jays in the game.  Coming into the ninth inning they trailed 5-4 and put runners on first and second with one out.  For Jays fans who have been around for a while and are used to being punched in the gut and kicked in the nuts time and again (as in for the past 20 years), the situation was primed for a classic game ending double play or back-to-back strikeouts.  The classic Blue Jay syndrome: provide hope, get agonizingly close, and then fall just short.  Even after the clutch hit by Tulowitzki tied the game and the Jays eventually took the lead, there was some back-of-the-mind foreboding that a Texas walkoff homer was waiting for us in the ninth.  Of course, that didn’t happen and the Jays held on for the win.

Last night the team got off to a horrible start, with David Price surrendering a single, home run, single to start the first inning.  I have been so used to watching Jays teams from the past decade simply roll over and die when faced with such early adversity, that I almost half expected a Rangers blowout.  Of course, that didn’t happen and the Jays came storming back to win 12-4.

Obviously the trades made by Alex Anthopoulos have played a major factor in Toronto’s turnaround, but there is something more than just a few new faces fueling things.  To me it goes back to the chicken and the egg, with confidence and winning: does winning breed confidence, or does confidence breed winning?

There is no question that the Blue Jays are an incredibly confident squad right now.  It doesn’t seem to matter if they are behind by a truckload of runs early (like they were on Sunday in Anaheim), or behind by a single run late (a la Tuesday night), to a man they truly believe that they are going to win each and every game.

Not to pick on anybody, but that sense of confidence and belief wasn’t here earlier this year, last year, or even the last 3-4 years.  Whether it was Adam Lind whiffing against left-handed pitchers to kill rallies, Lawrie throwing helmets, Reyes making costly errors, or guys like Casey Janssen, Frank Francisco, Kevin Gregg, or Miguel Castro blowing late leads, there was always a sense of doom circling around the team.  Although nobody came out and said anything, it was clear that fans were not confident in the players, and that certain players weren’t confident in their teammates (or even themselves).  Guys were trying to do too much and nothing was working.  There was no sense of calm – everybody was pressing.

Maybe it’s the veteran presence and leadership of guys like Price, Tulowitzki, Martin, and Donaldson, or maybe it’s simply the fact that the team is winning games (both close games and lopsided games), but that sense of urgency and panic is gone.  You can see it when Ben Revere makes a circus catch and winks about it with Pillar.  You can see it when Ryan Goins draws multiple walks in a single game.  You can see it when Edwin Encarnacion actually smiles, as he did last night after his grand slam.  You can see it when Bautista trades jerseys with a fan before the game starts and takes BP with a too-small Messi jersey on.  You can see it when R.A. Dickey and David Price sit and laugh together in the dugout.

There is no longer a sense of fear, a sense of underachievement, a sense of disappointment.

Every player is on the same page.

This is quickly becoming a special group.

These aren’t the Jays we are used to.

These are winners.

The Week That Was: Week 20

Weekly Things 24 August 2015 | 0 Comments

EE Happy

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 20.

Week 20: August 17 – 23

Record: 4 – 1

Season-to-date: 69 – 55

AL East: 1st, 0.5 ahead of New York

Wild Card: N/A

  1. Offensive Explosion

Talk about a beating.  Toronto rolled into Anaheim scuffling a little bit, after a disappointing split with the last place Phillies and a series loss to the Yankees.  Jose Bautista was struggling, Troy Tulowitzki was not hitting, and Josh Donaldson had been held relatively in check.  Then, suddenly, everything turned around.  Pick an adjective, any adjective, to describe what the Jays did to the Angels and it would be fitting: destroyed, massacred, obliterated, crushed, they all fit.  The Blue Jays set franchise records for both runs and hits in a 3-game series, scoring 36 times on 48 hits.  They exploded for 17 extra base hits (5 HR, 1 triple, 11 doubles), and scored three or more runs in an inning five separate times, including a 7-run outburst on Saturday.  Everybody was hitting, most importantly the three guys mentioned above who were scuffling.  Tulowitzki had three hits, including a double, with an RBI and four runs scored.  Bautista scored five times, launched a mammoth home run, and posted a 1.357 OPS.  Donaldson continued to make a case for the AL MVP award with a ridiculous series: .615 / .625 / 1.154 / 1.779, with 4 doubles, a home run, and 9 RBI.  Baseball’s best offense just keeps getting better.

  1. Edwin on Fire

EE spent the last few years playing second fiddle to Jose Bautista, providing protection and putting up massive power numbers, but never getting the same notoriety as Joey Bats.  Now this year, with the arrival of Donaldson and the acquisitions of Tulo and Price, it’s almost as if Edwin has gotten somewhat lost amidst the hoopla.  Well apparently under the radar is exactly where EE wants to be, because he has absolutely exploded in recent weeks.  Edwin went 4-for-4 yesterday to extend his hitting streak to 19-games, currently tops in the major leagues.  In those 19 games he has posted a .414 average and 1.233 OPS while swatting 5 HR and driving in 18 runs.  Before the streak began EE’s season totals were very un-Edwin like (.234 average, .782 OPS), but with the recent hot streak they are right back where we expected: .265 / .861.  When Edwin is rolling like this, there is literally nothing that opposing pitchers can do to stop Toronto’s offense.  Literally.  Nothing.

  1. Roster Mayhem

Loup is down!  Hutchison is down!  Things are crazy!  While in reality the demotion of Drew Hutchison is more to do with a scheduling quirk than anything else (4 off days in 15 days), here’s hoping that the demotion to Buffalo lights a fire under Hutch.  He was very good in each of his last two starts, but his nasty home/road splits make it simply impossible for John Gibbons and co. to trust him on the road.  Despite his 12-2 record there would currently be no possibility that Hutch stays in the rotation if the Jays were to make it into a playoff series.  In fact, with Stroman on his way back and wanting to be stretched out as a starter, with the emergence of Estrada and the resurgence of Dickey, and the complete turnaround of the Toronto bullpen, it might not be a stretch to think that Hutchison doesn’t even have a spot on the postseason roster (again, if they make it that far).  With that in mind, a few days down in the dregs of the minors might be exactly the wake up call that he needs to save his season.

Player of the Week

Josh Donaldson, 3B

Who else? 11-for-21, 3 BB, 9 R, 13 RBI, 4 2B, 3 HR, .524 / .560 / 1.143 / 1.703

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 65 – 64, 3rd place

AA – New Hampshire: 61 – 63, 4th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 23-33, 5th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 26-28, T-5th place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: First Half (complete): 16-22, 4th place; Second Half: 13-11, 2nd place

The Look Ahead

David Price faces his former team.

August 25-27 at Texas

August 28-30 vs. Detroit

The Week That Was: Week 19

Weekly Things 24 August 2015 | 0 Comments

Drew Hutch

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 19.

Week 19: August 10 – 16

Record: 4 – 2

Season-to-date: 65 – 54

AL East: 2nd, 0.5 GB of New York

Wild Card: First (3.5 ahead of Baltimore for WC1, 4 ahead of LAA for WC2)

  1. Playoff Atmosphere

It has been a while, but playoff-like baseball is back in Toronto.  The Jays came home from sweeping the Yankees in New York and kept the good times rolling against Oakland, sweeping the A’s to run their winning streak to 11 for the second time this season.  The win on Thursday afternoon propelled the team into first place this late in the season for the first time since 1993.  And the fans noticed.  The dome was loud, rocking, and heavily into the games.  Over 130,000 people crowded Rogers Centre for the three game set against the A’s, including an astounding 46,902 for a 12:30 afternoon start on Thursday.  That crowd even astonished many of the Jays players, including Ben Revere:

Revere Tweet

To top that, over 140,000 fans flooded the dome for the weekend series, a first place showdown against the Yankees.  While the outcome didn’t go as hoped for, the atmosphere and energy in the city is reaching 92/93 levels.  It’s safe to say Jays fever is catching on.

  1. Round Two to the Yanks

The Jays swept the Yankees in New York from August 7-9, closing to within a whisker of first place.  In the return match this past weekend it was the Yankees who got the better end of the deal, taking two of three to return to first place.  The series was a classic, with pitching ruling the day.  On Friday night, David Price held the Yanks scoreless through 7 innings and took a 3-0 lead into the 8th, only to see Aaron Sanchez allow a pinch-hit 3-run HR to Carlos Beltran as NY escaped with a 4-3 comeback win.  On Saturday, Marco Estrada held them to 2 runs on 3 hits through 6 innings, but was outgunned by Masahiro Tanaka’s complete game gem.  But the Jays showed that they are not willing to roll over and die.  Faced with a quasi-must win game on Sunday, and needing to avoid a sweep at home, Bautista’s huge 2-run HR helped pace Drew Hutchison to another home win.  He shut down New York, allowing only 3 hits and 1 ER in 6.2 IP.  These teams still play each other seven more times in 2015.  Buckle up.

  1. The Curious Case of Aaron Loup

Aaron Loup was victimized for a crushing ninth inning add-on run on Saturday afternoon, a run that essentially put the game out of reach.  It was yet another disappointing outing for a guy that was one of the Blue Jays best relievers in each of the past three seasons. The problem, however, is that it’s hard to say what is wrong with Loup.  His K/9 ratio of 9.9 is a career high, and his BB/9 ratio of 1.5 is his best since his rookie year.  If he is striking out more batters and walking fewer, how can his ERA be 5.20, by far the worst of his big league career?  The short answer is that he is falling victim to the Hutchison syndrome.  Loup’s FIP sits at 3.89 and his BABIP is .340, meaning a large number of balls put in play are falling in for hits.  He is giving up a touch more home runs this year than in years past, but the unluckiness of the balls hit against him is what is driving his regression.  Unfortunately for Loup, with the Jays in a pennant race and carrying an extra reliever, those numbers, nor the fact that he throws with his left hand, may save his spot on the big league roster.

Player of the Week

Drew Hutchison, SP

The much maligned pitcher turned in a couple of gems (at home, as usual): 2-0, 13.2 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 3 ER, 1.98 ERA, 0.73 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 59 – 56, T-2nd place

AA – New Hampshire: 57 – 54, 4th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 18-24, 5th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 23-20, 3rd place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: First Half (complete): 16-22, 4th place; Second Half: 5-6, 3rd place

The Look Ahead

A rare 5-game week, including three against Trout, Pujols, and the Angels.

August 18-19 at Philadelphia

August 21-23 at LA Angels

500 Level Fan of the Game – August 11, 2015

FLF of the Game 12 August 2015 | 0 Comments

IMG_1292 (2)

Another night another win for the red hot Jays.  Last night’s 4-2 win over Oakland was the ninth straight for the juggernaut and pushed Toronto to only 0.5 games back of New York for first.

It was a special night at the dome as the visit by the A’s marked the return of Brett Lawrie.  Lawrie was a bit of an enigma in Toronto.  He had a ton of talent and a ton of heart, but never quite lived up to expectations.  But he was still a fan favourite, with his reckless and passionate play, not to mention his Canadian passport.

When he came to bat for the first time he received a nice ovation, with most of the cheering coming courtesy of today’s 500 Level Fan of the Game.

There are many things wrong with that photo, but most obvious is the colouring of the jersey.  Fluorescent green?  Black and grey?  And, again – fluorescent green????

I overheard this fine gent saying things like “I just don’t know who to cheer for” and “I miss him.  I really miss him” when Brett came to the plate.

For that bizarre behaviour, and even worse jersey, it’s a no doubter for fan of the game.  Extra props for the grab of the bum too.

The Week That Was: Week 18

Weekly Things 10 August 2015 | 0 Comments

price toronto

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 18.

Week 18: August 3 – 9

Record: 7 – 0

Season-to-date: 61 – 52

AL East: 2nd, 1.5 GB of New York

Wild Card: First (0.5 ahead of LA for WC1, 3.5 ahead of Baltimore for WC2)

  1. Statement Made

Well how about that!  The Jays have been red hot since Alex Anthopoulos went crazy and revamped the roster, and were 8-1 in the nine games between Troy Tulowitzki’s debut and Thursday’s win over Minnesota.  But still, even after that run, there were doubters.  The run was fueled by unsustainable adrenaline from the trades; other than the Royals, the opposition was weak (last place Phillies and fading Twins); all the games were in Toronto; etc.  I don’t think there can be any doubt left now.  The Jays waltzed into Yankee Stadium, a place where they have traditionally struggled, and not only swept the first place Yankees, they steamrolled them.  In three games (including a ten-inning classic on Friday), New York scored a grand total of one run, and even that was a questionable HR that needed video review.  Toronto dominated NY in every aspect of the game.  They slugged better, fielded better, ran better, had better starting pitching, and better relief pitching.  It was a full team effort as the Jays were led by their stars (Bautista, Donaldson, Price, Tulowitzki) and their lesser players (Smoak, Goins, Hawkins, Estrada).  In the end, the Jays left New York still in second place, but with the feeling that they are indeed the better team.  That is how you make a statement.

  1. What a Debut!

David Price has been a Blue Jay for exactly two starts, and he already looks like one of the best four pitchers in the history of the franchise.  Watching him stroll to the mound on Monday afternoon brought back visions of truly dominant aces from the past, guys like Dave Stieb, Roger Clemens, and Roy Halladay.  Those guys left an indelible mark on both the franchise and the city, and Price has a chance to do the same.  You seriously couldn’t ask for a better debut.  On Monday Price completely destroyed the Twins, striking out 11 batters over 8 innings.  Then on Saturday, pitching against a team that has owned him throughout his career, he squashed the Yankees, allowing only three hits in seven innings.  His numbers through two starts are insane: 2-0, 0.60 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 18 K.  He is scheduled for ten more starts in 2015, and if he continues to bring that kind of dominance there is a very good chance that he will be making several more starts…..in October.

  1. From Awful to Amazing

That can be the slogan for the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen in 2015.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that the ‘pen was terrible, one of the worst relief corps in all of baseball (and maybe even in Blue Jays history).  Brett Cecil was getting rocked as the closer, and guys like Jeff Francis, Scott Copeland, Todd Redmond, Andrew Albers, Phil Coke, and Colt Hynes were getting rocked on a daily basis.  In part it was because the players simply weren’t good enough, but in part it was also because there were no defined roles.  The team broke camp without a traditional closer and was trying to figure who should pitch in what inning and in what situation on the fly.  It didn’t work, with the bullpen posting only 6 saves and 11 losses in April and May.  Fast forward to the present day, however, and things have changed.  Big time.  Osuna is now locked in as the closer, Aaron Sanchez as the setup man, and LaTroy Hawkins as the seventh inning guy.  Cecil, free from the pressure of closing, is once again dominating.  Bo Schultz has been a revelation and Liam Hendriks just keeps thriving.  In the second half of the season the Jays ‘pen has been the best in baseball and in the seven games last week they were flat out scary: 17 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, for an ERA of 0.00 and a WHIP of 0.47.  They also struck out 14 batters while walking only 3.  The superstar sluggers and dominant ace may get all the headlines, but the new, dominant bullpen will be what gets the Jays to October and beyond.

Player of the Week

David Price, SP

Dominant: 2-0, 15 IP, 6 H, 5 BB, 18 K, 1 ER, 0.60 ERA, 0.73 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 59 – 56, T-2nd place

AA – New Hampshire: 57 – 54, 4th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 18-24, 5th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 23-20, 3rd place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: First Half (complete): 16-22, 4th place; Second Half: 5-6, 3rd place

The Look Ahead

Lawrie returns, but it’s three against the Yanks that has the city buzzing.

August 11-13 vs. Oakland

August 14-16 vs. New York

A Complete 180

Upper Deck Insight 5 August 2015 | 0 Comments

180-1

Another day, another win for the Blue Jays.  Last night’s 3-1 victory over the Twins brought the club’s second half record to an impressive 11-6 and moved them into sole possession of the second Wild Card spot in the American League.

But as impressive as the second half has been for the Jays, what’s more impressive is how they have been winning – with pitching.

Yes, that’s right.  The Toronto Blue Jays have been pitching the lights out since the All-Star break.

It’s not like the offense has flat out disappeared.  They still have the most dynamic lineup in the majors.  But the bats that topped the AL in runs (486), OPS (.772), and doubles (178), and were third in HR (115) at the break has slipped to 6th in runs (83), 5th in OPS (.796), 8th in doubles (31), and T-2nd in HR (28).  Still good, of course, but not as dominant.

Which all means that the second half turnaround has been fuelled from the mound.

In the first half of the season, Blue Jay pitching was atrocious.  The starters ranked 13th in ERA (4.46), allowed the second most walks (170), the third most HR (67), and had the second worst WHIP (1.361) in the entire American League.  The bullpen was a bit better, but not much: 7th in ERA among relievers (3.62), and a crazy 17 blown saves.

Those numbers are clearly not good, but the thing is that Toronto’s pitchers weren’t bad.  Their track record suggested that better things were likely to come: R.A. Dickey is traditionally better in the second half, Hutchison couldn’t possibly continue to be as bad as he was (or can he?) and a move was certainly going to be made to remove Felix Doubront from the rotation.

Well, even before that huge move was made to get David Price, Toronto’s pitchers started to perform better.  The move to solidify Osuna as closer, move Sanchez to the bullpen, and acquire Hawkins and Lowe have also helped a ton.  Just look at the second half numbers:

Starters

ERA: 2.91, 1st

WHIP: 1.086, 2nd

BB: 22, 2nd fewest

K/BB: 3.14, 5th

IP/Start: 6.18, 2nd

Relievers

ERA: 2.16, 1st

WHIP: 0.700, 1st

BB: 9, tied for fewest

K/BB: 5.22, 2nd

If you rank all AL pitchers with a minimum of 20 IP post All-Star break by ERA, you will see that Dickey ranks third at 0.92, Price ranks 14th at 2.79, and Estrada ranks 15th at 2.96.  All three also rank in the top-10 in WHIP.  In terms of relievers, Hendriks, Cecil, and Hawkins have combined to throw 16 innings of scoreless ball with 19 strikeouts and a single walk.  Sanchez has a WHIP of 0.18 and 3 holds, while Osuna has notched four saves with a sub-1.00 WHIP of his own.

There’s an old saying that says pitching and defense wins championships.  If these second half numbers continue, that saying just might be proven right.

(And even if they don’t, who cares?  We’ve got Tulowitzki, Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, Martin, and on and on and on……)

The Week That Was: Week 17

Weekly Things 4 August 2015 | 0 Comments

jd walkoff

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 17.

Week 17: July 27 – August 2

Record: 4 – 2

Season-to-date: 54 – 52

AL East: T-2nd, 6 GB of New York

Wild Card: 1 GB of 2nd Wild Card (Minnesota)

1. Did That Really Happen (Part 1)?

Last Monday the Blue Jays were an underachieving and floundering team that was stuck on the fringes of the pennant race with a fanbase that was growing angrier and more hostile by the day.  What a difference a week makes!  Finally deciding to make some big moves and go for it, Alex Anthopoulos transformed the team and the city.  By acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, LaTroy Hawkins, Mark Lowe, and Ben Revere the Blue Jays have to now be considered a contender, and the level of excitement in the city is through the roof.  Attendance is up, merchandise sales are up, and most importantly expectations are up.  As they should be.  With Price, the Blue Jays have their first true ace since Roy Halladay, and with Tulowitzki they have a genuine superstar who can dominate both offensively and defensively.  The addition of Lowe and Hawkins (not to mention Sanchez) to the bullpen gives them a lockdown force, and with the second half surge of Buehrle and Dickey, the rotation finally can provide innings.  It cost a lot in terms of prospects to bring in these guys, but for a team that hasn’t reached October since 1993, it was well worth the gamble.

2. Did That Really Happen (Part 2)?

With an extra buzz going through the city, and with the defending AL Champions in town, players had to be even more amped up than normal this past weekend.  There was a playoff atmosphere in the old dome, but unfortunately, the atmosphere seemed to be a little bit too intense for some come Sunday afternoon.  It didn’t take long to realize that home plate umpire Jim Wolf was in way over his head and his inability to control the events on the field nearly led to a disaster.  After Edinson Volquez hit Josh Donaldson in the first inning, Wolf inexplicably issued a warning to both benches.  Repeat – this was the first inning.  Even more inexplicably, after the Royals pitchers ignored the warning by repeatedly throwing at Donaldson (and actually hitting Tulowitzki), Wolf decided to also ignore his own warning by failing to eject Volquez, Ryan Madson, and Ned Yost.  Instead, he tossed John Gibbons for trying to protect Donaldson, then proceeded to toss Aaron Sanchez and Demarlo Hale after Sanchez plunked a Royal in the 8th.  That incident led to a benches clearing altercation on the field, one that very easily could have turned ugly.  Wolf then proved what a real winner he was by refusing to speak to the media after the game, and letting his on-field actions speak for themselves.  Those actions tell anybody watching that he is woefully unprepared for playoff baseball and should be punished for his incompetence.  The weekend series also proved that Kansas City Royals fans are stupid, that Edinson Volquez is a true idiot, and that a Jays / Royals playoff series would be absolutely unbelievable.

3. Did That Really Happen (Part 3)?

Yes.  Yes it did.  Long live John Gibbons!

gibbonsthebest

hat tip to the Blue Jay Hunter for the photo

 

Player of the Week

R.A. Dickey, SP

The much maligned knuckleballer has been red hot lately, especially in two starts last week: 2-0, 15 IP, 9 H, 3 BB, 10 K, 0 ER, 0.00 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 56 – 53, T-2nd place

AA – New Hampshire: 55 – 50, 4th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 14-22, 5th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 19-18, T-3rd place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: First Half (complete): 16-22, 4th place; Second Half: 3-4, T-2nd place

The Look Ahead

A huge week.  The Jays face the team they are chasing for the Wild Card, and the team they are chasing for the AL East.

August 3-6 vs. Minnesota

August 7-9 at New York

Was Getting David Price the Right Move?

Upper Deck Insight 31 July 2015 | 0 Comments

price

Um…yeah!

Hell yeah!

Was the price high?  Maybe, but it could have been worse.  Plus, I honestly think that people overrate Daniel Norris because of his quirky lifestyle (you know, the van, the beard, the samurai sword), and Matt Boyd may be scarred for life after being shelled in his second career start.

By locking up Bautista and Encarnacion for only the rest of this year and next year, but bringing Donaldson and Martin and Tulowitzki – all in their prime – and with Buehrle likely in his final year, the time to win is now.

They weren’t going to win with Felix Doubront in the rotation.  They weren’t going to win with Brett Cecil as the setup man.  Now with Price at the top of the rotation, with Sanchez and Hawkins in the bullpen, this team is much, much, much better today than they were yesterday.

Get ready Toronto.  Excitement is coming.

Blockbuster!

Upper Deck Insight 28 July 2015 | 0 Comments

tulo

I was not expecting that.

Already loaded with the best offense in the game, the Toronto Blue Jays went into stealth mode last night and added perennial-MVP candidate Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies along with LaTroy Hawkins, in exchange for Jose Reyes, Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, and Jesus Tinoco.

As always seems to be the case with Alex Anthopoulos, the deal came out of nowhere.  While Tulowitzki’s name had been in the rumour mill for years, the Blue Jays were never mentioned as a potential landing spot, especially with Reyes already entrenched at short.  Surprise surprise!

But sadly, as is always the case with Toronto sports fans, the trade is already being slammed by many.  “Castro can throw 100 MPH!”  “Hoffman was an amazing prospect!”  “Tulo’s numbers are down!”

And, of course the big one: “But we needed a pitcher!!!!”

Here are seven reasons why you can ignore those rants and feel good that this trade was a good one.

1. Read this article on Fangraphs.  It explains in good detail why upgrading the offense might actually be more beneficial than upgrading the pitching, even on a slugging team like the Jays.

2.  The Blue Jays haven’t reached the playoffs in 22 years.  They are built to win now.  It has already been proven that Castro cannot help this year’s club, and Hoffman is still in AA, so at best he might reach the majors in 2016.  That doesn’t help now.

3.  By any defensive measure (errors, fielding percentage, DRS, UZR, the old-fashioned eye test), Tulowitzki is much, much, much better than Reyes.  This in itself will improve the pitching by turning more balls in play into outs.

4. Even if things don’t work out this year, Tulowitzki is signed until 2020.  Even though Hoffman and Castro are gone, the Jays still have a projected top-4 of Stroman, Norris, Sanchez, and Hutchison, who should each continue to get better while Tulo is still here.

5. There are still over three full days until the trade deadline.  There are more moves to come.  Never judge an unfinished product.

6. Yes the Jays still need pitching, but don’t forget that they acquired pitching in this deal.  Just because Hawkins is 42-years old doesn’t mean he’s dead and finished.  He has a 3.63 ERA and 1.16 WHIP this year, better numbers than half of the Jays bullpen.  In addition, dating back to mid-June Hawkins has a 0.68 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in 13.1 IP, with 11 strikeouts and only 1 walk.  In other words, he still has a lot to offer and improves the ‘pen.

7. The teams and stories aren’t 100% comparable, but they are very similar so let’s go back in time.  In 1993 the Toronto Blue Jays were the defending World Series champions, and brought back a very powerful lineup.  The top of the order was the best in baseball (WAMCO – White, Alomar, Molitor, Carter, and Olerud), Ed Sprague was making a name for himself as a solid hitting 3B, and the Jays brought back a rejuvenated Tony Fernandez in mid-June.  They were stacked.

Unfortunately, they weren’t stacked on the mound.  Despite signing veteran Dave Stewart to pitch alongside returning 20-game winner Jack Morris, and three promising youngsters in Guzman, Hentgen, and Stottlemyre, Toronto’s rotation was awful.  Seriously bad.  By July 31, six pitchers had made at least 10 starts, and only Pat Hentgen had an ERA below 4.00:

1993 pitchers

Jack Morris and Al Leiter were awful, and Dave Stewart was struggling badly.  To put those numbers in context, at the end of July 1993, the American League average ERA was 4.58 and average WHIP was 1.42, meaning only Hentgen was pitching at an above average clip.

On July 31 the Toronto Blue Jays had the fourth best run differential in the AL (+50) mainly thanks to the third best offense (546 runs scored).  The 496 runs allowed was 6th worst in the league.  The Jays were still very good – at 60-45 they were tied with the Yankees for first – but with serious pitching issues, their staying power at the top was questionable.  Remember, this was before the Wild Card existed, so a team had to win its division to make October.  The Yankees had a rotation anchored by three above average pitchers (Jimmy Key, Jim Abbott, and Scott Kamieniecki) and the Red Sox were lurking just 1.5 games back with Roger Clemens, Danny Darwin, Frank Viola, and Aaron Sele all posting better than average ERA’s.

In short, the Jays had a stacked offense and terrible pitching, and at the trade deadline needed to make a move for a pitcher.  Sounds a lot like 2015, right?

So with fans and critics alike screaming at him to pull the trigger on a high powered starter, what did Pat Gillick do?  He picked up Rickey Henderson, one of the greatest offensive threats in baseball!  He upgraded an already dynamite offense, and although Henderson didn’t perform at his usual superstar level, the move ignited the Jays to a 35-22 finish and a second straight championship.

Alex Anthopoulos has seemingly followed the exact same blueprint as Gillick with the acquisition of Tulowitzki.  He made an already amazing lineup better, and the seeds are planted for the franchise’s first playoff birth since that ’93 team.

Is there a chance that a pitcher is added before Friday?  Sure.  But the Jays have won in the past with a terrible rotation, so there is certainly a chance that they can do it again.

Things are getting real.

The Week That Was: Week 16

Weekly Things 27 July 2015 | 0 Comments

russellmartin

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 16.

Week 16: July 20 – July 26

Record: 3 – 3

Season-to-date: 50 – 50

AL East: 2nd, 6.5 GB of New York

Wild Card: 3 GB of 2nd Wild Card (Minnesota)

1. A Successful Trip?

In the last five seasons the Blue Jays have gone 7-11 in Oakland, and 6-11 in Seattle, so fans feared the worst as they headed out West for six games this past week.  Things looked even more dire as they were lined up against Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Felix Hernandez, three of the AL’s ERA leaders.  With those challenges against them, a 3-3 road trip should be viewed as a success, but for some reason it doesn’t feel that way.  On Wednesday night they blew a glorious chance to take the lead in the ninth inning before losing on a video review in the tenth.  Then yesterday our old friend Aaron Loup once again couldn’t hold onto a 2-run lead late, as the Jays lost in 10 innings.  At this stage of the season Toronto needs to be better than just .500, especially with the Yankees refusing to lose.  So even though many were expecting a 1-5 jaunt out west, three wins feels almost like a hollow victory.

2. Benny Hill on the Bases

Kevin Pillar has been a bright spot for Toronto this year, with a solid bat and an outstanding glove.  But the guy seems to commit an awful lot of baserunning mistakes.  What happened yesterday might not be 100% his fault, but he was in the middle of a debacle once again.  There are simply no words for this other than pathetic:

 

3. Two Gone….

It’s no secret that the Toronto Blue Jays need pitching help.  Mark Buehrle has been outstanding, R.A. Dickey is quietly turning things around (3.32 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in his last 10 starts), and Estrada has been very solid.  But the fifth starter slot has been inconsistent, and Drew Hutchison needs to be sent down to Buffalo for the rest of the season and work on getting things back in order for 2016.  All of which makes an acquisition of a pitcher at the trade deadline not a nice-to-have, but an absolute must.  With Scott Kazmir going to Houston and Johnny Cueto to Kansas City, not only are two of the biggest available arms gone, they are both now on teams ahead of the Jays in the AL.  I’m not necessarily saying they should have ponied up for one of those guys (especially if Stroman was the ask), but they need to pony up for somebody or else risk facing the wrath of fans and players alike.  The deadline is this Friday: it’s your move Alex.

Player of the Week

Russell Martin, C

Tore the cover off the ball out West: 8 for 18, 6 R, 2 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .444 / .476 / .889 / 1.365

Down on the Farm

A look at how the minor league affiliates are doing

AAA – Buffalo: 53 – 49, 2nd place

AA – New Hampshire: 50 – 48, 4th place

A+ – Dunedin: First Half (complete): 32 – 38, 5th place; Second Half: 11-18, 5th place

A – Lansing: First Half (complete): 42 – 28 , 1st place; Second Half: 16-15, T-2nd place

A (Short Season) – Vancouver: 16-22, 4th place

The Look Ahead

The start of a 9-game homestand.  The time to make a move is now.

July 28-29 vs. Philadelphia

July 30 – August 2 vs. Kansas City

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