Looking Back: 2014 Blue Jay Predictions

Uncategorized 20 October 2014 | 0 Comments

logo

It is a quiet time in baseball.  We are a day away from the World Series and a few weeks away from free agency.  The best way to fill this lull is with humour.  So with that, let’s take a look back at 25 Blue Jay predictions I made before the 2014 season started.

1. Jose Bautista’s red hot spring carries over into the regular season.  He enjoys his best campaign since 2011 and slugs over 40 HR.

Result: Half right.  Bautista did enjoy his best season since 2011, putting up a .928 OPS and 6.0 WAR but fell a bit short of the 40 HR mark with 35.

2. On Friday April 4th, in the home opener, Dustin McGowan rewards the Jays for years of patience by throwing six scoreless innings against the Yankees.

Result: Not even close.  McGowan struggled in his return to the rotation lasting 2.2 IP and giving up 4 ER.

3. Edwin Encarnacion shows no ill effects of offseason wrist injury, and hits over 35 HR, making him and Bautista the top home run hitting teammates in baseball.

Result: Again, half right.  An injury cost Edwin the 35 HR plateau as he fell just short with 34.  But with a combined 69 HR, he and Bautista were the top home run hitting teammates in baseball (tied with Cruz and Jones of Baltimore).

4. Brett Lawrie continues to struggle to stay healthy, ending up on the DL twice.

Result: Yep, though I did expect him to play more than 70 games.

5. Ryan Goins starts the season at second base, and to the surprise of many actually finishes the season there as well.  While he will never hit a ton, his glove does enough to keep him the lineup every day.

Result: Kind of.  Goins started the season and finished the season as the second basemen, but he spent a good chunk of the middle of the season in AAA Buffalo because he simply can’t hit.

6. Adam Lind still doesn’t hit great against left handers, but for the first time is able to eclipse a .650 OPS vs. LHP.

Result: Way off.  Lind was limited to only 37 PA vs LHP and put up a woeful .223 OPS.

7. Mark Buehrle extends his 200 IP streak to 14 straight seasons….barely.

Result: Nailed it – 202.0 IP.

8. Of the two players once considered Toronto’s elite prospects – Anthony Gose and Kyle Drabek – one of them will be out of the organization by September.

Result: Nope, both finished the season within the organization.

9. Former Jay J.P. Arencibia will out-homer Dioner Navarro by a wide margin, but Navarro will out-OBP Arencibia by 100 points.

Result: Wrong on both.  Navarro actually out-homered Arencibia 12 – 10, and only managed to out-OBP him by 78 points, .317 – .239

10. Armed by the return of his hard knuckler and a healthy back, Dickey has a huge bounceback season, eclipsing 200 strikeouts and posting a sub 3.50 ERA.

Result: No and No.  Dickey did have a pretty good season but fell short of both thresholds, finishing with 173 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA.

11. Buoyed by a couple of fluky caroms in Fenway Park’s wonky outfield, Edwin Encarnacion hits a triple in his final at-bat of a game in Boston to hit for the cycle.

Result: Didn’t happen – though Edwin did hit two triples in 2014, both in Toronto.

12. Jose Reyes plays over 145 games.

Result: So close!!! Reyes finished with 143 GP.

13. For the first time ever, Toronto actually enjoys interleague play and finishes over .600 against the NL.

Result: Nailed it!  The Jays finished 13 – 7 (.650) against the NL.

14. Despite an absolutely massive year by Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen maintains the closers role all season and finishes with over 40 saves.

Result: Kind of a 3-parter.  1) Santos did not have a massive year, wrong.  2) Janssen, aside from when he was injured, did maintain the closers role all season, right.  3) He did not reach 40 saves, finishing with 25, wrong.

15. Marcus Stroman makes an appearance in the big leagues as a reliever.  Aaron Sanchez does not.

Result: Right and wrong.  Stroman began as a reliever before becoming entrenched as a great starter.  Sanchez made 24 relief appearances.

16. Josh Thole starts the season as the backup catcher.  Erik Kraatz replaces him part way through the season.  And A.J. Jimenez ends the season as the backup.

Result: The Jays actually carried three catchers for a while, so both Kratz and Thole were backups.  But Kratz was traded part way through the year (and is now in the World Series) and Jimenez never made the big leagues.

17. Bautista hits 3 HR in a game.

Result: Wrong.  He hit 2 HR in a game twice, but never managed 3.

18. The Jays play 26 games in August and win 18 of them.

Result: Couldn’t be further from the truth.  The Jays entered August just a game and a half out of the AL East lead, and comfortably ahead in the race for the second Wild Card, before going 9-17 to fall out of contention.

19. Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Kyle Drabek, and J.A. Happ all make starts in place of a once-again-injured Brandon Morrow.

Result: Morrow did go down yet again, but only Happ started a game out of that quartet.

20. Moises Sierra plays so well as a fourth OF that the Jays are able to move Colby Rasmus at the trade deadline for pitching help.

Result: Wow.  What was I thinking here?  Sierra was abysmal in the 13 games he played in, posting an .059 average and .145 OPS before being shipped to the White Sox on waivers.

21. Toronto absolutely destroys Masahiro Tanaka….twice.

Result: Masahiro Tanaka absolutely destroyed the Jays….three times.  In three starts against Toronto he was 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA and 22 K in 18.1 IP.

22. A Blue Jay finishes in the top-5 in the AL in the batting race.

Result: Close but no cigar.  With a .301 average Melky Cabrera finished eighth.

23.  In a 3-game series from July 18-20, the Texas Rangers visit Toronto, and J.P. Arencibia strikes out 10 times in three games.

Result: Nope.  Arencibia only struck out twice in the series, and even hit a home run against his former club.

24. Jays hitters go crazy in a Thursday afternoon game at home against the Red Sox, with over 25+ hits, 20+ runs, and back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs.

Result: The Thursday afternoon home game (on July 24) was memorable, but not because the hitters went crazy.  In an 8-0 Jays win, Marcus Stroman took a no-hitter into the 7th and finished with 7 1-hit, shutout innings.

25. With no pressure and no expectations, the Blue Jays are the surprise of baseball and play meaningful games in September…finally.  Dream big right?

Result: I’ll take this one.  The Jays did surprise and remained in playoff contention until mid-to-late September.

Final Tally: Not good.  Not good all.  I did get a few picks right, but was spectacularly off on many.  Moises Sierra?  Yikes…

Announcing the Winners: 500 Level Fan’s 2014 Awards Ballot

Around the Majors 8 October 2014 | 3 Comments

With the 2014 postseason well underway, it is once again time to unveil my picks for baseball’s best.  The Baseball Bloggers Alliance has asked members to submit a ballot for the annual BBA Awards, which are a little bit different from the traditional ones.  There are five awards up for grabs – one each for top rookie, manager, reliever, pitcher, and player (notice the award is for TOP player, not most VALUABLE player).  While some of the awards are brutally obvious (Mr. Kershaw for best pitcher?), the others are very, very tight.

So without further ado, I present to you the 2014 500 Level Fan BBA Award Ballot!

Connie Mack Award – Top Manager

American League

Mike+Scioscia+Los+Angeles+Angels+Anaheim+v+QqxTQKG8enDl

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Mike Scioscia – LA Angels

After badly disappointing in 2013, Scioscia guided the Angels to the best record in the American League in 2014.  Having baseball’s best player certainly helps, but Scioscia had to navigate through a terrible bullpen early on, a major injury to Josh Hamilton, and the loss of 2/5 of the starting rotation (Skaggs and Richards).  He gets my vote.

2. Buck Showalter – Baltimore Orioles

Played most of the season without Machado, Davis, and Wieters, and re-jigged the bullpen on the fly to coast to an AL East title.

3. Ned Yost – Kansas City Royals

Seemed to make questionable moves quite often, and often infuriated fans with his love of bunting.  But there’s something to be said about a manager who leads the worst power hitting team in baseball to its first playoff birth in 29 years.

National League

don-mattingly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Don Mattingly – Los Angeles Dodgers

Yes the Dodgers had the biggest payroll in the game, but it’s tough to actually deliver when much is expected of you.  Add the fact that Kershaw missed a month, Puig being Puig, and having to fit four premium outfielders into three spots, and Mattingly did a great job.

2. Clint Hurdle – Pittsburgh Pirates

For a good part of the year the Pirates made last year’s playoff run look like a fluke.  But Hurdle kept fighting and led the Bucs to a second straight Wild Card spot.

3. Matt Williams – Washington Nationals

Rookie manager took over a talented team that badly disappointed last year.  Result?  A runaway NL East crown.

Willie Mays Award – Top Rookie

American League

images

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox

The numbers were staggering for any player, let alone a rookie: 36 HR, 107 RBI, 35 2B, .964 OPS.  And he missed 17 games too!  No brainer.

2. Masahiro Tanaka – New York  Yankees

It was his award to lose early on, but an elbow injury limited him to only 20 starts.  Those starts were memorable however: 13-5, 2.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 141 Ks while playing in pressure packed Yankee Stadium.

3. Matt Shoemaker – Los Angeles Angels

Came out of nowhere to put up a 16-4 record with a 3.26 ERA for the AL West champions – massive after the injuries to Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards.

National League

030814_Jacob_deGrom_1280_bda5d5mi_kqbhelwt

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Jacob deGrom – New York Mets

Made just 22 starts, but had a dynamite year for the surprising Mets with a 2.69 ERA and 144 strikeouts.  Will be part of a terrific young rotation in 2015.

2. Billy Hamilton – Cincinnati Reds

The Reds badly disappointed in 2014, but Hamilton certainly didn’t.  A .250 average was much better than anticipated, and he added 56 stolen bases.  He might have to do something about the 23 times caught stealing, however.

3. Ken Giles – Philadelphia Phillies

The 23-year old looks like a closer-of-the-future for Philadelphia.  Posted a 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 64 Ks in 45.2 IP.

Goose Gossage Award – Top Reliever

American League

518813

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Greg Holland – Kansas City Royals

The bullpen was one of the key reasons why KC ended its long playoff drought, and the anchor of that ‘pen was Holland.  He saved 46 games and put up a 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 90 K in 62.1 IP.

2. Wade Davis – Kansas City Royals

Acting as Holland’s setup man, Davis was unbelievable.  In 72 IP he struck out 109 batters and posted a 1.00 ERA and 0.85 WHIP.  Perhaps the Royals didn’t lose the Wil Myers trade after all….

3. Dellin Betances – New York Yankees

That’s right – two non-closers make my top-3.  Betances was unreal for the Yankees in 2014 with a 5-0 record, 1.40 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and a staggering 135 K in 90 IP.

National League

Awards - Kimbrel

1. Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves

Kimbrel takes this award for the fourth straight year on my ballot after leading the NL in saves yet again with 47.  He actually put up his worst numbers since 2011, but when your worst numbers are a 1.61 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 95 K in 61.2 IP, you’re pretty solid.

2. Aroldis Chapman – Cincinnati Reds

He just keeps dominating: 36 saves, a 2.00 ERA, and an absolutely ridiculous 17.7 K/9 (106 K in 54 IP).

3. Kenley Jansen – Los Angeles Dodgers

Jansen anchored a sometimes shaky Dodgers bullpen with 44 saves, 101 Ks, and a 2.76 ERA.

Walter Johnson Award – Top Pitcher

American League

felix hernandez

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Felix Hernandez – Seattle Mariners

Unquestionably the best pitcher in the American League.  King Felix was absolutely dominant and nearly led the Mariners to the postseason.  He topped the league in ERA (2.14), Starts (34), WHIP (0.92), and Hits/9 (6.5), finishing with a 15-6 record, 248 strikeouts, and his seventh straight 200+ IP season.

2. Corey Kluber – Cleveland Indians

In just his second full big league season, Kluber came from seemingly out of nowhere to destroy opposing hitters.  With an 18-9 record, 2.44 ERA, and 269 strikeouts, Kluber kept the Indians in contention long after they should have been eliminated, especially in September.  In his final five starts he went 5-0, with a 1.12 ERA and 54 Ks.

3. Chris Sale – Chicago White Sox

Sale took his incredible 2013 numbers and nearly bettered them across the board, finishing with a 2.17 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a league leading 178 ERA+ and 10.8 K/9.

4. Jon Lester – Boston Red Sox / Oakland A’s

Lester started the season in Boston where he was one of the few bright lights on a dismal Red Sox team.  After being swapped to Oakland at the deadline, and faced with the immense pressure of trying to lead a collapsing team to the playoffs, Lester delivered big time: 2.35 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, with a complete game shutout in 76.2 IP.

5. David Price – Tampa Bay Rays / Detroit Tigers

Dealt just hours after Lester, Price wasn’t the difference maker that many expected him to be in Detroit.  But he finished the season as the AL leader in IP (248.1), and strikeouts (271).

National League

Awards - Kershaw

1. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers

While there is debate about who is the best player in the game, Kershaw is hands down baseball’s best pitcher.  His 2014 season was one for the ages.  Despite missing all of April, he still topped the league in wins (21), ERA (1.77), Complete Games (6), ERA+ (197), FIP (1.81), WHIP (0.86), K/9 (10.8), and K/BB (7.71).  A masterpiece.

2. Johnny Cueto – Cincinnati Reds

Cueto had been knocking on the door of stardom for a while, but he finally broke through in 2014.  After injuries limited him to only 11 starts last season, the righty went 20-9, with a 2.25 ERA, and a league leading 242 strikeouts.

3. Adam Wainwright – St. Louis Cardinals

He is emerging as one of baseball’s most dependable starters, after finishing the year with a 20-9 record, 2.38 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP for the division winning Cardinals.

4. Madison Bumgarner – San Francisco Giants

Arguably the least recognizable name on the Giants staff after Cain, Lincecum, Hudson and mid-season acquisition Jake Peavy.  But Bumgarner has supplanted them all after his breakout 2014.

5. Cole Hamels – Philadelphia Phillies

Nice bounce back year for the lefty, in an otherwise dismal year for the Phillies.  Despite earning only 9 wins, Hamels put up a 2.46 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, and fell just short of 200 Ks.

Stan Musial Award – Top Player

American League

miketrout

1. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

There should be no debate this year about who wins this award, whether it be Top Player, Most Outstanding Player, or Most Valuable Player.  Trout is simply on another planet right now compared to the rest of the league.  In a season where he struck out more than ever before (league leading 184), and stole significantly fewer bases (16), Trout still managed to light up the league.  He topped the AL in WAR (7.9), Runs (115), RBI (111), and Total Bases (338), and finished in the top-10 in OBP, SLG, OPS, 2B, 3B, and HR.  His success also finally turned into team success as he led the Angels to the AL West crown. Oh – and he’s still only 23.

2. Josh Donaldson – Oakland A’s

Second to Trout in WAR at 7.4, Donaldson might have topped him if not for a September swoon.  Still, the Oakland 3B maintained his status as one of the best overall players in the game, with a rock solid 2.7 dWAR to go along with 29 HR and a .798 OPS.

3. Victor Martinez – Detroit Tigers

In a relatively down year for Miguel Cabrera, it was Martinez who became the offensive catalyst for Detroit.  He led the league in OBP and OPS, and set a career high with 32 HR.  He also hit an insane .337 with two strikes.

4. Jose Bautista – Toronto Blue Jays

Kept the Jays on the fringes of the playoffs all year long, as he put up his best season in years.  Bautista finished in the top-10 in WAR, OBP, SLG, OPS, Runs, HR, RBI, and Walks.

5. Jose Altuve – Houston Astros

Houston’s sparkplug had a career year, leading the league with 56 stolen bases, 225 hits, and a .341 average.

The rest:

6. Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox

7. Nelson Cruz – Baltimore Orioles

8. Michael Brantley – Cleveland Indians

9. Robinson Cano – Seattle Mariners

10. Adrian Beltre – Texas Rangers

National League

Clayton Kershaw

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers

I’m not normally a fan of pitchers winning MVP, or in this case Top Player, awards but I think this year qualifies as a special circumstance.  Kershaw was just utterly and thoroughly dominant in a season when no position players were utterly and thoroughly dominant.  Kershaw topped the entire NL with a 8.0 WAR – miles ahead of second place.  He deserves it.

2. Giancarlo Stanton – Miami Marlins

MIght have been his award had a beanball not ended his season in early September.  As it is, Stanton led the league in HR with 37, SLG at .555, and total bases with 299.  He also finished in the top-3 in WAR, OPS, RBI, and BB.

3. Andrew McCutchen – Pittsburgh Pirates

Another outstanding year for the Pirates CF, and another postseason appearance for the Pirates.  McCutchen’s .952 OPS, 7.8 oWAR, and .410 OBP all topped the NL.

4. Jonathan Lucroy – Milwaukee Brewers

The unheralded Brewers catcher quietly put up a terrific year for Milwaukee.  He actually led all position players with a 6.7 WAR and 53 doubles, and put up an .837 OPS, all while playing 136 games at baseball’s toughest position.

5. Buster Posey – San Francisco Giants

The former NL MVP, Posey had an excellent year in 2014 (22 HR, .854 OPS, 5.2 WAR).  But he really came into his own by hitting .393 with a 1.043 OPS during the heat of the pennant race in September, helping the Giants clinch a Wild Card spot.

The rest:

6. Russell Martin – Pittsburgh Pirates

7. Anthony Rendon – Washington Nationals

8. Adrian Gonzalez – Los Angeles Dodgers

9. Carlos Gomez – Milwaukee Brewers

10. Justin Morneau – Colorado Rockies

500 Level Fan’s 2014 Playoff Predictions

Around the Majors 4 October 2014 | 0 Comments

playoffs

The MLB postseason is underway after a so-so Wild Card round.  We were treated to an absolute classic between KC and Oakland and then an absolute, old-fashioned blow-out between Pittsburgh and San Fran.

With 8 teams left, there really isn’t one true favourite. Things are wide open. So who will win?

American League Divisional Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles

Baseball is a funny game, one that I don’t understand.  On paper, the Orioles are a terrible baseball team.  Their three best players are all out for the playoffs – Machado, Davis, and Wieters.  Their lineup is stocked with no-names and scrubs, like Ryan Flaherty, Steve Pearce, and Caleb Joseph.  Their big offseason signing, Ubaldo Jimenez, was a bust.  Their power hitting shortstop J.J. Hardy hit only 9 HR.

On paper, Detroit is a juggernaut.  They have a huge offense with Cabrera, Victor and J.D. Martinez, Kinsler, Hunter, and Castellanos.  They have a rotation with three Cy Young winners, and two other All-Stars, and a potential hall of fame closer.

Yet it was Baltimore who romped to a division title and Detroit who clinched on the final day of the season.  It’s Baltimore who comes into this series as the favourite, and Detroit who is the underdog.  Never-the-less, I think the Tigers, despite a shaky bullpen, have what it takes to pull out the upset.

Prediction:  Detroit in 5.

Kansas City Royals  vs. LA Angels

After squeaking past Oakland in a game for the ages, the Royals reward is a trip to LA to face the best team in the American League, who are led by the best player in baseball.  Good luck!

But if the Royals proved anything this year, is that they can never be counted out.  Despite a weak offence and a mediocre starting rotation, Kansas City kept finding ways to win.  They used speed, bunts, and an outstanding bullpen to sneak past teams who relied on power.

But can they do it again?  Can they get by a team that has tons of thump and pop, with Trout, Pujols, Hamilton, Kendrick, and Calhoun?  There are serious questions about the Angels pitching, and there may be questions about how Trout fares in the playoffs for the first time.

Says here he will be fine.

Prediction:  LA in 4.

National League Divisional Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

How does St. Louis do it?  Year after year they find themselves in the postseason, despite having to overcome huge obstacles.  This year was no different as they faced a huge divisional deficit to the Brewers, and a late season push by the Pirates to emerge as NL Central champions – despite poor performances by many of the guys they were counting on (Tavares, Wong, Craig), and a severe injury to Yadier Molina.  Yet – here they are again.

They face the Dodgers in a rematch of last year’s NLCS.  LA is led by the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw.  But as good as he is, he always seems to struggle against the Cardinals.  If he continues to struggle against them, that makes the starts by Zack Greinke and Hyun Jin Ryu that much more important.

I can see St. Louis beating Kershaw once, but if Greinke and Ryu hold form, that means the Cards will have to beat him twice.  I can’t see that happening at all.

Prediction: LA in 5.

San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals 

Of course the Giants are back in the playoffs – it’s an even numbered year!  After winning it all in 2010 and 2012 San Fran is hoping for some more even number magic in 2014.  With the Cy-worthy Madison Bumgarner taking over as team ace, and with a red hot Buster Posey, they have as good a chance as ever.

They will face Washington, a year removed from being one of the most disappointing teams in the game.  This year, behind a solid rotation and a dominant bullpen, they dominated the NL East and are poised for a deep playoff run.  A lot may rest on the shoulders of Bryce Harper, however.  He used to be compared to Mike Trout as one of the best players in the game, but injuries and struggles have dropped his stature significantly.  If the good Harper shows up, the Nats should win.  If not….

Prediction: Washington in 5.

American League Championship Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Los Angeles Angels

If the Tigers have actually made it this far, it is a good indication that the bullpen is righted itself and the starters are firing.  That is bad news for the Angels, who despite having great offensive players, struggle a bit against power pitchers.  The biggest difference maker may very well be Anibal Sanchez.  Bumped from the rotation, Sanchez has the ability to give the Tigers 3, 4, or 5 quality innings from the bullpen if necessary.  With injuries to their rotation, that is a luxury that LA simply doesn’t have.  Miggy vs. Trout will get the headlines, but  Sanchez will earn the accolades.  Detroit in 6.

National League Championship Series

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals

Clayton Kershaw against Stephen Strasburg.  Baseball fans everywhere salivate at the thought.  But there are more than just those two involved here, in what would be a series loaded with superstars.  Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann, Zack Greinke, and on and on and on.  Washington won the season series 4-2, but I think there is something special about this Dodger team this year.  Kershaw dominates, and the Nationals can’t keep up. Dodgers in 7.

World Series

Detroit Tigers vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Funny – I picked this exact same World Series last year, meaning there is likely no chance that it happens.  But if it does – imagine the pitching match ups!  Scherzer, Verlander, Price, Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu.  Then you have Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler vs. Puig, Gonzalez, Ramirez and co.  You have speed with Gordon and Rajai Davis.  You have shaky bullpens, which means the potential for crazy late inning drama.  Basically you have everything you’d want for a classic.  I picked the Tigers last year, and I think I’ll stand by them again  Miggy has to win once in Detroit right?

World Series Prediction: Detroit Tigers in 6.

The 500 Level Fan Guide to Playoff Rooting

Around the Majors 30 September 2014 | 0 Comments

Detroit-Tigers-Tiger-Logo-Design_9662f8d9-183f-462b-8e45-81432b69a110_1024x1024

The march to the 2014 World Series begins tonight as the Oakland A’s take on the Kansas City Royals, in Kansas City’s first playoff game since 1985.  The fact that the Royals made the postseason this year means that the crown of longest suffering fans has been passed to those of us who support the Blue Jays – a humiliating achievement.

Because our beloved team once again failed to play on past game 162, for the 20th consecutive playoffs we need to choose a new team to support.  After all, the playoffs make for great TV watching, but only if you go non-Swiss and actually pick a side to root for.

Normally the process of elimination is fairly straightforward as there is always a bitter rival to cheer against, like the Yankees or Red Sox.  But this year marks the first time since 1993 that neither Boston nor New York qualified, so things aren’t so simple.

But don’t worry – by following a simple step-by-step process, 500 Level Fan will have an October team picked out for you in no time.

Let’s do this.

Step 1 – The AL East

Just because the Red Sox and Yankees missed the cut, doesn’t mean it’s OK to support another AL East team.  It’s actually against the law to do that.

CUT – Baltimore Orioles

Step 2 – Recent Winners

Building dynasties can be fun if the dynasty plays in your city.  Otherwise, they suck and are not to be cheered for.  The Giants and the Cardinals have combined to win 4 of the past 8 World Series.  Enough is enough.

CUT – St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants

Step 3 – Teams that make you mad

Granted, this may be subjective, but tell me that you look at the roster of the Kansas City Royals and don’t get at least a little bit angry.  On paper the Jays should be able to crush a team that starts Omar Infante, Nori Aoki, Alcides Escobar, and brings Raul Ibanez off the bench.  Yes they are a nice story, but I can’t get behind them.

CUT – Kansas City Royals

Step 4 – Boring Teams

Aside from Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, tell me something exciting about the Nationals?  Harper’s regression this year makes him much less interesting than Trout or Puig, and there is no cinderella element to them.  They just do everything pretty well – and that’s boring.

CUT – Washington Nationals

So that leaves us with half the field: the Pirates, Dodgers, Angels, A’s, and Tigers.  The final step is to rate those teams in three categories: ex-Jays, best story, and most exciting.

Ex-Jays

5 points – Angels – Johnny Mac, John Buck

4 – Tigers – Rajai Davis

3 – Pirates – Travis Snider

2 – Dodgers – Brandon League

1 – A’s – Jesse Chavez

Best Story

5 – Tigers and A;s (tie) – I like it when teams go for it, so the aggressive trade deadlines for Oakland and Detroit give them a leg up.

3 – Pirates –  Back in the playoffs two years in a row.

1 – Dodgers and Angels (tie) – same expensive rosters as a year earlier.  Ho-hum.

Most Exciting

5 – Angels – Mike Trout in the playoffs, enough said

4 – Dodgers – Puig, Kershaw, Greinke, Brian Wilson’s beard…

3 – Tigers – Miggy, Victor, Kinsler, Price, Verlander, Scherzer, and on and on

2 – Pirates – McCutchen is worth watching all by himself

1 – A’s – Adam Dunn finally tastes the playoffs

Bottom Line

I can’t believe I’m saying this, what with bitter division battles in our history, but with a total of 12 points, give me the Tigers this October.  With a roster full of great players, a long series drought, an aggressive GM and owner, recent playoff failures, and ex-Jay representation, why not pull for them to bring the series back to Detroit?  They can keep it warm for us for 2015.

500 Level Fan of the Game – September 24, 2014

FLF of the Game 25 September 2014 | 0 Comments

Kemper

It took me a while, but finally, on the final homestand of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays season, 500 Level Fan has uncovered a 500 Level Fan of the Game!

There was an extremely sparse crowd on hand to take in what turned out to be the quickest game of the season – only 1:59 was needed for Mark Buehrle and Taijuan Walker to duel in 1-0 Jays win.

Though there weren’t many fans on hand, there was one fantastic gentleman sitting in front of us in section 532.  Clad in a personalized jersey, “Kemper” was heavily in tune to the game, watching intently as Buehrle was dealing on the mound.  Despite the dome being deathly quiet for most of the game, Kemper came equipped with bright red ear plugs – fascinating.

Kemper loved the Jays, but it became clear early on that he was not a huge fan of John Gibbons.

In the top of the third, Corey Hart led off with a fly ball down the right field line that dropped very close to the line and bounced out of play.  The ball was called fair by the first base umpire, giving Hart a leadoff double.  It was tough to tell if the ball was fair or foul from our seats, but that didn’t stop Kemper from laying into Gibbons for not challening the call right away.

“Come on Gibbons!  Get out there you bum!  You’re a bum Gibbons!  A bum!  Come on you turd!  Put down your beer and get out there!  You bum!”

Gibbons of course did challenge, and lost.  Classic.

Kemper delivered another gem in the ninth, after a leadoff walk put a Mariner on first base.  “Good thing that wasn’t a no hitter,” he said, nonsensically.

But by far the best part about Kemper was his reaction to each Buehrle strikeout.  As soon as strike three was delivered, he would sweep his arm forward, flick his wrist, and wave goodbye to the strikeout victim.  It was our lucky night that Buehrle and Sanchez combined for 11 Ks, which meant we were treated to 11 goodbye waves!

Thanks Kemper, for the wonderful memories!

 

The Magnificent Bautista

Upper Deck Insight 23 September 2014 | 3 Comments

Bautista14

It has been a tough September to be a Jays fan.  After a thoroughly disgusting August, the Blue Jays put themselves back on the fringes of the playoff race with a 10-3 stretch in the middle of September.  Suddenly, hope was back in the city.

But the team hit the skids in a major way.  They were swept in Baltimore, lost 3 of 4 in New York, and will now be watching the playoffs like the rest of us.

Why?  How did this happen?  How did a season full of such of promise turn into yet another lonely October?

There are many reasons, but to put it bluntly this team just simply wasn’t good enough this year.  To quote Drew Fairservice, he of the great blog Ghostrunner on First, the Jays had  “too many at bats given to players who simply cannot – or could not – hit.”  The other teams were flat out better.

But though this season has turned into a disappointment, there is one thing that it has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt: Jose Bautista is an absolute beast.

Coming off two consecutive injury plagued seasons, there were many who were critical of the Jays leader.  “He is injury prone, his best days are behind him,” and on and on.  There were even whispers that Toronto should look to trade him for pitching help.

So what has Bautista done this year to answer his critics?  How about:

– .288 average (15th in the American League)

– 35 HR (3rd)

– 103 RBI (7th)

– 98 R (3rd)

– 103 BB (2nd)

– .407 OBP (1st)

– .940 OPS (4th)

– 5.7 WAR (9th)

Those numbers are incredible and cement Bautista as one of the best players in the American League.  But what’s even better than that is how amazing he has been lately.  With the Jays season spiralling out of control and playoff hopes growing dimmer by the day, Jose Bautista has put this team on his back and tried his best to carry them – to will them – into October.

In his past 25 games Jose Bautista has exploded: .318 / .455 / .716 / 1.170, 11 HR, 26 RBI, 19 BB : 12 K.  He has made countless fantastic plays in the outfield, and has been all around lights out.

Sadly his heroics won’t be enough to end Toronto’s playoff drought.  But if there is one thing that his finish should accomplish it’s this:

Nobody should question Jose Bautista anymore.

Season Ending Wish List

Upper Deck Insight 17 September 2014 | 0 Comments

norris

It was a wild, bumpy, exciting, agonizing, and all around great ride, but it’s time to call a spade a spade and admit it – this season is over.

Sitting five games back of the second wild card with 12 to play, the Jays need not one, not two, but three miracles to make the postseason.  First they need to finish strong – insanely, incredibly strong – along the lines of 11-1 or 12-0.  Then they need the Royals to have a terrible finish, and they also need the Mariners to have a similarly terrible finish.  The odds of that happening are slim to none.

But that doesn’t mean we should just tune out.  We should all be thankful for the season that Gibbons and co. have given us.  Meaningful September baseball for the first time since 2000 is a huge step forward, and a nice foundation has been laid for a truly competitive 2015.  Instead of being angry that the team fell short, fans should be celebrating a great turnaround season and some unexpected late season drama.

That doesn’t mean we can’t want something, however.  Below are five things I would love to see in the season’s final 12 games:

1. Colby Rasmus playing every day

The writing is on the wall for Rasmus.  After three-and-a-half up-and-down seasons in Toronto it is obvious that Colby will not be brought back for 2015 and beyond.  He arrived with much fanfare but never seemed to reach his full potential here, and now finds himself benched in favour of Kevin Pillar.  But despite his shortcomings as a player, fans have grown fond of Rasmus, with his Southern quirks and his love of chicken dogs.  Even though he will likely be suiting up in a different uniform next year, the Jays should let him finish out 2014 manning centrefield in Toronto, not rooted to the bench.

2. Daniel Norris making a start

I really want to see Aaron Sanchez get a chance at starting a game, but that is unrealistic seeing as how he has been in the bullpen for months.  To be honest, having Norris make a start is also unrealistic for the same reasons, but his last start came much more recently so stretching him out might be less of an issue.  He has only appeared in 3 games since his promotion in September, and as a much hyped prospect I’d love to see him pitch multiple innings to see what he can do.  If it means shutting down Marcus Stroman a start early, I’m all for it.

3. Dalton Pompey getting a start or two

Similar to Norris, Pompey was called up in September and has barely played.  With the Jays on the verge of being eliminated I’d love to see him in the outfield ahead of Pillar or Gose, at least once, and preferably at home.  Obviously decisions for 2015 won’t be made based on a few games, but it would be nice to see if he can offer more than Pillar or Gose.

4. Brandon Morrow closing games

While it seems obvious that Rasmus won’t be back next year, there are also many indications that Casey Janssen will also be a member of a new team.  His critical comments at the trade deadline, his drop in performance in the second half, and the fact that Sanchez was given a few save opportunities ahead of Janssen all seem to point Casey towards the door.  If so, the Jays will be looking for a new closer, and with Sanchez hopefully making the move to the rotation, Morrow might be a decent candidate if he’s brought back.  He is a power arm who has done it before, so why not give him a look to close out the season?  I personally think his control is too erratic to be effective, but if he’s in the mix I say throw him to the wolves.

5. Anthony Gose batting in the leadoff spot

I’ll be honest: this seems like an all-around bad idea.  Gose really struggles at the plate, and there are days when it seems he can’t hit the ball to save his life.  But he has drawn walks at a much higher rate than Reyes this season (9.8% of plate appearances vs. 6.3% for Reyes) and he has great speed.  Reyes at times has looked a little too swing happy and shown little patience.  Melky Cabrera was a great #2 man in the order, but on the chance that he leaves via free agency, the Jays should at least toy with the idea of going Gose, Reyes, Bautista at the top – at least for a few games in September.

Three Things From Week Twenty-Four

Weekly Things 15 September 2014 | 0 Comments

 mayberry

We wanted it.  We demanded it.  We waited patiently for it for years – decades even.

And now that it’s here, it’s proving to be gut wrenching, exciting, and devastating, all rolled together.

By ‘it’, I’m referring to meaningful September baseball, something not seen in this city for a long, long time.  And while it is certainly exciting, the gut punching, dramatic losses that the Jays experienced Friday and Sunday hurt that much more because the games are that much more important.

There are 14 games left.  The Jays need to win at least 10 of them. 

There is still a pulse.

Here are three things from week 24:

Week 24: September 8 – September 14

Record: 4 – 2

1. The Damn, Pesky Rays

It doesn’t seem to matter what month it is, where the games are played, are where each team is in the standings, the Tampa Bay Rays have a knack for killing the Blue Jays.  We were hoping that this weekend would be different.  Toronto had already won a series in Tampa for the first time in forever to get that monkey of their back, plus the Jays were in contention and the Rays were not.

But that’s not what happened.  Toronto was shutout by a no-name kid making his Ray debut on Friday, then wasted a stirring comeback to lose in extra innings yesterday.  Brandon Morrow, pitching out of relief, lost his control for about 7 pitches in the tenth, which was long enough to put the eventual winning run on third. 

The series loss damages the Jays playoff hopes, but doesn’t crush them as they didn’t lose any ground to the Wild Card leaders.  The biggest enemy now is time.  Only 14 games left to make a difference, but thankfully no more against the Rays. 

2. Happ-tastic

When you think about Blue Jay pitchers, what comes to mind are usually two groups.  You have the crafty veterans in R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, going out and generally giving you 6 solid innnings each and every start.  You also have the young and exciting kids, the dynamic arms of Hutchison, Stroman, Sanchez, and Norris.  Very rarely does the name J.A. Happ come to mind.

Maybe it’s time that it does.  Though his season numbers aren’t spectacular (9-10, 4.74 ERA, 1.36 WHIP), Happ has been quietly effective, even outstanding, recently.  On Friday night he might have turned in his best start of the season, in the heat of a pennant race.  He held the Rays to just two hits in seven innings, walking only one and striking out seven.  Unfortunately one of the two hits allowed was a solo HR, the only damage in a 1-0 loss.

Going back across his past 10 starts from July 22 Happ has been one of the Jays best and most consistent pitchers.  Despite a 2-5 record, his numbers look really good: 3.50 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 55 K in 61.2 IP.  That even includes a 3 inning clunker in Milwaukee. 

He doesn’t have the biggest name, the brightest upside, or the most decorated past.  But Happ is making a case that he just might deserve to be here in 2015.

3.  One of the Best Moments of the Year

It’s a bit odd to say that one of 2014’s best moments occurred in a Blue Jays loss, but it’s true.  Trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth, with 2 out and nobody on, the Jays turned to John Mayberry Jr. off the bench.  After falling behind with two strikes, things looked bleak.  But Mayberry got a pitch he could hit, turned on it, and lasered it over the fence for a game-tying home run.

What was so great about it was the reaction from the bench.  Watching them go crazy as the ball clears the fence and breaths new life into the team was a joy. 

That, my friends, is the beauty of a pennant race.  And that is why nobody is giving up.

Three Things From Week Twenty-Three

Weekly Things 8 September 2014 | 0 Comments

Melky

Devastating.

If one word can sum up one game, and if that one game can sum up an entire season, that would be the word.  Devastating.

Friday night’s loss in Boston not only ended a five-game winning streak, it also ended Melky Cabrera’s season and for all intents and purposes Toronto’s playoff hopes.  There is still a chance, but that chance is now very, very slim.

But though this will likely go down as an unsatisfying end, it has still been a great season. 

Here are three things from week 23:

Week 23: September 1 – September 7

Record: 4 – 2

1. Not Giving Up

Toronto’s playoff chances grow dimmer by the day, but you’d never know by watching Jose Bautista.  The Jays leader has been on absolute fire lately almost single-handedly willing his team forward.

His numbers from last week are staggering, some of his best output of the season: 10 for 27, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .370 avg, 1.022 OPS, and several defensive gems in the outfield.  But his hot streak stretches further back than just last week.  Jose is now riding an 11-game hit streak, during which he has slugged 7 HR, driven in 12, scored 11 runs, and put up a 1.226 OPS.  Not surprisingly, the Jays have gone 7-4 during that stretch.

On the season Bautista now ranks 6th in the AL in home runs, T-9th in RBI, and 3rd in OPS.  He has been everything the Jays have asked him to be and more.  It seems unfair that his efforts might come up a bit short in the chase for October. 

2. Giving Up…

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Blue Jays management.  Obviously nobody has come out and said that 2014 is over and the team is now looking ahead to 2015, but looking at the product on the field, it cetainly seems like that has been decided.  By who (Gibbons, Anthopoulos, etc.) is unclear.

Why do I say that?  Well, for starters yesterday’s starting lineup included Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose, and Ryan Goins, players who may or may not be a part of the 2015 Jays, but if so will likely be platooning.  Meanwhile, Colby Rasmus stays stuck to the bench, despite coming up with a few massive pinch-hit homers last week, and guys like Dan Johnson and Dalton Pompey are being passed over for pinch hits by Kawasaki.

For a team that is only 5 games out of the wild card to not field its strongest lineup is unfathomable.

3.  A Sad End to a Great Season

Losing Friday’s game in the most heartbreaking fashion possible was tough to swallow.  But losing Melky Cabrera for the season is the biggest blow of all. 

After a truly miserable debut season with the Blue Jays, Melky was outstanding in 2014.  He has 171 hits, good for second in the AL, along with a .301 average, .808 OPS, and 3.2 WAR.  After looking like a wounded deer playing the outfield in 2013, he was solid, if not above average this season.  If not for Bautista, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Melky the team MVP.

The biggest question facing the Jays now is will they bring him back?  Cabrera is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, and one would think that after this big comeback season that he has played himself into a nice contract.  With Toronto’s recent stinginess, it’s hard to imagine they break the bank for him.  But it would be great, if not essential, that he comes back.

So What’s It Gonna Take?

Upper Deck Insight 29 August 2014 | 0 Comments

chance

The Jays came up with a huge win over Boston on Wednesday night, a win that pushed them back above .500.  More importantly, that win moved them to within 5.5 games of the second Wild Card.  A pulse is a pulse, no matter how faint it may be.

But how realistic are Toronto’s chances at the postseason?  Is it even worth getting ourselves excited for a chance at late season glory?

Let’s take a closer look at the schedule and find out.

First off – we can remove the AL East from our outlook.  The Jays are 9.5 back of the Orioles with only 29 games left.  Baltimore has 30 games left to play, and barring an epic collapse, they should coast to the title.  The O’s worst 30-game stretch this entire season happened between May 10 and June 10 when they went 13-17.  If they repeat that to close the season, the Jays will need to finish 22-7 to match them.  More realistically, Baltimore should be pegged for 15-17 wins, meaning the Jays will have to go on a 26-3 tear just to tie them for first.  Very, very unlikely.

Secondly, we can remove the first Wild Card from our outlook as well.  The loser of the Oakland / LA battle in the West pretty much already has that sewn up.

So it’s down to the second Wild Card slot, and a one game playoff on the road in California. 

The contenders: Seattle, New York, Toronto, and two of Kansas City, Detroit, and Cleveland.

The Blue Jays have 67 wins and are currently 5.5 games back.  Here is Toronto’s remaining schedule:

Games Remaining: 29

Home vs Road: 16 – 13

Games vs. teams over .500: 17

The good news is that Toronto has more home games remaining than road games.  The bad news is that 17 of the final 29 games are against winning teams.  Even worse is that half of the 12 games against sub-.500 teams are against the Rays, a team that owns the Jays, and one 3-game set is against the Cubs who surprisingly have been one of the NL’s best teams since the All-Star break.  And one more piece of bad news – Toronto still plays a 3-game series in Tampa and a 4-game series in New York, two stadiums where the team simply has not been able to win.

If there is any amount of positive in the remaining schedule, it’s this: 11 of the final 29 games are against teams that are in the mix for that second Wild Card slot, including four at home against Seattle.  Winning those games would be huge.

So how does Toronto’s remaining schedule match up with the rest of the contenders?

schedule

The Yankees have a slightly more difficult schedule than the Jays, with 18 games remaining against winning teams, including eight against Baltimore. 

The three AL Central teams have the easiest remaining schedules in terms of quality of opponent, but the key to those teams is this: they have a lot of games remaining against each other.  Kansas City and Detroit meet six more times, Kansas City and Cleveland meet six more times, and Detroit and Cleveland still have seven more matchups.  The best case scenario for the Jays is that either a) one team runs away with the division and the other two split their head-to-head games, or b) all three teams slug it out against each other and split the remaining games.  Having two teams beat the snot out of the third would not be good news.  It might be in the Jays best interest to hope for option a, and have that dominant team be Detroit.  The Tigers close out 2014 with 7 straight home games against the White Sox and Twins, the easiest schedule of the bunch.

And then we get to the Mariners.  Currently Seattle is looking pretty good, tied with the Tigers for that last playoff spot.  But take a look at that remaining schedule – it is brutal.  They are the only team in the mix that will play more road games than home games (18 vs. 12).  By the nature of them playing in the AL West, which is home to the two best teams in the American League, 20 of their final 30 games are against winning teams, including a bonus 3-game set this weekend against Washington, the runaway NL East leaders.  That’s tough.

So who makes it?

Judging by current records, it will likely take at least 89 victories to grab the second Wild Card spot.  As it stands now, it would be hard to bet against Detroit and Kansas City getting in, one as the Central champ, one as the Wild Card.

In order for the Jays to sneak in, they need to get red hot, and stay red hot, until the end of the season. 

Likely?  No.  But stranger things have happened.

22 wins to glory, and it has to start tonight.