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.

Playing Out the Stretch

Upper Deck Insight 27 August 2014 | 0 Comments

sad_violin_by_zombie4pie-d4ccf7o

When the highlight of the month occurs when a backup infielder strikes out a struggling player on a last place team, you know things have gone terribly, horribly wrong.

After Steve Tolleson struck out Will Middlebrooks to end the top of the 11th – the worst half inning of the 2014 season – the sarcastic cheer the fans gave to the club as they left the field might as well have been them applauding the final dagger.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  This wasn’t the way things were supposed to end.  This year was different.  The Jays spent 61 days in first place from May to early July.  On the morning of August 1 they were 10 games above .500 and had a 3-game lead for the second AL Wild Card.  With our injured stars on the verge of a return – Lawrie!  Lind!  Encarnacion! – fans were no longer dreaming about meaningful games in September.  They were dreaming about games in October.

Of course, we now know that none of that is going to happen.  After last night’s extra innings humiliation at the hands of the last place Red Sox, Toronto now sits right at the .500 mark.  They are a full 10 games back of the Orioles, and despite the fact that Baltimore just lost Manny Machado for the season, the Jays will not catch them.  They will also not be catching the teams ahead of them for the last Wild Card spot.  Sure they are only 6.5 games back with 30 to play, but earning that spot means they have to surpass Cleveland, New York, Detroit, and Seattle.  Not a chance.

So this could easily be a post full of sadness, as I lament the late season collapse and the fact that we were so close.  So very, very close.

This could also just as easily be a post full of anger, with me spewing venom and rage at Rogers for their inability / refusal to authorize a trade at the deadline when the team was potentially just one bat or arm away from October.  Or that anger could be directed at Alex Anthopoulos for deciding to stand pat and go with internal options that clearly haven’t worked.

But I’m not going to write either of those posts.

Because the fact of the matter is this: nobody expected this team to even be anywhere near this position in the first place.

This is essentially the exact same team that lost 88 games last year, except that management swapped out J.P. Arencibia for Dioner Navarro and said “go get ‘em.”  This is a team that most, if not all, baseball insiders picked to finish dead last, miles out of the playoffs.  This is a team that has had to give way too many at bats to bench players and fringe major leaguers like Juan Francisco, Steve Tolleson, Munenori Kawasaki, and Danny Valencia.  This is a team who started the season with a double play combo of Ryan Goins and Jonathan Diaz.  This is a team that has seen its players fall apart – both figuratively (Janssen has looked listless since the deadline, Rasmus looks lost, Santos and Delabar went from unhittable to unwatchable) and literally (Lawrie and Morrow can’t go for more than 15 minutes without hurting themselves).

Yet here we are, August 27th, and the Toronto Blue Jays have the same number of wins as losses, remain on the fringe of the playoff race, and are ahead of the defending World Series champions in the standings.

If anything else, this season has taught as many things.  We can no longer rely on Mr. Lawrie to be a regular contributor to the team.  He is now, unmistakably, injury prone.  Jose Reyes is still a dynamic, top-of-the-order force, but will never again win another batting title.  The veteran pitchers are what they are – no longer true aces, but very solid 2-3-4 guys.  Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, and Ryan Goins don’t look like they will get the job done.

But most excitingly is this: the young arms look good.  Really good.  Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Drew Hutchison look like they have the potential to be an outstanding top-3 for years to come.  Daniel Norris has dominated the minor leagues and might be on the verge for 2015.

The Jays will have holes to fill, but might only be another piece or two from actually putting it all together.  Of course, with ownership refusing to become more involved, the likelihood of getting those pieces is slim-to-none.

But that is another story.

This story is all about 2014.  Yes August has been miserable, one of the worst months I can ever remember in my many years of being a Blue Jays fan.  Yes we could taste the playoffs and have watched helplessly as it has all gone to hell.  The odds are slim, but there’s still a chance we rip off a long winning streak to end the season and sneak in.

Regardless of whether or not that happens, as we mourn the end of another empty season, think about this:

I will take this awful feeling, this sour taste of coming oh-so-close and letting it slip away, over the misery of last year’s “never had a chance” any day.

An August Nightmare

Upper Deck Insight 13 August 2014 | 0 Comments

August

To me, August has always been a bit of a sad month.  It is still the heart of the summer, but the days are slowly growing shorter, and September is right around the corner.  I have never been able to enjoy August as much as I should.

And neither, apparently, have the Blue Jays.

After beating Houston on July 31 the Jays were 10 games above .500, held a 3 game lead over Seattle for the second Wild Card spot, and sat only 1.5 games behind the Orioles for first place in the AL East.  They were also red hot, and with Lawrie, Lind, and Encarnacion getting set to return, about to get healthy.  Everything was looking great.

And then the calendar flipped to August.  In 11 games this month the Toronto Blue Jays have fallen off a cliff.  The team has gone 3-8 and been outscored by 28 runs.  They have dropped a full five games in the standings, falling 6.5 back of Baltimore in the East and 2 back of Detroit and Seattle in the Wild Card chase.

The reinforcements that we all expected back in late July / early August never arrived.  Lawrie returned for three innings before being hurt again.  Lind just returned last night, and Edwin isn’t expected back until the weekend.

So what is to blame?  Sadly, everything.

The bats have gone silent.  In August, Jays hitters are performing worse than in any other month, posting a .239 AVG, .302 OBP, .319 SLG, and .621 OPS.  The team has only hit 5 HR in 11 games, and has struck out over 2.5 times for each walk – by far the worst ratio of any month.

The pitching hasn’t been much better.  Starters have gone 1-6 with a 4.52 ERA, and relievers have gone 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA and 0 saves.  There have been great performances to be sure, but it seems like for every great start (Stroman vs. Detroit or Happ vs. Baltimore) there is a dud (Buehrle twice).  For every lights out relief performance (Jenkins et al in the 19 inning game) there is a collapse (Janssen last Friday).

Most worrisome is that the lack of depth is finally catching up with the team.  Fans worried that with Lind, Lawrie, and EE out, the Jays lineup behind the top-3 in the order was weak.  According to August OPS numbers, weak may be an understatement:

Melky Cabrera – .919

Jose Bautista – .892

Jose Reyes – .796

Colby Rasmus – .716

Dioner Navarro – .602

Anthony Gose – .568

Munenori Kawasaki - .468

Those numbers simply aren’t good enough.

What’s interesting (and troubling), is that this August swoon is starting to become an annual event.  In 2010 the Blue Jays went 15-13 in August, marking the last time the team won more than they lost in the month.  In 2011 Toronto went 13-15 in August, the second worst winning percentage of any month that season.  2012 was an absolute disaster with a 9-19 record – the worst by far.  Last year the Jays slumped to a 12-17 mark, 2nd worst of the season.

In a way, the 2011-2013 August records can be explained.  In baseball, August has long been described as the dog days of summer, and generally marks a point in the schedule when games seem to drag on and on – especially for teams that are long out of contention.  With very little to play for, motivation drops, as does performance. 

But this year the Jays actually are in contention.  Games matter.  At bats matter.  They simply aren’t playing out the string as both the players and fans have become accustomed to in recent years.

Like a carrot on a stick, the franchise’s first postseason birth since 1993 is within reach.

As long as we can get through August…

Three Things From Week Nineteen

Weekly Things 11 August 2014 | 0 Comments

Walkoff

photo from mlb.com

 

All’s well that ends well. 

That, in a nutshell, can summarize the week that was in Toronto.  Two thrilling comeback wins over the Tigers ended the homestand with great drama and sent the Jays on the road with happy thoughts, momentum, and confidence.

Of course, while those wins were obviously very, very important in the standings, the biggest value provided was to mask the major disappointment from earlier in the week, when the team missed a golden chance to gain ground on the division leading Orioles, then blew a game in the 9th inning on Friday.

But at the end of the week, the team only lost a single game in the standings and now heads west full of confidence.

As I said – all’s well that ends well!

Here are three things from week 19:

Week 19: August 4 – August 10

Record: 3 – 3

1. Falling Apart

On June 1, after a 4-0 win over the Royals, Mark Buehrle was 10-1 with a 2.10 ERA.  He led the American League in many pitching categories and was on pace for a career year.  In his next five starts he still pitched very well (3.44 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) but was victimized by poor run support and went 0-4.  But since then, things have been going steadily downhill for the Jays lefty to the point that many are starting to question whether he is more of a liability than an asset, and those questions grew louder after his performance last week.

In a very important week for the club, Buehrle made two starts against division leaders.  On Tuesday against Baltimore he was hit hard, lasting only four innings and allowing 4 runs on 10 hits with 3 walks.  On Sunday against Detroit he was just as bad, only giving the Jays 3.1 IP while surrendering 5 runs (2 earned) on 9 hits.  A Jose Reyes in the first led to three unearned runs, and Buehrle was unable to recover.

In total, since that win over the Royals, Buehrle is now 1-7 with a 4.76 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 12 starts.  He looks nothing like the fast moving workhorse who was dominating the league when the season was young.  In a rotation with an erratic knuckleballer and two very young kids, Toronto needs Buehrle to settle down in order to stay close down the stretch. 

2. What a Series!

Let’s put aside for a second any love we have for the home team and act as pure neutral observers.  If you were going to introduce regular season baseball to a first-time viewer, you’d be hard pressed to find a better series than the Detroit vs. Toronto set from this weekend.  It was a three game series featuring two contending teams in August, two old division rivals who still can’t stand each other, sellout crowds, outstanding performances, and incredible drama.  What more could you ask for?

Friday night saw a terrific pitching performance by R.A. Dickey (2 runs on 5 hits in 6 innings), and what looked to be a certain Blue Jays win thwarted in the ninth when Casey Janssen allowed back-to-back home runs for the first time since 2010.  Saturday saw an even better pitching performance by both Marcus Stroman (9 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 4 K) and Max Scherzer (8 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 11 K), and culminated in the Jays snapping a 51-game losing streak when trailing after 8 innings.  A Navarro RBI single in the ninth tied it before a Nolan Reimold game-winning double in the tenth won it for the home team.

And then came Sunday….

3.  What a Game!!!

It started out badly – very badly.  A Reyes first inning error opened the door for three Tiger runs.  Buehrle couldn’t stop the bleeding.  The Blue Jays could barely touch David Price.  It was 5-0 Detroit heading to the bottom of the sixth and fans were heading for the exits. 

But this is baseball.  This is a game where things can change on a moment’s notice.  This is a game where a team is never truly out of it.  There is no clock.  Your opponent has to record 27 outs to win the game, so as long as your team has at least one of those outs remaining, anything can happen.  With two outs and nobody on in the 6th inning the Blue Jays still had 10 outs to work with when good things starting happening.

A Valencia liner was deflected for a double, and was followed up by a Navarro homer.  5-2.

In the seventh, the Jays turned three singles and a walk into two more runs.  5-4.

In the ninth, a strike-em out throw-em out double play was overturned by the magic of video review, allowing Gose to remain on second base, where he was driven in by the first inning goat Jose Reyes.  5-5.

And so the game continued.  It kept going, and going, and going, and going.  Ryan Goins and Nick Castellanos played rock, paper, scissors from opposing dugouts.  Colby Rasmus made not one but two incredible catches to save the Jays.  Juan Francisco blew golden chance after golden chance to save the Tigers.  Chad Jenkins pitched the game of his career – 6 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 4 K - as the final pitcher out of the bullpen.  Melky Cabrera reached based eight times (8!!!!) to keep Toronto believing.  And finally, long after it began, the game ended.  Jose Bautista, after going 0 for 7 with 9 LOB, knocked in Kawasaki in the 19th inning for the win.

19 innings.  6 hours and 37 minutes.  By both inning and time it was the longest game in franchise history.  And when it ended, the Jays were exhausted but happy – so happy they could kiss each other.

kiss

162 Angry Words

They Said It 6 August 2014 | 0 Comments

AngryBeardedGuy

500 Level Fan,

Brett Lawrie is injured again, I hope no one is surprised.  This has to be pinned squarely on the coaching staff, or as I like to say the coaching ‘stiffs’.  As I’ve suggested for over one and a half years now, the coach staff Gibby has in place are a bunch of shmucks.  These stiffs couldn’t condition a special needs athlete preparing for a 2 minutes rhythmic gymnastics routine in the special Olympics.  Last year the injuries in the bullpen were no fluke.  The pitchers are athletes that need world class training and conditioning, which the Jays cannot offer at this time.  Earlier last month, it wasn’t until Adam Lind’s mom suggested an x-ray that they realized his foot was broken.  Now, Brett Lawrie is out with a stiff back, three innings after returning from a broken finger?

Ditch the stiffs, and bring in world class trainers, or the Jays will have no hope to get into the playoffs.

 

Angry Craiger.

More Than A Game?

Upper Deck Insight 6 August 2014 | 1 Comment

Disappointment

A baseball season is a marathon.  It stretches from the end of March to the end of September, 162 regular season games stretched over 180-odd days.  For each team, every season is unique, but every season is also similar in that it contains peaks and valleys, ups and downs, hot streaks and cold streaks.

Because of the marathon-like nature of an MLB season, it’s hard to jump to any conclusions about one game.  Unlike football, where one game represents a good chunk of the schedule, in baseball a single game represents only 0.6% of a full season.  On it’s own, it is relatively meaningless.

Except, of course, when it isn’t.

Last night’s game at the Rogers Centre was quite possibly the most meaningful Blue Jays game in over a decade.  For the first time in a long, long time, the Jays find themselves in a battle for first place, and with the Orioles in town a playoff-like atmosphere had descended over the city.  Sweep the O’s and Toronto would be just one game back, with all kinds of momentum on their side.  The implications were huge.

Faced with that challenge, the team should have been pumped up, adrenaline flowing like a waterfall.  Playing in front of a raucous crowd of over 36,000 fans should have provided a huge advantage. 

It didn’t.

The Blue Jays came out flat.  Mark Buehrle was hit hard and the offence was once again stagnant.  The way that Baltimore was pounding the ball it very easily could have been four or five nothing after two innings.  When the runs finally started crossing the plate, it was not surprising.  The Jays also shot themselves in the foot, squandering chance after chance until the deficit was simply too large to overcome. 

So how much can you really tell about a team from one game?  In last night’s case, the answer is a lot. 

There were many fears about this team as the stretch run neared, and last night’s game can almost be seen as a microcosm of everything we were afraid of.

Consider a few:

Q: Can Mark Buehrle really be depended on to come up big when needed, or were his early season numbers a fluke?

A: 4 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 4 ER, 2 HR in his most important start of the season

Q: Is the bullpen too erratic for a contender?

A: Sanchez, Cecil, McGowan, Loup, and Jenkins allowed 5 ER and 5 walks, with McGowan looking particularly ineffective

Q: Is Brett Lawrie simply unlucky, or has he become injury prone?

A: Making his return after a long absence with a broken finger, he played three innings with one at-bat before leaving with back tightness

Q: Is the offence too dependable on the home run?

A: 3 runs scored, 2 on home runs.  The inability to come up with key base hits led to 10 runners left on base.

Q: Are there too many all-or-nothing one dimensional players?

A: Juan Francisco – 0 for 4, 3 K.  Colby Rasmus – 1 for 4, 2 run HR, 2 K.  Anthony Gose – 0 fior 2, 2 K

Q: Will a team that hasn’t been in the heat of a pennant race for so long be able to hold up when the games get tougher?

A: Doesn’t look like it

The above represents a person reading far too much into a single game.  But the problem is that the Blue Jays could have appeased many of those fears with a good start last night, and they didn’t.  Toronto’s fans are notoriously fickle, and it wasn’t suprising (though definitely inappropriate) to hear some restless boo’s.

But as I stated at the beginning of this piece: baseball is a marathon.  The beauty of this game is that, unlike in football, there is a chance to redeem yourself right away.

After all, there’s another game tonight.

Three Things From Week Eighteen

Weekly Things 5 August 2014 | 0 Comments

Bautista14

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Charles Dickens wrote that about the French Revolution, but I’m going to steal it and apply to the Blue Jays performance last week.

First came glory – a sweep of the Red Sox in Fenway!  A win in the series opener in Houston!  Six straight wins!  Only a game and a half back of first!

Then came the gut punch.  Three straight losses to the woeful Astros.  Three straight games where the team looked lethargic, disinterested, and sluggish.  A disappointing end to a highly promising week.

But hey – we still hold a playoff spot, and a first place showdown with Baltimore awaits!

Here are three things from week 18:

Week 18: July 28 – August 3

Record: 4 – 3

1. The Dreaded Trap Series

If the Toronto Blue Jays are serious contenders, they should not be losing series to the Houston Astros at this time of year, especially not when they can sniff first place.  That performance in Minute Maid Park was futile and pathetic. 

But let’s be honest – the schedule makers did not do Toronto any favours with this series.  The Jays played 10 straight games against bitter division rivals Boston and New York, and then follow that up with 9 straight games against division leader Baltimore, AL Central leaders Detroit, and one of their closest pursuers in the Wild Card race Seattle.  Sandwiched in between that slate of 19 highly intense, incredibly meaningful, super dramatic, and playoff worthy games?  A four-game set against the Astros. 

Yes the Jays need to keep the pedal to the metal and maintain focus.  No they shouldn’t have been caught looking ahead at the first place showdown with the O’s, and some potential playoff preview games with Detroit and Seattle.  You have to take care of the business in front of you first.  But this Houston series had all the makings of a trap series.  Even Pat Tabler said so during the Boston series in Fenway. 

So while losing is never justifiable, I think every Jays fan out there at least mildly expected something like this to happen.  Let’s just hope the team can put it behind them quickly.  The Orioles await. 

2. All Quiet on the Deadline Front

As expected by most, but as a disappointment to many, last Thursday’s trade deadline came and went without a single move by Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays.  Fans and players alike watched in amazement as the Tigers (David Price), the A’s (Jon Lester), the Yankees (Stephen Drew, Martin Prado), the Orioles (Andrew Miller), and the Mariners (Austin Jackson) all made moves to strengthen themselves ahead of the stretch run.

The result of AA’s silence was a backlash of fury and venom from fans, writers, and even some players through the media, including Jose Bautista and Casey Janssen.

Bautista – “Of course it’s a little disappointing that we somehow weren’t able to get anything done, but everybody around us that’s in contention somehow figured it out.”

Janssen – “For us not to do anything, most of us had some ideas that we were going to improve this club a little bit.  It’s unfortunate that we didn’t.”

No team ever likes to see their star players lash out, and truth be told I believe those comments were made in the spur of the moment of a frenzied Thursday.  Letting a few days pass, and armed with the realization that Toronto will be “acquiriing” Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie, and Edwin Encarnacion in the upcoming weeks, the Jays still look pretty good. 

But was staying quiet the right move?  I think so, and Andrew Stoeten from Drunk Jays Fans thinks so.  We’ll find out for sure in October.

3.  Suck It Farrell!

Winning is great.  It always is.  But beating the Boston Red Sox is always better – especially beating the Boston Red Sox in Boston.  The Blue Jays absolutely destroyed the Red Sox last week, sweeping them in three straight games by a combined score of 24 – 4, including a complete beatdown on Monday night (14 – 1).

Not only did the sweep help propel the Blue Jays up the standings, it also – for all intents and purposes – ended the Red Sox season.  Boston was hanging around the fringes of the AL East race for several weeks, but the three-game sweep dropped them deep into the basement, and triggered a huge selloff that saw them deal Jon Lester, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, and Stephen Drew. 

It’s not much, but seeing the Jays bury Boston gives us fans a little bit of revenge on Farrell.

Trade Deadline Primer – What Will Anthopoulos Do?

Upper Deck Insight 30 July 2014 | 1 Comment

Lester

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline arrives on Thursday, and for the first time in what feels like forever, the Toronto Blue Jays are in playoff contention. 

Normally at this time of year, teams in playoff contention are considered buyers.  But the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays are not a normal team.  There are strange circumstances surrounding the Jays this year, painting all decisions with a grey brush instead of in black and white. 

Consider: 

- Will Rogers allow the team to spend money to add payroll? 

- Are they willing to trade top prospects so soon after gutting the farm system in late 2012?

- Can they even compete for top players with teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers, and A’s?

- Will the impending returns of Lawrie, Morrow, Encarnacion, and Lind be enough?  Will those be seen by fans as akin to mid-season acquisitions?

Believe it or not, this is Alex Anthopoulos’ fifth (!!!) trade deadline as the GM of the club, and this one brings by far the most pressure.  The team is winning and is geting oh-so-close to reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1993.  If there ever is a time to go for it, it has to be now, no?  At least that is what most fans are thinking.  If he stands pat and the team falters late to miss the playoffs, people will call for his head.

So what should he do?  More importantly, what will he do?

Before we can answer those questions, it might be worthwhile to take a look back at what he has done in the past.

History

AA has made nine trades in July since he took over as Blue Jays GM.  Though none would be considered blockbusters, I would consider seven to be fairly impactful and I’d have a hard time saying that he lost any of them (the two minor deals included picking up Mike Jacobs for a PTBNL in 2010 and dealing Juan Rivera to LA for futures in 2011):

2010 – Acquired Jo-Jo Reyes and Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins, and Tyler Pastornicky; acquired Anthony Gose for Brett Wallace

2011 – two trades that eventually netted Colby Rasmus from St. Louis, mainly for Edwin Jackson (acquired for Jason Frasor) and Marc Rzepczynski

2012 – 10-player deal with Houston to acquire J.A. Happ; Brad Lincoln for Travis Snider; Steve Delabar for Eric Thames

Escobar was a very useful SS for a few seasons, and Rasmus and Happ remain on the major league roster.  Delabar made the All-Star team last year and is currently in Buffalo working himself out.  Lincoln didn’t do much, but he later became Erik Kratz who then became Danny Valencia.  The key is that the Jays didn’t give up anybody of consequence.  Only Pastornicky and Snider remain with the teams that acquired them, and both have been disappointing.

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So what does that tell us?  To me it says two things:

1 – Anthopoulos is not in the business of making in-season blockbusters.

2 – He will only acquire a player if he sees long-term benefit from that player.  In other words – no rentals.

If you think about it, the biggest trades Anthopolous has made have all come in the winter.  Think of the Roy Halladay, Brandon Morrow, Brett Lawrie, Vernon Wells, John Farrell, Jose Reyes, and R.A. Dickey trades.  Wheeling and dealing outside of the pressures of a pennant race seems to be where AA is most comfortable. 

So what Anthopoulos will or should do, and what fans want him to do are likely two very different things. 

Fans want a blockbuster.  They want Price or Lester or Zobrist or Tulowitzki.  They want a marquee player that will push Toronto over the top and into the playoffs.

But what should he do?  I realize that the Toronto Blue Jays have not reached the postseason for a long, long time.  Getting back to the playoffs is a priority, especially now that they are seemingly within reach.  But different sets of players present different sets of circumstances.  For example, while any fan would love Jon Lester or David Price to anchor their rotation, is it worth giving up elite prospects (say two or three of Hutchison, Stroman, Sanchez, Norris, etc) for 2-3 months of starts?  For a player like Tulowitzki, maybe.  In that case, the prospect haul would be leaving the division and the league.  But for Lester or Price, that means having to play against those guys for the next 5+ seasons, and having to beat them in order to make the playoffs.  No thanks.  Especially because Lester and Price won’t be sticking around.

And there’s the rub.  If Jon Lester was acquired and agreed to a 5-year extension, then suddenly circumstances are different.  But for a multitude of reasons (bad recent history, different country, increasingly stingy ownership, artificial turf) Toronto is no longer a free agent destination.  If David Price arrives and leads the Jays to the ALCS, no matter how much love the fans shower upon him, he will still end up signing with the Yankees or the Mets or the Dodgers or the Braves or the Nationals or the…..

So what should Anthopoulos do?  If it were up to me, nothing.  In the next few weeks the Jays will be acquiring three key players from the injured list – Encarnacion, Lawrie, Lind.  They might be getting a hard-throwing reliever in September (Brandon Morrow).  That right there might be enough to reach the promised land. 

But what will he do?  I don’t know.  There is a very real possibility that it is playoffs or bust for Anthopoulos.  If a man is fighting for his job he is more inclined to strive for short-term gain over long-term benefit.  For that reason I can see him sacrificing some of his top young pitchers for Lester, putting all his eggs in the 2014 basket and hoping for the best.

I just hope his final decision is the right one.