Casey Janssen – Bullpen Hero

Why wouldn’t he?

With the bullpen general (Jason Frasor) now wearing pale hose, why wouldn’t Casey Janssen be the man to step up and fill that void?

Octavio Dotel has a natural replacment – any reliever who can’t get out lefties.

Marc Rzepczynski has a natural replacement – Luis Perez.

And I’m here to tell you that Jason Frasor has a natural replacement as well. It’s not Jon Rauch. It’s not Frank Francisco. It’s not Shawn Camp.

No.

That man is Casey Janssen.

I think you can make a case that Janssen has been Toronto’s best reliever this year. As of right now, his 2.90 ERA is the lowest in the ‘pen. His 1.29 WHIP isn’t spectacular, but is only worse than Rauch, and is far, far better than Frankie and Camp.

Other stats point to Janssen’s effectiveness as well:

– His OPS against is .657 – best in the bullpen. Only Villanueva has a better stat on the team.

– He has given up only one home run in 31 innings – best on the team.

– His K/9 ratio is 8.1 – best in the bullpen and second best on the team (behind Brandon Morrow).

– His 3.11 K/BB ratio is the best on the entire pitching staff.

– He has an ERA+ (ballpark adjusted ERA) of 141. Ricky Romero is second best at 131.

– His 0.7 WAR ties him with Jon Rauch for top spot in the bullpen. Frasor had a 1.0 WAR before he was dealt.

Janssen struggles a little bit against right handed hitters (.795 OPS against) but absolutely owns lefties (.212 average and .540 OPS against). More detailed statistics, such as Leverage Index, show Janssen has a lights out pitcher as well. In high leverage situations, he is rock solid: 28 batters faced, 10 K:1 BB, .185 batting average against, .585 OPS against.

But there is more than just stats to explain Janssen. When Francisco or Rauch or Camp is on the mound, there seems to be a feeling of nervousness around them, almost a negative aura. But when Janssen takes to the hill, I feel calm, positive, and relaxed. The

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fear of impending doom and failure isn’t there. Not even Jason Frasor inspired that feeling.

So for Jays fans looking for somebody to step and fill Frasor’s shoes?

You don’t have to look far. He was here all along.

When The Dust Settles…

Wow.  Wowowowowowow.

What a day so far.

If you sneezed, you might have missed something.  If you close your eyes for a few minutes, you might miss something else.  Alex Anthopoulos, dubbed the Silent Assassin by many, has struck again.

In the span of just over an hour he knocked out two huge trades (well, really only one – a three team mega deal). 

Gone are three pieces of the big league bullpen (Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor, and Marc Rzepczynski), outfielder Corey Patterson, and minor league pitcher Zach Stewart.

In are an expensive back-up infielder in Mark Teahan, a minor league pitcher in P.J. Walters, former Jay Brian “Billy Talent” Tallet, and some other guy.

Who is the fourth guy?

Only one of the best and brightest young CF in all of baseball – Colby Rasmus.

Jays fans everywhere have been pining for Rasmus for a long time, so to actually see him as a Blue Jay is unbelievable.  Dustin Parkes at Getting Blanked gives us some warning signs to try and temper the enthusiasm, but even he seems giddy by the move. 

And why not?

Rasmus is a guy who was ranked ahead of Travis Snider a few years back.  Rasmus is a guy who ESPN, in their preseason fantasy draft kit, pegged as one of the top breakout candidates in all of baseball – if he received regular playing time.

That prediction has rung 100% true.  Near the end of April, Rasmus was hitting .350 with a 1.010 OPS.  But as he slowly started falling a bit, his playing time was slowly reduced.  Look at Rasmus in July: he has started only 14 of the Cardinals 21 games, and finished only 11.  It’s hard to break out of a slump when you aren’t given the chance to swing the bat.  Just ask Travis Snider.

But what happens now?  At last glance the Jays had lost three members of their bullpen.  Of the players they got back, Tallet is on the DL, and the latest rumour had Trever Miller moving to the White Sox.  Logic would say that Luis Perez is a lock to come back up.  But who else?

And also – Brett Lawrie is on his way up, likely next week.  That will push Bautista back to RF.  Which means Eric Thames and Rajai Davis are without positions.  Unless Thames goes to the DH role…which means Encarnacion has nowhere to play.

So is another move on the way?

With AA, you never know.

But we do know this: Colby Rasmus is a Jay – and he will be a Jay the next time they make the playoffs.  That, my friends, is a 500 Level Fan guarantee.

Three Things From Week Seventeen

Robbie Alomar - Toronto's first Hall of Famer (from daylife.com)

Last week was an interesting one for the Blue Jays, as they were able to get a glimpse of the best and worst that the AL West has to offer. Three games against a Seattle team who had lost 9-straight entering the week (since stretched to a mind boggling 15-straight), followed by three against the red-hot Texas Rangers, a team only a few games removed from an 11-game winning streak.

It was a week that had everything – high scoring games, low scoring games, great pitching performances, putrid pitching performances, a day game played indoors due to heat, a 14-inning marathon, and a Blue Jay being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

And at the end of the week Toronto stands exactly where they stood before Opening Day: with exactly the same number of wins and losses.

Here are three things from week 17:

Week 17: July 18 – July 24

Record: 4 – 2

1. A Pitching Story

What an adventure. Week 17 saw just about every up-and-down possible on the mound. The week was bookended by Brett Cecil starts: the first one bad (7 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 1 BB) and the second one spectacular (CG 4 hit shutout). In between we witnessed the following:

– Two late inning collapses: Romero and the bullpen combined to blow a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning on Thursday, and then Rzep and Rauch combined to blow a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 9th to lose on Saturday.

– One outstanding performance by the bulllpen: On Tuesday night, six Toronto relievers combined to shut down the Mariners, pitching 7 innings of 5 hit, 3 walk, no run ball in a 6-5 14

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inning win.

– One horrendous start: Jo-Jo Reyes on Friday – 4.1 IP, 8 ER, 8 H, 1 BB.

– One pitching shakeup: Casey Janssen was activated from the DL with Luis Perez sent back to AAA Vegas on Tuesday. Then after the abysmal start quoted above, the Jays finally pulled the plug on Jo-Jo, DFA-ing him and promoting Wil Ledezma from the minors.

And the biggest shock of all? Frank Francisco had nothing to do with any blown saves…

2. Bautista Can Not and Will Not Be Stopped

Jose made his return to the lineup on Tuesday after sitting out three games with an ankle injury. For those opposing pitchers who were hoping it might take the momentum out of his bat? Think again.

While he hasn’t homered since his return, Joey Bats is still pummeling the ball. For the week he only hit .250, but reached base over 40% of his plate appearances, slugged

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three doubles, and drove in five runs. He now has a hit in 15 of the 17 games he has played in July, and has reached base at least once in 25 consecutive games.

Bautista leads the majors in HR, walks, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and WAR. In fact, his 6.8 WAR has already far surpassed his 5.4 WAR from last season. Adrian Gonzalez gets all the MVP consideration it seems, but there’s no doubt where baseball’s true MVP resides.

3. Cooperstown Bound

Pat Gillick had great success as the GM of Baltimore, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Roberto Alomar made All-Star teams in Baltimore and Cleveland. But there was no denying the fact that Sunday afternoon was a day dedicated to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Gillick and Alomar were officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday, and both were inducted for all intents and purposes as Jays. Alomar will obviously be officially recognized as a Blue Jay with the logo on his cap. Gillick, the mastermind behind the great Blue Jays teams of the 80’s and early 90’s and the genius who acquired Alomar in 1990, will forever be seen as the man who brought baseball glory to Canada.

With so many years having passed since Toronto’s last playoff appearance, and with the current woeful state of Toronto’s other professional sports teams (I’m looking at you Leafs, Raptors, and FC), it was nice to see Toronto back in spotlight (even just for one day).

Congratulations Pat and Robby. I hope we see another Jay in the Hall soon to join you.

“A Friday Dream” by An Excited Jays Fan

It’s been a while, over a month actually, since the Jays were above .500. After beating the Reds on Saturday June 18th, Toronto stood at 36-35, and now, after fnishing off the sweep of Seattle yesterday, Toronto once again sits with more wins than losses: 50-49.

The team has won three in a row. They are 5-2 since the All-Star break. They have outscored the Yankees and Mariners 50-35. Travis Snider, Rajai Davis, and Edwin Encarnacion, three of the biggest disappointments of the first half, are all hitting again.

Toronto has closed to within 3 games of third place Tampa Bay, and 8.5 of the Wild Card leading Yankees. With the Jays set to play their 100th game of the season tonight in Texas, there is still enough time for the team to make a run. The biggest question is….can they?

Well, it’s Friday. It’s been a long week, and a great weekend is coming up. I’m excited about the way the Jays have played recently, and I’m happy in general. So can the Jays make a run? Yes. Yes they can.

Here’s why:

Assume the Worst is Over: Toronto normally falters in June. Sure enough, they went 12-15 this year. But June is long over. The slumps and bad play we saw then can’t possibly be repeated going forward can it? It can’t – not in my dream anyways.

Schedule Help: After several lengthy road trips early in the season, Toronto has more home games than road games remaining. The longest road trip remaining is a 7-game West coast jaunt. The bad news is that 6 of the next 9 games are against the red-hot AL West leading Texas Rangers. But the good news? Toronto still has 12 games left against Baltimore. And starting on August 5th the schedule looks like this: 3 at Baltimore, 3 vs. Oakland, 3 vs. LA Angels, 3 at Seattle, 4 at Oakland, 3 vs. Kansas City. Those five teams are a combined 42 games under .500. It’s not unrealistic to picture Toronto going 13-6, 14-5, or even 15-4 during that stretch. Which would mean they would be on a roll heading into series against Tampa, Boston, and NY.

Trade Deadline Help:

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The Jays aren’t expected to big players at the deadline. But it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that the deadline could help them. Bear with me here:

– Toronto opens up a roster spot by moving Corey Patterson and/or Octavio Dotel. That roster spot is filled by promoting Brett Lawrie, who hits well in his first big league experience.

-The Yankees make a few moves, acquiring Heath Bell to set up Rivera, and Wandy Rodriguez to bolster the rotation. But both have enormous issues adapting to the AL East and perform terribly.

– Tampa Bay deals both B.J. Upton and James Shields, weakening themselves for the remainder of the season.

Just like that, the Jays gain ground.

The Law of Averages: If you look at the Jays roster, there really isn’t anybody playing over his head at an unsustainable level. You could argue that both Thames and Snider won’t continue to hit this well. But you could also argue that J.P. Arencibia is not a .210 hitter, and will rebound in the near future.

But Tampa Bay’s no-name, patchwork bullpen has been too good. Kyle Farnsworth is due for a huge market correction. You can probably find a line in Vegas that allows you to bet on when Bartolo Colon’s arm will physicall fall off from his body. And Freddy Garcia has to drop off at some point doesn’t he?

True enough, those are a lot of if’s. But I don’t think any of those things is entirely unreasonable. If they all come to fruition, is it actually impossible to picture the Jays leapfrogging Tampa and NY in the standings and claiming the Wild Card? Especially this year when Cleveland, Pittsburgh, AND Arizona are all in playoff contention?

I don’t think so.

Besides. It’s my dream anyways.

A Series of Connected Thoughts About the Jays That Start And End with the Pirates

1. I woke up this morning, checked the standings, and couldn’t believe what I saw. Yes, I knew what the Pirates were doing this year, but to actually see that the

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Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place – in print with my own two eyes! – was shocking. It’s one of those things that even though I know it to be true, I still don’t believe it is. With a record of 50-44, the Pirates are a half game ahead of Milwaukee, and in first place this late in the season for the first time since 1997. It took them until September to win their 50th game last year, and they now have three more victories than the Blue Jays. Crazy.

2. Their are plenty of ties between this years Pirates team and the Jays. Lyle Overbay plays first for Pittsburgh. Chase d’Arnaud, brother of Jays minor league catcher Travis and former college teammate of Eric Thames, plays third. Long-time Jays coach Nick Leyva coaches third.

3. Of course, the most important tie between the clubs for Jays fans happens to be a man named Jose Bautista, who the Jays acquired from Pittsburgh in 2008 for Robinzon Diaz. That worked out pretty well…

4. Speaking Bam Bam Bautista, the Jays slugger makes his return tonight from the ankle injury he suffered on Thursday. Replays looked pretty scary, a near 90 degree bend of the ankle, leading some to speculate that a trip to the DL was in the cards. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

5. In order to give his ankle a bit of a rest, Bautista returns tonight as DH instead of 3B.

6. Jose has DH-ed once this year, when he returned from a back injury on May 8th. He went 1 for 4 with a 2-run HR in that game.

7. With Bau at DH, there is a bit of a lineup shuffle tonight. Edwin returns to third to replace Bau. Eric Thames, who had been DH-ing on the weekend, moves to RF. Travis Snider will make his first career start in CF. Snider has played all of 5 innings in centre in his career (all this year). Many think he might wind up there eventually, so tonight is a good “let’s see how he does” chance.

8. With Snider in CF, that means the hugely disappointing Rajai Davis will be on the bench tonight. His .233 average and .605 OPS are career worsts, and with 25 steals, he has a long way to go to hit the 60 mark that many (including myself) thought he would reach.

9. But as disappointing as Davis has been he is far from the Jays most disappointing player. That nod goes to Aaron Hill, who has followed up last years horrendous season by putting up an even worse OPS and only 4 HR. Awful.

10. That 2B performance makes us long for the days of Roberto Alomar, the iconic second baseman who will now have his number 12 retired by the Jays. The ceremony (announced today) will take place before the game on July 31.

11. Alomar, of course, helped the Jays to back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. But his most famous moment was likely his HR off Dennis Eckersley in the ’92 ALCS,

12. 1992, coincidentally, was also the last season that the Pittsburgh Pirates finished over .500. Until, maybe, this year. At least that’s what the standings tell me…

Three Things From Week Sixteen

from daylife.com

A short week last week due to the All-Star break, but don’t let the reduced number of games fool you. It was a week full of twists and turns for the Blue Jays.

Two good games against the Yankees, two not-so-good games against the Yankees, and one significantly scary injury combined to put Jays fans through the full gamut of emotions. Though the weekend didn’t end as well as it began, Toronto did get back to the .500 mark briefly – a good sign as the second half kicks off.

Here are three things from week 16:

Week 16: July 11 – July 17

Record: 2 – 2

1. Jose Bautista: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

It was quite a week for the Jays leader. First the good – Bau lived up to his record setting All-Star vote tally by having himself a heck of a midsummer classic.: 1 for 2 with one of the most

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outstanding catches in All-Star game history. The robbery of Brian McCann left the AS announcer speechless.

Next the bad: his feeble performance at the HR Derby. Foiled by bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos, Bau only managed four bombs and was eliminated in the first round. Not what we expected from MLB’s HR leader.

Finally the ugly: the brutal looking ankle twist from Thursday night. Replays looked terrible, and visions of the DL danced through Jays fans heads. Luckily it looks like a trip to the disabled list will be avoided, with the big man set to return as early as tomorrow night.

Phew…

2. He Just Keeps Going and Going and Going and…..

It seems like Travis Snider is doing his best Energizer Bunny impression these days. From growing some fur on his upper lip, to his non-stop hitting performance since his return, Snider is seemingly getting better and better.

In the four games last week, he had three multi-hit efforts. In total he blitzed the Yankees to the tune of a .438 average and 1.037 OPS, with 3 doubles, 3 stolen bases, and 4 RBI thrown in. Since his recall from AAA Vegas, Snider has been on a mission to prove he belongs at the big league level. He is hitting .391 in 11 games, and has only gone hitless in two of those contests.

Of course eleven games is still a small sample size, but the strides made by Snider are encouraging. He has raised his season average 72 points to .256 and his OPS a whopping 174 points to .714. The Snider / Thames combo has been rock solid, and could be giving fans a glimpse of Toronto’s secondary offense for years to come.

3. Brandon Morrow to the Rescue

There’s not a lot of kind words you can say about Toronto’s rotation lately. Ricky Romero is 0-2 with a 6.32 ERA in July. Jo-Jo Reyes hasn’t made it into the seventh inning since June 17th. Carlos Villanueva was roughed by the Yankees on Sunday.

Thankfully Brandon Morrow seems to have figured it out. Whether it was his delayed start to the season due to a DL visit or second year Toronto jitters, Morrow has struggled for most of this season. After being lit up by the Red Sox on June 11th, Brandon sat at 2-4 with a 5.63 ERA. With the sudden emergence of Brandon League as a (gulp) top shelf closer in Seattle, whispers were developing that maybe we didn’t win the Brandon for Brandon swap after all.

Well, Morrow must have heard them because he has certainly turned things around. Since that day in Boston he has been outstanding: 4-0, 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP. 9.82 K/9, and 6.7 IP/Start. In

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that time he has lowered his season ERA from 5.63 to 4.37, and more importantly given the Jays a reliable turn in the rotation.

Once Romero gets back on track, Toronto suddenly has one of the best 1-2 punches in the division.

Bigger & Better! The Second 500 Level Fan Mailbag!

Since releasing the first 500 Level Fan reader mailbag a few months ago, the 500 Level Fan inbox has become flooded with questions and queries just begging for another one. (Of course by flooded I mean two emails from friends…)

Regardless, with yesterday being one of the slowest days on the sports calendar and no baseball to speak of until tonight, it’s time to roll it out.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy. You might just learn something.

First off we hear from @TOSocialEvents, who sent in an unfathomable five questions!

Q – Who is the best player in all of baseball right now and will Jose Bautista win the MVP in 2011?

A – From the tone of that question I would assume that the asker (Mah-Cus) thinks that Bau is the best player in MLB. I have to agree. I thought last year he was one of the top-5 in all of baseball, and this year he is on pace for the same amount of HR, but is hitting 84 points higher! 84 points!!!! His OBP, Slugging, and OPS are also higher than last year, and with 5 steals, he just might reach double digits. He also leads all of baseball with a 6.6 WAR. So yes, I think J-Bau is the best player in all of baseball. Will he win the 2011 MVP? I think he should, but I bet he won’t – too many idiots will vote for Adrian Gonzalez because Boston will make the playoffs.

Q – Who is more of a lock for future success – J.P. Arencibia or Kyle Drabek?

A – Tough one, but I’ll surprise even myself and say Drabek, mainly for one reason. Toronto traded the face of the franchise for him, and will not let him fail. I think he has the stuff to succeed, he just needs the mental part to catch up. I think it will in time. J.P. will be good, but I think KD will be better.

Q – What do you think Jon Rauch, John Farrell, and Adam Lind enjoy as night caps?

A – Booze. I love booze. I have no inside information on this, and no real idea why I’m saying what I’m saying, but I think this: Rauch = beer, Farrell = red wine, Lind = whiskey (or something hard like gin, rum, or vodka). No idea why. If anybody actually knows, let me know.

Q – Is Ricky Romero one of the top-5 pitchers in baseball? If not, how does he stack up against the top-5?

A – No, I don’t think so, but it’s not because he’s not good enough. There are so many good pitchers right now, and if I had to pick five I’d probably choose Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, and Felix Hernandez (not to mention a ton of other guys who just miss, like Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, and on and on…). Romero isn’t that far away, and I think he might get there. The main reason why he isn’t? 2009. That was when he made his major league debut. The others have all been around for at least two years longer. Pitchers need time to learn the league and make adjustments. Romero’s numbers are getting better each year. In a few more years, he could very well be there.

Q – If you went for a beer with Gregg Zaun and he asked you to order for him, what do you get?

A – Flying Monkey’s Hoptical Illusion. Confirmed.

Moving along, from old friend @JSmart1982 (AKA Nudathan AKA Robocop) comes two questions with the same underlying theme:

Q – Do you think the Big Hurt is in the top-50 players of all time?

Q – Who is the most feared player in midseason classic history? #thebighurt

A – According to baseball reference, in terms of WAR the Big Hurt is the 64th best player of all time. But many of the guys ahead of him played so long ago that they don’t count (at least to me). So yes, I put the Big Hurt in the top-50 players of all time. When he was good, he was real, real good. Is he the most feared hitter in midseason classic history? In 5 All-Star AB, he hit .800 with a 2.233 OPS which is pretty good. But he looks like a big Teddy Bear at the plate, so nobody’s afraid of him.

Let’s check in with @altrendy, a man who loves gin, 500 Level Fan, and smoking pipes.

Q – Who is Alex Andreopoulos and is he really only 39?

A – Most people first met Alex at the HR Derby, when he pitched to Jose Bautista (and dominated him). He has been the Jays bullpen catcher for the past 9 seasons, and despite his aged and weathered appearance, is indeed only 39 years old. He made it as far as AAA in the Milwaukee organization before calling it a career. And he is CANADIAN!

Q – Second half questions – do you agree that the second half is really a “hitter’s half” as it has been described, and will the Jays pitching staff fall victim to late-season fatigue?

A – I’m not sure if there are any supporting numbers, but in theory there are two good reasons why the second half should be better for hitters. 1 – balls travel further in the warm summer air than they do in the crisp spring air, and 2 – pitchers generally tire as the season wears on. Speaking of fatigue, Toronto’s relievers might fall victim to fatigue, but I don’t think the starter’s will. Romero is a horse, Reyes left a lot of games early so his inning should be down, and both Cecil (minors) and Morrow (DL) missed time. The biggest question mark might be Carlos Villanueva, who isn’t used to being a starter.

Q – If the Jays are going to make a run, when in their schedule do you likely see that happening?

A – Looks like their best chance is in the month of August, beginning August 5th. That begins a stretch of:

– 3 in Baltimore against the crappy O’s

– 3 at home vs. the crappy A’s

– 3 at home against the Angels

– 3 in Seattle

– 4 more against the crappy A’s in Oakland

– 3 back at home against the crappy Royals

That is the best bet. If all goes well, the Jays will go 15-4 in that stretch and move up the standings.

Q – Surprise prediction of the second half of the season?

A – A member of the Jays will hit for the cycle, but it won’t be who you think (Bautista, Escobar, Lind, etc.). It will be….Johnny Mac. Book it.

The last word for this edition of the mailbag goes to @dsharpdavis, a man who has been described as the hardest working man in show business and the biggest Gary

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Kendall fan in the history of Earth.

Q – Can you change the name of your column from Mailbag to Malebag, to attract the ladies?

A – I can and I will.

Q – In your opinion, which current Jay most embodies the spirit, beauty, and athleticism of the great Tony Fernandez.

A – First of all – nobody will ever be Tony. He combined the intelligence of Einstein, the generosity of Mother Teresa, the artfulness of Michaelangelo, and the speed of Secretariat. But on the current team I can sometimes see bits of him in Yunel Escobar. Yunel plays shortstop with a similar flare, and was mentored by Tony in the offseason. Esky has bit more power and not as much speed as our hero, but he comes closest to replicating the greatest player in the history of professional sports.

Half Way Home – 500 Level Fan’s Predictions Revisited

Now that we have hit the All-Star break, I figured it’s a good chance to look back at my pre-season predictions to see just how stupid (or smart!) I was. At the unofficial half way point, it is confirmed – I stink.

American League Predictions

Division Winners: Boston, Chicago, Texas

Wild Card: Yankees

Not too bad here. Three of the four are correct at the halfway point, and Chicago, despite all their struggles, have moved to within 5 games of first place Detroit. I was also right on when I said that Oakland and Baltimore would both suck – neither would take the step forward that many analysts predicted.

But my pick of Cleveland to finish dead last and Minnesota to lose out on the Wild Card late in the season? Wow – AWFUL!

Stat Leaders (predicted winner followed by actual place)

HR – Jose Bautista (1st – I BELIEVED!!)

RBI – Bautista (4th)

Average – Ichiro (40th)

SB – Brett Gardner (T5th)

W – Jon Lester (T4th)

ERA – Gio Gonzalez (5th)

K – Brandon Morrow (T13th)

Sv – Mariano Rivera (3rd)

Actually not a bad performance here. Aside from Ichiro falling off the map this year, each of my predicted winners is in the top-5. Brandon Morrow is 13th in strikeouts, but might easily be in the top-5 had he not started the season on the DL. A pat on the back 500 Level Fan!

Awards

MVP – Adam Dunn

Cy Young – Jon Lester

ROY – J.P. Arencibia

Manager– Ron Gardenhire

There goes the momentum. Adam Dunn is effing awful, hitting an incredibly pathetic .160 on the season. Lester hasn’t been bad, but is now on the DL and is miles behind Verlander in the Cy race. Arencibia, despite his HR total, will need a huge second half to pass Seattle’s Michael Pineda. Minnesota stinks, though it’s not really Gardenhire’s fault (at least not all of it). Terrible performance 500 Level Fan. Terrible.

National League Predictions

Division Winners: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Colorado

Wild Card: Philadelphia

How does 0 for 4 sound? Brutal. To be fair both Atlanta and Philly are currently in playoff spots – I just have them reversed, so that kind of counts as two right choices doesn’t it? The Reds have dropped behind the Pirates in the Central, and Colorado is five games under .500 in the West.

The rest of the predictions were an even bigger mess. I had both Pittsburgh and Arizona to finish dead last, yet both are above .500 and within striking distance of first (the Pirates are 1 game back!!!!). I had Florida finishing third and battling for a Wild Card spot, and Washington (who find themselves even at .500) to come dead last. The most embarrassing of all? I picked the Cubs to finish second. That’s right, the 37-55 Cubs. Oh no…

Stat Leaders (predicted winner followed by actual place)

HR– Ryan Braun (T11th)

RBI– Albert Pujols (T18th)

Average– Troy Tulowitzki (T37th)

SB – Michael Bourn (1st)

W– Roy Halladay (T2nd)

ERA – Tommy Hanson (4th)

K– Ubaldo Jimenez (21st)

Sv – Heath Bell (T2nd)

Move on folks, nothing to see here. Just a set of horrendous predictions. Aside from SB, I’m not even close on ANY of the batting leaders. The pitching guesses weren’t too bad, but way, way off on Ubaldo. He’s killing a lot of people this year.

Awards

MVP– Joey Votto

Cy Young – Tommy Hanson

ROY – Freddie Freeman

Manager– Mike Quade

Votto, Hanson, and Freeman are all having pretty good seasons, and all have to at least be in the conversation for their respective awards. Quade is not, and could be closer to the firing lines than the manager of the year award. Wait ’til next year Cubbies.

Toronto Blue Jay Predictions

Below are the 24 predictions I made coming into the season, with my take on how well they’re looking at the halfway point:

1.Jose Bautista will hit 44 HR to lead the AL. He will not regress as much as everybody expects.

– 44 might have been too conservative. With 31 at the break, he looks poised to easily top that number. SUCCESS!

2. Travis Snider has the break-out year that many predicted last year. .275 average, 32 HR, 95 RBI.

– He stunk early and was sent down. Swinging a much better bat now, but will not come anywhere near those numbers. FAIL!

3.Rajai Davis steals 63 bases, breaking the franchise record of 60 set by Dave Collins in 1984.

– With 24 at the break, he needs to pick it up if he wants to break 60. It’s close but I’ll give myself a FAIL!

4.Edwin Encarnacion plays a surprisingly capable third base, and hits over 30 HR to boot.

– Uh…no. HUGE FAIL!!!!

5.EE’s steady play in the field keeps future hearthrob Brett Lawrie in the minors for most of the season, ruining John Kruk’s rookie of the year choice.

– Lawrie will be in the minors for most of the season, but only due to injury and not at all due to EE’s good play. This is a FAIL!

6.Though Drabek has a nice rookie year, he finishes under .500 and nowhere near first place in the ROY voting.

– While it’s wrong to say he is having a nice rookie year, it looks like he will finish below .500 barring a late season call up, and it’s true he will finish nowhere near first place in the AL ROY voting. This is a wash.

7.The Rookie of the Year? Throw all the Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Sale, and Mike Moustakas predictions out the window. J.P. Arencibia takes the fact that nobody seems to believe in him anymore to heart, lives up to his potential, and wins the award for the American League.

– The power is there but the other numbers are not. Barring a big second half, players like Mark Trumbo or Michael Pineda are far ahead of him. FAIL!

8. At one point in the season, Jason Frasor is given the opportunity to close games again. He blows it. Again.

– Incomplete. With the disarray that is the Blue Jay bullpen, Frasor might indeed be anointed the man again.

9.Jon Rauch starts the year as closer and Frank Francisco finished the year as closer. They combine for 40 saves.

– Terrible. Terrible. Francisco might finish the year in the minors or on another team. No way they reach 40 saves. FAIL!

10.Eric Thames is called up to the big leagues before Brett Lawrie.

– YES! Got one. SUCCESS!

11. One member of the Blue Jays starting rotation tosses a no-hitter, only the second in franchise history.

– Not yet…

12. Ricky Romero leads the staff with 16 wins.

– He currently leads the staff with 7, but unless the Jays start scoring for him, 16 looks like a tall order. Incomplete.

13. Brandon Morrow returns from injury and leads the AL with 235 strikeouts.

– This looks unlikely, with only 104 thus far. Even he manages to hit over 200, he’s not catching Verlander for the AL title. FAIL!

14.Jessie Litsch surprises many by sticking in the rotation all season.

– Nope. FAIL!

15. On the afternoon of Sunday June 26th in an interleague game in St. Louis, Toronto hitters hit back-to-back-to-back home runs off of former teammate Brian “Billy Talent” Tallet.

– Didn’t happen. Tallet wasn’t even active. FAIL!

16. Juan Rivera does not make it through the season.

– Yes sir! SUCCESS!

17. Aaron Hill bounces back, sacrificing power for average, and hits .275 with 15 bombs.

– Oh no. He will not make .275 and he

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will not make 15 HR. Terrible, disastrous season. FAIL!

18.Yunel Escobar mystifies fans everywhere by bunting in the first inning over 50 times.

– I don’t have the stats on this one, but I can’t remember him doing it at all, so I’ll say FAIL!

19.As has been said elsewhere, Marc Rzepczynski – not David Purcey or Jesse Carlson – becomes the next Scott Downs.

– I’ll take this one. Rzep has a 3.00 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP and has pitched very well out of the pen. SUCCESS!

20.Jose Bautista joins Kelly Gruber and Jeff Frye by hitting for the cycle.

– He came close in April, and there is still time. Incomplete.

21.Scott Downs, Vernon Wells, and Roy Halladay all receive huge ovations upon their returns to Toronto. When Pittsburgh comes to town between June 28-30, Lyle Overbay inexplicably does not.

– Overbay didn’t, Halladay did, and Downs and Wells don’t come back until August. Incomplete.

22.The Blue Jays hold their own against the AL East, but play poorly against the AL West and, as usual, the NL during the interleague schedule.

– Toronto is 14-21 against the AL East, 7-6 against the West, and went 8-10 in Interleague. Not looking good for my prediction to ring true. FAIL!

23. For the second year in a row, Jose Bautista and a Toronto catcher make the All-Star team. Arencibia (yes, I believe in him) joins Buck and Whitt as the only Blue Jay catchers to make it.

– Bautista did, Arencibia did not. FAIL!

24. Romero finishes in the top-5 of the AL Cy Young voting.

– Incomplete, but a strong second half should be enough to get this right.

Final Verdict?

4 right, 13 wrong, with 1 wash, and 6 still undecided.

In other words…not good.

Three Things From Week Fifteen

Two players who had a big week before the All-Star break (from daylife.com)

 

Looking at the schedule, the final week before the 2011 All-Star break was not kind.  Three games in Fenway Park against the first place Red Sox.  Four games in Cleveland against the first place Indians.  Seven games away from home – on the heels of having three games at home against the first place Phillies.

Ten consecutive games against division fr0nt runners.

After hanging on for a 4th of July victory, the Jays promptly dropped three straight, and after Thursday’s gut-wrenching ninth inning collapse the club could have folded up and limped into the break.

But resiliency ruled the day.  Three straight wins over Cleveland has Toronto hitting the break on a roll.  A 45-47 record may not sound great on the surface, but with all the injury problems and struggles, I think most people in Toronto are satisified.

Here are three things from week 15:

Week 15: July 4 – July 10

 Record: 4 – 3

1. Big Brett is Back!

Brett Cecil lead the Blue Jays in wins last year, and began the year as the team’s number three starter.  He was counted on to provide consistency and stability in the rotation, especially with two true wild cards in Drabek and Reyes pitching around him.

Unfortunately, he provided neither.

After getting roughed up by the Yankees on April 20th he was sent to the minors to work out the kinks, leaving Toronto with a 6.86 ERA.  His first start back against Pittsburgh? Terrible, dropping his season ERA to a woeful 7.24.

But something happened last week.  Something clicked.  The Cecil of 2010 might be returning.  Though he didn’t exactly dominate the Red Sox and Indians, he was solid, and provided exactly what the Jays asked for in April – consistency and stability.

On Tuesday he tossed his first career complete game – albeit in a tough 3-2 loss.  On Sunday he went six innings in Cleveland, allowing one earned run.  Overall for the week the lefty finished up with a 1-1 record, pitched 14 innings with a 2.57 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts.  His season ERA dropped by over a run and a half to 5.66.

Better late than never…

2. The Upside-Down World of Frank Francsico

Wow.  Just…wow.

Frank Francisco is putting Jays fans on a rollercoaster ride this season, and last week we saw the best and the worst of what he has to offer.  On Monday afternoon he threw perhaps his most dominant inning of the season against Boston.  Called upon to protect a two-run lead in the ninth, Francisco promptly gave up a leadoff single, then went 3-0 to Dustin Pedroia.  But then – pure dominance.  12 pitches, 9 strikes, 3 strikeouts, game over.

Sadly, the dominance didn’t last.  On Thursday he was called upon to protect a 4-0 lead in the ninth.  The final line?  Three batters faced.  Two walks.  One hit.  Three earned runs.  Due to the quirkiness of pitching stats he was credited with neither a blown save nor a loss, but it was pretty clear to all parties that the loss was his fault.  After a profanity laced tirade against the media after the game, Francisco was promptly punished by Alex Anthopoulos.

Though the Jays didn’t go as far as to say Frankie is out as closer, the writing is on the wall.  With a season ERA of 5.92 and a WHIP of 1.85 he is putting up numbers that would get most relievers released.  The only bright side?  It can’t possibly get any worse.

Can it?

3. Signs of Hope

So the ffirst half is over, and it wasn’t all roses for the Blue Jays.  An absurd amount of injuries, some terrible underachieving by key players, and extremely shoddy work by the bullpen has left the team 11 games back of first in the AL East and under .500.

But things aren’t all that gloomy.  There were signs last week that maybe, just maybe, some players are on the verge of turning their struggles around.  Brett Cecil was discussed above, but other key player who look poised for turnaround include:

J.P. Arencibia – After going 0 for his first 17 in July, the rookie catcher finished the first half with a three-game hitting streak, going 5 for 12 to push his batting average back above the .220 plateau. 

Rajai Davis – A prolonged slump saw his season stats decline to terrible lows, but if last week is any indication he seems to be pulling out of it.  A .296 average with a .704 OPS in seven games, including 3 doubles, 3 steals, and 6 RBI. 

Travis Snider – Recalled on July 4th, Snider has looked excellent in his return to the big leagues.  He started all seven games last week and recorded a hit in six of them, fnishing the week with a .367 average and 1.054 OPS, including 6 doubles, 1 homer, and 8 RBI.

Brandon Morrow – Morrow has been wildly inconsistent this year, but has shown signs recently that he is turning the corner.  In his past five starts dating back to June 18th the right-hander has gone 3-0 with a 2.94 ERA and .190 opponents batting average in 33.2 IP.  With 38 strikeouts in that span (and only 10 walks), he is finally harnessing his control.  His final start of the first half against Cleveland was one of his best of the season – 8 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 3 ER, and 8 K. 

We could be in for a great second half!

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best…

And…always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the light side of life…

That song was written by Eric Idle for the 1979 Monty Python film “Life of Brian”.

After last night, the lyrics ring especially true for Blue Jays fans, who watched in horror / disgust / agony / shock / depression as “closer” Frank Francisco, in to protect a four run lead in the ninth, allowed a single, double, and walk to load the bases. Cue Luis Perez, who promptly allowed a single followed by a walk-off grand slam to Travis Hafner.

Game over.

The collapse brought back memories of April 11th in Seattle, when the Jays coughed up a 7-0 lead in the 7th to fall 8-7 to the Mariners – a memory that Jays fans would rather leave buried in the deep recesses of our minds.

But these things happen. Even well established closers for contending teams have rough outings, the Jonathan Papelbon’s, Jose Valverde’s, and Brian Wilson’s of the world.

So in honour of Monty Python, let’s forget about the collapse and look on the bright side of life.

Here are several great things that happened last night (before the bottom of the 9th).

– Jose Bautista hit his 29th HR of the season, tying George Bell’s franchise record

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for HR before the All-Star break

– Carlos Villanueva might have turned into Toronto’s most consistent starter after pitching 6 shutout innings with 7 strikeouts. His season ERA now sits at 2.99.

– Edwin Encarnacion had three (3!!!!) hits!

– Aaron Hill had two (2!!) hits!!

– J.P. Arencibia broke out of a terrible slump with two hits and an RBI.

– Bautista made an

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unbelievable play at 3B, proving even further that he is the Jays offensive AND defensive MVP.

– Though he refused to speak to media after the game – giving them a friendly “F*ck off” – Francisco did not throw a folding chair at any living, breathing person.

So there you go.

Good news all around.