Browsing archives for 'Upper Deck Insight'

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.

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

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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…

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.

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.

 ****

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.

Revisiting the Happ Deal

Upper Deck Insight 23 July 2014 | 0 Comments

happ

Needing a win in the worst way after a demoralizing and destructive 14-1 blowout against Boston, the Jays turned to J.A. Happ last night for a quasi-season saver.  For a team that is above .500 and only a few games out of a playoff spot it’s hard to call any game in July a must-win, but that is what last night’s game felt like.  Lucky for all of us, Happ delivered a gem and the Jays picked up a much needed victory.

Unfortunately the words “Happ” and “Gem” are very rarely spoken in the same sentence. 

It’s been nearly two years to the day since the Blue Jays acquired Happ in a massive 10-player deal on July 20, 2012.  In his tenure with the team he has been described in many ways, but the most fitting word for him has to be “erratic”.  Happ has been healthy and he has been injured.  He has pitched out of the bullpen and he has pitched as a starter.  He has been incredibly dominant and he has been abysmally terrible. 

Take a three start stretch from June 15 – June 26 as an example:

June 15 at Baltimore – 6 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 6 K

June 21 at Cincinnati – 4 IP, 7 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 5 K

June 26 vs Chicago – 7.2 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K

He is as up and down as a toilet seat, and that doesn’t just describe this year, but the past two calendar years since the trade.  

So how have the other parts of that trade held up since July of 2012?  Let’s find out.

 Jays acquire: J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter

Happ: Since being acquired he has gone 16-14, 4.58 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 191 K: 96 BB, 91 ERA+

Lyon: Pitched well for the Jays in the two months he was here, 4-0, 2.88 ERA, 28 K.  Now out of the majors.

Carpenter: Was pretty awful in the 3 games he appeared in, and was dealt to Boston with John Farrell.  Now in Atlanta where he has developed into a very effective reliever with the Braves.

Astros acquire: Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joe Musgrove, David Rollins, Asher Wojciechowski, Kevin Comer, Carlos Perez

Cordero and Francisco: Basically salary dumps by the Jays.  Neither did much in Houston or has done much since.

Musgrove: 21 year old has put up a 3.53 ERA this season in A- level ball.

Rollins: 24 years old, demoted from AAA to AA to begin this season, where he has a 3.45 ERA and 1.15 WHIP

Wojciechowski: 25 year old was considered the key piece of the deal.  Currently 0-2 with a 7.14 ERA in AAA after starting the season on the DL.  Pitched decently well in AAA last year.

Comer: 21 years old.  Many Jays fans were upset when he was included later in the deal.  Currently in A, with a 4.50 ERA and 1.48 WHIP

Perez: 23 year old catcher, currently in AAA with a .254 average and .701 OPS

Verdict

First off, let’s call a spade and spade and remove Lyon, Carpenter, Francisco, and Cordero from the equation.  This trade was really about the five minor leaguers for J.A. Happ as far as I’m concerned.  There was no question that none of those four veterans would be back in Toronto or Houston.

As mentioned earlier in this post, Happ has been anything but consistent, a trait that has to be considered the most frustrating aspect of a pitcher.  But it’s the flashes of brilliance, like May 25 against Oakland, June 26 against Chicago, and last night against Boston that keep the Jays somewhat invested in him.  As a fifth starter I guess that’s all you can really expect.

So the real question becomes did Toronto give up too much for a fifth starter? 

By no means do I consider myself a minor league prospect expert, so this should be taken lightly, but to this point I would be inclined to say no, Toronto did not give up too much.  Only Wojciechowski is on Houston’s 40-man roster, meaning Perez, despite his AAA status, isn’t realistically near the big leagues.  Plus, with the development of many of Houston’s other young pitchers (Keuchel, Cosart, McHugh) and with his injury and rough season thus far, it might not be a stretch to say that Woj has dropped down the depth chart.

The three other pitching prospects are still buried in the low levels of the minors, so it’s impossible to say when (or if) they will ever progress.  But seeing Rollins demoted from AAA to AA and Musgrove and Comer both struggling in single-A can’t be a good sign.  Yes both of them are still only 21 and have a lot of time to develop, but for context consider that Marcus Stroman (23) and Aaron Sanchez (21) are both with the Blue Jays now, and Daniel Norris (21) is in AA.

So at this point in time, I am giving a slight edge to Toronto.  If Happ can toss a few more outings like he did last night, that edge might open wider.

Can This Season Be Salvaged?

Upper Deck Insight 10 July 2014 | 1 Comment

thumbs up

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

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

Those days feel like so long ago. 

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

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

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

That is not a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

We can still do this.

We Are Toronto

Upper Deck Insight 7 July 2014 | 0 Comments

rebirth

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

Why you ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardly.

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

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

Go Jays go.