Toronto Baseball Guys
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
  Funny Game
Flash back two weeks just prior to Opening Day, and ask Blue Jays fans which of the following would be true after 14 games:

- #2 starter Jesse Litsch is out for a month
- #3 starter David Purcey is sporting a 6.46 ERA
- B.J. Ryan's ERA is a tidy 7.71, and half the batters he's faced have reached base
- Alex Rios is batting .207 with no home runs
- The Jays are 10-4 and first in the division

While these facts don't seem compatible, they are, of course, ALL true. It helps that Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill are both on pace for 43 home runs, that Ricky Romero is pitching like Roy Halladay Jr., and that Scott Downs looks as though he's never going to allow another run.

Naturally, all early season caveats apply; the schedule's not yet 10% complete, they've yet to play anyone in their division, and none of the teams they have played are expected to contend.
On the other hand, you still have to win the games you do play, and the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays all look vulnerable in the early going.

The Jays' brass has done an excellent job following in the footsteps of other Toronto franchises and laying a goundwork of absolutely no expectations for this season, but the club still finds itself off to its best start since 2001. Genuine excitement should be tempered until that changes to "best start since 1992 or 1993, " but it's been a fun ride so far.
Monday, April 13, 2009
  Swing Away, Snider
In the wake of the Jays' first road loss of the season, a few things became apparent:

- If David Purcey ever figures out what he's doing, he's going to win big
- If the Jays continue to walk 10 batters a game, things aren't going to go well
- Travis Snider shouldn't be asked to bunt anymore

In the seventh inning, down 5-4, a Lyle Overbay walk and Rod Barajas single put runners at first and second with no one out. With the number 9 hitter due, it's not an unreasonable play to lay down a sacrifice bunt.

But let's examine this particular situation:

These are the suddenly-thwacktastic Blue Jays, leading the league in runs scored, and this particular #9 hitter is loaded with a good deal of that thwack.

Snider had exactly zero sacrifice bunts in his career, largely because, as the broadcast team pointed out, he was more accomplished for hitting light tower home runs.

True, he was facing a left-hander - a tough test for Snider - but then why compound that challenge by asking him to do something he'd never done before? Snider fouled off his first attempt. Had he fouled off the second, now you've hung the rookie out to dry with an 0-2 count against the lefty specialist.

And why give Rafael Perez, the talented but beleaguered Indians reliever, a break by giving away an out?

If Cito Gaston was determined to drop down a bunt, he could have pinch hit John McDonald for Snider, though with none out in the seventh Snider was almost guaranteed another at-bat in the ball game.

As it turns out, Snider got the bunt down, moved the runners into scoring position and received a lot of love in the dugout.

It's nice that Snider was able to execute, but it's kind of like your state of the art, 64" plasma screen home entertainment system having the ability to play 8-tracks. Neat trick, but not terribly useful in the grand scheme of things.

Ultimately, nothing came of the bunt, as Marco Scutaro struck out and Aaron Hill popped up to end the inning.

The best option available to Gaston was just to let Snider hit away. It might not have worked out any better. He might have bounced into a double play (or worse; Asdrubal Cabrera WAS in the game). But Perez had struggled to get anyone out, and Snider has exceptional power - maybe he bounces a double into the corner, ties the game, and then you have runners at second and third with no one out and the potential for a big inning. The percentage play here was to let the kid hit.

As Earl Weaver used to say "if you play for one run, that's all you're going to get." In this case, the Jays didn't even the run. All they got was proof that their young slugger can lay down a bunt. Which is really too bad, because it means that Snider will almost certainly be asked to do it again.
Monday, April 06, 2009
  Jays 2009

I’m not sure what it is about the Jays, but somehow they seem to make me care. Year in and year out, I look forward to the start of each Jays’ season. As time moves forward I’ve found a new set of priorities that have positioned the Leafs, Argos, skiing, road-trip based movies and -sorry Mr. Vedder- grunge rock at the back end of my subconscious. With the start of the season upon us, I am once again looking forward to seeing the results with just a few reasons for trepidation.
So that I may build a tidal wave of positive thought and emotion that the Jays will be able to ride out of the chute, I’ll start with some reasons for concern and then move to things to look forward to.

Who’s on the Mound?
Seriously, after Doc, I’m going to need a program to figure out who’s pitching. This will require me sitting in front of the TV with a laptop at my side. What am I, a baseball fan, or somebody’s Phone-A-Friend on Millionaire?

Nice Change Up!
84 mph?! I thought Tommy John surgery was supposed to add zip to the fastball. Now that he’s lost a few clicks, his control has escaped him, and the umpires are calling balks on his bread and butter of catching the ball and firing it back to home before the batter, ump, catcher, mascot and girl who serves drinks to the seats right behind the plate have been able to reset, BJ will need some big leads heading into the ninth.

Pop-Gun Offense
If there is a man on third with less than two outs, score him. I’m not too concerned about respecting the career averages of aging players who have suddenly slimmed down and stopped producing in the last two years since the introduction of more stringent testing for performance enhancers. There’s a new reality: Bunt when you’re asked to, because the team comes first!

If I were a Richmond…
I’m extremely patriotic, and I really like the fact that Scott Richmond has risen from semi-pro ball to the majors, but let’s be honest, he’s not major league ready. I don’t blame him, I do however blame the GM who thought it was appropriate to call him up just in time to negate his Olympic team eligibility last summer. I heard JP had a hand in picking the opposing US Olympic team roster. Why can’t you do something like that to help the Jays? Maybe you can convince the Yankees to sit CC, Arod and Tex in games against the Jays.

The New Math
Yet another summer of JP explaining how 2009 - 2001 = 5 (or less) thus ensuring that the five-year plan is still in tact.

Now to the positives…

Youth Movement
Travis Snider and a gaggle of young pitchers are going to get the opportunity to prove that they’re ready for prime time. Even if they struggle, they’re bound to have some highlights that will have us dreaming of, what will be, in the years to come.

Low Expectations
I’ve spent each of the last twenty four Jays seasons watching the team fail to reach my expectations. Even the ‘92 Jays didn’t manage to win 162 games on their way to defeating Jupiter in the Solar System Series. I can honestly say that I have no expectations coming into this season. If the Jays manage to get a player selected to the all-star team, it will be a pleasant surprise for me.

It sounds like Overbay and Rolen feel better than they did going into last season, and I’m not sure that Marco Scutaro’s elbows are nearly as pointy as David Eckstein’s which should keep Aaron Hill in the line up on a more regular basis.

Mr. September x 25
Who doesn’t love the Jays annual thrashing of the American League during the month of September. JP doesn‘t have a great eye for talent, but his ability to find players who rise to the occasion in September is undeniable. Hmmm OPS, WHIP, what would be a good acronym for the ability of a player to Perform In September Series?

Ouch, my ovaries
Faking injuries is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life for AJ Burnett. Hopefully he’ll get the festivities underway shortly…mind you, heading to the NY/NJ area, there’s a chance that he’s been able to meet with Vince Carter’s Fake Injury Doctor in an attempt to control the affliction.

Curse of the Manbino
You’ve got to like Jason Bay, but he’s just not as good as Manny Ramirez. That combined with Big Papi approaching the age of Big Grand Papi, might allow some relief for Jays pitchers trying to navigate their way through the Sox’ lineup.

Rays Hangover
Perhaps the combination of no longer being eligible for beginner’s luck, succumbing to the distractions of girls, alcohol and midterms, and potentially lengthy suspensions due to positive drug tests tripped by unknown ingredients in their over-the-counter acne medication might keep the young Rays from repeating last year’s performance.

78 wins + many lessons learned…can’t wait till 2010.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
  Pre-season Predictor: Reasons for Optimism
Read any forecast of the Blue Jays' chances in 2009, and there's a near consensus: with A.J. Burnett gone, and Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan on the shelf, there's no way this team can compete. Granted, it's never easy to replace 483 innings of starting pitching, but a closer look at this team reveals some grounds for hope, even in the merciless AL East.

1. The Bullpen
Don't expect them to lead the league in ERA again, simply because it's tough to repeat, but this should be a team strength. Expect them to pitch more innings, but with a deep pen and the likes of Jeremy Accardo standing by in Las Vegas, that shouldn't be a huge problem.

2. Pitching Potential
Purcey, Richmond and Romero aren't exactly household names. And Jesse Litsch is stretched as a #2 starter, to put it mildly. However, all of them have decent upside. This isn't the second coming Ohka, Thomson and Zambrano. If these guys struggle, you have Cecil, Mills, Casey Janssen, and a bunch of other options waiting in the wings. The nice part of having young pitchers around is that they'll only be in the rotation as long as they're effective. That kind of competition usually fosters decent results. The last time the Jays went mining for young pitching, they found that McGowan and Marcum could hack it at the big league level.

3. Bouncing Back to that Sweet, Sweet Median
Not one lineup regular enjoyed a career season in 2008, and only Vernon Wells put together an above average - if injury riddled - season, compared to his career numbers. Expect some improvement from the likes of Rios, Rolen and Overbay.

4. Stiffs Need Not Apply
The Jays won't be squandering more than 1000 plate appearances on the likes of Shannon Stewart, Brad Wilkerson, Kevin Mench, Matt Stairs and Frank Thomas in 2009. That was one out of every six trips to the plate last year for guys who ranged from mediocre (Stairs) to abysmal (the other four guys).

5. The Kids are Alright
The biggest reason for optimism is the core of young players: Aaron Hill, Alex Rios, Adam Lind and Travis Snider. This is where the Jays are capable of great improvement, IF Hill is fully recovered, IF Rios can consolidate his gains over the past two seasons, IF Lind and Snider are really ready for prime time. Yes, that's a lot of IFs, but this is where surprise teams come from: big improvement from the young guys.

Add all these factors together and the Jays bring home a surprising 85 wins.

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