Paging Brett Lawrie

First off, welcome to my new blog.  With two young children, work and life in general, it’s been a struggle getting this off the ground but here is hope that I can find the time to post on a regular basis. Now, down to business…

With only one win in seven attempts, it’s safe to say this Blue Jays team is not off to the start many expected. Lets step back from the ledge folks, it’s really, really early. We’re exactly 3.7% of the way through the season and there is plenty of baseball left so lets not hit the panic button just yet. This is just the start of a long season.  What you need to focus on as a Blue Jays fan is that Jose Reyes is your starting short stop.  Jose Bleeping Reyes!

Besides the play of Reyes, there hasn’t been too much excited about after the first week of the season.  The starting pitching hasn’t lived up to expectations.  Dickey, Morrow, Buehrle have each had one terrible start.  The only great start we’ve seen is from J.A. Happ against Boston on Saturday.  The offense can’t seem to string any hits together.  The homeruns have been there and Jose Reyes has been great at the top of the order but much of the lineup has struggled. It’s almost pointless to look at stats like OBP this early but only three players have an OBP over .320 which is obviously not good.  The infield defense has also been sub-par but that is understandable with Izturis playing out of position at third and Bonifacio playing a lot of innings at second base where he has not played a ton of innings in the past.  The bullpen has been strong and I think the seven pitchers going forward (as the Blue Jays just added Casper Wells to the roster) will be Cecil, Loup, Rogers, Oliver, Delabar, Santos and Janssen.

Once the bats get going, the starting pitching finds its groove and the infield defense solidifies, the Blue Jays team will win more games than it loses.  I think a big key to this team will be the return of Brett Lawrie.  I think the offense can survive without Lawrie’s bat in the lineup but having another guy who can get on base consistently in the 5 or 6 spot will definitely help.  Right now after Bautista in the 3 spot, you have Encarnacion who has struggled mightily (he’ll get hot), Adam Lind who has two hits thus far (is this Lind’s last gasp with the Jays?) and J.P Arencibia who has actually produced thus far has yet to prove he can produce over the course of a full season.  Then you hit the bottom of the order with Rasmus, Izturis and Bonifacio which has been a bit of a black hole to say the least.  Rasmus has shown signs of life of late but like Arencibia, strikes out a ton and does not get on base consistently.  Izturis is playing everyday because Lawrie is out and Bonifacio is exciting when he gets on base but has struggled to get on base thus far (10K’s, 0 BB’s)  Lawrie is not the be all and and all to fix the Blue Jays’ offensive woes to date but he brings additional speed, some power and the ability to get on base.

Even more than the offense he can supply, Lawrie’s defence at third base seems to be what the Blue Jays are missing the most.  Izturis and DeRosa have not performed well at third base. Izturis has had great difficulty making the throw from third to first which has cost the Jays a number of outs. Neither DeRosa or Izturis have the range that Lawrie has.  With Lawrie at third, you can relieve Bonifacio at second base from time to time and have Izturis play there.  Plain and simple, Brett Lawrie is a good third baseman.  Looking at the two most reliable/robust defensive statistics Defensive Runs Saved (DSR) and Ultimate Zone Rating (USR), he led the majors in 2012 at his position in DSR and was seventh in UZR. Not too shabby.

(see FanGraphs for an explanation of DSR: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/defense/drs/) and seventh among third basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating or UZR (again Fangraphs: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/defense/uzr/) .

It looks like Lawrie could return to the lineup against the Yankees on April 19th.  I personally can’t wait.

Spirit of WAMCO

Spirit of WAMCO.

Toronto Blue Jays: Five Keys To Contending in 2012

Spring Training is over finally! Opening Day is just around the corner.  It is time to really focus in on the upcoming season.

As always, the Blue Jays are in tough this season in the American League East Division.  You have your usual powerhouses of New York and Boston  who are going to be strong again this year.  Then there is the Tampa Bay “Don’t Call Us Devil” Rays coming off a playoff season in 2011 and look to be an improved club in 2012.

There is an extra wild card spot available in 2012 which has raised hopes for Blue Jays fans but even with an extra playoff spot, the Blue Jays will have to have a lot of things go right to be in contention.  Outside the East you have two big teams in the AL West in the back-to-back American League champions, the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Pujols of Anaheim (Angels). Then in the Central you have the home of the hefty infielders in the Detroit Tigers.  In my opinion, these are the six teams that have the inside track at the playoffs (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Angels).

In all honesty, I don’t see the team making the playoffs this year.  That’s not to say I’m not excited for this team and the 2012 season, I just think they face an uphill battle this year and a lot of things have to go right for the playoffs to be a consideration.   I really this team is built to start contending in 2013 and beyond.  However, I’ve been known to be wrong (ask my wife) and unlike last year I do not have to look at the Blue Jays lineup and see Juan Rivera in right field, Edwin Encarnacion starting at third base, Frank Francisco/Jon Rauch as the team’s closer and a starting rotation featuring Jo-Jo Reyes. The 2012 Blue Jays could possibly avoid being the best fourth place team in baseball and push “The Big Six” for a playoff spot but as I mentioned earlier, a lot of things have to go right.

In my humble opinion, here are the top five keys to the Blue Jays contending this year:

1.       The best players need to continue being their best players: Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero need to perform to their abilities this year.  Any down season for either of these players would be extremely tough to overcome.  I’m not  saying that Jose has to duplicate the monster season he had last year but a season where he has an OPS of 1.000 (.600 slugging, .400 OBP) will be no small feat but that’s the type of production the Jays need from him barring any breakout seasons from others in the lineup.  Ricky needs to continue to be the team’s ace, pitch 200 plus innings and have a WHIP close to his 2011 total of 1.15.

2.       Protection for Jose Bautista: Without any protection in the number 4 and 5 spots in the batting order, teams simply will not pitch to Jose Bautista.  This is taking the bat out of the hands of MLB’s home run leader the past two seasons.  This is not good.  Someone has to step up and provide another middle of the order threat.  Right now the spot light is on Adam Lind who looks to start the season in the #4 slot in the lineup and Edwin Encarnacion who will be in the fifth spot.  Personally, I don’t think Lind is the right fit in the number four spot.  Right now, I think Encarnacion has the most promise in the four spot with Lawrie moving the fifth spot. However, given that Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie all bat from the right side,  John Farrell is not likely to have Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie grouped together in the lineup so Adam Lind will need to produce.

3.       Brandon Morrow:  We’ve been hearing how Brandon Morrow has the potential to be a front of the rotation starter and has the best ‘stuff’ on the team.  He had an impressive 2010 campaign, his first as a Blue Jay, and was pegged to have a breakout season in 2011.  However, 2011 was a struggle filled with inconsistent starts and early exits from ball games.  Morrow is optimistic about 2012 and has mentioned that he has figured out what his approach should be on the mound. He’s going to focus on being more efficient (i.e. pitching to contact) and lasting deeper into ballgames.  The Blue Jays need him to be a legitimate #2 starter if they have any hopes of contending in 2012.

 4.       Emergence of Young Stars: I’m focussing here on Brett Lawrie and Henderson Alvarez.  Lawrie made a huge splash in 2011 and needs to continue to emerge as an impact, all-star calibre player for the Blue Jays in 2012.  It looks as if he’s ready to do so as he picked up where he left off last September this spring.  Can Lawrie play up to the level he did in 2011 over the course of an entire 162 game season? How well will he adjust to the adjustments AL pitchers are surely going to try and make as they get more familiar with the young Canadian? If all goes well, Lawrie could make a good Blue Jays offense a great one.

Based on his spring results and what we saw in late 2011, Henderson Alvarez appears to be poised to have an impressive 2012 campaign.  If he does that will go a long way in solidifying the Blue Jays rotation giving them a solid top three (even if Alvarez is technically the #4 starter).

Although I focussed on Lawrie and Alvarez, the Blue Jays feature a number of young players who could take the next step forward in their development and contribute significantly a strong season.  J.P. Arencibia is coming into his second full season as the Blue Jays’ starting catcher and if he can figure out how to reach base a little more, he can build on the impressive power numbers he put up in 2011.  Kyle Drabek seems to have learned from a disastrous 2011 campaign and appears to be back on track. He possibly could be a mainstay in the rotation in 2012 given the door has swung wide open for him with Brett Cecil being sent to AA New Hampshire. Of course there is also Eric Thames who is the Blue Jays starting left fielder to start the season.  He seems to have a mature approach at the plate and clearly is in great physical shape. Can he consistently produce? Or if he doesn’t, does Travis Snider finally establish himself as an everyday big leaguer?

I should also mention the much maligned Colby Rasmus who seems to have been labelled by an alarming number of Blue Jays fans as a bust and a malcontent despite only a brief time with the club in 2011.   If Rasmus can find his 2010 (and early 2011) form, he can put up some big numbers and endear himself to the Blue Jays faithful.  Of course if he goes 0 for 4 on Opening Day in Cleveland, fans will start asking when the Blue Jays are going to call up Anthony Gose which I find absolutely ridiculous.

5.       The Bullpen:

The bullpen, especially the back end of the bullpen was much maligned in 2011.  Exit stage left: Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Shawn Camp. Enter: Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor (again). Add to that the incumbents, Janssen, Villenueva, and Luis Perez and Blue Jays fans should see a much improved bullpen.  Now a good bullpen on paper doesn’t always guarantee performance but if this bullpen performs, it will go a long way to the Blue Jays improving on their win total from 2011.  Sergio Santos bringing stability to the closer’s role will be key.

In conclusion:

There, of course  will be other factors that I’ve not included such as the ability of the team to stay healthy and consistent performance from the back end of the rotation (4,5 starters) etc. that will also determine the Blue Jays success in 2012 but the above represent solely what I think will be the most significant factors in the success of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012.  Now can we watch some real baseball please???

What I’m Listening To: As a recurring feature in my blog posts, I like to let the readers know what music I’m listening to while writing my blog.  This week it’s Chris Cornell’s Songbook. This is a live acoustic album from recorded on his 2011 tour of the same name.  Cornell is best known as the lead singer for the recently reformed Soundgarden as well as the former lead singer for Audioslave.  The album features acoustic versions of some Soundgarden hits, his other solo releases, covers and even a Temple of the Dog song.  I consider Cornell one of the best rock/alternative/grunge vocalists of his time and this album did not disappoint.

Who will be the Fan’s Whipping Boy in 2012?

For this week’s post, I had planned on doing a piece on what spots on the roster were actually still undecided besides left field.  I noticed on Twitter that an surprising number of people were posing questions to the likes of Sportsnet Radio’s Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590) , and well known bloggers Tao of Stieb (@TaoofStieb) and Drunk Jays Fans (@drunkjaysfans) regarding the chances of certain players making the opening day roster.  Questions such as:

What are the chances of Anthony Gose making the team in 2012?

Why don’t the Jays put Snider in centre and Thames in left?

I don’t see why the Jays don’t just move Escobar to second and play Hechevarria at short!

Can Snider or Thames play first base?

The first two questions  to anyone who follows this team closely are quite easy to answer. Colby Rasmus is the Blue Jays’ centre fielder in 2012. Gose will be spending his 2012 in Vegas.  Why people think Gose is a better option in centre having never played an inning in the majors is beyond me. Yes he’s fast and a plus defender but he’s at least a year away from being ready for the Show.  Barring injury, you won’t see Gose playing for the Jays this summer. He’s a prime candidate for a September call-up but the Blue Jays have no need to rush him and remember that Colby Rasmus fellow???

The second question is also an emphatic NO!!! Again, this Colby Rasmus fellow who everybody was thrilled to see the Blue Jays acquire last season is the Blue Jays’ centrefielder.  Yes both Eric and Travis are having fine springs but one of them is going to start the year in Las Vegas.   It’s probably going to be Travis but I discussed that in my last post so I won’t go into any further detail as to why I think this to be the case.

As for the third statement, similar to Gose, the Blue Jays have no reason to rush Adeiny Hechevarria. From all accounts, Hechevarria is already an elite defender and major league ready with his glove. However, he is very much a work and progress at the dish.  He’s improving at the plate and is apparently much stronger this spring then he was at the end of the season last year but he still needs time to develop.  Again, the Blue Jays have a shortstop and second baseman in place for 2012; Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson. 

Again for the fourth question, the answer is ‘NO’.  It’s not that Snider and Thames can’t play first base it’s just that the Blue Jays have Adam Lind slated to play first.  If that fails then you’ll see Edwin Encarnacion try his hand there and if E5 turns into E3 then you’ll likely see David Cooper get a shot.  There is no chance the Blue Jays would throw Snider or Thames at first in 2012.  It is conceivable I suppose that the Blue Jays might consider converting one of them to a first baseman in 2013 but I find that rather unlikely.

This brings me to the main subject of this post and that is who will be the Blue Jays fans’ whipping boy in 2012? In 2011, the Vernon Wells trade presented us Juan Rivera on a silver platter.  His struggles at the plate and his total lack of speed did nothing to help Mr. Rivera’s cause and mercifully, the Blue Jays dealt him to the Dodgers in June.   The fan’s ire then shifted fully to the back end of the Blue Jays bullpen where Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco drew heat for a multitude of late inning meltdowns. 

Given the fan’s attention in Spring, I think it’s pretty clear that the prime candidates for whipping boy 2012 are, in no particular order: Colby Rasmus, Kelly Johnson and Adam Lind. 

I don’t get why some fans have given up on Rasmus already.   My best guess is that these are Blue Jays fans that watch the Blue Jays and only the Blue Jays and see Rasmus as a player with an attitude problem who only batted .173 with 3 homeruns as a Blue Jay.  They don’t see the five-tool player with a huge upside who had an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .859 and 23 homeruns in 2010 as a 24 year old.  In 2011, the kid got run out of St. Louis by Tony LaRussa who then proceeded to throw him under a bus after the trade to Toronto.  He got to Toronto and then dealt with a wrist injury and only got in 35 games.  Hardly time to give up on a player this young and with this much upside. That being said, if Rasmus gets off to a slow start, you’ll see fans calling for the Jays to play Snider or Gose in centre.

Kelly Johnson was another player who had a really rough 2011 season and has Blue Jays questioning whether he should be the team’s second baseman.  However, given that the previous everyday second baseman for the Blue Jays who the Jays traded to get Johnson was having an equally bad 2011 (and a brutal 2010 for that matter), a change of scenery could bode well for both Johnson and Hill.  Johnson is only signed to a one year deal so fans won’t resent him for his contract but again may be the target of fan’s ire simply because some fans don’t want to wait for Hechevarria. 

Then there is Mr. Adam Lind.  Lind had a great 2009 season. A breakout year for Mr. Lind.  Then came 2010 where as the team’s DH, he struggled mightily with an OBP of a mere .287.  Some writers pointed to the fact that he was a DH at such a young age and had to dwell all game over his failures at the plate as a reason for such a drop-off from 2010. The 2011 season was supposed to be a comeback season for Adam given that he was back to a full-time defensive player.  Despite a promising start to the year, he again put up horrific numbers batting .251 and an on-base percentage of .295.  He did put up 26 homeruns and 87 RBIs but given first base is generally a power position, these numbers don’t hold water.   This kind of production is also not acceptable for a team’s #4 hitter who is supposed to provide protection to one of baseball’s premier power hitters in Jose Bautista.  There is a reason why Bautista led the majors in walks last season.  If you want to really put how bad Adam Lind’s numbers were in 2011, just look at his Wins Above Replacement of 0.7 and compare that with those players that played 50% of their games at 1B last season and had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. He ranks 18 out of 20.  To me, this is the guy who is going to be your whipping boy for 2012 Blue Jays fans.  He’s had two consecutive bad seasons, he’s the player who is supposed to be providing protection for the Jays’ best hitter and he’s the guy who was quoted this spring as saying that he’s ‘not much of a workout guy’ and still doesn’t like it but now knows he has to work out and is willing to put in the twenty minutes a day he believes is necessary.   Maybe he’ll return to his 2009 form but all signs are pointing to another rough season.  I just hope that if he does struggle, John Farrell has enough sense to take him out of the lineup or at least move him down in the order. 

Spring Training Thoughts – The Battle for Left Field

It’s Spring! It’s a magical time of year when spring training is underway and that seems to melt away all the grumblings and mumblings over the Blue Jays not making a big splash on the free agent market and signing the likes of Prince Fielder or Yu Darvish. It is also the season of “If/Thens” for MLB fans when assessing their favourite team’s chances at making the playoffs as in:

If Arencibia, Rasmus, Lind all have big seasons, then the Blue Jays could make some noise in 2012

If Brandon Morrow emerges as a true #2 starter and Alvarez, Cecil and McGowan all pitch to their potential then the Blue Jays could have a really strong starting rotation.

If the Blue Jays’ bullpen doesn’t have as many blown saves as in 2011, then the Blue Jays could make the playoffs.

If Pat Tabler thinks a Blue Jay is ‘big’ and ‘strong’ then he’ll say “he just looks like a ballplayer”.
I could attempt a few more but I think you, as the reader, get the picture!

Over the next few days, I’m going to share my thoughts on Spring Training thus far but today I’ll focus on the battle for left field between incumbent Eric Thames and Travis Snider.
With all other positions on the field already spoken for, the competition for the starting left field position has been the main focus of this spring in Dunedin.
First off, I like both of these players. Snider has had the spotlight on him as a ‘can’t miss’ prospect for a long time. He seems to be a hard worker and willing to do whatever it takes to improve and contribute consistently at the big league level. He’s built like a fullback, runs well and has greatly improved his outfield defence since he first debuted in the Majors in 2008. He also seems like a pretty decent human being and seems to have his head screwed on straight. However, as a highly touted prospect, Travis Snider was rushed up to the big leagues early in his career but, to date, has yet to live up to expectations. He’s spent the parts of the past two seasons up with the Blue Jays but never producing consistently and, as a result, has spent the bulk of his time the past two seasons at Triple-A Las Vegas. In the opinion of some fans, the Blue Jays should unload him now. I’m not of that opinion. I thought 2011 was going to be Travis Snider’s coming out party. I couldn’t have been more wrong but I see a player who has all the skills and is just starting to figure out what he needs to do to be an everyday big leaguer.

Eric Thames is a physical specimen. He’s ripped. However, his bulky physique resulted in injury problems through college and in the minors. Eric then integrated Yoga to gain some flexibility and lost some bulk off his frame. After an impressive Spring Training in 2011 that led to an initial stint with the big club in May and then after a brief stint in Vegas, he was recalled for good in mid-June and eventually established himself as the Blue Jays starting left fielder.
Coming into Spring Training, the Blue Jays were quick to explain that left field was Eric Thames job to lose but there would be a competition between him and Snider for the starting left field spot. Now if you’re to look purely at statistics thus far over Spring, Travis Snider has the edge. I’m not going to bore you too much with the numbers themselves but over nine games, Travis has 3 HRs, 12 RBIs, is batting a respectable .296 and has a .345 OBP. Eric hasn’t put up as impressive numbers over his 9 games but is still batting .320 and has an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .890 (Snider’s is 1.086). However it is still Spring Training and the numbers are basically meaningless. Snider and Thames aren’t always facing MLB calibre pitching and even if they are, those pitchers may be working on certain pitches/mechanics that day and aren’t subjecting hitters to their full arsenal. The batters themselves may also be working on things like pitch selection or driving the ball to the opposite field.

I think the next two weeks of Spring Training games will be more telling as pitchers begin to stretch themselves out more and get deeper into games, rosters start to get pared down to more closely resemble Opening Day rosters. My thinking is that Eric Thames will be the Blue Jays’ opening day left fielder with Snider being sent down to Las Vegas unless Snider vastly outperforms Thames the rest of spring training.
Personally, I think Snider is the better player and is heads and tails a better defender than Thames. I like Thames but he plays a really ugly left field. Having played some ball in my time, I always marvel at how some guys get to the Majors and still can’t track a fly ball. I know I’ve taken some really bad routes to balls in the outfield and occasionally misjudge a ball hit to me but if I had the opportunity to shag flies everyday and had coaches helping me out, along with the physical attributes of an elite athlete (this being the key factor here), I think I could figure out how to play a decent outfield. Please don’t read the last sentence and think that I believe play outfield at a major league level! I know Eric has worked hard in the offseason on his defence so hopefully it has paid off.

If Snider can figure things out at the plate and stay healthy, I believe he will produce in spades. That may require some additional time at Las Vegas (even though he’s hit well in AAA before and then failed to match that success in Toronto) but I think he’s the leftfielder of the future barring him getting traded. Thames will start the year as the starting left fielder and may stay there all season but I think by Opening Day 2013, you’ll see Snider there and perhaps even sooner.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong. Snider could get recalled and sent down a few more times, decide that he’s never going to make it as a player and tell Alex Anthopolous that he thinks he fits better on the business side of baseball. He’ll starts off as a scout but eventually makes his way to GM of the Blue Jays where he finds success applying statistical analysis known as “SABRmetrics” to players changing the way all teams evaluate players. Then someone will write a best-selling book about him and his exploits with the Blue Jays which will then culminate in an Academy Award nominated movie being made based on his story called, “Meats Don’t Clash”.

What Am I Listening To?
Whether I’m at work or at home and I’m writing I generally will listen to music so I thought some people would find it interesting to know what I was listening to when I wrote this post. Today I’m listening to Young The Giant’s debut album. I starting hearing their first single, “My Body” on Ottawa’s alternative rock station Live 88.5 at the beginning of last January or February and liked it but kept missing who the band performing the song was. I finally found out it was Young the Giant. I was just going to download the single but then “Cough Syrup” started getting airplay and I liked that song as well. I have a rule that if I like two songs off the same album prior to me hearing the whole album, I’m going to take the chance and just buy the entire album. I did and haven’t regretted it. It is mellower than I originally anticipated but still excellent. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to see Young the Giant play live here in Ottawa and it was a great show. I’m sure most of you have heard of this band already but if not, you can check them out at http://www.youngthegiant.com

Back Up and Running

I mean it this time. I’m going to fully commit myself to this blog in 2012. Why you ask? The Blue Jays did me a solid and got rid of those stupid black jerseys and hats so I shall return the favour and provide the mlblogosphere my rantings and ravings about the team and sport I love.

In all seriousness, I enjoy blogging and was writing posts on almost a daily basis a few years back but then life sort of got in the way over the past few seasons.  First, my wife and I had a child (he was born during the 2009 MLB all-star game). As a new parent, I was just not accustomed to not sleeping and stringing a series of coherent thoughts together about the Blue Jays  proved to be a monumental challenge and I just didn’t have the time or desire to post.  Secondly, my work life got busier. I got a bit of a promotion and the project I was working on picked up steam so I spent more time travelling and working some later hours.  Lastly, I discovered Twitter and the vast universe of Blue Jays fans that are on there, many of whom blog themselves. I was intimidated by the quality of these blogs and the knowledge of these authors.  I played competitive baseball for years and followed MLB and the Blue Jays  since I was six years old and yet my knowledge of the game and the Blue Jays paled in comparison to many of these fans.  So I really didn’t think I had much to contribute that others would find worth reading so I simply stopped writing.

I now realize that I miss blogging and decided that I’m going to try my best to produce a quality blog this year. If I don’t? Well, I’m still going to have fun doing it.  I like expressing my thoughts and opinions on the Blue Jays. It keeps me more in tune with the game and more invested in the season.  It also provides me with an outlet for when the Blue Jays just aren’t doing so well.

This is my first post of many in 2012. My next post will actually discuss the Blue Jays and what is happening in Spring Training this year and why I’m cautiously optimistic for 2012 and extremely optimistic for 2013 and beyond.
Stay tuned!

Always Fun Beating the Yankees

In my last post, I was giving my views on the Jays series in Boston against the Red Sox.  My thought, given the pitching matchups, that the Jays should come out of the series at 2 and 2.  In the end, they ended up losing three of the four games at Fenway. After winning the first game Friday night (just), Jo Jo Reyes laid an egg on Saturday and the team really was never given a chance to win. Plus Josh Beckett shut down the Jays’ bats without too much difficulty. Sunday was a little more of the same. Jesse Litsch wasn’t terrible but a few bloop hits and a mistake cost him early and Jon Lester again silenced the Jays’ offence. 

I wasn’t too upset about the back to back losses against Beckett and Lester. The performance by Reyes was just painful to watch as he had no command of any of his pitches, couldn’t throw strikes and when he did get something over the plate, it was hit hard. 

I expected the Jays to get out of Boston with a split having Ricky Romero on the mound on Monday facing a struggling Daisuke Matsusaka. Instead it was Romero who struggled and Dice-K pitched great and the Jays got shelled again.

Not a great road trip in the least. They lost two of three in Anaheim, two of three in Seattle and then three and four in Boston.  As a reward, the Blue Jays got to travel home to the Rogers Centre for a two game set against the Yankees.

Last night’s game started off promising.  Jose Bautista homered off of A.J. Burnett in the bottom of the first giving the Blue Jays an early 1-0 lead. Kyle Drabek was holding his own after some trouble in the second inning against the formidable Yankees lineup.  The game turned in the sixth when with the score tied 2-2, Mark Teixeira took Drabek deep for a two-run shot giving the Yankess a 4-2 lead.  At this point I was participating in Rogers Sportsnet’s live gamecast and the live chat took an ugly turn at this point.  

Many of the fans participating in this on-line chat immediately decided that the Jays recent slump was continuing and that the 2011 season was lost. In summary, many of the conclusions being reached by these negative Nancys was that Adam Lind, Aaron Hill and Travis Snider were busts and needed to be moved out of town.  Some were suggesting that guys like Brett Lawrie, Eric Thames and Zach Stewart be called up immediately.  Others suggested that the Jays loosen the purse strings and get active on the free agent market this coming offseason. 

The Negative Nancys had pretty much written this game off heading into the bottom of the sixth but the Blue Jays mounted a bit of a rally. Aaron Hill lead the inning off with a single. He then stole second but injured his hamstring doing so and was removed from the game. After a Jose Molina pop-out and a Corey Patterson walk, Edwin Encarnacion doubled off of A.J. Burnett to bring the Jays within one run and runners on second and third with only one out.  It looked as if the Jays would at least tie the game or possibly take the lead but David Patterson, in relief of Burnett, struck out both Yunel Escobar and Travis Snider to end the threat.

This put the Nancys into a frenzy. Travis Snider was being compared to Eric Hinske and they were calling for him to be sent to Las Vegas.  Jason Frasor did not help things as after getting Jeter to ground out, he surrendered a solo home run to Curtis Granderson restoring the Yankees lead to two runs.  This was it, the game was over, AA didn’t know what he was doing, the Jays will never be a contender etc. etc.

The Yankees then went to their shut-down trio of relievers to close the game out.  Joba Chamberlain in the seventh got the Jays to go three up and three down.  Rafael Soriano came in the bottom of the eighth and despite a walk to Corey Patterson, retired the Jays with relative ease.  

After the Yankees were held off the board in the top of the ninth, the Yankees brought in Mariano Rivera. A two-run lead with perhaps the greatest closer the game has ever seen in the game. The Negative Nancies were ready to slam the coffin shut on the Jays. However, something very interesting happened.  Yunel Escobar doubled to lead off the inning. The Negative Nancys’ whipping boy, Travis Snider, grounded out to second advancing Escobar to third. Jose Bautista drew a walk but the last pitch squirted away from Russel Martin allowing Escobar to score from third. The Jays were within one run with one out. Adam Lind had a great at bat versus Rivera and finally singled to right allowing Bautista to go first to third.  The comeback was nearly complete. John MacDonald came up next and executed a perfect squeeze bunt up the first base line.  Teixeira charging in attempted to go home to get Bautista but his throw was too late and the Jays had tied it up.  The Jays then loaded the bases on a Jose Molina single to left. Brett Gardiner was playing shallow and got to the ball quickly so Butterfield held Lind at third. The bases were loaded with Corey Patterson at the plate who was hot of late but Rivera induced a double-play to end the inning.

The Negative Nancys were a little subdued at this point. There were a few comments stating that it was a nice comeback but if the Jays didn’t win, it would be a disaster. More comments just simply stated that because the Jays didn’t win it in the ninth, they were still going to lose the game.  However, Jon Rauch shut down the Yankees in the top of the tenth and things got started early in the bottom half of the inning when Edwin Encarnacion led off with a single off of Ivan Nova.  After a failed bunt attempt, Jayson Nix flied out to deep right and then Yunel Escobar flied out to deep centre bringing Travis Snider to the plate with two outs.  The Nancys were already writing off the inning. However, Travis silenced them all with a double to right centre scoring Encarnacion.  Game over, Jays win!     

This was a great win for the club. Yes they had a disasterous road trip which pretty much erased a good start at home.  However, nobody is running away with the east at the moment and the Jays are still in the mix. They have one more game with the Yankees before the red hot Rays come to town. From there, the Jays head out to Texas to face the AL Champs for four games, then to New York for a three game set to close out the month.  Not easy. If they manage to get out of this month around .500, it will be a decent start to the year in my opinion.  We’ll see.

The Jays finally activated Frank Francisco off the DL yesterday but in somewhat of a surprise move, they sent Jesse Litsch to Las Vegas. If this move was predicated on performance alone, it would be a huge surprise given what Jo Jo Reyes has shown us in 2011. However, Reyes is out of options so would have to clear waivers before he could be assigned to Vegas (much like David Purcey) and he would most likely be claimed. As a result, the Jays wanted to hang on to Reyes and give him a chance to rebound (they like his arm). 

Other roster moves are imminent as Brandon Morrow is ready to make his return to the lineup on Saturday.  Morrow’s return would likely see Luis Perez returned to Vegas.  Also, the Hill injury may lead to him going on the DL and if so, would result in the recall of Mike McCoy.  Scott Posednik is also ready to get back on the field and should be reporting to Las Vegas soon to get back into game shape. Rajai Davis is also nearing a return.  Then the question will be what happens to the outfield picture for the Blue Jays with Snider, Davis, Bautista, Rivera, Patterson and Posednik all healthy.  Based on performance, Rivera should be the odd man out but he carries a large salary and would be tough to deal and get anything in return.  Another option would be to buy Rivera out of his last year of his contract and release him.  If that doesn’t occur then a decision between Patterson and Posednik will have to be made.  Given the way Patterson has performed thus far, Posednik could be the odd man out. However, Posednik may not be quite healthy yet or suffer a setback in his recovery so no need to speculate as to his fate just yet.

Well hopefully the Jays take another from the Yankees tonight before jetting off to the Lonestar State. Bartolo Colon is making his first start as a Yankee against Brett Cecil who is coming off his best start of the season last Friday in Fenway.   

Bring on the BoSox

The Blue Jays open up a four game set at Fenway Park in Boston on Jackie Robinson Day against the last place Red Sox.  I had to describe the Red Sox as last place as I really don’t think this will hold for long. 

The Red Sox have struggled out of the gate but the team is stacked and its a 162 game season. They’ll get back on track soon enough. I’m just hoping it’s not this weekend.

That being said, things look good for the Red Sox this weekend. As a result of a rainout in Baltimore, they’ve had two days off to rest and because of the extra day off they got to skip John Lackey’s turn in the rotation.  As a result, the Blue Jays get to face Buchholz in game one, Beckett in game two, Jon Lester in game three, and Matsusaka in game four. The Jays are countering with a struggling Brett Cecil in game one, Reyes in game two, Litsch in game three and Romero in game four.

Buchholz has pitched well against the Jays in the past but sports a 7.20 ERA heading into tonight’s game.  That coincidentally is Brett Cecil’s ERA as well.  So you have two starters who both had impressive 2010 campaigns but struggling so far in 2011.  It should be interesting tonight to see if either of these two pitchers regain their 2010 form. 

For the rest of the series there appears to be pitching mismatches. Saturday and Sunday appear to favour the Red Sox with Beckett and their ace Jon Lester throwing against Reyes and Litsch respectively.  Beckett looked horrible in his first start but then looked like his old self against the Yankees last week. Lester is a Cy Young contender and will be tough to beat.   So I give the edge to the Red Sox for these two days.

Monday sees a Romero vs. Matsusaka matchup with definitely favours the Blue Jays. Matsusaka has been anything but impressive this year.  Romero has been lights out in his three starts.

The Red Sox lineup is as impressive as any despite the team’s early struggles. Adrian Gonzalez just inked an new contract extension so he’ll be ready to live up to that contract to the Red Sox faithful. Another newcomer is of course, Carl Crawford.  Crawford is struggling but the Jays have seen him enough times in Tampa to know what he can do.  These two added to an already formidable lineup that includes the likes of Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury.  Also given how well the Red Sox play at home in Fenway (to me, the biggest home field advantage in the majors), it’s going to be a tough series.

To me, if the Jays come out of this series at 2 and 2, it will be a success and anything more would be a bonus. 

How do the Jays look 12 Games In?

Well here we are 12 games into the the Blue Jays’ season and the team sits comfortably at 6 and 6. This record could be better for certain as in five of the six games that the Blue Jays lost, they lost by only one run and the other loss was by two runs. They’ve been in every game to date.  There was also the horse-bleep baserunner interference call in Anaheim that cost them a game and of course the disaster in Seattle where the bullpen blew a five-run lead.

So twelve games in, here are my first impressions on the 2011 Blue Jays

The Offense/Lineup

There have been some bright lights and some disappointments thus far.  To me the brightest lights have been Yunel Escobar, J.P. Arencibia, and Jose Bautista.

Escobar has been on fire since the start of the season. He leads the team in  average and OBP and has reached base safely in every game. He also, of course has that walk-off homerun against the A’s on April.  Hopefully there will be no lingering effects from that mild concussion he suffered.

Arencibia started the season off with a bang with two homeruns in the season opener. He leads the team in slugging percentage and has legged out two triples as well. His defence has not been an issue.

Bautista hasn’t been hitting balls out of the park like a mad man but he still has three to lead the team including that big 3 run homerun in the series finale against Seattle that turned the game around for the Blue Jays. He’s hitting at a .353 clip so far and has drawn ten walks already this season despite missing three games for the birth of his daughter.

Honourable mentions go to Jose Molina, John MacDonald and Jason Nix who have performed well in part-time roles.

The biggest disappointments for me thus far have been Juan Rivera and Aaron Hill.  Rivera had a decent spring and swung the bat well but so far this season he has been absolutely terrible. He’s slow, he looks uninspired and is next to useless in the field. So when Rivera is not swinging the bat well, he doesn’t add too much to the equation. 

Aaron Hill continues to struggle.  He has an OBP below .200 and has only 8 hits so far this year. Quickly perusing the Jays’ box scores this year, I don’t believe he has a multiple hit game yet but I could be wrong there. Either way, Hill continues to scuffle. Perhaps the missed time during spring training has affected him.  One bright spot is that he does have seven RBIs thus far, only one behind the team leaders; Adam Lind and Travis Snider.

Speaking of Lind and Snider, they haven’t exactly torn the cover off the ball but despite slow starts to the season, they still have been contributing.  Snider has impressed me with his play in left field and his newfound ability to gun runners out trying to take that extra base.  He seems to have more plate discipline this year and he is advancing runners even if he’s not reaching base.  Lind is playing a decent first base and has hit relatively well so far this season. He’s not putting up the numbers that fans expect of Lind but I think that will come. He’s impressed me with his ability to hit lefties (batting .357 against them so far) but for some reason he has struggled against righties (batting .206).  After batting .360 in the opening two series at Rogers Centre, he has struggled on this road trip only batting a buck thirty. 

From the rest of the lineup, I think we’re getting about what I expected. Encarnacion can be productive but is unreliable in the field. Davis has been impressive when he’s got on base but has struggled to do so consistently and is battling an ankle injury.  Corey Patterson has just returned to the lineup after missing most of the start of the season with a concussion (thank you Josh Beckett) but has been impressive in the games he’s played and has more than made up for Davis being absent.  As I noted earlier, the part-time players like Molina, MacDonald and Nix have all contributed nicely. Nix has hit some timely homeruns and played better defence at third than Encarnacion. MacDonald is stellar defensively but has also had a few decent games at the plate.  Molina has shown some power with a .706 slugging percentage thus far in limited action.

In general the baserunning game and aggressiveness has been impressive. Yes the team has been caught in a few run downs and there have been a few baserunning mistakes but on the whole, this new philosophy of being aggressive on the basepaths has paid off. 

Starting Pitching

The starters have, on the whole, been effective.  Ricky Romero has been brilliant in all of his three starts. Kyle Drabek has shown he has impressive stuff and the ability to get outs even when he’s struggling with control. Jesse Litsch has been solid in his two starts.  Jo Jo Reyes has been both ugly and good. He was awful in his first start against Oakland and then in his second start against the Angels, he was effective holding the Angels to three runs (only 1 earned) over seven innings. 

Brett Cecil has struggled in his first two starts.  In his first start against Minnesota, he really only had one bad inning but he was only around for five. His last outing against the Angels he struggled again and despite the run support provided by the offence he could never keep the lead.  Much has been made about his lack of velocity coming out of spring training but from what I’ve seen, the bigger problem is his location. He seems to have struggled with keeping the ball down in the zone and has been hurt when the ball is up. 

The big question is who will be the odd man out when Brandon Morrow returns.  Odds on favourite is Jo Jo Reyes but the Blue Jays love his arm and if Cecil continues to struggle they may decide to keep Reyes in the rotation and have Cecil work out his issues in Vegas.

The Bullpen

It’s hard to really put a gauge on this bullpen so far. They’ve looked good in some games and terrible in others (see Seattle!).  To me, the mid relievers like Janssen, Camp, Villeneuva, et. al have been impressive.  Mark Rzepczynski has been lights out for the most part (again see Seattle) and seems to have found his niche in the pen.  The back end of the bullpen hasn’t been so good in my opinion. Jason Frasor is Jason Frasor. He can be effective and strike out the side but he also can come into the game with the game on the line and give up that key hit/homerun etc. I don’t like him as a late-inning reliever but over the years he has not been terrible in this role. Jon Rauch as closer does not instill a whole lot of confidence in me but I think Frank Francisco’s return is imminent so Rauch can slip back into a set-up type role with Octavio Dotel.  Dotel looked great in his two appearances against Anaheim but was also part of that disaster in Seattle. I think he’ll be effective as well as a set-up man as long as he doesn’t get to face lefties too often.

 

It’s Opening Day!

It’s finally here! I’m in Windsor, Ontario today for work, just across the river from Detroit, and just got back from watching the Tigers lose to the Yankees at a local watering hole.  The place was full of Tigers fans as one could imagine but of course there were two loud and obnoxious Yankees fans there spoiling everybody’s mood!

I will tell you this, if the Yankees get past the seventh inning with a lead, it’s going to be really tough to beat them with Soriano coming in the eighth and Rivera closing out ninth.

The Blue Jays kick off their season tomorrow night with a lineup that should look something like this:

1. Davis 8

2. Escobar 6

3. Bautista 9

4. Lind 3

5. Hill 4

6. Rivera DH

7. Snider 7

8. Encarnacion 5

9. Arencibia 2

Now this is not exactly what we were looking at from the beginning of Spring Training. It’s close but Encarnacion was to be the DH, Bautista at third and Rivera in right.  For whatever reason, John Farrell is opting to put Bautista in right, move Rivera to DH and (shudder) Encarnacion to third.  The Blue Jays are citing that this makes them better defensively and that a leaner more agile Encarnacion will be just fine at third. Now all Blue Jays fans know that Encarnacion’s mobility was never really questioned. What was questioned was his ability to throw the ball to first base accurately! I suggest those taking in games at the Rogers Centre sitting anywhere in the vicinity of first base either bring a glove, wear a helmet or be prepared to duck!

Either way, the lineup is solid offensively one through nine.

The rotation is set as we all know until Brandon Morrow comes back. Morrow’s return will result in one of Litsch or Reyes moving to the bullpen or Drabek going to Las Vegas.

John Farrell announced that his bullpen will shake out like this:

  • Rauch will close with any combination of Camp, Frasor or Rzepczynski working late inning relief.
  • Mid to long relief will go to Purcey, Janssen, and Villenueva

Now this will all go into flux when Dotel and Francisco return (not to mention Brandon Morrow). I think Dotel will be back first and in that case you might see Camp or Frasor move to a mid-relief role and Janssen is a prime candidate to get sent down only because he has options left. He’s actually pitched very well this spring.  When Morrow returns to the rotation there is a possibility that Reyes or Litsch could be sent to the pen but that would mean one of Purcey or Villenueva would have to be exposed to waivers. The more likely scenario is Drabek gets sent down and Morrow slides into the number two spot in the rotation.

Anyways, I have to run to go have dinner with some work colleagues. I should be posting later tonight with my thoughts on how the Jays will fare this season!

 

 

 

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