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Archive for the ‘baseball’ Category

2016 Blue Jays Preview

Thursday night, I walk out of my work at 10pm and it takes two people over half an hour to scrape enough ice off my car that I can even get into the driver’s side door. The ice is so bad the roads are a mess, trees lie across streets and just about everywhere in Barrie is blacked out. It’ll take two days of sun and mid-teens weather to melt all the ice off my car.

 

Saturday. One week until the Toronto Blue Jays season opener, an away game against Tampa Bay. The ice is still on my car, but summer feels like it’s almost here.

 

It’s been an eventful 12 months for the Blue Jays, crazier than anything in recent memory and alternately frustrating and liberating. There was Bautista’s dinger in game five – followed by the all-timer of bat flips, and what deserves to be a statue in front of the Rogers Centre – and drama over his contract demands, There was lights-out pitching performances by Marcus Stroman and David Price last summer and Price signing a contract with Boston worth more money than some stadiums cost to build. There have been commemorative magazines and books and hours (days, even!) worth of content on this team and for once, it’s not all doom and gloom.

 

Goddamnit, how I miss baseball.

 

The news today is Aaron Sanchez will be pitching in the rotation. This weekend, it was how Edwin Encarnacion will likely be playing on opening day. Not too long ago, more than a few players defended Jose Bautista after Goose Gossage squawked about something he probably he still hasn’t seen. Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson is on the cover of a video game and spoke eloquently about domestic abuse. Right now, there are only a couple of gloomy clouds on the horizon – mostly relating to Bautista and Encarnacion’s contract status – How can you not love this team?

 

I assume there are haters out there in the media. As I wrote a while back, I’m a little more selective in who I read these days: I’ll read everyone at Blue Jays Nation, occasionally listen to Definitely Not JaysTalk and avoid the sports pages and Fan 590 with a vengeance. It’s certainly helped a bunch of things for me, like how I’m not angry about whatever the media’s fanning up today. Of course, getting blocked by Jeff Blair was nice, also.

 

In the back of my mind, I sort of have an idea how I hope this season will go. I’d love to see them stay healthy and competitive for the whole year, obviously, but I also think Stroman is primed for a great season. I’d like to think Donaldson will be as good as last year, but I hope Troy Tulowitzki hits a little better. I’ll miss Kawasaki’s outsized personality, Buehrle’s quiet dependability and the sheer electricity of watching Price pitch. At the same time, I’m looking forward to watching Drew Storen and JA Happ pitch. Really though, I’m just glad the Jays are back in my life for another summer.

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Summer Madness – The Jays In September

When I last checked in on the Jays in mid-June, they’d won 11 straight games, often crushing their opponents. Especially Boston in a 13-5 win. Funny how things change, eh?

 

Yesterday, the Jays beat the Detroit Tigers by 15-1, just absolutely crushing them. It was a hell of a day at the plate for everybody (except Tulowitzki, who struck out four times), but especially for Edwin Encarnacion, who hit three home runs. Which is, holy shit, a lot of dingers. It’s great and I love it.

 

Right now – an hour or two before Sunday’s game against the Tigers – Toronto’s record is 73-56. They’re a game and half up in the AL East, are planning on selling playoff tickets for the first time in decades and everybody #LovesThisTeam. Even the grouchy Toronto sports media (who, you’ll notice, aren’t calling on Gibbons’ firing any longer).

 

Things are swell, which is a weird kind of feeling to have about the team this late in the season. Normally by this point, I’ve seen the Jays live a few times and they’re out of the pennant race, so it’s easy to get tickets and wander around the Dome.

 

Not so this year. Not only has security been amped up, but also it’s harder to get around the stadium these days. I’ve been told that the Flight Deck (nee Windows Restaurant) is being sold as standing room only seats. No more dropping ten bucks on 500 seats and spending the day down in the patio.

 

Earlier in the summer, my buddy Eric and I decided to hit the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame instead of watching a game; since then tickets have become expensive on the re-sale market and almost sold out from the box office. I’ve been waiting until I can see them live before I write about this team, but I won’t be seeing a game until September (I’m planning on seeing two, actually).

 

I’m just glad I can get to a game at all, since the Jays are a hot ticket this summer. And just about everybody I know has some strong take on how cool this team is. The guy at work who’s never mentioned sports at all before now says he loves baseball, all the bars in town suddenly have big Jays flags they trot out for games and the local bakery has broken out a Jays-themed birthday cake, complete with a big logo in the middle and what looks like basepaths around the trim.

 

The big difference between this team now and back in June is basically just two players, both of whom are fan favourites and are really, really good. One is Troy Tulowitzki who replaced Jose Reyes at shortstop and the other is ace pitcher David Price, picked up from Detroit at the deadline.

 

Although Tulo hasn’t been hitting as well as he did in Colorado – .300/.348/.471 there vs .227/.331/.373 here – but is still a blast to watch. In his first game as a Jay, Tulo smacked a dinger off of Philadelphia’s Jerome Williams. He’s only hit three more since then, but I’ve quickly seen a spike in people wearing his jersey. He’s a popular fella.

 

Price, on the other hand, is a blast to watch. Not only is he the best pitcher on the team, but he’s arguably one of the best in baseball: a 2.42 ERA, a 5.4 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) and about 10 strikeouts per nine innings. I think my favourite start of his came against the Los Angeles Angels a week or so ago, when he struck out nine through eight innings, including Mike Trout twice. For the first time in a long time, the Jays have a pitcher who gives a feeling that anything can happen with a start, even a no-hitter.

 

Two things have marked Toronto this summer. The first is the Jays, who were eight games back in the AL East on July 28. The other is Drake, who found himself in a hip-hop beef after Meek Mills accused him of using ghostwriters. Both struck back with force: the Jays ripped off a win streak and jumped three teams to lead the division within a month; Drake dropped “Back to Back,” and took Mills to the cleaners both in a record and on the stage at OVO Fest. Fittingly, Drake’s album art was a photo of Joe Carter rounding the bases after hitting the series-clinching home run in the 1993 World Series.

 

Yes, it was a shot at noted Phillies fan Mills, but in another sense it’s fitting; just like Drake, the Jays have bounced back with a vengeance. It’s going to be a fun September.

Written by M.

August 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Looking back at the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays

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For a while, it seemed like something could happen: the Toronto Blue Jays could win the AL East! And then, it all kind of fell apart. Well, c’est la vie.

 

I only made it to two games this year, both of them right around the end of June. One was a loss to the White Sox, the other a walk-off win against the Brewers. When I think back to these games, a few moments stand out: an amazing video of Colby Rasmus wearing a straw hat and pretending to fish; watching Edwin Encarnacion hitting a game-winning home run (first time I’ve been in the stands for one of those!); a huge mass of people lined up for the subway at Yorkdale in Jays gear. Oh, and the new, not very good Pizza Nova pizza.

 

It’s been an interesting year for the Jays. Through May they were outstanding: they went 21-9, were slugging their way through games, leading the AL East and separating themselves from the pack. It peaked on June 6, with a 3-1 win over St. Louis: the Jays were 39-24, had won six games in a row and were six games up in the AL east. And then it all kind of fell apart: the hits stopped coming, the injuries started mounting (Izturis went down in April, then Brett Lawrie in June and Encarnacion in early July) . Per Baseball-Reference, Toronto scored 60 fewer runs in June. Combined with Baltimore’s steadily improving pace, Toronto was solidly in second place when I saw my first game in person.

 

The AL East was a little weak this year, but the American League itself was pretty damn hot for most of the year. When Baltimore passed the Jays on July 4, Toronto also fell below the second wild card spot, behind both the LA Angels and Seattle. For most of the year, the AL West was well above everyone else, with the Oakland Athletics looking amazing and two good teams a few games behind.

 

As fun as that was for a casual fan – there was some great stuff happening on the left coast – it wasn’t great for Toronto: even through the end of July, there was a logjam for the second wild card. Most of the Central was in play, particularly Cleveland and Kansas City, plus Seattle and New York. Hell, Tampa was six games out with two months remaining. But by September, Toronto was more or less out of it, even with a nine-of-11 win streak.

 

They had the bad luck to be merely decent in a year when a glut of good teams competed for the second spot. And Toronto was basically just okay: they hit a lot, but they allowed a lot of runs, too. As of this writing, they average 4.4 runs per game, but allow about 4.3 per game. The usual things to blame started popping up on JaysTalk: injuries, underperforming stars, bad management.

 

My favourite is how the Jays didn’t make any big moves at either trade deadline. But to get something, Toronto would’ve had to give something up. It’s a risk/reward proposition; giving up, say, Jose Bautista for, say, David Price (a deal I just made up, I should add) might shore up the rotation, but it’s gutting the team’s offensive production. Does that reward outweigh the risks? It’s a tough call. With prospects it’s trickier: you’re dealing with unknowns.

 

The same proposition goes down through the way the roster’s built. Once players started getting hurt or slumping, the same idea applied to replacements. Rasmus, for example, was hitting awfully all summer: for example, he went .197/.288/.380 in July. By September, Anthony Gose replaced him at centrefield. But Gose isn’t much better at the plate, hitting .221/.310/.270 this season. But he’s better at defense. It’s a variation on the same question: does that defense outweigh the lack of offense? Especially when compared to someone who isn’t producing at an expected level?

 

The same question popped up elsewhere. Does Kawasaki’s merits outweigh his liabilities at the plate? What about Adam Lind: against right-handed pitchers, he’s been outstanding (.357/.415/.548), but against lefties, he’s awful: .061/.162/.223. And here he is, playing regularly at first and DH.

 

When I think back to the 2014 Jays, I keep thinking back to the same few questions: what was happening when it all worked for the team? And why was it so unsustainable?

 

There was a great post on Drunk Jays Fans earlier this season about Dustin McGowan’s pitching. To that point, he’d been pretty good as a mop-up reliever. But a look at his numbers and pitch location showed some dangerous trends: his pitching was regressing and his pitches were often in high-risk areas. Soon enough he exploded on the mound: three hits, three walks and three runs in a blown save against Tampa. He’s melted down a couple of other times, too.

 

That seems to be the Jays in a microcosm this season. In some areas, they were great. Like hitting: for a while, the Jays had scored the most runs in the majors and they’re still near the top. But their bullpen was a mess all season. McGowan struggled, but he was occasionally good, too. But Sergio Santos, brought in as the new closer, barely made it through July before getting the boot. Steve Delabar’s is slightly better ad 4.91. Even closer Casey Janssen, nearly automatic for the first half of the year, has struggled of late: since August, he’s allowed 11 runs and 19 hits in just over 14 innings.

 

At the same time, I’m not sure how much I blame management for this season. I’d hardly call myself a baseball expert, but of the few questionable things Gibbons has done this season, I generally seem to get their logic. Like Gose over Rasmus, like relying on Janssen even after his ERA exploded last month. Some I don’t – what was Frank Francisco doing in the lineup so damn long? – but they don’t seem like something to fire someone over, either.

 

Likewise, Alex Anthopoulos seems generally okay by me. He didn’t add anyone by the deadlines, but he didn’t give up anything key to the team either. This year, there’s some weird tension over spending; who knows what’s been happening upstairs now. And, again as has been noted at DJF, it’s worth noting the Jays have focused on drafting high school players since 2010. Wrote Andrew Stoeten:

“… consider this: a high school draftee from 2010 is now around just 22 years old. Aaron Sanchez is one of them, and he’s just now reaching the big leagues, and one of the youngest pitchers in the majors.  To repeat: a prototypical guy from A.A.’s first draft is now an exceptionally young big leaguer.”

 

It seems unreasonable to fire a guy over 22-year olds not playing like, well, they’re a few years older.

 

For everyone calling this Jays season a bummer, it’s worth pointing out it was a pretty fun year, too. The Jays won a 19-inning game, led their division into June and even had a stretch where Bautista basically carried the team: this month he’s hitting .288/.440/.545. And for all of his crappy starts, JA Happ has also pitched pretty well at times, too. That was maybe my favourite surprise of this season.

 

And for the first time in years, the Jays actually felt like they were in the thick of things. There was a palpable feeling in the air when I went to games, even outside the stadium. When I walked down to see them play the White Sox I was surprised by the amount of Jays jerseys, shirts and hats I saw everywhere: on the subway, hanging out at Yorkdale, even on the street. But then again, when I was in Toronto last weekend, on a day when the Jays played in New York, it was the same thing. There was people milling outside the Rogers Centre, people watching the game at bars up and down Yonge Street and a blue everywhere.

 

It reminded me a little bit of being outside the Air Canada Centre when the Raptors were in the playoffs. That was a big group of great vibes, people not just glad to see the Raptors in the playoffs, but just having a good time to boot. And after last year’s disastrous Jays season, it felt great to have a team winning more often than they lost.

 

Sure, there were rough patches. And the Jays might even finish this season under .500. But I’m also going to miss baseball being on almost every night once it’s gone, too.

Written by M.

September 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Sinking Hopes in July – Jays Land, Part Two

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There hasn’t been a follow up to the Blue Jays win streak. There have barely been any wins at all, actually. Since the All-Star break, the Toronto Blue Jays have lost four games in a row and it’s been ugly, folks. Things are not looking good in Jays Land.

I don’t get to go to too many Jays games, but I managed to sneak down last Saturday. It was hot up in the 500s, sitting directly in the sun on a scorching July afternoon.

But it was actually a reprieve from the past few days. Earlier in the week, Toronto went through it’s first heat wave of the summer and the night before, a giant storm swept through southern Ontario, ripping shingles off my roof, slamming trees to the ground around town and knocking out power in parts of central Ontario.

The Jays were slammed around, too. Friday night was a 8-5 loss where the Jays blew a 4-1 lead. I had no way of knowing, but when Bautista hit a homer to left in the third, it’d be the last time all weekend Toronto would lead by more than a run.

View from the 500s

View from the 500s

The roads on Saturday were crammed with traffic. On highway 400, it was packed heading out of Toronto and once

I got into the 416, traffic was just packed. It took the better part of an hour to get from Yorkdale to the Bay Street bus terminal. Took a while to get to the game and I arrived late. Still, outside the Rogers Centre it was packed even some time after the first pitch. Packed inside, too.

In a story published at Canadian Business earlier this year, Keith Pelley – president of Rogers Media – said there are four types of fans: diehards, bandwagon jumpers, corporate types and what he called the “Fashionable fan.” They’re an interesting type of fan, jumping on a team because it’s trendy. In a phrase: baseball hipsters. In that story, Pelley said the Jays are “very quickly becoming a fashionable brand.” I know what he means: over the past couple years, crowds at Jays games have been a mix of older fans and younger ones.

But it’s come with a different type of fan, too. Crowds at Jays games can get dicey at times: I remember going to that $2-per-ticket game in 2008 where a bunch of drunken yahoos were arrested by The Cherry Beach Express. And even back in 2006, I wrote about rowdy fans at Argo games. But in the past couple of years it feels like there’s a lot more rowdy young bros at Jays games now, guys in Brett Lawrie jerseys, holding two cans of Canadian and giving lip to pretty much anyone, looking to start a fight. I used to run into them all the time in college. I ran into a group of them on Saturday when they were sitting in my seat. Ran into a bunch more later at the open-air patio in the 200s.

There isn’t a plague of them or anything, but these are the people Yahoo Sports meant when they ripped Jays fans earlier this year. Ditto for Deadspin. It was enough of a problem that The Toronto Star weighed in earlier this year, too. The coverage of unruley fans have tapered and so has their behavior: I only saw one guy get arrested at the game on Saturday!

All the nitrates you'd want in a $11 hot dog!

All the nitrates you’d want in a $11 hot dog!

The Jays weren’t playing too well, either. They were down early and stayed there. It wasn’t for lack of chances: in the fifth, Jose Reyes was at third with no outs. In the eighth, Toronto loaded the bases with no outs. Toronto scored just one run between these two chances. The eighth was particularly frustrating, with two strikeouts ending the inning. This was about the time I left the 500s for some shade and the new open-air patio.

I’ve given Rogers some flack over the years for the way they run Rogers Centre – bad food (Air Canada Centre has better hot dogs), expensive drinks, a sterile environment – but the patio’s a good move. Up to last year, it was Windows restaurant and was rarely used for much of anything. I managed to get into it last year for a game and it was a sad place: a couple of old paintings from the glory days of the early 90s, some tables you could stand around and a bunch of old, disused TVs, the boxy kind with the tube in back.

This year, they ripped all that crap out. There’s no tables, no dusty TVs. A few beer stands and food vendors have replaced the line buffet of hot dogs, peanuts and canned pop. There’s a couple of big TVs showing replays and a box score. And those huge windows are gone. It gets crowded, but it’s a nice spot to watch the game.

The new patio in the 200 level

The new patio in the 200 level

If only the rest of the game was that nice: Rajai Davis was called out on a close play at first, Reyes struck out and Lawrie scored on an Edwin Encarnacion single. With runners on second and third, Adam Lind – who finished with three walks on the day and leads the Jays in on-base percentage – grounded out to close out the game. Ugh.

On the way out, I dropped by the Jays outlet store. If you don’t mind wearing the jersey of a bigot, you can get a jersey for $40. There’s a ton of them! There’s a couple of Rickey Romero twitter shirts, too, which reminded me how quickly those things go out of date. I assume JP Arencebia’s shirt will be there, too.

Next day, it was the same story: Toronto went down, rallied late and couldn’t pull it off. Glad I didn’t make the trip that time: this was the day the Jays honored Carlos Delgado, who was a great Jay (and almost won a MVP award once) and left the Jays as a free agent. His era wasn’t a great one: Toronto continually finished third in the AL East, hovering around .500 despite having Delgado, Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen. It makes me wonder what’s going to happen down the road: will Toronto put Vernon Wells name up on that wall? Encarnacion? I think it’s pretty safe to think Bautista will get there eventually.

The Jays will, too. Eventually. Things were admittedly worse for the Jays on Monday: a 14-5 loss to the Dodgers, their worst of the season. But Tuesday brought a players-only meeting and a burst from the Jays bats. . But if it’s not one thing, it’s another. The Jays bullpen, so solid all year, collapsed and Toronto blew an 8-3 lead. So it goes in Jays Land.

Written by M.

July 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Rising Hopes in Jays Land

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The other day I found out an interesting fact about the Toronto Blue Jays: their win over Baltimore on June 22 put them over .500 for the first time in nearly a year. I’d forgotten it’d been that long since the Jays had been, well, good. But then again, I was feeling positive about them even as the season was going to pieces.

Right now, every team in the AL East is above .500. It’s a meat grinder of a division, a marathon, all those comforting old cliches. It’s pretty damn exciting, folks. After what happened throughout April and May, if you had asked what my hopes for the season were, I’d have said just getting t0 .500 would be amazing but I’d have expected something like 75 wins, tops. As it goes now, the Jays have 38 and are two games above .500.

It’s been a rough spring, especially for their starters. RA Dickey, who cost the Jays a small ransom back in the winter months, hasn’t been his 2012 self and is struggling with a neck injury. Josh Johnson’s been hot and cold, swaying between gems like his seven-inning, ten-strikeout and zero runs allowed start against Colorado with a rough four runs allowed through six innings start against Baltimore on Sunday. JA Happ is still hurt and Ricky Romero might be finished after self-destructing back in May. The shining spot of late’s been Mark Buehrle, as any number of blogs have told you.

But even though things went south for the Jays pretty early, there was fun, shining moments. Filling this year’s Rajai Davis role – aka the role player inexplicably playing well and winning over fans – is Munenori Kawasaki. Last year, Kawasaki was unassuming for Seattle, hitting .192/.257/.202 in a little over 100 at bats. When Jose Reyes went down with a turned ankle early this season, Kawasaki was called up from AAA Buffalo. I don’t think anyone really expected much of anything.

While he’s hitting better in 2013, with a .341 OBP, Kawasaki is endearing himself locally by coming across as a fun, personable player. He’s given a memorable interview, played catch with fans and danced inside an airplane. Given some of the recent attitude to come out of the Jays locker room, this is a breath of fresh air. He’s not spouting mean-spirited jokes like Escobar did last fall. He doesn’t come across like Brett Lawrie, who cares so much he loses his shit. I don’t think it’s projecting too much to assume most people see Kawasaki as the everyman, getting his chance in the bigs and making the most of it: he comes across as more human than most of this loaded Jays team. It’s a lot more fun to root for someone like him than someone you expect the best from. When he hit a stand-up triple against Colorado on the 19th, the crowd was as into it as anything I’ve seen all season.

And the fans are into it. The Jays started this season, as they usually do, with a sellout crowd. This has, as it usually does, as the season has gone on. But the TV ratings are showing an interesting trend. Let’s break it down, point by point:

  • For the home opener on April 2, the Jays pulled in over 1.4 million viewers.
  • On June 11, they drew about 572,000 in a win over the White Sox.
  • As the Jays started winning games, the ratings started climbing: 604,000 for a game against the Rangers on June 14, then 686,000 on June 18. Last Friday, their win over Baltimore cracked 900,000.

I haven’t seen numbers for the weekend series against Baltimore, but I’m really curious if it’s kept going up.

The big win streak ended against Tampa on Monday night in a 4-1 loss, but that’s okay. It’s just nice to see the Jays mattering again, to see the team back in the thick of things and interest in the team starting to pick up again. Reyes is coming back sometime soon and hopefully JA Happ follows. Maybe another streak is on the horizon or at least a chance to move out of last place.

Written by M.

June 26, 2013 at 11:00 am

Six thoughts on Jays home opener

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Tuesday was opening night for the Blue Jays and arguably the most anticipated home opener since, well, since last year. All the November trades aside, every spring in the past couple seasons has come with expectations and words about how this year’s team is going to make the team a winner. And that’s cool: they gotta get butts in seats somehow, so it’s okay.

But the Jays lost. It’s a very Toronto way to begin the season (they lost their home opener last year, too) and gives more fuel to the self-loathing Toronto fire. So rather than write a full recap of the game and it’s hype and hoopla, I’m going to focus on a few things that stood out to me on Tuesday night. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Point: Pujols with a few holes in his bat

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My latest for The Good Point takes a look at three of the American League’s biggest bats – Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols – and how each has started the 2012 season, be it on fire, slowly or not at all.

From my piece:

Back on May 6, the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the LA Angels, 4-3. It wasn’t exactly the most memorable game except for one at-bat. In the bottom of the 5th, on a 2-2 pitch, Albert Pujols hit his first dinger of 2012, a shot to left over the head of Eric Thames.
It was Pujols, you may remember, that was one of the marquee signings of the 2012 offseason. He signed with Los Angeles for an astronomical sum: $254 million over 10 years, the second-highest contract in MLB history. And this season has not been kind to him.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Written by M.

May 15, 2012 at 9:05 pm