North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘MLB

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.

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

The Hits Just Keep On Coming: The Jays in June

A little over a month ago, things looked pretty bad for the Jays. When I last wrote about them, they were 13-15, writers were calling for John Gibbons’ firing, and Bautista was getting thrown under the bus for some reason. Now? Things are a lot better and the chorus has slowed down a little bit.

Going into Monday’s game against the Mets, the Jays have won 11 games straight. They ripped into Boston, staging a late-game comeback on Friday, an extra-winning win on Saturday and a crushing 13-5 win on Sunday. It was pretty cool and couldn’t have come against a better opponent; by weekend’s end, there was drama between the Red Sox and their manager John Farrell.

So things have been good. The Jays are hitting, even as injuries limit the amount of at-bats Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion get. But the rest of the order is hitting. Take Josh Donaldson: he hit a dinger in the 11th on Saturday to put the Jays ahead for good. And this month he’s hitting .327/.357/.462. And Russell Martin is hitting .324/.395/.676, too!

But really, the guy I keep thinking about is Jose Reyes. Right after the win streak started, the big story was over some dumb comments from Jays broadcast Jerry Howarth made on the dumb Fan morning show hosted by a guy once fired for being a homophobic jerk on the air.

Essentially, Howarth said Reyes was declining by the game and it was really tragic and so forth. And while Reyes isn’t the player he once was, he’s still been a decent player for the Jays. At the time of Howarth’s remarks, Reyes was hitting .284/.299/.353. This month alone, he’s hitting .333/.393/.490, with his only two home runs this season.

It goes deeper than that, too. Just a couple of days after Howarth’s remarks, Reyes’ basically won a game for the Jays. Down 4-6 in the bottom of the ninth, Reyes knocked in Munenori Kawasaki, stole second and third, then scored on a Chris Colabello single. And he’s supposed to be depressing to watch? Hell, I find even reading the game log exciting.

Indeed, the Jays are finding new and exciting ways to win. They walked off the Marlins on June 9, won a slugfest against Boston and finally recorded a save on the 13th, their first since early May.

See, the thing about this team is that it’s pitching sometimes isn’t all there, but it can hit its way out games when that happens. Between Donaldson, Martin, Bautista and Encarnacion, Toronto has a wealth of slugging, not to mention complementary bats that Gibbons can platoon and use depending on the opposing pitcher.

Which is what I’m finding I love about this team. I enjoy good pitching as much as the next fan, but truthfully, it’s rad to see the Jays hit a bunch and knock in a ton of runs. As cool as it is to see Buehrle pitch a succinct, quick game, it’s a lot of fun to see Donaldson hit one into the former Windows Restaurant or Martin knock one into the seats. It’s even cool to see Kawasaki – someone who isn’t really all that good, really – hit a ground-rule double in the ninth of a close game.

And that’s maybe the thing to remember about this team: they’re at least one arm short of making a real run for the AL East (probably), but when they’re hitting, they can really hit. And frankly, it makes them a lot more fun to watch right now than the Yankees or Rays.

 

Written by M.

June 15, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Blowing up, down and around (or What To Do About the Jays)

with one comment

(Optional soundtrack to this post)

Right now, the Jays are in the cellar. They’re 13-15 and in last place. Funny: it wasn’t long ago they were in first and I was going crazy over Jose Bautista again. Funny how things change in a month. Hell, just two weeks ago, there was snow on the ground and today I sat outside and read in short sleeves bare feet.

And things have changed for the Jays. Their youth movement wasn’t paying off quite as well as everyone hoped. Their bullpen has struggled and, at times, so has their offence. All of which means it’s time for that annual Toronto tradition, when hockey minds slip into something more comfortable for summer weather – a loose fitting T-shirt, I imagine, and a pair of jorts – and diagnose the problems of Canada’s lone baseball team.

Why here’s Steve Simmons weighing in on if John Gibbons should be fired! Here’s Jeff Blair, making the same argument! Spoiler: both say it’s not his fault. And I’m sure Michael Grange had a bad opinion somewhere recently, too, although I can’t find it at the moment. On Twitter, perhaps?

Firing Gibbons is the kind of move sportswriters love to pontificate about because it seems like a power play: you’re not producing, so you’re gone. It’s a big bang, the kind of simple, big solution everyone always has for the Jays. And while I agree with Simmons and Blair for once, just writing a column asking that question is throwing fuel on the fire.

Should Gibbons lose his job? No, of course not. There are problems with the Jays, but they’re not really huge problems and, further, they’re not problems Gibbons has any real control over. They include slow starts by some players, young rookies not playing like established veterans and a couple of bullpen meltdowns.

One such problem is the Jays defence: the 145 runs they’ve allowed is the most in the majors this season. But that’s been inflated recently: they allowed 12 in a loss to Tampa on Apr. 24, 10 in a loss to Cleveland on May 3, and nine in another Cleveland loss on May 1.

One thing that’s not a problem is their offense, which is the MLB’s best. Forget blowing this team up, they’re blowing around the bases! They’ve scored more than anyone, are sixth in OPS, and average over five runs per game. That’s pretty good! And not something you’d get from Toronto’s Finest. Writes Simmons:

Next on the list is Jose (K) Bautista. K for strikeouts which he is doing too much of… The slow start for Bautista is nothing new — he will find his way, he always does — but his inability to get hits in key situations has factored in games.

Bautista did show he can still make a difference late Monday night against the Yankees. He got a key hit, scored a large run, did what he is paid to do and hasn’t done enough of yet this season.

Never mind how Bautista is fourth on the team in slugging, has five dingers and absolutely showed up Baltimore’s pitching. Never mind how he’s the face of the Jays powerful offense and probably gets more junk than anyone, gets thrown at more than any other Jay. If only there was a way to chart how he’s being pitched to! The guy gets more flak than anyone and when he’s gone, I’m going to genuinely miss the guy.

Thank god for reasonable voices in the Toronto media, like Andrew Stoeten or Arden Zwelling. And especially Mike Wilner. I’m usually hot-and-cold on JaysTalk, but man, he’s had some incredible calls this season and he takes ’em like a champ.

(I think my favourite was when someone earnestly asked if he’d ever tried to play professional baseball, since he likes the sport so much. Not in an accusatory way, more like they just couldn’t understand why he never tried. Wilner asked if he was getting set up, but it never veered into “you can’t if you didn’t” territory, somehow.)

Anyway, I expect the Jays will recover and it’s not all Doom and Gloom. This is a team that can hit and has been all season. Their bullpen’s been iffy, but I imagine it’ll settle down. Look at RA Dickey, who is 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA, but pitched a gem the other night. Look at how young this team suddenly is: 12 players are 26 and under, 27 of them under 30. It’s going to take some time for everything to gel and until then I have faith their offense will hit them out of some lousy pitching nights.

Written by M.

May 6, 2015 at 11:59 am

Off Season: The Jays in 2013

leave a comment »

A few Fridays ago, me and maybe 17 thousand of my closest friends caught a Jays game at the Rogers Centre. It was a fun game: RA Dickey pitched well, settling down after allowing two dingers in the first two innings and Brett Lawrie caught a pitch in the face, then slid into second a few minutes later because why the hell wouldn’t he. I enjoyed myself. It was one of those late summer games that felt fun, even if the lineup was all second-stringers and AAA callups and the results didn’t really matter. It was a feeling I had for most of this Jays season.

Last winter, the Jays revamped the team, adding a great young shortstop, another good pitcher and a guy who’d pitched a perfect game once. Then, in a separate deal, they added a Cy Young-winning pitcher for good measure. This came on top of an already a promising young team: in 2012, the Jays had hung in there until a disastrous injury streak blew their season to shreds. They had dangerous hitters like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnación. Hanging out in centre field is Colby Rasmus, who alternately disappeared and played like a beast.

The big expected question mark was hanging out at third: Lawrie, who has a ton of potential and a ton of rage. He’s like the guy who knows what he wants and knows he can do it, but when he tries, everything just slips through his fingers like sand. As it turned out, there were more pressing concerns this year than him, but watching Lawrie progress was an interesting experience. There were times when he seemed like everything was coming together and there were times when it seemed like everything was falling apart, like when he banged up a water cooler.

Indeed, the biggest question this season is “what happened?” As in, what happened to the team that 19 different ESPN Experts thought would win the AL East. Hell, four people even had them in the World Series (one even had them winning!).

It’s a question I’m kind of tired of hearing about. This summer, sports talk radio was brimming with angst and loathing, with pundits picking at everything and offering their expertise. Some people had better ideas than others; some people even held out hope the Jays could compete until mid-May. But by the time Canada Day rolled around, it didn’t matter what any of them had to say. Between injuries, problems with the starting rotation and an overtaxed bullpen, this wasn’t the Jays season. The moments that stick in my mind are the ugly ones: JP Arencibia dropping knuckleballs in the home opener, Rasmus walking back to the dugout after yet another strikeout and Jose Reyes exploding at an umpire.

The only positive thing standing out is the legend of Munenori Kawasaki. Called up from Buffalo in late April, he had a memorable year and, improbably, became a fan favourite here in the GTA. An example: against Baltimore on May 26, Toronto went into the ninth inning down by three runs. They rallied: Arencibia knocked in Encarnación, Mark DeRosa scored Adam Lind. With two out and runners on first and third, Kawasaki hit a line drive, scoring the game-winning run. His postgame interview went viral; I actually remember it getting more coverage than the game itself. He had other moments: a game-tying home run (his only one of the year) in June, getting four hits against Baltimore in September, knocking in two runs (with another scoring on an error) in the ninth against Cleveland in July. By the time I saw the Jays in late September, Kawasaki – who hit just .229/.326/.308 over the year – was playing at DH. His 66 jersey was all over, too: I’m sure I saw more of those around than I did Reyes, Buehrle or Encarnación jerseys.

So, what happens from here? I don’t really know. Some of my friends think the Jays should fire Gibbons. My dad thinks both Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos. I don’t think Toronto needs such a drastic change: pitchers have bad seasons, injuries can strike any time and sometimes they can all happen at once. It wasn’t bad management that led to Reyes getting hurt early in the season and Brett Lawrie getting hurt before it even began. But there are gaps: Arencibia’s struggled and barely remains more than a replacement-level player and the pitching rotation often seemed ragged: Happ was constantly lackluster, Josh Johnson’s battled injuries and an ERA that rose above 6.00 and quick fixes like Chien-Ming Wang often went down in flames.

For me, the big takeaway from this season is the disastrous effects of hype. Toronto went into this season riding a crest of anticipation and hyperbole, in no small encouraged by the also Rogers-owned Sportsnet radio and TV stations. They were hyped to the heavens and sold as a winning team. The ads for the Jays had them posing on a stage in front of wild crowds as Metric’s Stadium Love boomed in the background. The implication was celebration before anything had been achieved. Funny how that one turned out: when things didn’t go swimmingly, people felt scorned and turned on the Jays. As the sportswriter cliche goes, that’s why they play the games.

Remember how four ESPN staff picked the Jays to win it all? The same number of people had Boston making the playoffs. Nobody had them winning anything. It’s like William Goldman says: “Nobody knows anything.”

And I suppose Boston is the flip side to this season. They went from worst to first, poaching the Jays old manager in the process, and had all the success people thought would go Toronto’s way. Maybe some part of me is supposed to be upset about them winning, maybe I’m supposed to still feel angry at John Farrell. Truth be told: I don’t really care anymore. He didn’t want to be in Toronto so he left.  Personally, I’ve have fired him for losing control of the clubhouse, but I don’t have any sympathy for him either. I just don’t care. Last night, for the first time in a few years, I turned the World Series clinching game off early and went to bed. 2013 wasn’t a great baseball season, but at least the new one is only a few months away.

Written by M.

November 1, 2013 at 9:00 am

Rising Hopes in Jays Land

leave a comment »

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

Dickey Trade: Are the Mets Raiding the Jays Cupboard?

with 3 comments

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about the Jays minor league ties. I know who Travis d’Arnaud is (even drafted him in a keeper league last spring) and I’m a fan of Moises Sierra, but once I get any deeper than them, I’m hopelessly out of my element. This is why I’m not sure how to parse the proposed trade for RA Dickey.

The trade as it stands rumoured: Toronto gets Dickey, the NY Mets get d’Arnaud and pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard. Dickey is coming off a 20-win, 2.73 ERA, Cy Young-winning season. He posted career bests in ERA, WHIP (1.053) and K/BB (4.26). He’ll be a free agent next year and while his value has never been higher, he’ll cost the Jays just $5 million in salary next year. By any stretch, he’s a bargain.

But to get him, Toronto has to trade two of its most highly touted prospects. D’Arnaud has long been called their catcher of the future and their best prospect. Coming in just behind him on the Baseball America rankings is Syndergaard, not only their highest-rated pitching prospect, but a projected number-one starter in a few seasons time. Last season, pitching in AA  A-level Lansing, Syndergaard went 8-5 with a 2.60 ERA and 1.080 WHIP. He was one of the team’s best pitchers.

The question then looks something like this: is it worth getting a top-flight pitcher, just coming into his own, for two highly rated prospects. On a macro level, it seems a fair enough trade to me: the 2013 Jays rotation is formable (Ricky Romero, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Dickey and probably JA Happ in some order) and while it maybe hurts down the line, this year’s team looks all the better. But it’s not exactly that simple.

After this season, Dickey is a free agent. As a Cy Young winning pitcher just coming off his best seasons yet, he’s bound to get a huge jump in salary. The Jays could try to sign him to an extension, but it’s hard to blame him for cashing in on a career highlights. Another wrinkle is his age: Dickey is 38 years old. True, he relies on knuckleballs and probably has a few years left in him (Tim Wakefield pitched until he was 44) but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll still put up as good numbers in a few seasons. Wakefield was still pitching well into his late 30s (his 2005 season, when he was 38, has his second-best WAR) but his last few seasons were pretty rough.

There’s more wrinkles, too. There’s d’Arnaud’s knees: he missed most of last season after blowing out his knee last June. Going forward, will his knees be an issue? Will he be able to spend most of the season crouching behind the plate or will he end up DHing/playing first (as was an alleged plan if the Jays couldn’t fit him behind Arencebia and Buck) for most of his career?

It seems the trade is best broken down like this: A Cy Young-winning pitcher who’s old, but probably has a few good seasons left in him, for two unproven (but highly touted) prospects, one of whom is getting over a serious knee injury. Again, seems fair to me. I’d rather see Toronto make a run at this year’s postseason with a deep roster than wait and constantly be a few players and a few wins short.

For what it’s worth, maybe the best measure of this trade is what’s happening online: Jays fans are freaking out online and in the comment sections of blogs, saying the team is giving up too much. And over at Mets blogs and the like, fans are saying the Mets aren’t getting enough! If both sides are saying the other is ripping them off, well, that seems as good a sign as any that this trade is pretty even.

Written by M.

December 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm