North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Blue Jays

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.

Price, at what Price (or: Why Are You Hate-Reading the Papers?)

Optional soundtrack to this post: “Do you know what I’m telling you? Is there something you don’t understand?”

A couple of days ago, David Price signed one of the biggest contracts in Major League Baseball history. Like, it’s huge: $217 million over seven years. For comparison, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park cost $216 to build. We’re past talking about regular money here, we’re into the world of gobs of liquid capital.

So, was anyone surprised Toronto didn’t re-sign Price? That they didn’t offer him a contract? That, allegedly, ex-General Manager Alex Anthopoulos would’ve offered him a deal? Apparently, yeah, a lot of people were.

I’m not really here to argue the merits of ignoring or non-signing or whatever you’d like to call what Toronto did; personally, I’d call it smart roster management, but that’s just me. After all, Price is 33 years old and will now be on the books until he’s 40. Toronto is a win-now team, sure, but seven years is a long ass time and who know where they’ll be in three or five, let alone seven, years anyway?

Besides, they’re still good. I guess not as good as they were last August, but remember: Toronto didn’t have Price or Stroman last season until the back-end of the year and they were still pretty damn good going into July. They have Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. They’ve finally added a lefty starter: JA Happ, who was a fun Jay back a couple of years ago. Let’s not start grinding our molars here.

No, what I’m interested in is the media and the doom and gloom attitude around the Greater Toronto Area around this signing. It’s in the media and it’s on Twitter. It’s probably on the radio, too, but I’ve recently transitioned into a person who listens exclusively to 680 News because there’s less bullshit on a 30 Minute News Wheel. And man, the takes just keep on comin’.

Let’s start with Cathal Kelly. He’s best known for purveying steaming hot takes as a way to establish his brand as the new lead voice for the Globe and Mail (see here, here and here) and really topped his usual fare with his Dec. 1 column! To wit:

If (the Blue Jays) were seriously committed to winning now, they would have. They’d have enjoyed those good early years in the deal, and eaten the rest.

Since the Jays are not committed to winning – not in the dictionary-definition sense of the word – they chose not to bother.

Ah yes, Toronto doesn’t care and they’re not committed to winning. He reminds his ideal reader – someone who can’t handle more than one sentence in a paragraph, I assume – never to mix up winning with turning a profit, whatever that means. I’m pretty sure the Jays turned a profit when they sold out every game in September and October, when their ratings were higher up here than in the United States. But Kelly has the inside scoop, sources telling him exactly why Rogers doesn’t want to spend money. Oh wait, no, he’s actually got a lot of subjective opinions. Almost the same thing.

You remember that feeling you had in September? That queasy, unfamiliar tingle? An all-over nervous tension that came on in waves in the evening?

In all likelihood, you won’t be feeling it again any time soon.

Mmm, yes. That tingly feeling. I get that every time I read a Kelly column, too. I think it’s called “anxiety.”

But wait, there’s more! A story broke today suggesting Anthopoulos would have offered Price a deal. This’ll feed right into the baser elements of the Toronto media market, which liked AA because he talked to them (even if he didn’t really say much) and because it gives them a new spin on things: an American guy kicked out a Canadian and decided to let the best player they had ever walk.

It’s all pretty “ugh” and “oh boy” with little revisionism mixed in. For all the cool moves AA made, he also made a lot of clunkers. Sure, he brought RA Dickey to Toronto and gave the rotation a solid 200-inning guy, but the pieces he sent to the Mets were a big part of a team who made the NLCS. Sure, he brought in Tulowitzki and Donaldson, but the deals that brought in the players whom he traded? That big deal with Florida, for example, doesn’t look so good now.

In sum, AA made some good moves, but he made some bad ones too and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think he really raided the farm system, particularly this year. At the same time, he saw an opportunity to make a World Series run and he exploited what he had. Flags fly forever, as the stock line goes. But he’s gone and nothin’s going to bring him back.

Which is what makes this current media cycle almost unbearable. Both AA and Price are gone and instead of being happy for what they had, the media is getting people mad over what could’ve been, if things worked out perfectly. It misses the point and almost undermines what Kelly might call that October Feeling: instead of remembering how goddamn fun playoff baseball was, the media wants to do is get mad and read the latest hot take. It’s a cycle, feeding off itself and cycling ever downwards. It reminds me a lot of another media-made scandal from about a year ago, when the columnists riled everyone up because the Leafs wouldn’t raise their sticks after games.

I think what I’m trying to say is be happy for the good times and look forward to what could be, not what you can’t have. Rather than getting mad about losing Price, look forward to a full season of Stroman and Donaldson. Instead of hate-reading Kelly, Simmons or the other outrage-purveyors, go read Andrew Stoeten or Stacey May Fowles. Go follow Ruhee or Chill Kessel on Twitter. Ask yourself: why would I spend my days getting all mad about the Jays when they’re literally as good as they’ve been in over two decades.

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

Ar-going out of the Rogers Centre

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(Apologies for that title, but I couldn’t resist)

Today’s news on the Toronto Argonauts is really interesting to me on a variety of levels. Of course, the big one is how the Argos are moving out of the Rogers Centre and into BMO Field, current home of the Toronto FC. This alone is pretty big stuff: the Rogers Centre is a cavernous stadium even at the best of times and frankly, when the Argos play there is just seems more like a cavern. And I say that as someone who’s paid to see them, multiple times! Read the rest of this entry »

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

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(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

The Doom and Gloomy Leafs on a Sunny Jays Sunday

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It was warm and sunny on Sunday as I drove into Blue Mountain, but it was also a day where the slopes were still open, too: people carrying snowboards, skis and helmets commingled with people in shorts, tank tops and sandals at the bottom of the hill.

Seemed like fitting weather, given the day’s sports news coming out of Toronto. It too was a mix of summer and winter, the Jays and Leafs each with moves that would normally lead the sports section.

On Saturday night the Leafs season finally came to an end against Montreal. Not an exciting game, not even one I bothered watching to completion. It’d been a rough year by anyone’s standards, not even getting into the weird little soap operas that kept bubbling up throughout the year: Kessel snapping at the media, a plague of jerseys thrown on the ice, a media-driven flap over players not saluting fans who were booing them off the ice. Like I said: it was a weird year.

Anyway, less than 24 hours after the Leafs final game, Brendan Shanahan started purging the team. He fired the general manager, the coach and a bunch of assistants. Depending on who you read, their scouting department was gutted as well. He had promised quick changes, but man, this was quick. As a twitter wag noted, there wasn’t even time for the traditional contract extensions first.

There aren’t really any compelling arguments for keeping Dave Nonis on as GM. For one, his position under Shanahan seems ill defined and is maybe powerless. Even last summer, when the Leafs started hiring management, the moves were seen as Shanahan moves, like when the Leafs hired Kyle Dubas away from the OHL’s Sault St Marie Greyhounds.

If that left the player moves to Nonis, it’s worth noting what happened there is problem number two. Over the past few seasons, the Leafs have let much of their talent walk, kept underperforming players around and never really addressed positional needs.

One example: In the spring of 2013, James Reimer backstopped the Leafs deep into the first round of the playoffs, often while facing upwards of 40 shots a night. That summer, the Leafs added another goalie, who also regularly faces upwards of 40 shots a night. They still haven’t really addressed their defensive and puck possession problems.

In a way, it’s frustrating. The Leafs are always in the news and it’s rarely for something interesting. It’s always negative, either because they lost, because the media is throwing someone under the bus or because there’s some kind of controversy being drummed up. First it was people throwing jerseys, then it was salute-gate, finally it was Kessel getting fed up by accusatory questions.

This season, more than any other I can remember, seemed like the media trying to crank out a new scandal every few days to sell papers or push a columnists name ahead. When I get around to the sports section, it feels like the same old doom and gloom from a crop of writers I used to enjoy reading. Maybe that’s why I read it less and less these days.

And indeed, all the moves are leading the sports pages today. The scribes are already writing stuff that throws Kessel under the bus (no, I’m not linking to it) and slamming Nonis on the way out. I’m sure that in days to come, they’ll find hands to wring, people to blame and easy solutions that won’t really solve anything. I’m also sure I won’t bother reading any of it.

It’s too bad: the Jays played their most exciting game of the year on Sunday and frankly, it might be one of their best games of 2015.

 

I caught snatches of the game on the radio and on Twitter: lots of hitting, a big Jays lead and a near-comeback by the Baltimore Orioles. I think my favourite part was the late home run by Bautista: buzzed by an inside pitch, he took the next into the seats and ran around the bases yelling at Darren O’Day. If I remember right, he was even yelling from the dugout afterwards! It was great: his first home run of the year, one that gave the Jays an extended lead in the late innings and a nice display of emotion from a guy who generally seems pretty reserved.

 

But remember: late last year, Bautista went on a tear and more or less kept the Jays in playoff contention almost single-handedly (I even wrote about it here). He hit .299/.430/.540 in September, including a 12-game stretch where he hit eight homers and slugged a 1.205 OPS. He started this season a little slowly, but man, he seemed jacked up after that dinger and I’m hoping it’s a sign he’ll go on a tear.

 

There were other cool moments. There was a great grab by Donaldson late in the game, where he dove and grabbed a sharply-hit ball. There was two good grabs by Kevin Pillar, including one in the ninth where he lost his glove but the ball stayed inside (he hit a dinger, too). And there was Castro, who found himself in a jam in the ninth, with the tying run at the plate and one out, but pitched his way out of it. Not bad for a rookie!

 

For me, the game hit all the right notes: memorable defense, good pitching (by Castro, anyway) and a Bautista dinger. And what’s more, it’s a positive story: there isn’t anyone to throw under the bus, nobody you to assign blame to, not even a stupid controversy to milk. After all, after a week into the new season, the Jays have gone 4-2 and are tied for the AL East lead. It should be an exciting time!

 

It’s too bad it’s buried under a pile of Leafs-autopsy ink.