Archive for the ‘Weekend Thoughts’ Category

lawrieyelling

Trying something new with the Assorted Weekend Thoughts this week: it’ll come at you as a series of smaller posts on a mostly-single topic (i.e. what normally would have gone under one sub-heading), rather than one big slog through it all that I don’t publish until 4:45 PM. Let’s see how this works, shall we?

The Jays found themselves with something of a roster crunch last night, when it was learned that Brett Lawrie had finished his rehab assignment and was ready to return to the club. This, of course, was terrific news both offensively and defensively for the Jays, but it meant that someone currently on the 25-man roster had to go.

That someone, it turns out, was Steve Tolleson, who the club announced this morning had finally been placed on the paternity list, what seems like several months after we first learned his wife was about to give birth.

What won’t take several months, however, is Tolleson’s return. According to the club’s press release on the matter he’ll be away from the club for a minimum of one day and a maximum of three. What the hell happens after that? Well… it’s not entirely clear just yet, and the answer isn’t a particularly easy one — barring someone getting injured in the next couple of days, be it of the real or imagined variety.

Currently the club has seven relievers, and that likely isn’t to change — or, knowing the Jays, if it is, they’re more likely to go to eight — so we’re looking at a position player going down.

Lawrie doesn’t need a platoon partner — he’s actually been better against same-sided pitching both this year and over the course of his career — and because of his range and athleticism is obviously not going to sit for anyone, defensively. Juan Francisco surely gets to stay, at least until Adam Lind returns, as the club’s first baseman or DH against right-handed pitching. Danny Valencia, with his career 139 wRC+ against left-handers will have a spot in the lineup against them, perhaps at DH or first base, with Steve Tolleson (a 132 wRC+ in the split) likely playing second most of the time.

There is some flexibility in how those guys are used, but those four — Lawrie, Francisco, Valencia, Tolleson — would seem to be safe now. That means one of Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, Nolan Reimold, or Anthony Gose will need to go when Tolleson is back.

Against lefties, Reimold ought to get into the action as DH, with Valencia at first and Tolleson at second. Against right-handed pitching the club would likely be best with Francisco and Jose Bautista at either first or DH, Gose in right, and either Kawasaki or Goins at second base.

Reimold’s platoon splits are pretty even, so he could be in the lineup against right-handers instead of Gose, and Gose does have options, so he could be sent down. But so does Ryan Goins, and Kawasaki can definitely hold down his spot — though not with the same level of defence — until rosters expand in September.

If it’s even his spot, that is.

John Lott tweets a picture of the lineup card for tonight, and Brett Lawrie is indeed in at third base against O’s righty Bud Norris. Colby Rasmus is in the doghouse and in at DH, with Gose in centre, and Kawasaki playing second base. Perhaps an indication of the move to come? Despite chatter about Goins’ improvements since his return from Buffalo, after just two hits in Houston he’s down to a wRC+ of 70, with a .277/.277/.362 slash line over his 13 games back in the bigs.

The defence sure still looks good, but putting up that line and still having options left? I think John Gibbons is tipping the club’s hand with the lineup he’s put out there tonight. I think it’s the right move, too. (Plus, though he offers no power, and his wRC+ and wOBA suffer for it, Kawasaki has a .330 on-base against right-handers this year. I can live with that?)

OVOVIP

Trying something new with the Assorted Weekend Thoughts this week: it’ll come at you as a series of smaller posts on a mostly-single topic (i.e. what normally would have gone under one sub-heading), rather than one big slog through it all that I don’t publish until 4:45 PM. Let’s see how this works, shall we?

It would be real tempting to shoehorn what happened over the weekend in Houston into some narrative about the Jays being sloppy, unfocussed, distressed about what didn’t happen at the trade deadline, so some other such thing that avoids the plain fact that the team simply didn’t play well. They too often didn’t make their pitches, too many balls they hit found gloves, all that good stuff.

It’s more complicated than that, of course, but really it’s kinda not, and as much as people love to harangue anyone they perceive to be an optimist with nonsense about good teams not losing to bad ones, that’s as much a pile of garbage today as it was the day the Jays arrived, when the Astros were coming off a series win against the A’s, or when they won a series against the Tigers at the end of June, or the Orioles and Mariners in May, or the Yankees at the start of the year.

That doesn’t make it good that it happened, but it’s baseball. It does happen. We know this. And now it’s onward to bigger and better things, after a day of rest — or, y’know, one of schmoozing in the VIP at OVO Fest *COUGH* — that seemed much needed by the end of the ten-game, three-city road trip the club just concluded.

Gah! Did I just do the narrative shoehorning thing myself??

Anywho, the Orioles come in to Rogers Centre tonight, and let’s effing hope the Jays are refreshed and ready and all those silly things it’s implied they were not when they happened to not win baseball games in Houston over the weekend. It’s already the fifth of August, the Jays still hold a playoff spot — albeit the second Wild Card one, and the right to go to Anaheim (or Oakland?) — and are facing the team they’re chasing for top spot in the A.L. East. So… yeah. It’s big. Maybe not quite yet the “meaningful September baseball” we’ve craved for lo these many years, but by all rights the atmosphere will be thick.

And with the fact that getting swept could send the Jays tumbling all the way to seven games back, um… maybe we shouldn’t take it for granted. I’ve got my tickets!

 

Image via Instagram. And no, you cannot complain about Jays players being there on an off day.

janssennavarroNYY

Scheduled Conflicts

The Jays truly are the masters of their own fate right now, as the schedule-makers have made things very intriguing down the stretch for the club — not that they had too much choice, given the huge number of intra-divisional games each team needs to play. Here, in order of most total games remaining against (with the home/road breakdown in brackets), is what the Jays schedule looks like until the end of the season:

Baltimore (6H/3A), Boston (3H/6A), New York (3H/4A), Seattle (4H/3A), Tampa Bay (3H/3A), Houston (0H/4A), Detroit (3H/0A), Chicago (AL) (0H/3A), Chicago (NL) (3H/0A), Milwaukee (0H/2A).

So a tonne of games against the Yankees, Orioles, and Mariners — the three teams they’re in the biggest fight with — thirteen of which are at home, with ten on the road. Add in four against the Astros, three against the White Sox, and three against the Cubs — not to mention none against the A’s, or Angels — and you start to not feel so bad about the road ahead. That is, as long as they Jays can take care of business against the AL East.

How about their competition? The Yankees’ have their most remaining games against Baltimore (4H/6A), followed by Boston and Tampa (3H/6A each), then the Jays and Tigers (4H/3A each). They have three game sets with Texas (away), as well as Houston, Cleveland, and the White Sox (all home), with four games against the Royals (3H/1A) thanks to a make-up date from a June washout.

As we’ve established, Baltimore has ten against the Yankees (6H/4A) and nine against us (3H/6A). Beyond that it’s seven against Tampa (4H/3A), six with Boston (split evenly), one make-up game at Nationals Park, then a bunch of three-game sets: Anaheim, Cincinnati, Seattle, St. Louis, and Minnesota at home, Cleveland and both Chicago teams on the road.

They control their own fate too, I suppose.

A Win In The Bronx

Not just a single victory, but a series victory! It feels fucking great for fans, and undoubtedly in the room, too. I mean, as much as it ought to be easy to slough those sorts of utterly irrelevant anomalies of futility — for fuck sakes, the Jays’ first three losses in the streak at Yankee Stadium came at the end of 2012, when John Farrell-led club’s most-used starters were Romero, Morrow, Villanueva, Alvarez, Laffey, and Happ, so it’s not like what they were doing means anything about what you’d think the current rotation might do — it surely isn’t, and it surely doesn’t stop the “here we go again” feelings that we’re all too familiar with (there are, after all, still ghosts in Tampa that the Jays would do well to extinguish before this season is through).

Arden Zwelling has an excellent piece up at Sportsnet on yesterday’s roller coaster ride, looking at it — and its win expectancy graph from FanGraphs — as a microcosm for an up-and-down season that once again feels like its moving in the right direction.

Just like Sunday’s game, a baseball season is a back and forth thing, with its intoxicating ups and depressing downs. Take the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that was widely written off in late June when it was staggering on its feet with a 33-49 record. They went on a run (the Rays have lost just five times in July) and are now quietly lurking in the AL East weeds, just 4.5 games out of the playoffs.

So, yes, what the Blue Jays have done since the all-star break — winning seven of ten — is very, very good. And what they did leading up to it — losing eight of ten — was very, very bad. But as tempting as it may be to forecast and predict, neither of those two runs are going to make or break the season.

It’s baseball. You try to win more than you lose because that’s really all you can do (And seven games against the lowly Red Sox and Astros to close the current road trip sure seems like a good opportunity to do that).

But as the Blue Jays celebrated under the sun at Yankee Stadium, it really felt like Sunday’s triumph was meaningful. It felt significant. Even though it was just another mid-summer ballgame.

That’s the rub.

Prospecting

Aaron Sanchez got his first big league win, but also gave up his first run and looked at least somewhat human-ish in his second inning of work. The velocity was still there, and according to his Brooks Baseball page he ditched whatever that 93 mph offering he was using in his first start, though they’ve identified a sinker at 98 in addition to a four-seamer at that speed that he was throwing, along with a curveball he only managed to get one batter to offer at in six tries (though he did also get two strikes from it).

As far as bumps in the road go, it wasn’t the biggest.

Despite the impressive appearances in the big leagues, Sanchez has generally seen his stock continue to sink on the various prospect lists — including the one that was updated over the weekend at MLB.com. He checks in at number 40 on Jim Callis’s latest list, behind Dan Norris (29) in a group of Jays that also includes Dalton Pompey (95) and the just-drafted (and just-surgery’d) Jeff Hoffman (97).

The somewhat low rankings doesn’t mean that Callis doesn’t like what the Jays are doing, though, as he wrote a piece ranking teams based on the talent they acquired in June’s Rule Four draft, and thanks to the Astros’ fuckup with Brady Aiken, it’s the Jays who end up at number one.

Now, the ranking is a little bit warped because it includes the make-up pick the Jays got for not signing Phil Bickford last year, so naturally they’re going to get more of an infusion of talent than most, just like last year they got less. Still, though!

Beyond the big two — Hoffman and number 11 pick Max Pentecost — Callis likes that the Jays “also grabbed a pair of projectable high school pitchers in righty Sean Reid-Foley from Florida ($1,128,800) and lefty Nick Wells from Virginia ($661,800) in the second and third rounds, and they moved enough money around to land athletic Tennessee prep outfielder Lane Thomas for $750,000 in the fifth.”

He didn’t like Wells or Thomas that much, though, as neither shows up on Callis’s updated Jays top 20 list. Reid-Foley does, however, ranking tenth for Callis, behind D.J. Davis and ahead of Sean Nolin, Dawel Lugo, Matt Dean, and others. Hoffman jumps immediately to number four, just ahead of Roberto Osuna and Pentecost, who are themselves just ahead of Mitch Nay and Franklin Barreto.

“Hoffman hasn’t fully grown into his lanky 6-foot-4 frame, yet at times he works in the mid 90s and hits 98 mph with his fastball,” we’re told. “His big-breaking curveball can be equally devastating and his changeup can be a plus pitch at times. He throws a decent amount of strikes but will need to refine his command to become a frontline starter in the big leagues.”

That’ll play. That’ll make it hurt a whole lot fucking less if the Mets manage to get Tulo for a package centred on Noah Syndergaard, too (not that that necessarily has legs, but still… yeesh!).

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The Jays did what was expected of them and what they needed to do over the weekend, losing to Yu Darvish on Friday, but gaining ground on the first place Orioles with a pair of wins against Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch, winning their first series of the “second half,” and coming through a series for the first time in who-knows-how-long without the spectre of yet some other player landing on the DL.

There was another spectre that hung over the club this weekend, though, and it wasn’t an unfamiliar one.

Bob Elliott tweeted on Friday night that he’d heard from a source that the Jays had been telling other teams that they can’t take any money back in trade.

That itself would be bad enough — though we could at least try to convince ourselves it’s possible the report is wrong, or that the club is only just saying that as some sort of bargaining tactic — but then Alex Anthopoulos had to go and be coy with media about it, issuing a textbook non-denial denial when asked about the money.

Prior to yesterday’s win, Anthopoulos told reporters, like Scott MacArthur of TSN.ca, “We can add players. We have the ability to have that dialogue at any time. I don’t see any reason why we won’t be able to add players and obviously players make money. No one plays for free.”

Not exactly a comforting statement, given that they’ve obviously added a bunch of league-minimum guys so far this year, and that the real question is whether they can add a big ticket item.

Jeff Blair writes about this subject as well, in his latest for Sportsnet, suggesting the Jays will have flexibility next winter, but only because of expensive players like Brandon Morrow, Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Sergio Santos, J.A. Happ, Adam Lind, and Casey Janssen potentially coming off the books.

I don’t think they’re clever enough to have done so by design, but Rogers and the front office have certainly made it difficult to single one or the other out for blame in this mess. The payroll the Jays are running is very healthy — the 10th best in baseball — and the fact that it appears to be maxed out isn’t really Rogers’ problem, when you think about it. It’s the front office’s job to allocate the payroll dollars, and if ownership has given them a healthy budget, the problem — at least in their eyes and the eyes of those bizarrely sympathetic to them — lies with the front office. The reality is, if course, more complicated than that. One hopes that the front office didn’t max out it’s theoretical budget in the winter prior to 2013 with misguided assuredness that they would be so good on the field that future payroll concerns would be rendered moot. The coronation-like atmosphere that surrounded the club last season certainly doesn’t make one think that they mightn’t have been, though. And as I argued around here at the time of the Ervin Santana embarrassment, it’s not like executives who were part of J.P. Ricciardi’a front office should have been surprised when Rogers refused to keep pushing the spending maximum after their massive outlay of cash yielded so little return on investment.

So, it’s not all cheap Rogers, and it’s not all dumb Anthopoulos, it’s just more embarrassment for an organization that often seems to have a little too comfortable a relationship with embarrassment.

I mean, for fuck sakes, the team is so well positioned for the first time in so long, and this is what we seriously fucking get? Fans left to bicker over which tier of this organization is more short-sighted and inept?

It’s maddening as fuck that Rogers doesn’t see the value in pushing payroll just a few percentage points higher — figuring, then, that the abject failure of their handpicked baseball men is a better option than budging an inch on the budget for a branch of the company that provides such tremendous cheap content to their many TV networks and other other platforms, and that could be a strong, positive pillar of their brand — and also that the front office can’t or won’t convince them otherwise. It makes one understand, just a little bit, the chorus of fucks screaming, “DO SOMETHING, ASSHOLES!!”

I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple, though, either. The club was able to get players to sign off on deferrals this spring in order to free enough 2014 payroll to bring in Ervin Santana, and while it’s as least as much of a cruel fucking sad joke as that scheme (not to mention possibly more difficult to pull off in-season), one would think that option might still be out there. Or… like I said, maybe the original report is simply untrue.

The whole, sorry history of this ownership makes it seem entirely plausible, though, but for the moment we just don’t really know what to believe — and we probably won’t know for six more weeks, until after August’s deadline for trades involving players who have passed through waivers.

What almost especially sucks — “almost” because it all does indeed fucking suck — is that this is the conversation we’re having on a weekend where the Jays gave us signs that they may actually be able to snap out the funk they’ve been in. They scored runs, they looked like the break served its purpose, the schedule ahead is favourable, and they got word that some of their injured players are making better progress than expected. The ultra-cynical can be forgiven for thinking it’s just another serving of false hope, but Edwin Encarnacion is swinging off a tee, Adam Lind is out of his walking boot and swinging off a tee, and Brett Lawrie is out of his splint and taking ground balls, with swinging and gripping a bat his next step.

And frankly, as eye-rollingly frustrating as it would be to once again have the club try to use the fucking “hey, getting those guys back is as good as making a trade” line, at this point I can live with that. Just hold on for another couple weeks, for fuck sakes, and I can live with that.

gibbersgun
The Jays aren’t getting the results lately — fifteen losses in their last 22 games, nine in their last thirteen — and though their slim lead in the AL East is holding, the torrent of insufferable whiny doomsaying that constantly threatens to overrun the conversation surrounding this team seems more than even usual to be ready to breach the floodgates and leave us all awash in sewage.

The main problem with this is that to get to the point of being one of the people who indulges in such things — whether utter negative hogwash spittle leaps from their lemon-sucking mouths or buoyant it’s-May-26th-and-they’ll-never-lose-if-they-never-change-and-trade-Rasmus-because-Gose-is-a-Juan-Francisco-like-found-God optimism — one has to shut off every rational impulse and cling to some air-thick feeling of absolute destiny magically “divined” though a process of, consciously or not, choosing what one wants to believe as the truth, and conditioning oneself to block out flickering pangs of reality like those guys who’ll hold their palms over a flame for as long as they can tolerate it. And in much the same way as with those guys, the obstacles of better judgment one must overcome to constantly piss and shit out this kind of pathological negativity would make a person who allows themselves to be capable of it pretty impressive and bad-ass… if it weren’t all so goddamned stupid.

Here is the reality of what’s going on with the Jays that shouldn’t be ignored: They have a 1.5 game lead in the AL East. They are six games over .500. Their starting pitchers continue to do reasonably well. The bullpen has a practically automatic piece in Casey Janssen, and a second tier of solid high-leverage, go-to relievers who are very dependable despite the occasional blow-up. The defence is OK, but will be quite a bit better when Brett Lawrie returns. The offence is in a rut and missing some firepower, but still strong enough and will only get stronger when Jose Bautista gets back. And the club will unquestionably be buyers on the trade market over the next month, and will almost certainly make themselves stronger in some of their weaker areas.

No, the results haven’t been there of late, but they’re not getting blown out, and their hitters — while a bit colder than you’d like of late, and a bit too reliant on replacement level guys — aren’t all mired in awful slumps. A few too many times for anybody’s taste a good pitching performance has lined up with an abysmal hitting performance. Sometimes pitching  decisions the manager has made or not made haven’t worked out the way that anybody would have hoped. But this is baseball — a team can’t impose its will on a game the way we’re taught to believe is the case with other sports. Batters still have to swing with impeccable timing at pitches they recognize in a split second are hittable, and get the barrel of the bat on the small, fast-moving sphere being thrown at them, hoping from there that their well-struck ball doesn’t simply find a glove. Pitchers need to fool or overpower hitters with perfectly placed pitches to make them swing and miss or to induce weak contact. It isn’t fucking easy! And sometimes, for a while, you’re a pretty alright team who just doesn’t get the breaks you need to convert your meagre success in this game of failure into victories.

That doesn’t mean I think the Jays are a perfect team, or am completely on the other side of the suffocating pessimism coin. It’s not out of the question that they could be in a tailspin, or showing their true colours after teasing us with May’s hot luck. They’re certainly not any more assured of making the playoffs right now than they are guaranteed to already be fucked. And that’s just it: it’s as ridiculous to believe one thing as it is the other. It’s ridiculous to blather nonsense about how things need to change if they’re going to stay in the race. Of course they do, but why wouldn’t they? We know what these players are capable of. We’ve seen that they’re a good team, no matter how much people want to piss in our faces with “a good team doesn’t do [this],” or “a good team can’t rely on a guy like [that].” For the love of fuck, maybe take a look around at all the best teams in the league and realize that you till see a lot of weaknesses and a lot of losses on their record.

Yes, results need to change, yes, they could use some upgrades, yes, the 3.4 runs per game over their last 22 games is pretty abysmal (though if you want to do the arbitrary endpoint thing, add eight more games and the average jumps to a very nice 4.2), but what seems to me has been happening with the Jays of late is a thing called baseball, and not a whole lot more.

They’d be better off with better players, we all agree, but they’re still a long way from falling out of the hunt, and there’s a reason for that: they’re really not a bad team — definitely not as good as May, but not as bad as it has looked lately either. Good enough? Time will tell, but if we’re looking to be frustrated, we really ought not to bind together our actual, legitimate concerns and the fact that they’re just not getting the results at moment — because that is tooooootally just a a thing that happens sometimes. Simmer down.

hutchthrowsblue0608

Once again here’s something that probably should turn into a regular feature, and maybe is finally starting to: a collection of thoughts on what went on over the weekend that usually ends up being about anything but, and always make me regret not just putting these all into separate posts that go up over the course of the day…

Sky Status: Not Falling

The Jays actually lost a series, didn’t score a run for two days, and the sky doesn’t even seem like it’s falling. The fact that it was the Cardinals, and that the Jays now have Twins coming to town — sending Ricky Nolasco, Kevinwins  Correia, and Phil Hughes to get wailed on, before the boys in blue head to Baltimore for an interesting AL East clash (which we’ll be having a little DJF shindig for during game one on Thursday night at Opera Bob’s!) — certainly has helped to ease the mood.

Really, though, it’s all about the cushion that the Jays have built themselves. Also perhaps the fact that their divisional rivals keep spinning their wheels, with the Yankees and Rays each losing their last two games as well, the Orioles losing two of three over the weekend to Oakland, and the Red Sox salvaging a win out of a series loss to the Tigers. But man, that cushion! It’s not like they can rest on their laurel here, but the Jays right now have twelve more wins than they do losses. The Orioles have one more. The Yankees are at .500. The Red Sox have six fewer wins than they do losses, and for the Rays the number is sixteen.

Like… holy shit!

And as much as you hate to waste a Mark Buehrle gem, as the Jays did Saturday — because lord knows how many more of those he has in him before this improbable run (in which he’s produced more WAR already than he did in all of 2012, and just a half win less than last year) ends — you love what you saw from Marcus Stroman, who as a starter now has 13 Ks, two walks, and a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings as a starter in which he’s held opponents to a .272 wOBA.

Now, Drew Hutchison, on the other hand…

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robocop

Once again here’s something that probably should turn into a regular feature, and maybe is finally starting to: a collection of thoughts on what went on over the weekend — which yesterday’s off-day totally counts as part of, right? — that usually ends up being about anything but, and always make me regret not just putting these all into separate posts that go up over the course of the day…

Detroit RoboCop City

Holy shit, it’s RoboCop day in Detroit, and while I’m sure there are Detroiters rolling their eyes at their city becoming a living joke through the prism of its shiny new statue of a fictional cybernetic-humanoid-defending-their-post-apocalyptic-hellscape — not that anybody around here would know anything about rolling our eyes at our city being turned into a living joke (certainly not because of anything some bozo we elected did) — I’m pretty sure it’s kind of awesome that the Jays will be part of it. Y’know, in an entirely dumb way.

And, of yes, they’ll be part of it. “RoboCop” will be throwing out the first pitch at tonight’s game at Comerica Park. Gus Burns of the Detroit Free Press gives us the background, and a brief itinerary. (Sadly, John Lott gives us a preview, and it’s not the classic Peter Weller RoboCop — booooooo!!!)

Not awesome, though? Facing the fucking Tigers. Sanchez, Porcello, Verlander. That’s who the Jays are up against this week, with only Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, and J.A. Happ behind them trying to keep the opposing scoreline from getting too crooked. On an extra couple days of rest, Hutchison will hopefully look more like himself, but shitty as it is to say about our nominal ace, the other two are total wild cards. And speaking of cards, once they get through this set, it’s straight back across the Ambassador Bridge and up the 401 to host St. Louis on the weekend. Or… I’m sure its only the reporters who’ll be driving, but still: Ugh. Tough little spot in the schedule, huh?

But this remains a pretty cool moment, too. If you’ve started allowing yourself to think of this team maybe even playing in the playoffs, you’re probably thinking these next two series should prove a rather interesting test. And I can’t say that you’d be wrong for doing either. Should be a very interesting week — and one that we don’t need to feel dread about, necessarily, either. The park will help the Jays’ flyball-heavy pitchers, and if the Jays’ torrid offence can make James Shields look human, as they did last week, I wouldn’t even put it past them to do the same for the Tigers. And the Cardinals, assuming their starting five holds up the way it’s currently scheduled, won’t be sending Adam Wainwright or Michael Wacha to the hill at Rogers Centre, with their three-four-five starters (the not-unformidable Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Jaime Garcia) in line to take on Marcus Stroman, Mark Buehrle and Drew Hutchison.

That’ll play. And add in the fact that the Cards will be playing their final three games of 20 straight days without an off-day — and a stretch of 31 days with only one day off (plus one postponement) — and things may not be quite as bad as you’re dreading! And then early next week they get the Twins, and a chance to keep building a cushion before a road trip that takes them to Baltimore, the Bronx, and Cincinnati.

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