Archive for the ‘Weekend Thoughts’ Category

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!).

johnsonhits

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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liamhendriks

This is Liam Hendriks, though I’m not entirely sure he isn’t Kyle Drabek in disguise.

Had a great time, as usual, yesterday at Opera Bob’s, so a big thanks to them for having us, and to the folks behind Sports Bar Heroes for helping us get the word out. We’ll do one again soon, especially if the Jays keep giving us reason to want to get together and watch. And now, I’d better write something…

Hendriks Up…

As unsurprising as it was to hear last night that Liam Hendriks was getting the call to join the Jays’ rotation, at least for now, it was entirely surprising to hear this morning that Esmil Rogers had been D’d FA in order to make it happen.

Hendriks is a “strike thrower,” as Alex Anthopoulos put it last week. He’s young. He’s earned a shot with a fantastic time so far in Buffalo. He’s got big league experience, having been just a shade under replacement level in 28 starts for the Twins between 2011 and ’13. He’s got a good mix of pitches — or at least showed one with the Twins — with a fastball that sits at about 90, and a slider, curve, and change that he’ll use. As an Australian he’s late to the game enough, or at least late enough to facing elite-level competition, that maybe his expected development curve should be elongated compared to his counterparts from this continent.

Sure, he’s not really a ground ball guy, and doesn’t strike out enough batters, is a bit homer-prone, and has posted some strangely low strand rates, which might perhaps suggest troubles out of the stretch, though looking at his splits with men on and the bases empty, they seems to have been just troubles in general. But back on the positive side of the ledger, the most important thing about him for now is that he’s not as likely to tax the Jays’ bullpen as Todd Redmond is, as he won’t be working on a pitch count.

In nearly two weeks since he pitched an excellent 4.2 innings of relief against the Angels on May 10th, Redmond has seen live game action for only just a third of an inning, making it even harder than it would be in the first place to envision him going deep into tonight’s game. Hendriks, though he may get beaten around anyway — ready yourself for this already, please — at least should be able to give them 100 pitches, provided things don’t go as poorly as… y’know… they have for every pitcher facing the A’s of late.

And if things don’t go well? Well… Marcus Stroman goes Sunday for Buffalo. He and Hendriks were close to being lined up, but the Jays’ decision to split up bullpen-savers R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle by inserting Hendriks into today’s spot and pushing Dickey back a day, makes things a little more complicated, should they want to replace Hendriks with the most natural next-in-line starter. But I guess they could just pull Stroman from that start if they find out real quick that they need to get Hendriks the hell out of here, so… we’ll see. Whatever Hendriks does, then, at least it doesn’t really matter. It’s just one game.

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measuringthedick

Well 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 — and this time they’re actually almost showing up on time! Almost…

Measuring The Dick

R.A. Dickey has been a much better pitcher for a whole lot more of 2014 so far than I think he gets credit for, and he’s certainly been a bit hard done by in his last couple of starts — though I’d be full of shit if I tried to claim that a large part of it wasn’t his own doing. The seventh inning Mitch Moreland line drive home run on Sunday truly spoiled a terrific outing, just as yet another late inning mini-implosion was enough to sink him in his previous start against Cleveland (though it hurts his overall line less after Brett Lawrie was charged with an error on an Asdrubal Cabrera scorcher that was originally ruled a hit). The mounting number of games that have slipped away in this manner has been brutal, but it has belied how well Dickey has actually pitched for the most part — much in the same way that his overall line from 2013, and his lack of performance (mostly due to a stiff back that limited his velocity) in the early going, while the Jays were burying themselves, coloured much of the public perception of his season, even as he pitched in the second half to a 3.56 ERA, with a 4.15 FIP and 3.86 xFIP.

This year, since a cold weather disaster in Minnesota on April 17th, Dickey has pitched to a 2.92 ERA and held opposing batters to a .211/.300/.331 line. It’s maybe not the ace stuff the Blue Jays expected when they traded for him, but it’s a lot closer than it looked last year, and a lot closer than this year has felt. Granted, we’re only talking about six starts and 37 innings there, and I’m choosing arbitrary endpoints to eliminate the Minnesota game, a late-inning blowup against Houston, and Opening Day in Tampa.

Throw out just Opening Day, and Dickey has posted a less-impressive 3.60 ERA (not sure on the advanced stuff because I’m working from the game logs at Baseball Reference), but — and, of course, we can’t really do this — if you also take out his seventh and final inning of the game against Houston — a game in which he cruised right up to the very end, when he surrendered an ill-timed double-walk-HR sequence in the final frame — his ERA over that 55 inning span drops just 3.17.

Even a 3.17 ERA — which, let’s continue to be clear here, is not at all what he actually has pitched to this season — wouldn’t put him into the top 15 in the American League. But it would be close — right behind 17th ranked C.J. Wilson (3.16), and 16th ranked Justin Verlander (3.15). Of course, the numbers for those guys aren’t benefiting from any of the kind of “well what if this hadn’t happened” stuff I’m trying to use to make Dickey’s numbers look better than they are, so the whole exercise is utter misleading in that respect. But the point is, Dickey has pitched quite a lot better than I think people think. The velocity on his knuckleball has remained exactly where you want to see it over the last several starts, and with some better bounces and either a shorter leash from the manager or some kind of adjustment from the pitcher himself to help solve his late inning woes, it’s hardly unreasonable to think that we’ll end up looking back in September and seeing a guy who had a very, very good season.

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