buehrlebuehrling

Here’s a recipe for massive attendance: the first beautiful day in this city in forever and the Astros in town playing under a steel dome still not tested and ready to be opened — not that the “legacy fans” (read: ancient season ticket holders) would be up for sitting outside in sweater weather anyway. But it’s still baseball, and it’s going to feel like it on the way to the park, at least. And it’s still a chance for the Jays to really get going, facing the worst team in the game — albeit improving — while their division rivals continue to spin their wheels, with no team in the AL East currently above .500.

That, of course, will change. But the Jays are in a good spot for a little feel-good run, with Mark Buehrle looking to continue his Cy Young campaign against Brett Oberholtzer, who is, in fact, an actual Major League pitcher. Or at least an Astros one.

Baseball!

Scuttlebutt

Yes, Adam Lind is facing a left-handed pitcher, which he should never, ever do. But it’s also a shitty left-handed pitcher who has reverse splits, and he’s only keeping Moises Sierra or Erik Kratz out of the lineup, so… it’s not that bad. See @SMcEwen_eh‘s timeline for the argument that he should be in there — which I actually don’t agree with (I mean, what’s it going to prove?), but… at least there is one! I won’t believe Gibbers has gone all Joe Maddon until I see the switch hitters batting lefty, too.

Shi Davidi was the first of many to tweet that John Gibbons announced today that R.A. Dickey badly wants to pitch indoors he wants to split up hard-throwers Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan, and to give McGowan an extra day of rest. He’ll go in Baltimore on Friday, while R.A. Dickey now gets the Thursday start against Houston. Not sure what happens when hard-throwers McGowan and Hutchison then end up back-to-back, but that was never really the point anyway.

Shi Davidi also tweets that Casey Janssen will throw a side session tomorrow, after which they’ll figure out his next steps — which at one point will include a rehab outing or two. He’ll probably need more than 15 days, Davidi says, but close.

Brendan Kennedy tweets that J.A. Happ will make his second rehab start for Buffalo on Thursday, and that John Gibbons won’t say what will happen once Happ is healthy.

Gregor Chisholm tells us that Jose Reyes will begin running today, and is still taking ground balls, but that there’s no timetable yet for his return to action.

Roy Halladay tweets that Phillies fans are the “best fans on earth!!” Make of that what you will. (What I will make of it is that, at least as far as Jays fans not being the best, he’s probably not wrong).

A hot taco from GROF on Deh-reck… Sand-ah-son… Jee-tah.

Tommy Rancel of ESPN tweets that Rays pitcher Matt Moore is going to see Dr. James Andrews because of an elbow issue. But don’t worry, if it’s bad news for the Rays, another one will surely emerge to take its place.

We’ll do a podcast this week. For real. Sorry.

TV: Sportsnet (Pacific/One/360)

Next game: Tomorrow, 7:07 PM ET, vs. Houston.

For those of you who’ll be out and about, be sure to follow all the action on your phone with theScore app. And now, the lineups… 

Toronto Blue Jays

LF Melky Cabrera (S)
DH Adam Lind (L)
RF Jose Bautista (R)
1B Edwin Encarnacion (R)
C Dioner Navarro (S)
3B Brett Lawrie (R)
CF Colby Rasmus (L)
2B Maicer Izturis (S)
SS Jonathan Diaz (L)

LHP Mark Buehrle

Houston Astros

LF Robbie Grossman (S)
2B Jose Altuve (R)
1B Jesus Guzman (R)
C Jason Castro (L)
DH Chris Carter (R)
RF L.J. Hoes (R)
3B Matt Dominguez (R)
CF Alex Pressley (L)
SS Jonathan Villar (S)

LHP Brett Oberholtzer

ricciardiface

It’s a hell of a strange thing seeing J.P. Ricciardi as the wise centre of a piece on the state of 2014 Blue Jays and the bizarre off-season this club, and its ownership, has just taken fans through, but that’s how I felt watching the just-released Stephen Brunt narrated video essay from SportsnetAlex Anthopoulos: State of the Franchise, which is the second of their four part series Blue Jays In Focus.

Most likely it simply comes down to presentation and his lack of a vested interest to protect, or maybe that those of us who follow the minutiae have seen all of the other stuff before ad nauseam, but it’s the former GM who, for me, gave off the clearest signal of any of the interview subjects in the piece, standing in stark contrast to the noise emanating out of the typically coy hypertension of his successor, and the doddering of Paul Beeston.

It’s not entirely fair to place so much of my focus in reviewing the piece on Ricciardi, who has comparatively little screen time, and not Anthopoulos himself, who — along with the way Brunt’s interviews are woven together to make a compelling story out of the club’s disaffecting winter — is the star of the show. But it’s awfully telling about how things are going for the Blue Jays right now that a man once so vilified in this market can appear so much the calm, thoughtful veteran sailing through thick seas swirling with Anthopoulos and Beeston’s usual shtick.

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dailyduce1

Daily?

Bob Elliott had it earlier in his piece for the Canadian Baseball Network (and presumably the Sun, though I haven’t come across that version), but Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports also confirms that the union had signed off on the Jays’ payment deferral scheme, and stresses that “the participation of the union indicates just how close the Jays were to getting Santana. The union allows players to defer money only for a comparable benefit and entertains such tradeoffs only when contract negotiations are at an advanced stage.” He also adds that the Jays had — as they would have, in order to get union approval — restructured the contracts of players so as to give them additional money farther down the line. This is a team owned by Rogers. What a joke.

Over at the Toronto Star, Richard Griffin appropriately looks at the deferral scheme reports with as a grim sign from ownership — shit, during JaysTalk on Sunday, even Mike Wilner was full-on talking about the possibility of a massive mid-summer fire sale — and asks with exactly the kind of seriousness that’s warranted, “As for extending Colby Rasmus? Is it even possible?”

Jim Bowden of ESPN.com (Insider Only) irked some Jays fans by entertaining such thoughts last week, insisting — before the season even started — that Alex Anthopoulos ”needs to accept his current reality and make the kind of veteran-for-prospect deals he once benefited from.” Uh… I think giving some time to see how this all plays out is probably a good plan first, no?

Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospectus writes about how often he plans on seeing Aaron Sanchez this season, while his colleague CJ Whitmann talks about Sanchez and others on this week’s podcast at Blue Jays Plus. Meanwhile, Keith Law saw Sanchez (and the rest of the Fisher Cats) late last week, and continues to have reservations. Writing about it at ESPN.com (Insider only), he tells us that in the start he saw Sanchez “walked two, one on a questionable ball/strike call, but was more ‘around the plate’ than filling up the zone. I’d call it average command, average control, but I can’t project more on either unless he gets looser and smoother at release.” Part of that is due to the problems with his delivery — which KLaw has noted in the past, “and it’s not much different now” — though on the positive side he lauds the fastball and the plus curve (while calling the changeup “between average and fringe-average”).

Interesting stuff at FanGraphs, as Matt Klaassen looks — oddly — at the Rays’ extension of Yunel Escobar through the prism of team chemistry, while Mike Petriello examines Melky Cabrera and the wonder of clean health.

Great stuff that nobody actually wants to think about — especially as long as he keeps hitting the ball into the ground (still no line drives through 27 plate appearances this year) — but at Bluebird Banter, Nick Ashbourne looks at the concept of Brett Lawrie’s glove as fool’s gold. Ugh.

Elsewhere at Bluebird Banter, jays182 looks at the problems we’ve seen so far with replay. Kill it, I say, in a total 180 degree turn that’s taken me less than a week to make. Arguments with managers and tension between fans and umpires — that’s iconic baseball stuff simply disappeared and replaced with stall tactics and waiting for umpires to make a call that’s often already plain to see by anyone watching the replays in-stadium or at home on TV. I like correct calls as much as the next guy, but baseball was fine — better than that, even — for 150 years without replay, and so far the con outweighs the pro. To me, at least.

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hutchthrows0407

Well here’s something that probably should turn into a regular feature, but never quite seems to — but that I’ll make to look like one anyway in order to keep from having it seem too terribly out of place: a collection of Monday thoughts on what was going on over the weekend…

Pitching Thoughts

The Jays in 2014 have yet to win a game in which their starting pitcher wasn’t somewhat exceptional, which has weirdly led to a number of fans taking what they’ve seen so far to be a microcosm of what to expect as the season rolls along. Yes, there were wildly divergent starts from R.A. Dickey and Drew Hutchison, and stumbles from Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan, following a sparkling effort from Mark Buehrle that even the most cockeyed optimist couldn’t possibly expect to see on a regular basis, but if you ask me, there is a whole lot more to like here than a cursory look at the 3-4 record, or groaning over certain individual starts would indicate.

For starters [note: HEYO?], it’s hard to have an issue with the two veteran anchors in this rotation, even despite R.A. Dickey’s ugly outing on Opening Day in Tampa. Mark Buehrle buehrl’d the shit out of life in his first game of the season (and gets the Astros in his next!), while Dickey rebounded spectacularly in Saturday’s win over the umpiring crew Yankees. The key there: velocity. Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler beat the point to death, but at least it was the right point: against Tampa in the opener, Dickey’s knuckleball averaged 74.9 mph, and he didn’t come close to hitting 80 with it. On Saturday the average was up to 76.8, and while he didn’t get as much past 80 with it as he has when he’s been at his best, FanGraphs’ velocity chart for him shows that it was definitely more in line with his 2012, and the back half of 2013, than with his back-related dip in form at the beginning of last year.

A tremendous sign, in other words.

The rest of the rotation really isn’t in such dire straits, either, I don’t think. Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan are healthy, and as long as that continues to be the case, I think they have a very good chance of being fine. While Morrow wasn’t exactly sharp, it behooves us to remember that it wasn’t until the last days of spring training that he really started to catch up to where he needed to be, and that he’s still probably a bit behind his fellow rotation-mates. The key for me, with respect to his outing on Thursday in Tampa, was that his velocity was where it should be — something that reports were telling us wasn’t the case at the beginning of camp — and that he held it reasonably well, throwing multiple fastballs above 94 beyond the 70th pitch of an 86 pitch outing, according to Brooks.

And McGowan? He was tipping his pitches.

At least the ones from the stretch. Mark Mulder tweeted about this while Friday’s rough outing was ongoing, and both McGowan and Pete Walker acknowledged it after the game. “I’ve got to fix that tipping thing for sure,” McGowan said, according to John Lott’s game story for the National Post. “Even I noticed after the first inning they were just putting good swings on every pitch I threw. I knew something was wrong.”

That wasn’t McGowan’s only problem, mind you, but with it noticed and rectified, you’d think he ought to be quite a bit better next time out. There really is no other way but up from here.

And as for Drew Hutchison? On Sunday he had trouble with command and finding his release point, but since the ability to throw strikes has been his calling card, and since that’s kind of the thing you’d expect from a 23-year-old — the youngest player on this Jays team, in fact — with only about 125 innings above A-ball (and just getting back to the Majors off of Tommy John surgery, to boot!), it just seems like one of those things that’s going to happen occasionally. Didn’t hurt that the bullpen was outstanding in picking him up, too. Either way, though, like everyone else in the rotation, he’ll have his struggles, and like everyone else, as long as he remains healthy, there’s not much reason yet to think we’ll see a whole lot more good than bad.

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rogerscentre

In a twist that makes me think again about the possibility of the front office using the media as an instrument to exert pressure on Robbers Communications, Alex Anthopoulos was on Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 on Friday, preceding his club’s home opener against the New York Yankees, and like Paul Beeston earlier in the day he confirmed the payment deferral scheme first reported by Ken Rosenthal last Thursday at Fox Sports, and — most intriguingly — was coy when it came to the question of who initiated it.

In response to Stephen Brunt broaching subject, the GM explained:

“How the money would have been allocated — how that would have been done — regardless, if something like that was to happen or not, that wouldn’t have been hidden. So, if anybody restructures their contract or defers money — like you talk about, Stephen — the union would have to sign off on that. That’s made available to everybody, no one would have been hiding anything at all. And there’s things we may choose to do, from a payroll standpoint, from a contractual structure standpoint, that might make more sense for us. But irrespective of the fact, we had the ability to sign him, this is where he told us he wanted to be, and we were prepared to go forward with it.

What the fallout from that is, or this story, I know where a lot of people want to go with it, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we have the dollars to sign the player. Again, how that money was going to be allocated, how it was going to be done, those are things I would keep to myself.

What gets me here, and should get every Jays fan, is the fact that the door was wide open for Anthopoulos to say that this was solely a player-initiated thing, that it wasn’t necessary, that ownership is great, that the dollars were there, and that everything is peachy between the Jays and the corporate monolith that controls their cash flow and owns the network that clutches the no-bid contract for their TV rights that is astonishingly valuable in this era of live event programming being the only thing of any worth in TV, and other clubs auctioning off their own rights for multiple billions — much like the NHL rights deal Rogers itself recently signed. Yet he unequivocally doesn’t.

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We’ll figure out what to do with weekend threats sooner or later, but in the interim, since the comments from yesterday are overflowing, here’s a new place to wax hysteric about what’s going on right this minute at the Rogers Centre, as Drew Hutchison takes on C.C. Sabathia. So… here it is.

That was not exactly the best Home Opener I’ve ever been to last night, but it was still pretty fun, and refreshingly free of aggressive shit heads, at least where I was. So… I dunno, could be worse. And there’s some genuine promise to this Jays team, I think.  Would maybe like to see them win some damn games, though.