The drought is over!! After 21 years of futility, we know the Blue Jays have a shot at winning it all this season!! Today’s win over Tampa not only gives them the biggest win total since 1993 but also guarantees them their first post-season berth since that year!
In coming days there’ll be time to break down the possible match-ups, evaluate Toronto’s October roster. But today is all about saying “YES!” and congrats to the team, to John Gibbons, to Alex Anthopoulos who’s shown a newfound determination to winning this year, and to all the fans back up north who’ve supported through thick and thin… but cheered harder the last couple of months!
Bring on October!!
Yesterday I was making the point that some things that seem like negatives for baseball – the excess voting of Kansas City fans for the All Star game, apparent computer hacking by someone within the Cardinals organization – might be good for it in the long run. Today, we apply the same principle to our Toronto Blue Jays.
This weekend has been disappointing, to say the least, to us fans, seeing the team lose two of three at home to divisional rivals Baltimore. Even the one win was turned into a nail-biter after Marco Estrada carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. All in all, there would seem to be little to cheer about, Jose Bautista’s four RBI game today and Kevin Pillar’s rising batting average notwithstanding. True, Toronto remain in third place and within three games of the lead, but one has to realize how tantalizingly close they were to being only one game out and rolling out a new winning streak.
Dig deeper though and there’s reason for hope. And the hope is, that the team’s bullpen has hit rock bottom and even the contented front office is by now aware of the reality of the 2015 Jays. they can score runs alright; 393 is fully 67 more than the next best in the AL (the rejuvenated Yankees) . Unfortunately, the pitching is as predicted by everyone except Alex Anthopoulos, atrocious. While it might not be the worst in baseball, it’s assuredly not good enough to put the team into the post-season, let alone a championship.
Estrada and Buehrle’s starts were good enough this weekend, minor league call-up Scott Copeland’s was not. And in all three games, the bullpen did its best to make winners out of the Orioles; twice they succeeded. Despite having eight relievers in the ‘pen, it seems no one can get the job done. Worse yet, the worst culprits are the apparent stars- closer Brett Cecil, for example. Cecil has technically only blown two saves this season, then again he’s only converted five. Add in four losses including today’s embarrassing snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory and the fact that he’s allowed earned runs in five of his last six outings and you have more than enough evidence that he is not a closer for a team that wants to go anywhere. Although his 5.96 ERA might have told you that already.
Miguel Castro, the closer at season’s opening, is injured but was demoted back to the minors because of his greenness anyhow, so he’s hardly a potential replacement. Neither is workhorse Aaron Loup, through his 31 appearances some of his numbers are decent – 25K and only 3 walks for example- but his ERA is 4.78 and rising and it’s increasingly evident more and more hitters are catching up to his odd delivery.
Losing two out of three games that should have been walks in the park hurts, but it may be just what the Blue Jays needed. For over a month rumors have abounded that Anthopoulos is talking to various teams about trading for pitching help and that Jays scouts are busy watching Cincinnati and Philadelphia games, this weekend should convince him to stop talking and make the move. a recent article in Bluebird Banter suggested that the team has been involved in discussions with the Phils to acquire Aaron Harang and Jon Papelbon; the Reds to bring in Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman and the A’s for Scott Kazmir and Tyler Clippard.
Any or all of these pitchers could make the Jays better. Of the three though, the Phillies trade seems both the most “doable” and the least desireable. The rumor is that all they want is highly-rated minor league catcher Max Pentecost in return, and with all star Russell Martin locked in for five years, that would seem a small price to pay. However, Harang, touted here weeks ago, is coming down to earth…after 15 starts, the 37 year old is sitting at 4-9 with a 3.41 ERA. The W-L isn’t a big deal, given the limited run support he’s had, but six straight losses is a bit worrying; more so is that in his last four outings he’s given up 20 earned runs in 23 innings! His ERA still looks OK, but has soared from 1.82 a month ago. Best prognosis, he’d be an OK #4 or 5 starter, but wouldn’t be an upgrade over RA Dickey, Marco Estrada or (a healthy) Aaron Sanchez, so what’s the point? As for Papelbon, he can shut the door still, but questions of his personality and ability to “fit in” still abound… and would crimp the team’s ability to add more salary in the next year or two given his $13M a year.
Johnny Cueto is the best pitcher linked to the Jays in any of the trade rumors, and Chapman is the hardest throwing reliever out there but there are some caution signs to pay attention to. Cueto is a free agent after this season, Chapman would be up for arbitration. Neither is a deal-breaker but of the two, one would have to think Johnny C is the one who’d be more interesting to have back next year. I’d rather have Chapman jog out of the ‘pen than Cecil next time the Jays had a one run lead, or a seven run lead, in the ninth but something about him doesn’t instill me with confidence. I can’t help but think that a thin pitcher who throws super-hard and harder isn’t a good bet to stay healthy for too much longer. The sore spot for the Jays though might be that , if the stories are correct, the Reds are adamant about Daniel Norris being part of a 4-player package sent their way.
I wouldn’t mind that trade, but everything points to the best fit being another trade to add to the long list of deals between Oakland and Toronto. I’ve sung the praises of Kazmir here recently and saw him stymie the Rangers on one weak hit over 8 innings since. He might not be quite as good as Cueto, but he’d instantly be the front-of-the-line starter in Toronto. Better still would be for Tyler Clippard to be part of the deal as well. Clippard is as steady and durable a reliever as you will find in the 21st Century, appearing in 70+ games for each of the last five completed seasons and limiting opponents to an average under .213 every year since 2009. He has experience dealing with the pressure of a closer’s role, saving 32 for Washington in ’12 and ten already for Oakland this year. He’d instantly provide the Jays with not only a decent closer, but one who could have been out on the mound all three games this weekend without breaking a sweat. The story is Oakland are asking for Castro and three less-noteworthy minor leaguers in return.
Kazmir could join the rotation right away taking over from the demoted (as of this evening) Copeland . Having to deal with sending Estrada back to the bullpen or keep Sanchez in Buffalo when he’s healthy enough to pitch is the kind of dilemma general managers dream about having. My guess is over the remaining half-season plus, Kazmir could add three wins to the team and Clippard would probably add at least six by not blowing slam-dunk saves. Nine wins more in this division equate to home advantage in the playoffs as opposed to watching the playoffs at home on TV.
The Sun‘s Steve Simmons wrote the praises of Alex Anthopoulos this weekend, noting how positive the impact of newcomers like Donaldson and Colabello have been this season. No argument from me on that; I’ve said it before, the moves the team did make in the off-season were positive. But if Anthopoulos wants my thumb to be up, he should be hitting Billy Beane on speed-dial tonight. Kazmir dazzled the Rangers a couple of weeks ago. He should do the same this coming weekend- this time wearing Jays blue!
The Jays hit the one-third mark of the year a rather dismal 25-30 (well, to be precise they hit the one-third at 24-30 with a win since), but remarkably enough only 4.5 games out of first. With the expected mediocrity of the AL East this season, the upcoming homestand against the remarkable Houston Astros and the surprisingly poor Miami Marlins takes on added import. A strong six-games and the Jays could easily be in second place and within a game or two of a playoff berth; while equally true, a lousy set of games and the year could be all but done for. I quite like the team’s chances, with the home advantage (mind you, Houston has the best road record- 15-8 – in the league) and the recent improvement of the starting rotation.
Although the Blue Jays are still neck and neck with the Bosox for the worst pitching in the AL (currently Toronto is 28th in baseball and worst in the American based on ERA but Boston has allowed a handful more total runs), the overall ERA of 4.41 is half a run better than it was a mere three weeks back and, lo and behold, the questionable starting staff now leads all of baseball in complete games! Which is a good thing given the redoubtable bullpen which has a major league low 6 saves in 15 chances. One still has to think the team was negligent in not improving the rotation in the off-season, but if the arms hold up there might be just enough in the pool to give the Jays a shot. Marco Estrada is looking OK as a starter, averaging six innings a start with a 4.20 ERA in the past five outings. Mark Buehrle, he of back-to-back complete game wins has looked rejuvenated, Drew Hutchison has been up and down while Aaron Sanchez continues to improve in the role. Over the past month, they have sported ERAs of 2.84, 3.09 and 3.31 respectively; Buehrle’s logged over 44 innings in that time vaulting him into familiar territory in the Top 10 in innings. Which leaves RA Dickey as the odd man out, although he’s still eating innings, his results are going the opposite direction from his counterparts. Dickey’s ERA in the past 30 days is only a click or two under 7. This fan would still like to see Dickey shuffled off to the ‘pen and replaced in the rotation by a new arm.
Marco Estrada is looking OK, which brings me back to last week’s topic, the rating of the off-season moves. Fitting in nicely in the bottom of the rotation, he may not be the fireballer he was when young but he’s cutting back on home runs allowed and at 2-3, 3.77 overall he’s been a good acquisition. But was he worth Adam Lind ? And more directly, how’s Toronto with him compared to if they had hung onto JA Happ.
It seems likely Happ wouldn’t have been offed to Starbucks City had the Jays not previously gotten Estrada. Happ is doing fine in Seattle, after ten starts posting a 3-1 record, 3.70 ERA and a 43:13 K to BB ratio, the best of his career. He’s only allowed four or more runs twice, but on the downside is logging an average of only about 5 2/3 innings a game. Bottom line, Happ and Estrada are basically interchangeable.
Which means the question is was Michael Saunders (the payoff for Happ) worth trading Adam Lind for? Unfortunately, as we know, Saunders has been hobbled with his knee, wrecked in spring training, and has been a non-factor for Toronto.
Lind, on the other hand, has been doing fine for the lousy Brewers. He’s been healthy, something you couldn’t count on in Toronto, and after 51 games played is hitting a healthy .281 with 8 HR, 25 RBI and an .849 OPS (below the last two years but considerably improved from the sub-.800 Lind of ’10-12). The grass must be helping his back since he’s not only healthy but has played all his games at first, with almost identical results to the stats he posted last year, which is to say respectable but no Gold Glover. His difficulties against lefties continue, with him hitting .208 with no power facing southpaws.
The bottom line is that if one expected Saunders to be healthy ( a big “IF”) the trades made sense given the abundance of first base-DH type players the Jays had and with the outfield looking iffy with the departing Colby Rasmus and Melky C. And one has to like the cheap pick-up of Chris Colabello although no one was expecting him to slide past 100 at bats with a .352 average and 16 RBI. Nor should we expect that to hold up forever; despite a dozen game hitting streak, in his last six games his average has dropped 34 points and only one of his six hits has been for extra bases.
So as we hit the middle third of the 2015 season, a few spring questions are being answered. The team, despite added “leader” players still seems incapable of putting together a good run or building real momentum; individual numbers are good enough but somehow the product is less than the sum of the parts. And it’s difficult to truly berate Alex Anthopoulos for the moves he made in the off-season. It’s easy though, to berate him for the moves he didn’t make.
Fishermen, “old maids” have a lot in common with baseball general managers. No matter what else is going on around them, they are always preoccupied with the “one that got away.” The fisherman had the muskie pulling on his line, the Pirates had an inconsequential infielder called Jose Bautista they felt they could toss back in the pond for Toronto to scoop up. Which is a way of bringing us to today’s topic: how are the ex-Blue Jays doing this year and how have their departures affected this year’s club.
One of the most straight forward moves Alex Anthopoulos made in the off-season is the easiest to assess. And most positive. The trade with Oakland got rid of popular Canuck Brett Lawrie as well as promising pitcher Kendall Graveman and brought in all-star third baseman Josh Doanldson.
Lawrie has done at least one thing better on the left coast than he did in Canada- stay healthy. As of Friday afternoon (time of writing this) he’d not missed any time and had time at third as well as second base for the A’s. His .266 average is OK, and his 3 homers, 18 RBI aren’t embarassing but with few walks or extra base hits, his OPS of .657 is pretty low for a 3B and the lowest of his career. Perhaps more disturbingly for Oakland, he’s committed 7 errors already, resulting in a low .946 fielding percentage and he’s only been in on 6 double plays. Based on bench-clearing brawls provoked, he’s brought his feistiness along with him but based on the team’s last place standing, it’s not done much to motivate his colleagues. Graveman is a work in progress, but currently at 2-2 with a lofty 6.04 ERA and .297 opponents average, it would suggest there’s still lots of work to be done and, as bad as Toronto’s pitching has been on the whole , he’d likely not be playing in Toronto if he’d not been traded.
Donaldson of course, has been the best Jay so far and a strong contender for MVP. To start with the negative, his reputation for gold glove defense seems a bit of hyperbole thus far, with his numbers being similar to Lawrie’s so far: 7 errors, .949, only 8 double plays turned (last year he’d had 43). Perhaps the artificial turf is more of a challenge than anyone had imagined. But if the “D” is questionable, it would seem Toronto didn’t lose anything by replacing Lawrie and obviously, Josh’s hitting has been a driving force for what success the team has had. As it stands now, his .315 average, .582 slugging and .960 OPS are all the best of his career so far and he’s high on the AL leaderboard in most categories: leading in runs (41), third in homers, tied for 4th in ribbies, top 15 in batting average among everyday players. What’s more, like the weather, he seems to be heating up. Score one for Alex and company; the trade meant a major upgrade for the ’15 Blue Jays.
As we’ve much discussed here, it’s hard to support the decision to let Casey Janssen walk away. As luck would have it though, Janssen’s been battling shoulder woes all year and was only activated from the DL this week. In three appearances for Washington so far, he’s been great working as an 8th inning setup man, but with concerns about his throwing health, it may be the Jays didn’t lose out by not re-signing him. What that doesn’t change however, is the fact that Toronto erred by not bringing in anyone (John Axford, Andrew Miller, or any of a long list of other free agent relievers).
The outfield got a fair shakeup, so now that the dust has settled, did letting Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus sign elsewhere and trading Anthony Gose make sense?
The first two answers are pretty clear . Showing Toronto fans are always willing to grant second chances, a surprising number thought the Jays should have embarked on a bidding war to keep Cabrera and would have matched, if not bested the White Sox, 3 year, $42M contract. That after Melky had come to Rogers Centre straight from a PED suspension and spent two years here, one of which was forgettable at best and one which was good. It’s not quite a third way through the season yet, but the jury’s already gone out and come back with the decision on Cabrera and the verdict is the Sox got robbed. While he has played 46 games injury-free, he’s hitting a so-so .250, with just one homer and 17 RBI. Worse yet, his slugging pct. is a dismal .283 (down 173 points from last year) and if it holds up, his .574 OPS will be the lowest of his career (not counting a six game call-up in ’05), rather pathetic for an outfielder and proving one should call up his agent when buying a lottery ticket. Last year he was a contender for the All Star team, this year he’s a contender for most overpaid player in the sport. I’m glad I advocated against giving him a large, long-term contract and even happier the Blue Jays agreed.
Rasmus is not quite as black-and-white, seeing as how he only signed a mid-range one year deal with Houston. I was plenty happy to see him move along, as were (by all reports ) a number of his former teammates. Nonetheless, for all the reports of a bad attitude and laziness, something is working in Houston as the Astros have first place and don’t seem to want to wait til 2017 (Sports Illustrated‘s prediction last year) to win it all. Not to say Colby has inspired the winning ways, but at least he’s not dragged the team down. And while his .239 average is low, his other numbers- 8 HR, 10 doubles, .500 slugging (second best in his career) are pretty decent. On the negative end of the equation, despite his great arm, he’s yet to pick up an OF assist and he’s whiffed 55 times already in only 138 plate appearances, a rate even worse than last year’s. All of which suggests that he’s the same old Colby, one with a sky-high ceiling but a lack of patience at the plate that will keep holding him back.
Anthony Gose seemed the most inconsequential of the departed outfielders but has arguably been the best of the trio. In 38 games to date, he’s hitting a lofty .329 with the Tigers, and has 8 steals plus a .459 slugging percentage (over a hundred points higher than his Toronto career number.) With his speed adding to the Tigers defense, he’s been a big plus for the Motown crew. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see those numbers drop off closer to his career norms (about a .234 average with one extra base for every 18 at bats), but even if he keeps up what he’s doing now the trade looks good , as I expected since it brought in a big return…
Devon Travis.Rehabbing now in Buffalo after a shoulder problem, Travis shows every sign of giving Toronto something they’ve sorely needed for four years- a good, multi-tool second baseman. A .271 average, 7 HR, 26 RBI, .839 OPS are good numbers for any 2B- let alone for a rookie! And his mere one error so far and 20 DPs turned mean the Jays aren’t giving up much fielding by replacing Ryan Goins or Munenori Kawasaki there. Even if Gose keeps developing for Detroit, this trade earns a “thumbs up.”
Next time, we’ll look at what Adam Lind and JA Happ are upto and rate the other new Jays brought in to replace them and the outfielders.
It’s taken me a little over two years, but I’ve gotten on board the most popular Toronto Blue Jays bandwagon– the one to ride John Gibbons out of town. It pains me a little, but the time has come for Gibbons to end his second run as manager.
It pains me because Gibbons seems to be a nice enough guy. He was certainly a breath of fresh air to see interviewed after the surly John Farrell, who ultimately was only biding his time before getting a chance to bolt back to his beloved New England. It pains me because so many fans were never willing to give Gibbons a chance when he was rehired before the 2013 season. And mainly it pains me because he seems like a reasonably competent manager. Although now that I’m living in Texas, I only get to actually watch Jays games infrequently, nothing I’ve seen (or read in boxscores, summaries or other columns) suggests he’s botched things up on-field this year. He’s started the best lineup he could, has dealt with a few key injuries and seems to have for the most part gone to the mound at appropriate times.
But the bottom line is that the team is woefully under-achieving and getting worse. After today’s game they sit in last place, having lost 9 of the last 11 games, including being swept in Houston and losing at home back to back to Seattle. They are a mere 2-10 in one run games (no small reason the Orioles won the East last year was their 32-23 record in those games.) There’s no obvious reason for that, just as there’s no obvious reason the Jays have a decent +14 run differential this year, second best in the division. They’re scoring more than they allow,yet somehow still losing games and losing ground.
I’m not inside the clubhouse, so I can’t know who’s giving the proverbial 110% and who are just going through the motions. What we fans know is that a large part of the rationale for trading for Josh Donaldson and signing Russell Martin was to provide a winning clubhouse atmosphere, just as the reason for not making Colby Rasmus an offer was a desire to remove his legendary (among sports writers’ at least) laziness and bad attitude. Donaldson’s hitting over .300, Martin .279, both upgrades over the players they replaced…but the club still has a seeming lack of “fire in the belly.” Once they fall behind by a run or two, even in the middle innings, they seem content to pack it in and think about a quick exit to the steakhouses and nightclubs. At least so it seems to those of us in the cheap seats. Whether or not this is accurate, one thing certain is that John Gibbons can’t pull the right strings to get clutch performances from his star-filled roster. There’s no guarantee someone else would have the answer either, but it could hardly hurt to try. Miami and Milwaukee have already gone the same route; the Brewers under Craig Counsell are 9-10 with more or less the same daily lineup Ron Roenicke rode to just 7-18.
A major league player making millions of dollars shouldn’t need motivating to go out and bust his behind to win, but all too many seem to. A change in manager- maybe to a yelling, kicking, in-yer-face type of blowhard different than laid-back Texan John- might be the shake they need.
The time to do the deed is now. The Jays have gone into a free-fall yet remain close enough to turn things around. As predicted, the AL East is truly mediocre this year, and with a six or seven game winning streak Toronto could find themselves on top. And certainly with almost 120 games left, there’s time to right the ship and sail into the playoffs. But another nine losses over the next 11 days and the season will be lost, no matter how hopeless the Yankees and Red Sox are.
One more detail. The man delivering the news to Gibbons should be the General Manager- the new General manager, the one who should succeed Alex Anthopoulos. Because whether you blame a sub-par bullpen, a lack of desire among the players, Jose Bautista’s .220 average, oft-injured Michael Saunders for being injured or John Gibbons lack of managerial acumen for the disappointing season so far, it was after all, Anthopoulos who assembled this team. If anyone has to be shown the door in Jays-land they should be going out on his coattails.