Tagged: David Price

The Series Looks Like…

Let the games begin. Finally we get to the Fall Classic, some 7 months from where we began, all full of confidence and excitement (even if you were somewhere like KC or Baltimore.) Now it’s down to just two.

As I predicted way back in spring, the LA Dodgers return to the World Series for the 11th time, hoping to win it for the first time in 30 years.LA deserve credit galore for staving off Colorado in a Game 163 and making it back to the World Series for the second year in a row.  This year though, unlike my prediction (which was for Houston to also repeat their appearance), their opponent, as we well know is the statistically best team in baseball this year- Boston.

I have some friends who are LA fans. As of yet, I have no one who’s a Red Sox fan. That said, I still have to pick Boston to win yet again. The Red Sox seem to be gaining momentum whereas the Dodgers seem to vary night to night. Mainly though, one has to like Boston’s advantages in having home advantage (an almost mind-blowing 57-24 at Fenway, although LA are a decent road team and one of the few teams with more road wins than home ones this year, being 47-34 outside of the City of Angels) and the accompanying DH advantage. MLB expect Matt Kemp to DH for LA when in the AL park. Nothing wrong with him as a hitter, but he’s no JD Martinez. And when in the National park, the Sox will find a way to keep Martinez’s killer bat in the lineup. Unlike the MLB site, I like Steve Pearce at first over David Freese too.

LA’s bullpen does seem better, and this year, one might think it’s all about the pens. Yet, Boston was the superior team in close games through the season too- 25-14 in one run games compared to LA who were a break-even .500 in such contests. And the X-factor… same as in the ALCS. Boston’s #2 co-ace, David Price. Price, as mentioned ad nauseum, has been historically bad in playoff starts for some weird reason. Finally he broke out of that last week to knock Houston out of the post-season, with 6 very strong shutout innings, 9 Ks and a ramped up velocity for his first post-season W in a start after 9 losses. I have to think that confidence will now spill over and bolster the Sox, even if wobby lefty Clayton Kershaw of the blue-and-white can outpitch wobbly lefty Chris Sale of the Clam Chowder Crew in game one.

My guess- Boston in 5. Unfortunately.

The Two X-factors To Watch This Weekend

Let the fun begin! The league championships kick off tonight in Milwaukee of all places, with the Dodgers taking on the central division champs. Tomorrow it’s the AL’s turn.

As you might recall, the matchups are what I’d predicted earlier this month, as was the rather quick folding of the Cleveland machine. Thus far, my only error in playoff picks was a last minute “gut feeling” that Oakland might top the Yanks in the one game wildcard, which seemed unlikely…and was, in fact!

If that seems like too much tooting my own horn, I’ll temper that by admitting that of my pre-season picks, I only got half the division winners right (Cleveland, Houston and LA) and in fact picked only 8 of the 30 teams in their correct position. Biggest faux pas- missing Oakland’s impressive 97 wins by 28 and picking them for last place in the AL West!

That noted, I have picked Milwaukee and Boston to advance to the World Series. I’ll stand by that but I won’t be utterly surprised if either, or even both, are wrong. Anything can happen in Ocotber baseball after all. To me the two things to look for are these:

NL: the series may go to 7 games, but I think we’ll have a good idea of the NL Champion by about the 5th inning tonight. LA are the better team on paper and in almost every respect (the bullpens may be a dead heat) …but the Brew Crew have been on fire lately. So, it comes down to can Milwaukee keep the momentum going, the roll that has them winning their last 11-straight games and top the Cubs in Wrigley Field for the division championship? If yes, if they come out of the gates like world-beaters full of confidence and ignorant of any obstacles, they will play for their first set of rings. If not, if the four day layoff has killed the momentum or made them stop and look at the rosters and think , Los Angeles will return to the Fall Classic.

AL: this one comes down to one man. David Price. The Astros are very good, needless to say, a well-balanced team with no huge holes anywhere. The Sox though, match them in several areas and are a better, deeper hitting staff than Houston…as the 16-1 bombing of the Bronx Bombers showed clearly. But Boston’s starting pitching could be a bit of a bugaboo for them. Ace Chris Sale has been limited to 6+ innings so far and is barely a month back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of July and August. Then there’s game 2 starter, Price, who presumably would be asked to return to the mound Saturday for game 6 if it goes that far.

That doesn’t seem like a bad thing to the casual observer. Price is, after all, one of the best pitchers of the last decade, having good success with 4 different teams. Problem is, for whatever reason so far, he simply cannot do anything right as a starter in October. All the more strange, he’s been very effective as a relief pitcher in the playoffs, with Tampa in 2008 (his rookie campaign), last year with the Red Sox and one game for the Blue Jays in 2015. But as a starter in the post-season, he’s been historically bad. 10 starts, 0-9, about 62 innings (that’s not terrible), 69 hits allowed and an embarrassing 6.03 ERA. Go figure. During the regular seasons of those years, he’s made 224 starts, gone 1495 innings (an average of over 210 per year, a definite rarity these days) allowed less than a hit per inning every year and had a great 107-60 record and 3.24 ERA.

So why can’t Price start in October? Or can he? That’s the million-dollar question for the Red Sox. If it’s now a purely mental thing where he beats himself before he goes to the mound, they are sunk. If it’s just pure bad luck, the law of averages is bound to kick in, and he’ll have a good start and break the curse. One way or another, if Boston don’t get at least one quality start from him, they’re sunk.

Play ball!

“Start” to take notice of the Rotation

The one thing that has already played out according to plan in baseball this year is how unpredictable things have been. White Sox ruling the world, the old Yankees losing the fountain of youth they seemed to have dipped into last season, the 80 game suspension of the reigning NL batting champ– who saw those things coming? Closer to home here, Toronto’s start has been under-whelming. More surprising, it’s the bats to blame.

Before the season began the common refrain from pundits (including myself) far and wide was that the Jays would hit up a storm again this year but might kick themselves for not retaining David Price and significantly upgrading the starting rote. Many experts thought they’d need to match last years 891 runs and then some to compete given the state of the starting pitching (and they were divided on whether or not they just might do that with Donaldson feeling more at home and a full season of Tulowitzki to look forward to.) USA Today was rather typical of many spring training previews, stating the Blue Jays “have a huge hole in their rotation”, casting doubts on whether Marcus Stroman was ready to take the front-of-rotation and knocking Marco Estrada who “doesn’t elicit fear in opposition batters.”

Well, one-fifth of the way through the schedule, Toronto sits at a run of the mill 16-17. Not out of contention by any stretch of the imagination but disappointing to fans and players alike. The surprise though, is how good the starting rotation has been. In fact, it is the strength that has kept Toronto out of the basement and in the thick of things so far. A starter these days gets 32 or 33 starts a season if healthy. The Jays have played 33 and in those 33 starts, the starters have combined for 211 1/3 innings, allowing just 184 hits, 78 earned runs, walking 67 while whiffing 154. Their collective ERA is 3.32, with a 13-7 won-lost record. JA Happ and Marcus Stroman (plus Drew Hutchison in his one game) have yet to lose and all in all, the starters have pitched well enough to have easily won 23 or 24 of the 33 given a reliable bullpen and average hitting. All of Happ’s starts have been “Quality” and 24 of the 33 games in total have fit that description; 22 of their games have featured fewer hits allowed than innings pitched and only twice have they walked more than they struck out. All things considered, any team would be pretty happy to have a starter have a 13-7, 211 inning, 3.32 ERA year. Not too shabby for a rotation that was supposed to have a huge hole in it. Meanwhile, David Price is off to a remarkably poor start with Boston, giving New Englanders 217 million reason to curse in their chowdah.

Of course, the team hasn’t won 24 or so games yet because (despite a good sophomore effort from Robert Osuna as closer) the bullpen has been iffy and most of all, the fabled bats have been rather noodly. The team’s .234 average is only 12th best in the league (although notably, two of the three teams they are ahead of are division rivals – NY and Tampa) and their slugging percentage is only 9th best. Their 37 homers isn’t terrible and is fourth best in the AL and surprisingly their 134 runs is in the top 5. But at 4.1 runs per game, they’re scoring a run and a half less than last year and there’s no way to avoid that effecting the bottom line.

What’s in store for the remaining 4/5 of the season? Who’s to say. There’s no way Russell Martin will keep hitting .171 and not knock a few dingers; Ryan Goins might keep striking out a quarter of all times to the plate and hitting below .150 but won’t stay in the lineup much longer if so (with Darwin Barney swinging a good bat and Devon Travis potentially only a couple of weeks away from returning). Kevin Pillar has gone 14 for 34 with 7 RBI in his past 9 games and Edwin Encarnacion seemed to find his sweet spot against Texas. Runs will come with greater ease in coming weeks. On the other hand, JA Happ and Marcus Stroman aren’t likely to hit October undefeated and I can’t see the organization, with its concerns about young arms, allow Aaron Sanchez to hit 190 innings he’s on pace for so far.

Then again, if everything went like we expected, there’d be no reason to play 162. Maybe Russell Martin will hit .171 over 125 games and JA Happ will finish at 28-0!

Happ signing should make fans “Happy”

 

The 2015 season gave Blue Jays fans reasons to give thanks, and a day after (American) Thanksgiving, the team has given us an early Christmas. Perhaps. To this observer, the signing of JA Happ to a three-year deal by Toronto is reason to rejoice, despite naysayers like the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons. Here’s why.

Happ, as we know, is a veteran starter who never quite fulfilled the potential of his youth when he was the Phillies wunderkind. As a Jay, he was a decent but totally unspectacular pitcher from 2012- 14; after being traded he was more lacklustre with the all-around disappointing Mariners last season. Then suddenly, he was a trade deadline toss to the Pirates, where under the tutoring of Ray Searage (who’s also helped AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano go on to career bests) he suddenly became the second coming of Steve Carlton . Down the stretch, helping the Pirates make the playoffs he was 7-2 with a stellar 1.85 ERA and better than a K per inning. In five of his Pittsburgh starts he managed to go over 6 innings without allowing an earned run. While pitching in the NL offers an obvious advantage over the DH-using AL, much of the sudden improvement has been attributed to minor adjustments to his arm angle, a slight increase in his fastball velocity (to 92.1 mph) and Happ’s increased trust in said fastball. Seems to me when Happ was rolling in Toronto, he was doing just that; when he wobbled he was nibbling at the corners with a smorgasbord of off-speed pitches. One can hope he remembers the Pittsburgh lessons come spring 2016.

On the Yahoo free agent tracker, and many other similar sites, Happ is listed between Yovanni Gallardo and (once again Blue Jay) Marco Estrada. No David Price or Zack Greinke, but a fully-serviceable, reliable mid-range starter. Happ we would hope will use his maturity and new arm angle learned in Pittsburgh to be better than he was before with Toronto, but he needn’t be David Price. All he really needs to do is match, or one hopes better, last year’s triad of #5’s who preceded the Detroit trade – Aaron Sanchez, Matt Boyd and Felix Doubront. That trio combined for 17 starts, 92 innings with 67 strikeouts, a 5-7 record with 4.76 ERA. Boyd, we’ll recall , though having potential set records for ineptitude in his two Jays games. Happ should easily match and better that- last year, between Seattle and the Pirates, he tossed a career high 172 innings, with an 11-8 record and highly respectable 3.61 ERA. Likewise, by not nibbling so much he reduced his walk rate to a career best 2.3 per 9innings. Also encouraging, in 2013, he managed to pitch better at home in the Rogers Centre than on the road, and on turf limited opponents to a .239 average compared to .265 on grass, despite giving up more flyball outs on the artificial surface. If that trend continued, one might expect better results in ’16 due to the outfield presence of Kevin Pillar. All in all, Happ for his career is 62-61 with a 4.13 ERA and approximately equal effectiveness against left-handers and righties.

Happ doesn’t have to be David Price to help the Jays. He just needs to be reliable and match, or better his career averages to boost the team over the 2015 version. My bet is he can be a good replacement for Mark Buehrle. Still, why am I chuffed about it?

Three reasons really. First, obviously, Happ is a decent pitcher and pitching is going to be the aspect the team needs to improve on in order to win a World Series next year. Happ could be a decent #3 or 4 starter on a championship team.

the other reasons are less blatant. First off, Toronto seems to be issuing a statement to the league. By inking the first significant free agent signing of 2015 (outside of players re-upping with their previous teams), they have shown they have money, they are wanting to improve and they mean business for 2016. This has to be an early present for fans and a challenge for divisonal rivals who may be tempted now to over-spend on even less-spectacular pitching, or max out their credit cards on the upper-tier starters. Jordan Zimmermann to Baltimore for 8 years anybody?

Reason three- Happ could be the forefront of a trend that ushers the early-90s back to Toronto. Once there was a time when Toronto was the place to be in baseball. Fans filled the stadium in record numbers; free agents like Dave Winfield, Jack Morris and Paul Molitor had no hesitation in signing on. Things have changed in the twenty years or so since; crowds have thinned, the Jays had settled into perpetual mediocrity and Ontario looked less appealing to players with choice. No wonder. Even though most Torontonians place the CN Tower as the center of the universe, many Americans have little knowledge of the city. If you’re an American star, going to a foreign country with high tax rates may not look that good, especially if you (incorrectly) imagine the city speaks a foreign language or is a city of igloos.

Happ has played in Philly, Pittsburgh, Houston and Seattle as well as T.O. and chose to go back to Canada.For an Illinois native to choose to go north of the border rather than go to a number of cities closer to home that must have expressed interest in his services, says a lot and should influence other players. That, combined with the glowing testimonies of Josh Donaldson about the enthusiasm of Canadian fans, should encourage other free agents to look more kindly upon the city on Lake Ontario when thrown in the mix against the likes of Chicago or Minneapolis.

JA Happ will help the team and in today’s market, isn’t going to break Rogers Communications bank with his $12M a year stipend. For new GM Tony LaCava, it greatly mitigates the negative start to his tenure that was the senseless Oakland trade that brought back Jesse Chavez.

the opportunity is there for this signing to begin the ascent to the top in 2016. But, as the detractors have pointed out, there is more to be done. Fans won’t be cheering in spring if the Jays roll out a rotation of Happ/Stroman/Estrada/Dickey and Chavez. Happ replaces Buehrle– but they still need a replacement for Price. And I say, why not David Price?

With St Louis and the Cubs (alledgedly DP’s favored destinations) balking at his price and only Boston willing to toss Brinks trucks at him right now, I reiterate my previous column’s idea of offering him a big, one year deal to seal the deal . The difference between 2 millions seats sold for a third place team and 3 and a half million sold plus playoff games would more than make up for the extra $25 or 30M Price would earn. (And if that tag seems too high, there’s still the viable option of trading Troy Tulowitzki and his big contract for prospects, and assuming the team would still have enough offense to win and win often… although that now seems less of a glowing choice with Devon Travis’ shoulder and him being out optimistically til mid-May. that in turn means Ryan Goins might need to be the everyday 2B, leaving Troy more essential for short, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Blue Jays ’16- A Modest Proposal

 

As we wait with bated breath for what we hope will be Toronto’s second-ever MVP Award (Go Josh Donaldson!) it’s a good time to look back on what was ultimately a pretty good season… and look ahead to April 3 when the Jays and Rays kick off the 2016 AL season. The Jays came close this year – how do they kick it up that final notch to make it to the World Series?

The good news, of course, is that most of the position players, the main core of the ’15 squad, are coming back (or at least under Toronto control). Bautista, Encarnacion, the ‘Bringer of rain’, Martin, Pillar, Tulowitzki… going nowhere. So too returning is a good portion of the pitching staff, including Dickey, Estrada, Stroman, Cecil and Osuna. The equally obvious bad news is that the free agency of David Price and Mark Buehrle will require Rogers to invest in a huge way to retain them, or leave a big hole that will be difficult to fill.

A few proposals here.

A Missed Proposal– perhaps it was the confusion surrounding Alex Anthopoulos’ leaving; perhaps it was the assumption the old lefty was retiring but the Blue Jays should have put in a qualifying offer on Mark Buehrle. There would have been no downside. If Buehrle retired, as he has suggested likely, it would have been a moot point. If he decided to pitch on, but for his hometown Cardinals, the Jays would have a sweet draft pick rather than nothing to show for it. And were he to decide to take them up on the offer and have one more go at a ring wearing the blue-and-white, we’d have retained a reliable 200-inning (or at least 199!) starter with 15-straight double-digit win years and a strong clubhouse presence. With inflation of pitching prices, $15M wouldn’t have been a high price to pay for that stability of the rotation. But that window is closed, so…

A Modest Proposal- the Jays bullpen not only was improved over the previous season, but got better as the year went along. All in all, the ‘pen was decent . Its 3.50 ERA and .231 opponents average were better than the league average (3.76, .245 respectively) and the 130 walks they issued was lowest in baseball. However, it still was only the fifth best in the AL by ERA and cost too many games in the springtime. A number of relievers are flooding the free agent market this winter and spending some of the money that could have been thrown at Buehrle to strengthen the back-end of the pitching staff makes sense. In particular, another strong southpaw to go with Cecil (and possibly the redoubtable Loup) would be a major plus. Tom Gorzelanny seems like a good choice; his surprisingly high 5.95 ERA in ’15 was an outlier but one which might drive his price down. Even with his inflated ERA over 48 games, he kept lefties to just a .222 average, so coupled with Cecil and the unusual Ryan Tepera (right-handed but more effective against LH hitters last season), it could make the Jays more than capable of dealing with lefty-heavy teams in the late innings next year.

Add in another good right-handed reliever for good measure and the bullpen could be a significant strength in ’16. Tyler Clippard anybody? Over the past three years he’s averaged 72 games a season, better than a K per inning and a 2.39 ERA. Last year he kept lefties to a ridiculous .137 batting average. Clippard may be the best reliever on the free agent market not typically considered a “closer”. As a plus, the signing of him or a similar right arm could make it much easier for Toronto to consider putting Aaron Sanchez back into the rotation. Best of all, the combo of Gorz and Clippard could probably be brought in for about $8M next year- far less than even an average starter to replace Buehrle.

A Price-y Proposal- this writer still thinks David Price is a tad over-rated. BUT, that said I also acknowledge he’s a pretty damn good pitcher and he was simply lights-out helping the Jays secure the playoff spot. All reports suggest he was a better-than-ordinary guy in the clubhouse as well, so there’s no reason not to want him back opening up the season for us next April. It is however, unlikely given the type of contract being bandied about as his due (e.g starting at 7 years, $210 M) . The Jays have good reason to be wary of offering up that type of deal, let alone getting caught in an outright bidding war for his services. The Phillies are a cautionary tale about locking in too many aging stars for too long and with Bautista and Encarnacion potentially gone after next season (and almost bound to be in the age of declining results soon) the window of opportunity for Toronto is short. But before throwing in the towel on Price, there might be two options to consider.

First, a short-term gamble. Everyone assumes Price wants a long, long, big contract but how wrong could it be to offer him an above-market value short contract? Be blunt with him, tell him he’s our guy for ’16 but might not fit in by 2020 or so and offer him a one-year deal at $33 Million. High? Yes! But having a Cy Young-candidate at the front end of a decent rotation with the offense the ’16 Jays will have might make it worthwhile. And at his end, if he’s confident enough, another top-flight season coupled with a perhaps better Post-season could jack his worth up for 2017… and he’d not be competing with Zack Greinke for top billing next winter.

If that ploy failed, Toronto could still offer a competitive long-term deal. But make it front-ended (which a player might like, having access to more cash sooner) so if he did end up pitching for a second-rate Toronto team at age 36 or 37, he wouldn’t be breaking the bank so much. AND – here’s the key- make the contract one that would give the team the opportunity to trade him after two or three years, and to balance it out, give him an opt-out clause similar to the one Greinke just exercised with LA.

If this kept the bird-of-blue on Price’s head next season, we’re pretty much set… if not, another tactic would be needed. More thoughts on alternative routes for upping the pitching ante in the next post here…

Keeping Game 5 From the Staff ‘Ace’- “Price-less”!

Well, like most edge-of-our-seats fans, I was a little surprised to see David Price out in the bullpen already throwing in earnest by the fourth inning. Even more surprised to see him brought into the game with RA Dickey seemingly cruising along, one out from getting his first post-season win and the Jays up by 6. RA looked understandably upset in the dugout as he saw Shin Shoo Choo lob a lazy flyball off Price to end the inning. And no matter how he phrased it in post-game scrums, one has to believe he’s a little upset that anyone in years to come will look at the boxscore and see that “W” beside Price’s name when it was he who put the Jays in a spot where they could relax a bit and necessitate a Game 5.

The move made little sense to me. Now, had they gone with Price on short-rest as the starter and had Dickey ready to go in the ‘pen, I might have understood. After all, Price is the “ace” and although he’d have been on short rest, he had 11 days off prior to the Thursday game so he could have soldiered through six innings or so. That move, although I’m not sure I would have agreed, would have made some sense since statistically Price is the man, ahead of Dickey and because it seems like Dickey usually gets in trouble early. How many times have we seen him cough up two or three easy runs in the first only to settle down and put up a string of zeroes later in the game? The obvious problem there is that if that had happened yesterday, by the time Texas put three across the plate they would have had the momentum, roaring crowd and a string of zeroes through subsequent innings might not have been enough for the Jays to get back in it. But none of those scenarios had occurred; Dickey seemed strong and effective.

Of course, I was really looking at it from the wrong angle. It wasn’t a move to embarrass Dickey or based on a lack of confidence in him. Quite the opposite. The pitching change was a move from a manager who could breathe a sigh of relief in having an excuse not to let Price take the mound on Game 5 and still be able to save face. No matter what they say, the Jays didn’t pull Dickey because they were worried about him tiring (78 pitches in) or about Choo hitting a homer and narrowing the lead to 7-3. They did it because they were nervous about the prospect of having Price pitch the most important game of the year, so far; nervous he’d blow it and equally nervous of a “spitstorm” of backlash should they have decided to go with Stroman ahead of a rested Price on Wednesday and the result not be a decisive win.

Looking at it that way,it was a clever move. Make no mistake about it- Price is the best pitcher on the Jays staff right now. Also be sure that the Blue Jays wouldn’t be playing now had they not made the trade for him. If in doubt of that, look at how effective Matt Boyd (who was in the rotation before he was traded for Price) or Randy Wolf (the next logical choice for Toronto to turn to had they given up on Boyd, based on Wolf’s performance in the minors) were in the final two months for Detroit. (To refresh your memory, Boyd was 1-4 with a 6.57 ERA in ten starts for the Tigers; Wolf was 0-5, 6.23 in 8 appearances there.) Price’s dominating 9-1 record as a Blue Jay, not to mention the benefit in giving the bullpen a bit of rest and adding confidence to the clubhouse, was the reason the team bolted ahead of the Yankees in the stretch and are where they are.

But… make no mistake either that he wasn’t the man to take Toronto to the ALCS this time. First, he’s always struggled against the Rangers. In 11 career regular season games with them, he’s 3-4 with a personal worst 5.15 ERA. His weak outing in game 1 suggests they still seem to have his number. Second, he’s always struggled as a starter in the post-season. Prior to yesterday, his record as a starting pitcher in the playoffs was just 1-6 with a lofty 4.79 ERA and an opponents’ average of .260. Compare that to a 3.09 ERA and .233 average during the regular season. So combine the two and you understand why the Jays would be nervous about handing him the ball in a game against Texas that could end their dream season. This wasn’t about Toronto not trusting RA Dickey to get Choo out or give a couple more innings yesterday, it was about having enough breathing room in the game to risk putting Price in it and having a good excuse to not use him tomorrow.

Gibbons might not admit that much, but he did point out he thought it was “pretty good strategy, it wasn’t a popular one…it’s all about winning.” that it is and in this unusual case, assuring their “best” pitcher can’t pitch in the decisive game is indeed pretty good strategy!

Blue Jays deserve some hardware- but the big prize awaits

Watching the Blue Jays play their first post-season game since 1993…what better time to look back at the regular season and make my picks for the awards before playoff heroics (or zeroics!) taint our opinions per baseball rules. I for one always rather thought the voting should take place after the playoffs since a spectacular October would certainly add to a players value. Case in point, Madison Bumgardner was not the best pitcher in the NL last season, but after seeing him go through opponents like a hot knife through butter in October makes him seem like perhaps the better pitcher than Clayton Kershaw.

That point made, without further ado, my picks for the American League Awards would be–

MVP: Josh Donaldson (Toronto) when you lead the league in runs scored, runs batted in you’re doing something right. Add in top-5 placings in hits, doubles and homers plus Gold Glove caliber defence at a tough position and it’s hard to argue against him. Most seem to concede that it’s a tossup between him and Mike Trout; though Trout did have a slightly higher OPS and matched Josh’s 41 home runs, it goes to Donaldson because 1)123 RBI runs circles around Trout’s 90. Fish fans say, “yeah, but look at Donaldson’s team” but ignore that Donaldson hit second all year, in front of Bautista and Encarnacion. Put him hitting behind them and he’d have set a Blue Jays team record. 2) finally after two decades, we can turn the old baseball adage around to our advantage- an MVP has to be from a playoff team, or so most would have us believe. We saw Carlos Delgado and Jose Bautista overlooked in the past because the team were middling; this year it’s Trout’s team that failed to live up to potential, ergo “how important can he be?”

Donaldson wins, my runners-up: #2: Mike Trout (LAA), #3: Jose Altuve (Hou), led league in hits and steals and his team to an unexpected playoff berth; #4: Wade Davis (KC), doing whatever was asked of him out of bullpen with second year in a row of ERA at 1 or less; #5: Chris Davis (Bal)- 47 HR, 117 RBI, did all he could to help his Orioles fly back up in the standings.

Cy Young: David Price (Det./Tor.) today’s game might not seem like it, but he’s been the best in the league this year, by a nose. 18-5, league best 2.45 ERA, 225K, only 42 walks. Wins it in a photo-finish by reason of his slightly better ERA than runner-up and exceptional performance down the line for Toronto (9-1, 2.30 after being traded, whereas Keuchel let up a little going 6-2, 3.34 as his Astros faded in last two months)

#2: Dallas Keuchel (Hou), only 20 game winner in AL; #3: Sonny Gray (Oak), numbers slid a bit in second half but still excellent 14-7 for a last place club with 2.73 ERA.

Rookie of Year: a tough call. The best actual position players played only double digit numbers of games, but does that still allow them to trump all-season regulars who played not quite so well? Winner-Roberto Osuna (Tor): OK, a bit of homerism here, but there’s no clear winner so why not Toronto’s closer? He came out of nowhere to win a roster spot barely turned his 20th birthday and by mid-season had taken over the closer’s role that no one else had managed to do adequately for the Jays. 68 games, 20 saves, solid 2.58 ERA helped the team have confidence with a 9th inning lead and have the best record in baseball after July.

#2: Carlos Correa (Hou), certainly the media fave, nothing wrong with his glove or his .279 avg, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 14 for 18 in stolen bases. But missed first two months of year, #3: Delino Deshields Jr. (Tex), .261, 25 stolen bases, 83 runs. Great speed won him the regular CF spot and had him hitting lead-off in a much improved Rangers lineup.

Comeback of the Year: Prince Fielder (Texas). the iron man came back from a weak and injury-shortened season last year to hit .305, 23 HR, 98 RBI and increase his slugging percentage by over a hundred points, hitting a career best 187 hits along the way. #2: Alex Rodriguez, (NY)- maybe an even more surprising comeback but, remembering why he missed all of 2014 makes me squeamish about voting for him for anything.

Manager of Year: yes, Joe Girardi, Ned Yost and Paul Molitor all got way more out of their roster than anyone expected and deserve kudos. But the award comes down to a matchup of the two skips who battled today at Rogers’. Winner- reluctantly, Jeff Banister (Texas). Journeyman Pirate employee with no big league managing experience took over the team that was league’s worst last year, lost his staff ace in first week of spring training and somehow turned them into division champs. Team showed impressive determination in contrast to last year’s. #2: John Gibbons (Tor)- Gibby showed critics wrong in their belief he didn’t deserve a return to the jays bench and had to manage with a bullpen that was terrible at start of year, cajole them into giving their best and figure out a way to use them properly.

As for other Jays and awards, Kevin Pillar should be a shoe-in for an outfield Gold Glove and Jose Bautista and Russell Martin would be decent choices for ones as well. There may not be an award for “break out player of year”, but there should be and Marco Estrada should be it! 13-8, AL fifth-best 3.13 ERA over 181 innings highlighted a year that saw him go from journeyman to star.

I’ll be happy if baseball writers agree with me … but of course, the one player award I’d really like to see go to a Blue Jay this year awaits- World Series MVP!

A Day by Day Plan to the Post-season

It’s been awhile! For the first time I can remember (although it was probably around this time 1993) not only are our Blue Jays in first place but the standings now list a magic number for them. For the record, the number is 17- meaning that any combination of 17 Toronto wins or New York losses clinches the division title. With 19 games left over the next 20 days, it is doable and certainly the Jays’ title to lose.

With Marcus Stroman making a return this past weekend, something almost unthinkable a couple of months ago (and a testimony to a solid work ethic in the young right-hander)and Mark Buehrle slated to start today’s game against Atlanta after missing a week or so due to a sore shoulder, it leaves the team with six valid starting pitchers. Although I’ve never been a fan of a six-man rotation, (hell, I look back at some of the great teams – not Toronto – of my childhood and wonder if a 4-man crew wouldn’t be better most of the time) it could be a blessing at this point. With Buehrle aching, Estrada already at a new career high in innings and David Price topping 200 innings already, an extra arm may be a plus down the line. Given the schedule and pitchers records, I came up with a rotation for the rest of the year that would give the Jays the best chance to win and carry on after October 4. Game by game…

Tuesday Sep. 15 – at Atlanta. Mark Buehrle, as scheduled. Mark says he is capable of pitching again after a cortisone shot , and is most rested of the starting 6.

Wed. Sep. 16 – at Atlanta. David Price – on his normal rest

Thu. Sep. 17 – at Atlanta. Marco Estrada– on normal rest, has same 6-4 record at home and on road with little difference in ERA , so a better bet than Friday’s starter

Fri. Sep. 18 – (home) Boston – Marcus Stroman – on an extra day’s rest (5), thus far in his young career he’s much better at home than on road and has done well (3-0, 1.25) against Red Sox

Sat. Sep. 19- Boston – RA Dickey– on an extra day’s rest, which can’t hurt a guy who’s already at 196 innings.RA hasn’t fared well against Boston in past, but is much better at Rogers’ Centre as we know (8-3, 3.16 vs 2-8, 5.09 this year)

Sun. Sep. 20- Boston – Mark Buehrle– fingers crossed, if his shoulder is Ok after today’s game, he’d be on regular rest for this one … letting him miss the Yankees, whom he’s famously troubled by (2-14 career)

Mon. Sep. 21– (home) New York – David Price – on regular rest, although his career ERA against NY is second-worst against AL teams (only Texas hits him harder), since Aug. 8 he’s beat the Pinstripes twice.

Tue. Sep. 22– New York – Drew Hutchison– by this point, Hutch would be on 12 days rest. Hopefully he won’t overthrow, and the time would be right for him to shine, given that he’s good against NY (2-0, 1.42 this year) and infinitely better at home than on road. Career ERA over 6 for his career, so the more the team can avoid throwing him out on any non-rogers Centre mound, the better.

Wed. Sep. 23- New York – Marcus Stroman– on regular rest. Has started more games against them than any other team, and is decent under the pressure (3-1, 3.18)

Thu. Sep. 24- last off day to enjoy

Fri. Sep. 25- (home) Tampa Bay – Marco Estrada– on a full week’s rest, which could help since he’ll be around 10 innings over his past high by this point. Definitely need to get him in this series, given that he’s shut out the Rays through 21 innings so far this year.

Sat. Sep. 26- Tampa Bay – David Price– on regular rest. Surprisingly has never beat his former team,but has seldom faced them and is very familiar with most of their lineup

Sun. Sep. 27 – Tampa Bay, final regular season home game – Drew Hutchison- on regular rest, lets him pitch once more in Toronto and against a team he’s 4-2 against in his career

Mon. Sep. 28 – at Baltimore – RA Dickey– on 8 days rest, not an ideal mix since he is better at home and has trouble traditionally not done well against O’s (2-6, 4.20 career). However, hasn’t played them this year

Tue. Sep. 29 – at Baltimore – Marcus Stroman- on an extra day’s rest

Wed. Sep. 30- at Baltimore- Marco Estrada- on regular rest, has been good against them this year (2-1, 3.32 in five games)

Thu. Oct. 1 – at Baltimore – Mark Buehrle – will be on 10 days rest, doing all they can to keep his shoulder ready for the post-season. Has pitched better against them than the other East teams (3-0 this year, 11-10, 3.52 career)

Fri. Oct. 2- at Tampa Bay- David Price– on an extra day’s rest, and have him ready also on extra day for first game of ALDS if things go according to plan

Sat. Oct. 3- at Tampa Bay- RA Dickey- on regular rest; a little problematic since he’s not beaten TB this year and has ERA of over 5 on road this year but there’s always a first time and hoping the game won’t be vital at this point. Alternate plan- if the Jays have clinched and playoff slots are set by this day, run out someone like Chad Jenkins and keep Dickey fresher for the ALDS.

Sun. Oct. 4 –at Tampa Bay, final regular season game – Marcus Stroman- if he’s good in the previous three, he should make post-season roster and would be ready by Game 2 of divisional series. If he’s disappointing, it still gives him one more chance to end season on a high note and saves an arm like Drew Hutchison’s for the playoffs.

So, in a somewhat perfect world, staff ace David Price and young, fresh Marcus Stroman each have 4 starts left before post-season; Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada and RA Dickey three each and Drew Hutchison only two, both at home. And we get to avoid bugaboos like Hutch pitching on the road and Buehrle going up against the Yankees (although there would be worse fates than seeing that matchup in mid-October!)

And if things work out even remotely perfectly with that, soon I’ll be looking at how to plan out the playoff starts!

Hoping Dismal Years Are Toast, the Jays Are the Toast of the Town

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas… for Blue Jay fans, that is. Of course, the best Christmas gift for a ball fan would be a World Series to savor and while there’s still a long ways to go, there’s reason for optimism. With today’s win, Toronto become the first team in over 60 years to have two 11-game winning streaks in a single season. The last one to do so, the 1954 Indians, won the AL before losing the World Series. The Blue Jays will hold on to first place no matter what the Yankees do tonight against Cleveland and it’s the latest date on the calendar the Jays have been atop the division since 1993. Get the wrapping paper ready.

One might think this season is a lot like 1992, the first year Toronto won a World Championship. There are similarities. The crew of ’92 was coming off a decent season and went into spring with two big new acquisitions, the previous year’s World Series hero, Jack Morris and the big bat of Dave Winfield. Both were brought in as free agents with hopes that they’d not only produce but instill a winning attitude among the younger players.

This year’s Jays, coming off a decent but disappointing year, were also supplemented by two big acquisitions, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Again, both were brought in in hopes of seeing them not only produce on field but inspire with their attitudes and track record of winning.

As we know, Morris went on to be Toronto’s first-ever 20-game winner in ’92 and Winfield fired up the crowd and drove in over 100 runs, upping the game of the team’s noteworthy power hitter (Joe Carter) as well. Carter’s 34 HR, 119 RBI that season were the catalyst for the team’s offense and were also the second-best in each category for his career. Compare that to this year and how Donaldson is having an MVP-type campaign and is helping Jose Bautista remain among the league’s best in HR and RBI despite the frequent absence of Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup.

Significantly as well, the same as this year, Jays didn’t stand pat mid-season in 1992. At the trade deadline, they reacquired durable reliever Mark Eichorn to boost the mediocre middle-relief. More importantly, Aug. 27 they looked ahead to the playoffs and boosted their rotation by getting an established front-line starter, David Cone. It’s worth noting that after that trade, they sailed along at a 24-11 pace.

This year of course, they were much more active at the July trade deadline but also supplemented their dismal middle-relief with LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe. But they also added a star infielder and got their front-line starter a month earlier. Since the two big trades, they’ve been cruising along, losing only once and gaining some 7 games on New York in the standings.

There are of course, significant differences between the two years. The ’92 team had lacklustre middle-relievers (Bob MacDonald for instance, and future Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen who sported a 5.36 ERA out of the ‘pen) much like this year’s edition. However, the ’92 bullpen was anchored by the best 1-2 tandem in the league in Henke and Ward. The latter was the “Set-up” guy and still saved 12 with a sub-2 ERA in 79 games. That’s a little more than we’re getting out of Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil this year.

No worries though, this season’s regular lineup is better though. The Jays , 1992-style, were good hitting but hardly world-beaters. it was a team, after all, with Manny Lee and a slumping Kelly Gruber (.229, 11 homers) playing everyday and a centerfielder kept more for his outstanding D than his hitting (and as much as I didn’t think I’d ever be saying this, in that Kevin Pillar is much like Devon White.) They didn’t have the horsepower to rack up double-digit tallies almost any night at will.

While this year’s team has had the two 11-game win streaks, the ’92s “only” managed a streak of 8 wins in a row. Both teams dominated at home; this year’s .650 winning pct at Rogers’ Centre is almost identical to the 53-28 final record of the 1992. The difference though is on the road, where the championship team managed to be just over .500; this year’s version currently sits at 25-31 on the road. More than anything else, if the 2015 Jays are to compete, they’ll have to be significantly better on their final 25 away games than they were up to now.

Not to be negative though; the ’92s topped second-place Milwaukee (there’s a trip for younger readers- yep, the Brewers were AL East rivals at one time) by 4 games. They’d have had an easier time of it had they played better against Milwaukee, but they actually went just 5-8 head-to-head. Contrast that to this year’s games against second-place New York in which Toronto is 7-2 including five wins in six games in the Bronx. Taking 7 of the remaining 10 games against the Pinstripes should all but guarantee the division win.

In retrospect, the 1992 Blue Jays weren’t all that much like this year’s. But they were the same in the things that mattered: a winning attitude, management that filled holes mid-season and a couple of hundred RBI men in the middle of the lineup. most of all, an ability to electrify and excite the whole city. Most of all, just like the 1992 Blue Jays, this year’s are turning Toronto into a baseball city again. From the covers of the Toronto Star to excited tweets from TV talking head George Stroumbolulous to crowds of 46 000 turning out on a Thursday afternoon to watch them take on Oakland, the team is the toast of the town. If this year’s can duplicate the ’92 season 19-9 rrecord after August, they will be playing post-season ball and David Price, Josh Donaldson and “Joey Bats” are going to own the city in a way no athletes have since Alomar, Carter and Winfield.

Jays would win division… if all things were equal.

The playoffs might be two months away still, but tonight’s game at Yankee Stadium should have the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Game 1 of a championship series as our Blue Jays take on the Pinstripes. The three game series won’t decide the season one way or another, nor even topple New York from the divisional lead but it will go a long ways to figuring out how the AL East will play out. The series is of paramount importance for Toronto, as will be all of the incredible 13 games they have remaining against the Bronx. However, the real pressure may just be on the home team, seeing as how the Jays are the hottest team in baseball over the past ten days and trounced the Yankees in upgrading their team at the trade deadline.

I expect the Jays to have the best record in the division from here on in, but the question is whether that will be enough to catch, let alone overtake the suprising ol’ Yanks.

We know about what Toronto bats are doing this year, how Josh Donaldson leads the majors in RBI and has already set a career high for homers; how Jose Bautista is having a “down year” but still is on pace for 110 RBI ; the hot streak Edwin Encarnacion is on and so on. Likewise, we know about the Yankees who’ve found the Fountain of Youth apparently; A-Rod’s .281 average, 24 homers and .924 OPS; how Mark Teixeira’s 29 dingers are the most he’s hit in a season since ’11 and if he holds onto his .944 OPS, that will be his best in six years. We know about their acquisition of Dustin Ackley and the respectable year Brian McCann is having.

Likiewise, we know if the Yankees are going to be beaten, a team needs to get to them early on. The bullpen duo of Bettances and Miller are close to Davis and Holland in Kansas City and they, my blue-feathered friends, are every bit the equal of Henke and Ward back in the day. Collectively, the pair have allowed only 15 ER in 93 innings and are 31 for 34 in save opportunities. LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe make the Jays ‘pen better but still not in the same category as New York’s…

Which isn’t that bad, considering that there are usually seven innings before Bettances is trotted out for the Bombers. And Toronto’s starting rotation, dare I say it, blows the Yanks away. It was better even before the Detroit deal, now it’s night and day.

I’m amazed that in a year when Cueto, Price and Kazmir changed hands and all evidence suggested that Shields and Samardzjia were there for the taking that the Yankees decided to stand pat and look towards October with a rotation anchored by Nathan Eovaldi.

Eovaldi is the Big Apple’s Drew Hutchison- his 11-2 record looks dazzling, but dig deeper and his 4.30 ERA is only middling and deeper still, note that opponents are teeing off on his pitching with a .300 average and he doesn’t look too ace-like. Neither does big CC; Sabathia apparently didn’t dip his toe in A-Rod and Tex’s Time-reversing waters. The large lefty does lead the team in innings with 123, but too many of those have been rough ones, as shown by his 4-8 record, his 5.34 ERA and the two dozen homers he’s allowed. Tanaka and Pineda are better but marginally so; Ivan Nova could end up being their best but seven games is a pretty small sample to base it on.

Contrast that with the Jays. As surprises go, Toronto’s starting pitching of late is up there with Donald Trump saying something good about Mexicans. It’s unexpected!! But it has been very solid this summer. Mark Buehrle, Mr. Reliable is destined to increase his streak of double-digit win / 200-inning seasons. With 12 W, he’s already half way there, and he only needs 52 innings more over the remaining two months. In his last 6 outings, he’s 3-1 with a tidy 2.53 ERA…which is bested by RA Dickey!

The knuckleballer’s had to deal with his share of detractors this year, and a strange lack of run support from a team leading the world in runs. His 6-10, 4.06 ERA isn’t putting him in the discussion for another Cy Young but it’s decent. More importantly, of late he’s been in top form, lowering his ERA by almost a full run in his last five games. In that span he’s been 3-1 with only 5 earned runs given up in over 36 innings. Tonight he looks to make it three starts in a row without a run allowed.

Marco Estrada has rounded into form very nicely with a couple of near no-nos and more than two ER allowed in only one of his past 9 games; a 3.40 ERA and measly .216 opponents average are the results.

If the team lacked a true #1 Starter before, they have it now in David Price. What more can you say about him that his 10-4 record, 2.45 ERA and 149K to 31 BB, his 154 innings pitched already (third best in the league) don’t? Well, there’s always that throwing out a clunker of an outing on July 28, when he was doubtless packing up his locker and wondering which direction he’d be driving, and he’s had a 1.18 ERA since the beginning of July and is averaging almost 8 innings a start.

Which leaves Drew Hutchison. Preferably in Buffalo, if i had my way. After opening day, Drew’s never really had it together but of late he’s worse. In his last 6 starts, he hasn’t pitched past 6 innings at all, and has surrendered 43 hits in just under 30 innings. His ERA of 6.67 in that period would be even worse if some of the questionable errors called against the Jays didn’t mean 6 runs he’s given up in that period have been unearned. The good news for Toronto is that with seven off days left in the sched, they may be able to skip Hutch’s spot in the rotation several times.

What’s it all mean? Well, it means that all other things been equal, Toronto should be significantly better than NY down the stretch.

Unfortunately, all things are not equal. Both teams are much better at home than on the road; New York have 31 of their final 55 games in the Bronx. The Jays have only 24 of 52 games left in the Rogers Centre. Toronto have five interleague games left on the road, New York three. Five games with EE either out of the lineup, or playing first base, is significant. Both teams have a number of games left to play against lacklustre teams, but the Jays face the other pesky birds, the Orioles, 7 times compared to New York’s three. Bottom line- the schedule favors New York.

Schedule notwithstanding, the Jays can still win it all. They have the momentum, they have the post-trade euphoric confidence, they have better hitting and starting pitching than New York. But for that to happen, they will need to deliver a decisive message in the remaining bakers’ dozen games against NY.

If the Blue Jays “time is now”, the time to start proving it is now. The post season starts in two months. The real fun begins tonight.