Tagged: John Gibbons

True Blue Pt. 7 – The Best Of The Blue Jays

Well, a star was born this week, in the eyes of the American media at least. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. put on quite a show at the All Star Game’s Home Run Derby, setting a new record for the event with 91 dingers. Even though he came runner-up to another rookie phenom, Pete Alonso of the Mets, USA Today declared VG “the real winner” and it was clear by and large the media and fans were rooting for our #27. It was a great reminder as to the potential this young guy holds and why with a bit of pitching help, Toronto could be back in the thick of things soon. In the meantime, let’s finish off the list of Toronto’s best-ever and today we go off field.


Cito Gaston

Toronto has had 16 managers through the years, give or take. Counting them isn’t quite as simple as you might think, given several of them, including Cito, have come back for a second kick at the can, and others have been short-term or “interim” – remember Cookie Rojas, manager? No, neither do most fans (wonder if Cookie himself does?), but he was listed as manager for three days in 2001. Similarly, catcher Russell Martin is not included officially but was given the job of managing the final game last season after the Jays and John Gibbons had parted ways.

Speaking of “Gibby”, he merits consideration. He spent two tours in the Toronto dugout, has managed the second-most games and won the second-most (793), having a better than .500 record through his 11 full or partial seasons in charge. He took over from a redoubtable Carlos Tosca in 2004 and turned the season around, then came back in 2013 when surly John Farrell asked to leave town and go to his beloved Boston organization. Gibbons was a breath of fresh air, approachable and having a great balance of being easy-going and a buddy to his players with an iron fist when needed.

Likewise, Bobby Cox, who went on to greatness in Atlanta, deserves notice too, for being the manager that helped Toronto rise to greatness and in fact won the team’s only Manager of the Year award, in 1985 (the first time the Jays made the post-season.) His .549 winning percentage was best among managers who stuck around for a year or more, but his four years here don’t quite rank with Gibbons and his fellow San Antonionian – Clarence “Cito” Gaston.

Gaston was somewhat unusual among Toronto managers in coming from a pretty decent playing career. He was an outfielder from 1967-78, mostly with San Diego and Atlanta and he was a 1970 All Star, when he hit .318 with 29 home runs. All of which seemed to make him an ideal hitting instructor, which he was for the Jays for several seasons. His eye for detail and quiet nature paid dividends in the improvements in the hitting of Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Damo Garcia and others in the early years of winning. He was still doing that in spring 1989. But the team got off to a dismal start (12-24) seemed disinterested and at least a few players in the clubhouse seemed to have given up on Jimy Williams. The team asked Gaston to become manager. “When I was offered the job as manager, I didn’t want it. I was happy working as the hitting instructor,” he later told a magazine. But he got talked into it, and the Blue Jays rocketed up the division, going 77-49 the rest of the way under Cito and winning their second division title. Another followed in 1991, then ’92 and ’93, the pair of years he wears World Series rings from. By 1997, ownership had changed, the payroll had been cut and the Skydome was no longer drawing 4 million fans a year as the Jays fell from contention. He was fired in the last week of the season, replaced (also seemingly less than willingly) by pitching coach Mel Queen, who’d win four games in his managerial career.

Then, just like an old TV show found by Netflix, Cito came back. With the team heading towards the 2008 All Star break lethargic and below .500, they fired John Gibbons and brought back Gaston. Like before, he turned the team around and they went 51-35 the rest of the way and fans once again cheered. After a losing 2009 followed by a winning 2010 he retired (and yes, three years later, like the cat in the hat, John Gibbons returned to the job!).

Through the years, he not only was the longest-serving manager for Toronto, he won the most games(894) and still presides over the only two World Series championships for the team. He had a .516 winning percentage, which included time managing a great, highly paid team and other seasons with lesser-talented teams and smaller payrolls.

It would be incomplete to speak of Gaston the manager and not mention that he did have something of a chip on his shoulder. While he got along with most of his players well – particularly the veterans whom he let do their thing and shine – he at times was cranky with the press and didn’t like the MLB offices, accusing both of racism at several points during his career. While I personally don’t think that his race was the reason, it is true he didn’t get a great deal of respect on the national level during Toronto’s glory years. He never won the Manager of the Year award despite the back-to-back championships. I ascribe this to a belief that he didn’t have to “work” with a team loaded with the likes of Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor and Joe Carter but that ignores the job of dealing with a lot of egos in the clubhouse, working around injuries and actually managing at bat by at bat through the post season to win it all. Gaston was under-rated as a manager, although Toronto has tried to rectify that by putting him on their Level of Excellence (in effect the club’s Hall of Fame.)

As a person who’s spent time in Texas and have visited the state Sport Hall of Fame in Waco, I am surprised Gaston – born and raised, and still residing in San Antonio – hasn’t been enshrined there. If you think he should be, add your name to the petition!

Bring on the “Second half” of the season!

Next March 28 Should Be Big For Toronto

Mark March 28, 2019 on your Blue Jays calendars. That is the date when we should see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. play his first game with Toronto. March 28 is the rather early opening day next season and that’s when it would be in the team’s best interests to bring him up to the majors. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be.

Considering the red-hot year Vlad’s had in the minors and the lacklustre year of 2018 for the Blue Jays, there’s certainly reason for fans to perhaps want, even expect, him to be called up for September when rosters can expand to 40 from 25. After all, it would be something for them to be excited about and a guy who’s hitting .390 with 70 RBI in 85 games in the minors would likely be an upgrade over the likes of Randal Grichuk or Guerrero’s fellow rookie, Billy McKinney at the plate at least. I hope the team resists the temptation to do so.

At this point you might be thinking me curiously inconsistent. After all, did I not in my last column suggest that the team should try to trade for Jose Bautista exclusively for the fans who’d like to see him in the blue-and-white one more time, even if it didn’t add a single “W” to the standings?

I did indeed, but there is a world of difference. Bautista is an aging player who is likely playing out his final MLB season and it seems appropriate for him to end a lofty career in the uniform he had all his real success in. The risk to Toronto is very minimal since the team isn’t going to the post-season and it won’t effect Jose’s future much one way or another. Vladimir, on the other hand is an entirely different story and bringing him up just to show him off for Rogers’ Centre fans for a few at bats could harm him and the longterm success of the team. Here’s why.

First, and significantly is the highly unlikely possibility that he’d injure himself badly playing in September. Yes, any player faces that risk every time they take the field and I don’t see it being a reason to keep a regular roster player out . If the Jays were say, Seattle, hovering on the verge of a playoff spot, I’d say it would be well worth the risk. Those extra few hits he could produce might just be the game changers for a game or two that would lift the team into the post-season. But such is not the case. Likely he’d do just fine through 15 or 20 games and get his feet wet, so to speak. But does anyone really think it would be worth it should he somehow break his leg running or pull a Justin Morneau and get kneed in the head sliding into base and never quite being the same afterwards?

Second, and the real reason Toronto will likely resist the temptation, is financial. The sooner he arrives in the majors, the sooner the countdown to his potential free agency begins. Sure, it’s 6 years away, but why hasten its arrival? What’s more, it would also speed up his ability to get to salary arbitration, which could happen after two full seasons. Adding a few games now might make him arbitration-eligible a year earlier than otherwise, and cost the team millions of dollars down the road. (The complicated arbitration process clause about ‘Super Twos’, in which some talented players can file for it a year sooner than most is why Toronto might not bring him up to start 2019, wins and losses be damned.)

Third, let’s not make the young man’s head explode, or fill it with bad advice. I’m all for learning from many people, but let’s remember he is still a teenager. He’s taken advice and heard differing opinions from managers and coaches at New Hampshire and Buffalo already this year. I worry that having him take a new set of instructions in the Toronto clubhouse might be detrimental… largely because the current staff seems to do little to really enhance the performance of young hitters. Not to mention, as discussed here and elsewhere, John Gibbons seems destined to be replaced as manager in the off-season. One would expect/hope that if that happens, the dominoes will fall, starting with his ineffective hitting coach, Brook Jacoby. (Again, I add that I have nothing against Mr. Jacoby the man, and that he was a fine player in his day. But he seems unable to do anything to improve the hitters he’s surrounded by these days.) So why have Vlad come up and learn the philosophies and strategies about hitting and baserunning  from a coaching staff that will probably not be around in 2019? Any bad habits he picks up in September will just mean more work for the new staff to correct…and looking at the roster, they’ll probably have their hands full next spring!

As a fan, I’m excited about the prospect of having such a great young talent playing for the Jays. But I can wait til next year. Take the advice of MLB’s own website, Jays, – promote Anthony Alford in a few days and let Guerrero get a start on dreaming about next season.

New Faces On Mound, Behind Plate. Time For New Faces In Front Office Too?

Tonight’s Blue Jays game in Kansas City will be watched closely and with anticipation by fans, which is something we’ve not said for awhile now. The reason is highly-touted pitching prospect Sean Reid-Foley being listed as the scheduled starter, thereby making it his MLB debut. Add to that the fact that in all likelihood, behind the plate will be his normal catcher of late, Danny Jansen, who was called up yesterday and is expected to make his debut as well.

It will be good to see a glimpse of the team’s future… but it doesn’t hide the fact that this is one lacklustre season which is trying the patience of even diehard fans. It doesn’t put enough smoke out to screen the fact that there’s a noose dangling over manager John Gibbons’ career either. Widely respected baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal started a rumor last week that Toronto was about to fire Gibby, Toronto media picked up on the story and it grew and a few days back, Gibbons suggested that he was OK with staying or going and that he wasn’t sure he wanted to be around if the team was going to have a “total rebuild.” That gave the story more legs, even with Gibbons under contract to Toronto through next season.

It would be a bit of a shame to see Gibbons go. He seems affable in his own odd way, has been much better with the media than his predecessor John Farrell and ranks second on the Jays all-time list for games and wins among managers. Curiously he trails only another San Antonio, TX native who also had two go arounds as manager- Cito Gaston. Currently Gibbons sits at 1537 regualar season games managed, with just over half (773) being wins. Gaston has 1731 and 894 respectively meaning Gibbons would surpass Cito for longevity sometime next year if he stays on and, we’d hope in wins as well. The latter however would be a longshot given the trajectory of the club in the last couple of years.

Which leads us to my point. I like Gibby but maybe it is time for him to go. He seems to be having trouble motivating the team lately and they sure aren’t putting up W’s or even exciting the diminishing crowds in the stadium. However, if he goes, Rogers’ should see to it that joining him on the path to the Exit are GM Ross Atkins and Big Poohbah Mark Shapiro. Since that pair crossed the border from Cleveland after the 2015 season, they’ve quickly driven the team steadily downwards on the field and in the public’s eye. Continue reading

Putting Up The Blue Jays Stocking…

As kids world-wide start to think of putting pen to paper to beg from that man up North Pole way, so too do Blue Jays fans start dreaming of wish lists so they can be happy as wide-eyed children around a tree come Christmas. Or at least spring training.

After a disappointing season to say the least, there are no shortage of ideas for how to fancy up the 2018 roster and make it look more competitive. To his credit, so far Ross Atkins has sounded reasonable at least, suggesting that the Jays need to add depth in mid-infield positions (given the obvious health issues of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis) and need to get a bit quicker and more athletic all around. Fair enough, but that’s only a start. Toronto last season was quite frankly, burdened by a old-age home’s worth of injuries, completely lacklustre hitting and an unstable starting rotation which featured far too many arms. A goal in 2018 must be to find ways to reduce the injury list and find better subs,which could mean a turnover in trainers and scouts (rather than front office people, like April Whitzman who’ve already been let go from media jobs they were handling quite nicely.)

Although public perception seemed to be that the pitching threw the team’s chances out, the reality is that the offence was the worst culprit. A team which only 2 years earlier led the world in bat power had sunk to last in the AL in batting average, and where it counts, runs scored. Being the only team in the majors to fail to reach double digits in triples and topping only the slow-winged Orioles in stolen bases was symbolic of the trouble and more evidence of the Atkins theory of the need for speed. The ’17 Jays could hit homers alright – 222was mid-pack 7th best in the league- but if the ball didn’t sail out of the park, they were essentially screwed. Their cumulative 1098 non-home run hits outpaced only the patsy-Padres in all of baseball. Granted the 542 walks wasn’t bad, but still the result was only a .312 on base, tied for 12th in the AL. And when that is added to tortoise-like stealth on the bases, there’s no good way to think the team will win routinely. For all the names and big salaries, E. Carrera led the staff regulars with a .282 average – and that’s if you consider 287 at bats enough to make him a regular ! So, Job 1 has to be improving the offense.

Unfortunately though, that by itself won’t be enough assuming we don’t pull in the likes of Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Manny Machado and Joey Votto between now and April (yeah, we won’t.) We need to stabilize and improve the pitching as well, particularly the starting rote. The ‘pen wasn’t horrible and besides, I’m always of the belief that a good starting rotation makes a good bullpen. Starters that can pitch into the 7th or 8th regularly lead to a well-rested bullpen which can be utilized strategically by a smart manager- which John Gibbons is. Starters that get blown out routinely by the 4th lead to fatigued arms, specialty lefties going 3 innings in relief and so on. The Jays pitching numbers easily outdid their batting ones, but still weren’t pretty. Their 4.42 ERA was actually 7th best in the AL. the bad part though is that it was more than a run behind Cleveland and 3 of the 6 teams with better numbers were divisional rivals. Of concern was the 549 walks allowed, more than the offense took and 12th best in the league. Clearly, the team needs more reliability in the staff than they had last year.

Personally, I think a new hitting coach couldn’t hurt. Nothing personal about Brook Jacoby, but no matter what he’s teaching the men, they’re swinging for the fences on every pitch and failing to be aggressive on the basepaths. A new voice could perhaps persuade them to play more “small ball”, put the ball in play, try for the extra base and all those other passe things which lead to runs. I have no problem with pitching coach Pete Walker though, I don’t know how anyone would do better with a rotating door that put over 30 faces on the mound in the year. We saw improvement in some young arms, and veterans holding their own which is about all you can hope for. Walker merits a continuation as does manager Gibbons.

So how do we wish for these changes to take place? We’ll examine that later this week!

“Bats” bats third; Liriano starts- how to squeeze out a couple more wins

Nothing like being swept in the Bronx to take the air out of the party balloons, so we Jays fans aren’t feeling too swell today. Nevertheless, Toronto, as I write this hold onto a share of first place in the division and seem like a lock to make the playoffs again in consecutive years for the first time in over two decades. All is not lost, but watching the team sputter along lately hasn’t filled anyone with a lot of confidence in watching a parade down Yonge Street in November.

As a fan and critic, the irksome thing is it is hard to criticize the team. They seem to be giving it their all and not much John Gibbons has done is really open for a lot of second-guessing. That said, it does seem to me there are two things they could do that might help improve their chances of playing deep into October.

First, put Francisco Liriano into the starting rotation in place of Marcus Stroman. Stroman might be the future face of the franchise, but for now is a young, tired pitcher struggling. Although tagged with an “L” tonight against the Yanks , for which he can’t be faulted too badly (you can’t win if your team doesn’t score you any runs!), his season has been more full of ups and downs than a 3D topographical map of California. Before tonight he’s allowed 8 earned runs over 12 innings in his previous two outings, against light-hitting Minnesota and Tampa. His ERA at 4.55 is less than stellar and, for all the talk about the risk of Aaron Sanchez being fatigued, Stroman seems the more worn out. And little wonder, he’s logged 178 innings this season, well more than his previous career high at any level of baseball. Put him in the bullpen for now, let him log maybe 6-10 more innings in the regular season and then re-evaluate come October as to whether he’s the right man to be the #4 guy in the playoff rotation.

Meanwhile, the Jays went out and got journeyman starter Francisco Liriano at the trade deadline, why not let him start for now? His 4 starts with the team have been decent, going 1-1 with a 3.96 ERA and 23 K over 22 2/3 innings and he’s an innings-eater. By today’s standards at least. He’s pitched 150 or more innings every year since 2012, and posted a good 3.38 ERA over the past two years. A strong lefty to compliment JA Happ would be a good way to vary the rotation for the remaining three weeks and ease the burden on the bullpen in all likelihood. His two outings from the ‘pen so far have been half and half, a terrrible outing against Tampa paired with two good innings against the Yanks, but he’s not worked regularly out of the bullpen since 2006.

If the bullpen is still hurting for reliable southpaws, the team could always recall Chad Girodo who is not unknown in Toronto and was decent, albeit not remarkable (2-1, 3.79 in 29 appearances although allowing 45 hits in about 35 innings) with Buffalo this year.

Second, and looking at today’s boxscore, maybe Gibbons is one step ahead of me on this , stop batting Jose Bautista leadoff. Yes, we know the team lacks a Rickey Henderson-style prototypical leadoff hitter and yes, we know Jose is a good team player who will hit where he’s told. And that he walks a lot, making for a good on base, which might make him a good #1 hitter. But the experiment hasn’t worked. Even taking the injuries into account, Bautista is having his least effective year since 2009 and having him hit lead off hasn’t propeled the offence. While his 64 walks is more than respectable for the number of games played, his OPS of .793 is lowest in 7 years and his RBIs are down to one perh 6.2 at bats this year from one in 5 the past two years. And the reason seems clear- hitting leadoff in 40 games, he’s hitting .239 but has an .800 OPS and 22 RBI in 158 AB, or about one RBI per 7 at bats. Hitting his traditional third, he’s hitting only .227 but has an OPS of .844 and 28 RBI in 141 AB, or one per 5 at bats. No wonder. In situations with men in scoring position, clutch times, Bautista is right there where he’s always been, hitting .300 with a .430 on base and .543 slugging percentage. Bautista delivers in pressure, rBI situations, not with bases empty. Besides, his knee and foot problems coupled with his age have slowed him down somewhat so he’s not a base stealing threat anymore. Hit Kevin Pillar (disappointing .294 on base but 11 steals this year after 25 last year) or Melvin “BJ” Upton (25 steals this season) lead off and have Joey Bats bat third. Or maybe even fourth, as tonight…

Three more Liriano starts in place of Stroman, a fresh Stroman come ALDS time, and a handful more at bats with Jose Bautista hitting with men on base might not turn this team from adequate but not great (as they have been lately) to unstoppable, but might win one or two more close ones. and this season, one or two games looks like the difference between being the road team in the Wild Card game and being on home turf in the ALDS.

The year in review


2015 is now mere hours away from completion and while the year has had its ups and downs, for us Blue Jays fans it has to be considered a success. A long, patiently waited for success. All we can hope for is that Rogers and Mark Shapiro will make a resolution to make 2016 even better and jump through that window of contention while it’s still open.

Granted it was disappointing that Toronto ended up bowing out in the championship series, but all-in-all, the first 90+ win year and first playoff entry since magical 1993; the league MVP and highest attendance in decades more than compensates. The 2015 season showed us several important things. Jose Bautista can compete and deliver in the big games just as well as meaningless ones. Alex Anthopoulos did have, or at least had developed, a good sense of talent. Marco Estrada and Chris Colabello are ample proof of that, not that AA’s prowess benefits the team anymore, sadly. It also showed that John Gibbons can certainly punch his weight as managers go. Perhaps no Connie Mack or Billy Martin, Gibbons kept the good ship Jay upright through difficult early months and then showed he had the know-how to take a good team and run with it. He is another illustration of a shrewd Anthopoulos move which looked a bit dubious at the time.

the year also showed that Toronto , and Canada in fact, love baseball. The 3 million fans in the stands, the high TV ratings coast-to-coast, the fact the team was more searched for domestically on Google than Trudeau, Jenner or ISIS all speak to the excitement the Jays generated when the fans were finally given a team to be excited about. This bodes well for the future if only the owners pay attention and try to build on that excitement rather than did up the skeletons of JP Ricciardi’s playbooks and “five-year plans.” What’s more, the season showed that baseball loves Toronto as well. No longer can we Canucks think about complaining that baseball and its people don’t pay attention to the blue-and-white because of their location. Having a player voted MVP- ahead of Golden Boy Mike Trout- and recipient of the Hank Aaron Award , not to mention the fact that the league-sponsored ESPN special on the best plays of the season (which ranked 3 Toronto plays among the ten best of the year in all of baseball) put that myth to rest. In the eyes of MLB, Toronto is every bit as valid a city, and organization, as New York, Chicago or St. Louis.

So now we look ahead to February and Dunedin, and that opening Sunday in Tampa a few weeks later. It goes without saying that now with David Price gone and a weaker bullpen, the Jays hopes don’t look quite so bright. The Red Sox and Yankees have gotten better- as much as I dislike Chapman from everything we hear about him, he will certainly give NY a bullpen to rival Kansas City’s- while Toronto has at best trod water. All is not lost however; remember Toronto was the best in the division; Boston particularly have a lot of catching up to do to compete. Merely standing pat is disappointing to fans but may still yield a team that can win. If Marcus Stroman develops into the pitcher they think he can be, or JA Happ continues to pitch like he did in late summer in Pittsburgh, with the bats of Bautista, Donaldson, Encarnacion and crew this team could still better their 93 wins and take their playoff experience and grow from it – as the Royals did in 2015.

As a reminder and encouragement to those who feel all is lost before the season begins, I offer a little look at early 2015 and how things were expected to play out. I picked Boston to win our division and Toronto to finish right at .500. I also thought the White Sox and Mariners could win their divisions. I might be loopy therefore, but so too are the more experienced pundits. Athlon Sports springtime annual picked Boston, Detroit and LA Angels as division champs and predicted a Washington World series as did so many others. USA Today got ten out of 30 clubs in the right position at year’s end, although they did manage to pick our team to win the AL East. Furthermore, of their panel of 7 expert writers , not one predicted KC or the Mets to win their division let alone meet in the World Series. Likewise, none of the 7 predicted Josh D for MVP or got either of the Cy Young winners. It all goes to show, predicting and speculating is fun, but there’s a reason they actually take to the diamond for 162 games.

2016 should be a good one! Enjoy the ride, and while I’m at it, let me wish you a happy new year away from the ballpark as well as when at it!


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!

Last place is the last straw

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.