Monday, May 31, 2010

The Blue Jays are the Greatest Show on Artificial Turf

If there's one thing you can say about the 2010 edition of the Toronto Blue Jays, it's that they are rarely boring. This year's team is so smashingly entertaining that even those who croaked on about how awful they were going to be this year are starting to come around and feel the joy in watching the awesome display of power.

(And yeah, that's you Blair. Welcome to the bright side.)

At present, the Jays lead the Majors in homers by 19 over the Red Sox (88-69), and also lead the collective circuits in doubles (123), slugging (.471), and total bases (836). They sit just two behind the Yankees in RsBI with 264, followed by the Red Sox (260) and Rays (255). Which we mention mostly to remind us all that a third or fourth place finish in the AL East is not like any other division's third/fourth place finish, no matter how much Bobcat McCown spits into his mic in absolute terms about the failures of this team.

So what's our point? Whatever happens in the next week and a half with the series against the Yankees and Rays, we're reasonably sure that the Jays aren't going to go quietly or lose ugly. They are going to compete through all nine innings, and have a puncher's chance of making up ground on their divisional rivals this week.

Did you catch that last bit? We spoke of gaining ground in the race. As if we were speaking about these all-too-fetishized "meaningful games" that people groan on about endlessly. Because that seems to be the gripe of most of the gasbag radio hosts and fatuous general sporting columnists: That the Jays don't play those impactful and important games in September. That none of this stuff matters now, and that we should be suspicious about the early success because the only thing that matters is the last month...or three weeks, or two weeks, or two days, or third-of an inning of the season.

Which has led us to this minor epiphany: The Bruce Arthurs and Dave Perkins and Steve Simmons of the world are a bunch of pasty tourists when it comes to this beautiful game, and we really shouldn't pay them any hommage by listening for even a nanosecond to their all-too-knowing postulations in the preseason about how awful and dreadful the outlook is for the Jays, and why fans should be wary of the team in the here and now. Just because the only part of the season to which they pay any mind is the last bit, it doesn't mean that there isn't fun to be had in the early going.

Because this is supposed to be fun, right? This is baseball. That's why we love it.

We suspect that many of the empty seats in the RC/SkyDome are filled with the ghosts of casual fans who have bought into the steaming pantloads flung by the cynical opportunists who eat up space in the newspaper and on the talk shows. But what we really hope that people recognize over the next few weeks is that they are missing a great season. Maybe the greatest season that they've had in more than a decade. Really.

And this isn't at all like last year's team, who got off to a quick start by beating up on some weaker competition. This is a team that has been in almost every game this season, and has the crushing offensive power to get themselves back into games in a hurry.

Maybe you're the type who can shrug off another JoBau JomeRun, or another extra base hit from Alex Gonzalez, or a screamer off the bat of Vernon Wells. Maybe you can write those off as a fluke and set yourself up to walk ten feet behind the bandwagon, so that no one mistakes you for a sucker should the team falter. But where's the joy in that? Isn't it better to let yourself go and fall for a team once in a while?

We're a third of the way through, and the Jays are just a game back of the Yankees, four and a half back of the Rays and sporting the sixth-best record in all of MLB. They are setting themselves up to be in the Wild Card race, which probably only begins in July, but you can at least consider these first eight weeks the preliminary heats.

And thus far, it's been pretty frickin' fun to watch.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

On Roy Halladay and Starting Pitching

See, we all knew this was coming, didn't we? Roy Halladay, now a Philadelphia Phillie, goes ahead and chases the ghost of Bobby Higginson (you worthless prick - but no offense, Bobby) and tosses a perfecto for his new team. Phillie phans (barf) celebrate, Jays fans wonder....

What if Roy were still a Jay? What if Ruben Amaro refused to include Kyle Drabek in any negotiations and Anthopoulos rolled the dice on another year of Doc - to the deadline, at least? And with that deadline approaching, and the Jays in contention, and heading in the right direction.....what if? Would Anthopoulos have held on to #32? Would Roy now at least consider listening on an extension? Could this have been the season where the rallying cry of "Playoffs!" was more than an exercise in hyperbole? So many "what ifs" and so many questions to ponder.


(you knew there was a "but" coming....there's always a "but"....)

None of this would have happened if Doc still wore blue (I know, I know...). Anthopoulos very likely would have shaped the roster much differently: we might not have been witness to the maturation of Travis Snider with everyday at-bats; Jose Bautista may not have been given the opportunity to flourish that he's had to date; Freddy Lewis may never have found his way north; John Buck's at-bats might have been taken by Rod Barajas. Maybe Johnny Mac is 100 AB deep by now.

And the pitching.....yes, the pitching. Shaun Marcum (5-1, 2.59), Ricky Romero (4-2, 3.42), and Brett Cecil (5-2, 3.81) shape the new front end of the Jays rotation. And they've been fucking awesome. Pardon the language, but they have been.

Now, let me get one thing straight - I don't particularly buy the talk that a Doc-less clubhouse has made for a looser bunch of ballplayers, and the team is gelling like never before without Halladay's intimidating presence and massive shadow looming over the staff. But it does seem unquestionable that a Doc-less rotation has forced the young core of starters to mature and take on roles they may otherwise not have.

Shaun Marcum is the leader of the staff, and the broadcast throwaway shots of Marcum leading a conversation with a handful of pitchers along the dugout rail warms my heart. Rick Romero is trusting his stuff like never before and refuses to cave even when taking the mound with less. Brett Cecil is a new pitcher entirely and has forced his way into any and all discussions surrounding the future 5-man. Along with #1 prospect Kyle Drabek, that is.

Would all of this have happened on a Jays team led by Halladay? Maybe. Possibly. But I doubt it.

Let's enjoy Halladay's achievement for what it is - an afternoon of pure brilliance by the best in the game - a feat many of us foresaw as an inevitability.

But let's also enjoy the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays for what they are - an exciting team of hungry young players and veterans thriving in the opportunity.

There's no turning back - "Roy Halladay is not walking through that door, people" - and quite honestly, I don't know that I would if I could. Congrats to Roy. It's beyond well deserved. It's what we all hoped for Doc, along with the NL Cy (uh, slow down there, Ubaldo) and World Series ring.

But the Jays are 29-22 and have given plenty of reasons to dream of still better days ahead, and yeah, just maybe.....playoffs!

That's what I'm celebrating today.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

See, now this is fun

If it's been said once, it's been said, uh....more than once: in the blogging game, if you aint first, you're last. I've no choice, then, but to scrap my previously planned post discussing the Jays upcoming run of games through the AL East. It wasn't coming together 'fer shit, anyway, so consider yourself spared. No, really.

(....but just for the record, I do believe the Jays performance against the Rays/Yanks means something.....but it's not playoffs! or basement! Let's not regurgitate the fortunes of the 2009 Jays during a similar stretch - this isn't the same team. There - the essence of a post in one poorly constructed paragraph. Done and done.)

Instead, let's revel in what the club has brought and continues to bring as May turns to June: good, competitive, and fun! baseball - all under the carefree guise of Lowered Expectations. It really is the best, isn't it? I mean, we can revel in the glory of these mashing Blue Jays and their bevvy of overachieving (arguable) arms without resorting to the cynical douchebaggery (huh?) of the stereotypical Red Sox Nation (relax - not all of you - I'm sure there are a tolerable handful out there). We can enjoy the victories and not display the stomach turning sense of entitlement that you might (would) find in the Bronx.

Let's save the discussion on buyin' vs sellin' for another time. Like, you know, mid July. Let's worry about the progress of the Kyles and Bretts and Adeinys later in the season. Let's hope that's not relevant until September's expanded roster season rolls around.

For now, let's just focus on the fact that Jose Bautista continues to tear the goddamned cover off the ball. Let's talk about Vernon Wells' continued resurgence. Let's all remind ourselves that John Buck is outperforming his contract, as is Alex Gonzalez. Freddy Lewis - what a steal! And Shaun Marcum, who talked the leadership talk in the spring - stopper!

Yeah, this is fun. Let's sweat the small stuff later.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bring it on

For some, the cycle of observing the Blue Jays goes a little something like this: If they are winning, people point out the weakness of their opponents, or the fact that they have yet to really face the big boys. If they lose, it's because they just flat out suck.

So with the next 12 games on the schedule lined up against their AL East rivals in Baltimore, New York and Tampa, some of those perpetual naysayers have pegged this as "The Test" of the team. This will provide proof as to whether if they are a team that could win 90 games and stick with the Yankees and Rays through the summer, or if they are the team that most had figured would spend more time scraping the bottom and battling the O's to stay out of the basement.

But here's the thing: We don't think that these next two weeks are going to actually prove anything. If the Jays come out of those series under .500, it doesn't mean that they should pack up their tents and call it a season. Nor should we start putting the prosecco on ice in anticipation of championship glory if they come through this stretch successfully.

Besides which, we suspect that if the Jays were to run wild like the Hulkster through the Yanks and Rays, it still wouldn't satisfy the naysayers. We're sure there would be another stretch of games that they would propose to be "defining" a week or so down the road. And if the Jays go into the final week of the season still in contention, someone somewhere is going to ask the proverbial question: "Are the Jays for real?"

If being proven right is your goal as a cynical sports fan, you'll invariably get rewarded for your pose. But we're rooting for the Jays to make the cynics squirm for as long as they can this summer.

Because "told you so" would be so much easier to hear in late September.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A blogger at rest tends to stay at rest...

The hardest part about coming back to the blog after an extended time away is that you haven't the slightest idea where to enter back into the conversation.

In our time away, we read nary a boxscore nor a game story. Nor did we see highlights or even see whether if the Jays were winning or losing. We did this mostly out of design, as a manner of rebooting our own system and getting revved up for the next four months of the season. In the moment, it seemed like a better idea to stare out upon blue waters and absorb all of life's other pleasures, because it is way too easy to get sucked into of vortex of neverending kvetching about baseball.

And yet, we hadn't planned for the eventuality that we'd get back, and feel so incapable of getting back into the groove.

We'd started a post last night about the things that went missing while we were away (Randy Ruiz, Dana Eveland, Bret Cecil's goggles), bit midway through, it struck us that we were just too late to even say anything about those things that you hadn't already read, heard or thought of for yourself.

(Although what might not have been pointed out is the ludicrousness of the Cecil glasses-on-the-nightstand thing. Because while it seems like a great excuse and all, couldn't he just go to Lens Crafters and get himself a new pair? We know he's got extra special athlete eyes, and that his specs are probably engineered by some of the robots that will eventually take over the Earth...but still.)

Mostly, at this point, we just need for something a little bit big to happen to jar us out of our state of mental staisis. An external force to shake the rust off.

(Wait...I'm mixing metaphors there. Yikes.)

Anyways, it's been a bit of a hoot going back over the past week and trying to get caught up, but we're looking forward to getting a few games under our belt and moving on with the rest of the season. With the Jays knocking the cover off the ball, there remains the possibility that we might get to see certain "blog heroes" (as one snappy scribe over at the Globe might call them) make a run at unlikely All Star game berths. And more importantly, the Jays are still hanging tough through May, so we might just get the chance to see some fun and tense baseball in the months ahead.

Which reminds us that we keep meaning to get to that post about the whole concept of "meaningful games"...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

May Long quick hitters

(...^ that, incidentally, is Queen Victoria - the namesake of the May long weekend holiday. Handsome lady, that one.)

With a long week of real life behind me and a much-needed long weekend ahead for us all, I'm going to assume your attention span is about as long as my creativity is short, at the moment. So bear with me while I plow through some Blue Jay quick-hitters here. Or don't. Whatever. But since you've already found your way over here.....

* You know who needs to get going? Aaron Hill needs to get going. IF (note the caps - more later) the Jays are to make a little run at things here, Hill needs to re-establish himself as a power threat. You can put Adam Lind in the same bucket, but for whatever reason I'm not as concerned. Maybe it's Hill's .170 batting average that's causing the palpitations while Lind's .230 is at least within reach of respectability with a nice run of games. I'm sure Hill will get it going, but a stretch of games with a lot of hard-hit balls would help me sleep easier.....

* And no, I don't really lose sleep over these things. Not normally, anyway. But there are always exceptions.

* You know why Eddie Encarnacion fits in so well with this club? He's feast or famine. Killing the ball or contributing nothing. Sportsnet flashed a stat during tonight's broadcast: >50% of the Jays runs come via the long ball. Yep, that's E5 alright.

* If you'll allow me to look this far ahead, Jose Bautista is shaping up to be the storyline of the trade deadline for the Jays. In many ways he embodies the Jays as a team - producing much, much more than anticipated, nobody really believes he can keep it up (with apologies to the Jose Bautista Appreciation Society)....but nobody's really willing to bet against him (them). With his value sure to be at a career high....what to do come deadline time if Bautista continues to rake, and the Jays are on the fringe of contention?

* Come to think of it, the Jays stance come the deadline deserves it's own post, not a quick-hitter. Regardless, it's sure to be a polarizing decision for the fanbase. I will say this - I'm starting to hear whispers from the loyal that they'd like to see the Jays load up, but for my money (a) it's way, waaaay too early to anoint the Jays as playoff contenders, and (b) I'm kind of hoping the Jays stick to the original stated plan of building a team that contend for multiple seasons. But hey, everything is fluid....

* Yep, Brandon Morrow really is AJ Burnett v2.0. So frustrating.

* I used to be all for interleague play. Now, I'm not so sure. And no, it's not because the Jays get their lunch handed to them (though it doesn't help), it's because I don't really give a shit about a May matchup against the Diamondbacks. Can we maybe scale this thing back some, Bud?

* Randy Ruiz - leaving the Jays not with a bang, but with a whisper. The blogosphere has been muted.

......not entirely sure I'll be able to post much more over the weekend, but if it looks like Tao's leave of absence extends beyond Victoria Day, I'll check in with some thoughts....

And on that note, have a great long weekend and be safe. See you in a few.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Doing right by Ruiz

At the end of the day, the release of Randy Radames Ruiz was the best result for all parties involved - the Jays, Ruiz himself, and the fans.

Ruiz benefits from likely the biggest payday he'll ever see; though terms are unknown, it's sure to be more than the major league minimum, and for a soon-to-be 33 year old baseball player staring down his twilight years, that can't be overlooked. After 11 seasons scratching out a living as a minor leaguer (along with parts of seasons on the big league roster), Ruiz can do what he does best - hit bombs - free of the worry of providing for his family now and 10 years from now.

The Jays gain a coveted roster spot, because let's face it - as used, Ruiz wasn't close to being an asset. But that's the rub, isn't it? I'd like to know the thought process in bringing Ruiz north with the team to be a once-a-week DH/pinch hitter..... because that made no sense.The strength of Ruiz was his ability to hit the ball. Did he even own a glove? It was an awkward arrangement for all, as it was becoming painful to watch the slugger swing at anything close in an attempt to win over the manager in his limited appearances.

And the fans.....well, we're freed as much as Randy was. With his scorching "tryout" to close out '09, we were all left to wonder what could be if Ruiz were finally given the necessary major league at-bats to show what he could do. Hell, the manager himself was fond of saying that Ruiz could hit 30 home runs given the at-bats.

Unfortunately, that was never going to happen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Great Divide?

Pssst - the Jays are 24-17.

You know, the team predicted by most to finish in the basement of the AL East? Behind the Orioles? The Baltimore Orioles? It's still early to predict - yet having passed the quarter-pole, not unreasonably early - but I think it's safe to say this team will exceed expectations. Let's face it - it's a fun team to watch. Exciting young arms. An offense that relies on the long ball. A manager we all love to hate (OK....not as much fun). It seems to be a good group, and you can sense a camaraderie within the dugout.

And yet, an all too familiar phenomenon is occurring once again down at the 'dome. The fans have turned on one of their own, and it's not sitting well with The Player (h/t Ricciardi) or his teammates.

And why should it? Lyle Overbay has been on the receiving end of vitriol not seen since the '09 version of Vernon Wells. You all remember '09 Wells, don't you? The cat on the $20M contract (the nerve!)? The dude who fished for sliders down and away and seemingly enjoyed popping up a good fastball? "GODDAMNIT!" That Vernon Wells? Remember him?

If you're confused, it 's the same Vernon Wells who was among the team leaders in most offensive categories for the better part of a decade before '09, and has re-emerged as such this season. The same Vernon Wells who will hold most of the Jays major all-time offensive records given another season or two in uniform. And yet, the combination of awful season and untradeable contract left the fans calling for blood. It was hard to watch, man. And while I understood the sentiment - I did watch about 150 games last season, y'know - I could never understand the hostility. While I can't track down the exact quote (but I swear I'm not making this up), I recall a line from Wells that left me uneasy: "I can forgive, but I won't forget". Or something along those lines. Stone cold.

And here we are again. This time, Lyle Overbay feels the wrath. Perhaps on a smaller scale (have you seen the crowds? Heyo!), but on the receiving end nonetheless. And Lyle is none too happy about it:

Overbay, jeered after making two errors on the same play in Monday's 8-3 loss, silenced his critics by driving in three runs, including an RBI double in the first. The game drew 27,981, Toronto's biggest crowd since opening day.

Overbay refused to answer questions when approached after the game.

"I'll make it easy on you guys," he told a media crowd waiting at his locker. "No comment."

Evidently, neither are his teammates:

"I've been there and done that," Well said of being booed. "For me to go through it is completely different than watching someone else go through it. I can deal with it. It's tough for me to watch someone else go through it, but he's handled it well and he's going to come out of it a better person. I know I did. You learn a lot from your struggles. But like I said, it would be nice to come in here and have it feel like a home park and be supportive, no matter what," Wells said.

Lest you think I'm just a total shill for the players - I'll repeat: I understand the sentiment. I really do. Overbay has had an awful 2 months to start the season, just as Wells was awful for most of 2009. Fans are clamoring for change, and they see Brett Wallace slugging in Vegas. Buying a ticket to the game gives you the right to express your feelings however you see fit.

But that doesn't necessarily make it right.

Likewise, Overbay could probably have handled today's post-game better. It can't be an easy thing to throw your hands in the air and say "you know what? I've been lousy. The fans want more. I get it. All I can say is that I'm trying." Instead, Overbay's comments only serve to create an even bigger "story", and perhaps drive a deeper wedge between the fans and the players - because you know that lockerroom is tight.

It shouldn't be this complicated. The Jays are playing good baseball. They're exceeding expectations. They're fun to watch. Alex Anthopoulos has the club headed in the right direction. Wallace will be here soon enough, and in no more than 120 or so games, Lyle Overbay will be on his merry way.

In the meantime, can't we just get behind them?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Well, shoot

(...because "Well, shit" just didn't feel right as a blog post title...)

If you clicked your way on over looking for an early week pick-me-up, keep on clicking, friends. Unless you'd like to discuss the weekend? Can we still go there? SWEEP! Romero! Morrow! Bautista! Oh, right....I missed my chance at the warm & fuzzies. Well, shit.

Exaggerations aside, the Jays lost to a pretty good ballclub. That's going to happen, even to an obviously playoff-bound club like the Jays (heyo!). Here's what weighs heavy on my mind:

Travis Snider
You may recall my fanboy fantasy ramblings on The Future earlier this season. I took comfort in knowing I wasn't alone. His early season struggles caused me great pain, and suddenly, he was arriving. Too poetic? OK - he was tearing the cover off the goddamned ball. And now he's hurt - DL'd with a sprained wrist. That's never good.

Snider is a rare talent, and young enough that the injury is likely only a minor setback. He won't forget the lessons learned turning the corner in recent weeks. But still.....momentum is a wonderful thing, and just like that - wiped out. Let's hope the DL time is simply cautionary to eliminate any lingering pain, and Young Travis doesn't go all Lyle Overbay on us. Speaking of....

Lyle Overbay
Things just aren't turning around for ol' Lyle, and the opener against the Twins showed things may be going from bad to worse. Mere coincidence, maybe, but methinks his struggles at the plate are affecting the dude tremendously, as evidenced by his brutal night in the field. Oh, and in the post-game comments as well, via @MLBastian:

Asked if the boos were worse tonight than any other time this season, Overbay was at a loss: "I don't know. I don't care."

Not good. Lyle Overbay is this year's Vernon Wells, apparently.

But seriously, how much longer will the Manager allow this to continue? "Doing right" by his player is one thing (debate for another time....), but hanging him out to dry while the team suffers along with him is another entirely. You'll note that I've really avoided piling on Overbay during his season of misery (well, 2 months of misery), because (a) that's not really my thing, (b) Overbay has always seemed like a good dude not deserving of personal scorn (unlike Millar!), and (c) ....what's the alternative - until Wallace clears Super-2 status, anyway?

The Return of Tallet
Wait, this is a good thing, right? Well, it should be....unless he claims a rotation spot at the expense of development - ie: Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, or the also close to returning Marc Rzepczynski.

Yeah, I know. Dana Eveland seems the obvious choice to be the first bumped from the rotation...and that's what's so frightening. It makes too much sense. Eveland has given the Jays pretty much all they could have expected - a handful of starts replacing innings otherwise lost to injury, more or less giving the team a shot. Does that description remind you of anyone else? Maybe a certain veteran left handed swingman plugging holes for the Jays in '09? Yeah.

Please, Clarence. I implore you: bring Tallet back in the role in which he thrives - multiple inning reliever/spot starter. Is that too much to ask?


Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Evolution of Ricky

With yesterday's post, I attempted to lay praise at the feet of an unsung hero; spreading the love for an effort that some may have overlooked. There will be no such reaching for the unconventional within this entry. With apologies to Jose Bautista, there's only one storyline up for conversation.

Ricky Romero was, and is, The Man.

The trouble with writing (blogging, whatever....) about Romero is how do you weave an interesting post without resorting to the standard "famously drafted ahead of Tulo" angle? But perhaps, just now, I've spoken too soon - because it seems to me that comparison - once thought to be the byline on his eventual baseball obit - is fast fading in Romero's rearview mirror.

We need to be careful about how far we go in mocking those who continually resorted to such in an attempt to degrade the management skills of JP Ricciardi (remember him?). Make no mistake - Troy Tulowitzki is a fantastic baseball player - shortstops who's names enter MVP discussions are among the rarest and most coveted commodities in baseball. But you know what else ranks at or near the top of any GM's wishlist? Left-handed starting pitchers with Cy Young potential.

Yeah, I just said that.

A 4-1 record (voters love that) with a 2.88 ERA and 59 K's in 56 IP. I'll allow for the standard caveat - it's only May - but a review of Romero's evolution allows you to dream on him. How did he get here? From potential first round washout (parts of two unimpressive seasons in AA, middling success in AAA), to potential major league reliever (once seen as an optimistic view from scouts), to back-end major league this. And what exactly is "this"? Established big league arm for certain. Frontline starter seems probable. Staff ace - which a few short seasons ago seemed laughable - is now realistic.

Romero is entering a stage in his career where he seemingly has it all going for him. A fastball comfortably in the 90's. A knee-buckling curve that seems to improve by the start. A split-action change-up that draws comparisons to Johan Santana (oh my God). And if you're not into the whole "intangibles" thing, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.....

"You know what?" Ricciardi said. "You need a wheelbarrow to take his balls to the mound. That's how big they are."

Indeed, Romero takes the mound with a bulldog mentality, regardless of the stuff he brings to the game on any particular day. Maybe it comes from the minor league struggles. Maybe it comes from enduring the "Tulo" taunts. Perhaps it was from Brad Arnsberg famously pulling Romero aside in Spring Training '09 and telling him just how nasty his stuff was. Or maybe that's just who he is as a competitor.

At the end of the day, maybe we shouldn't bother to over-analyze this. Ricky Romero is giving Jays fans one more reason to believe that better days are ahead (if they're not here already).....and that's pretty much all we could have asked for from this season, isn't it?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Curious Case of Janssen

Considering the brutal pummeling laid on the Rangers pitching staff at the hands of the Jays in the weekend series opener, it would be easy to drop a post raving about the bats. I could talk about what a bad, bad man Travis Snider is turning into (he is), I could talk about how Aaron Hill and Adam Lind look like they're getting their strokes back (they are), and I could talk about how Vernon Wells effectively flipped off those ready to pounce after his recent mini-slump (he did). I could use our favourite words when describing this offensive explosion; words like "raking" and "mashing" and "boners!" (I still might).

I could do just that, but it would be too easy. What am I, some amateur-hour weekend warrior who relies on cutesy titles and cliches for a chuckle (don't answer that)? Instead, let's talk about the real key to this victory: Casey Janssen.

Much maligned of late in some parts, Janssen did the unthinkable in this mashing slugfest (sorry, couldn't resist) - he shut the Rangers down for three innings of nails relief. In a game like this one, that ain't nothin'. To me, that effort stood out as the difference.

Janssen is an easy target - he doesn't start, he doesn't close, and he rarely sees high-leverage innings. He's the dude on the staff who's asked to come in and keep the game respectable - so when he shits the bed, it's easy to derisively announce that he should be the next arm out of town to make way for (fill in MiLB name here). After all, what purpose does he serve? He's middle relief, fer chrissakes. Bring on the next big thing!

Well, I don't think I need to tell you that I keep a special place reserved in my baseball loving heart for middle relievers. Hell, I took my nom-du-blog (if you will) from an old favorite. And I'm here to tell you that Casey Janssen can be the next Danny Cox. He can be the next Tony Castillo. Hell, with a little luck he can be, dare I say it?.....the next Jim Acker.

Sure, why not?

Debuts in Dunedin!
Friday also marked the debut of the Jays' Cuban Derek Jeter (RIGHT?!), Adeiny Hechavarria, for single-A Dunedin. Having not seen any highlights nor having read any game recaps - only viewing the boxscore - I can tell you that his 1 for 5 consisted of a hard hit single, three screaming line-drive outs, and a strikeout on a bush-league missed call by the umpire. Oh, and defensively he showed Ozzie Smith-esque range with a Shawon Dunston arm.

Maybe just don't go telling your friends that's how it went down in case I was wrong on a few of the details.

Providing relief of my own
As detailed in his post, the Tao is stepping away from the blog for a few days or so, presumably to get another set of eyes on Adonis Cardona or some other equally mysterious endeavour, I'm sure. So you're stuck with me for the time being.

I can't promise daily posts, but I'll do my best to ensure you're good and ready for the Tao to return by the time I'm through. That's how I roll.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Counting stats can be fun...until they're not

Maybe it's too much to say that counting stats don't matter. But increasingly, we hear them described as too random, too dependant on team dynamics or situations, or too damn flukey.

It's possible that there is some truth to that, although it depends on just how seriously someone is reading (or reading into) the counting stats. If someone is going to say a dude with 100 RsBI is clearly superior to the guy with 98, then yeah, that's probably putting a little too much into them. But if you're willing to use them as a rough guide, then you might be able to find a little something worth holding onto.

This is especially true of our new favorite old counting stat: Total bases.

Our admiration for total base tallies crept up on us, until we realized how often we were using it to get a gague of who was performing well for the Jays' minor league teams. After sorting on the old reliable stat columns, including OBP and SLG, we find ourselves scratching our head to figure out what, if anything, they meant, especially given the varying sample sizes.

But if we wanted to sort quickly to get a sense of who was most productive on a team, we'd look under the TB column, and whoomp, there it is. That's who's touching as many bags as they can as often as they can, and in baseball, that's really the name of the game, isn't it. That's what we thought that we really liked about total bases: that it captures the totality of a player's offensive output all in one number.

Sadly, we've only now come to realize a few flaws in total bases. Our notion was that the number included walks (it doesn't), hit-by-pitch (nope) and stolen bases (nuh-uh) as well as hits and possibly bases taken on hits and on sacrifices (pshaw!), to capture the entirety of, or the whole of, or, what's the word we're looking for here? Oh yeah: we thought that TOTAL bases would account for the TOTAL number of bases that a player touched throughout the year.

But sadly, no. And as a result, we'll spare you our whole defense of Alex Gonzalez, which was predicated on using his 82 total bases thus far (fourth best in MLB so far, just behind Vernon's 84).

But you'd have to admit that our make believe version of total bases would be a pretty great number to have, wouldn't it? And if you were to divide it by the number of plate appearances, you could get a pretty holistic sense of what a player is accomplishing on the field.

The is what we get for trying to find profound answers through simplicity. It's a fool's heartbreak for us once again.

Engaged elsewhere
We're about to head away to spend some time elsewhere the next week, so we'll be out of the loop for a while. (And the last time we did that, the Jays announced that they were going to trade Halladay, so expect big things while I'm gone.)

In the interim, we leave you in the very capable hands of The Ack: A man who, we came to understand last week, can grill a steak with the best of 'em, and never lets a man's glass go dry. Truly, a prince amongst men.

Have fun, stay positive, and be good to one another. We'll see you soon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Like a groin kick that we really didn't need

We're not asking you to feel sorry for us for being Toronto Blue Jays fans. It's something that we choose of our own volition, and on most days, we're happy to have found that little nugget of bittersweet happiness to keep our minds occupied.

But goddamn it, this sucks.

The return of Roy Halladay was one of those little moments to which Jays fans could look forward. It was going to be an opportunity to rise to our feet and salute the outstanding contribution of quite possibly the Greatest Jay, both in person at the stadium as well as in our hearts and minds. It surely would have been a moment that would have resonated with Jays fans for years to come, and may well have helped us all close the door and move on to the future of the franchise.

But now, we have the announcement that, due to security concerns around the G-20 meeting in Toronto, the Jays and MLB have agreed to move the Phillies series to the City of Battery Chucks. Talk about adding insult to injury. This feels like a kick to the groin, followed by a purple nurple, followed by a taunt of "that didn't hurt", followed by a wedgie.

And somehow, after all of that, we're supposed to wear our Blue Jays fandom with pride.

In the grown up world, where the decision to move these games was made, this is absolutely the most logical and rational solution to a series of problems. And you can feel free to debate amongst yourselves who caused those problems, but we're not sure how productive that discussion is.

What may be a more productive discussion is this: What does this team have to do to make good to its fans? Maybe they could have rationalized the player moves, or the ticket prices, or keeping the roof closed or having little or nothing in terms of promotions this season. And maybe they can make a very reasonable case that the insult of moving this, likely the most important series of the year, is beyond their control.

They could do that, and appeal to our more rational side. But being a fan isn't a rational thing.

Assuaging the hurt feelings and disappointment that is going to come from this decision has to be a priority for the team's brain trust, or they risk losing the fan base even more than they already have. It's going to take more than bland assurances from Paul Beeston and aspirational declarations from Alex Anthopoulos to make it feel all better.

While we don't want to totally lose our shit over this, there's a nagging little voice in our head telling us that this is a crucible, and the spot where some of the casual fans drop off permanently. And the thing is that it is far easier to retain the fans you have than to go out and find new ones.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fashback: Bill Madlock Defends His Slide Into Second (1987)

I just came across this clip on YouTube. That late season collapse still ranks as one of my most painful memories. This dirty slide was the final nail in the coffin of an otherwise thrilling season.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Better late than never?

Apologies off the top for the delay in weekend posting, but if you've been following along on twitter, you'll have noted that Friday evening was a real meeting of the minds between our gracious blog host (Tao) and yours truly. You'll also have noted that Friday evening's game (playoffs!) went into extras, which (naturally) resulted in a few extra beverages.....which resulted in a supremely sluggish Saturday morning. If you need me to spell it out for you....I'm not 25 years old anymore, friends.

Short of plotting world baseball blogging dominance, good times were had. I'd delve into the detail, but I'm pretty sure that the non-disclosure agreement I was forced to sign prevents me from discussing. Hey, I just work here.

(That, and you'd be bored to tears. "Hey man, I DO NOT appreciate Jose Bautista."...."Oh, fuck off. He's SOLID, dude." Well, not exactly. But I digress....)

So here we are. But where exactly are we? Following the travails of a team that some would say is overachieving - 4 games over .500 a full fifth of the way through the schedule. This seems to be the path of the team - getting off to promising starts before falling off and into the wilderness with the Orioles as the season progresses. But something is different about this club.

We're not all waiting for the other shoe to drop, for one. Lowered expectations for the win! But it's more than that. In seasons past, when our (my?) primary bitch was the lack of organizational direction and low-ceiling makeup of the roster, the frustration borne from the mounting losses was invariably compounded by a growing sense of hopelessness.

But look at where the club is now, right now - objectively and without wearing the fanboy hat - and try to convince me the same applies. You can't, and you won't. For starters (literally), the Jays are deep in the asset every organization covets most - young pitching. And people are starting to notice - as well they should.

"I see Romero as the guy who's going to emerge as their go-to guy to shut down a series," he said. "To me, there's almost a scary resemblance between him and vintage Johan [Santana]. His change has really developed. But he's got three other pitches to go to. With more experience, and a team that can catch the ball, he's got a chance to be an 18-20-game winner.

"Marcum's got the makeup of a front-end rotation guy. His stuff is a little below that. But he battles so well, I wouldn't bet against him. I've always liked Cecil. And Morrow doesn't have the feel of those other guys. But he's got quality stuff. It's a pretty impressive young group."

Somebody help me - what's that word we once used to describe quotes like these? Added bonus, the above doesn't even take into consideration potential frontline arms coming up through the system like Drabek, Stewart, and Jenkins. And let's not sleep on RZep, who's now throwing again.

It's all good news on the pitching front, but you can't win every game 1-0. It would be foolish to pretend that there aren't holes in the starting 9. One needs only witness a classic Manager giveaway game lineup to realize the threadbare depth at the major league level. That's not to say there aren't pieces, for now and three years from now.

Adam Lind will find his stroke and remind us all that he's a very bad man. Aaron Hill will emerge from the fog and be, at the least, an above average second basemen in all facets. Travis Snider is starting to rake, right on cue (though I'd love to see him mash a good country fastball). Vernon Wells isn't done and Freddy Lewis has been a great addition to the team.

More importantly, help is on the way. Brett Wallace and his 1.0+ Vegas-aided OPS. One of the 17 catching prospects (deep!) will pan out and be The Man behind the plate. Perhaps one of Eric Thames or Brad Emaus will fly in from under the radar and be the surprise story that every team needs. And let's not forget about Adeiny.

All in all, I'd say it's a fun time to be a Blue Jays fan. Wouldn't you agree?

Handsome Tony?
Say it aint so, HTV. Does that mean you'll be leaving us too?

Friday, May 7, 2010

A One-(Run-On)-Sentence Post on...Happy Surprises

With all of the incessant offseason rosterbation that took place over the winter, and with all of the knowing analysis about how the team looked on paper, there's no one or nothing that prepared us for just how much we were going to love watching Fred Lewis play, which has been a welcome surprise and provided inspirational happiness a washed out blog hack like us.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Amazing Sniderman

If you're only casually following the Jays this year, and you tune into a game and see Travis Snider's numbers pop up on the chyron, you might think that the Rosy-Cheeked Phenom was printing his back to the minor leagues.

And you, sir, would be a little weasel prat. Why you gotta be so negative? And what are you doing still paying attention to batting average? What are you - a Juan Pierre fan? Do you still use payphones? Are you going to send your witty repartee back to me via the teletype?

Sure, an extended slump, some desperate flailing at bad pitches and pulling his head off the ball resulted in Snider's average tumbling down to .125. But five good games in less than a week, and Young Travis has added 70 odd points to that number that we don't care about anyhow. Moreover, he's rocking a 1.450 OPS over the past five games, and we don't even give a flying fudgesicle how small a sample size that is.

Have you not seen the majestic opposite-field, extra-base hits our dreamboat has swatted about the yard last weekend and this week? Eight hits in his last five games, and seven of them are for extra bases. Five doubles! Two dingers! Awesome power! Good Job!

It's easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day drama of the game in the same way that the chicks in the typing pool enjoy immersing themselves in their soap operas every day in the lunch room. So maybe we shouldn't get all fainty and sweaty over the hunky rakishness of our fresh faced matinee idol. But when we see Travis Snider looking poised and confident at the plate, we start to get weak in the knees, just pondering the possibilities.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Month in Rebuke - April Power!

That first month of the season went awfully fast. It was barely here, and then it was gone. Although we suppose that is what happens when the league starts the season a full week into April, rather than starting at the beginning of the month and saving the week of World Series games in November.

Never mind. That's another rant for another day.

For now, join us as we look back with instant nostalgia at the opening weeks of the season, and study the lessons to be learned from April 2010.

The Jays Offense, or why OPS was invented
Through this weekend's games, the Jays sit in dead last in the American League in on base, with a skimpy .303 mark. On the other hand, the Jays sit just behind the Yankees in team slugging percentage, hammering the ball at a rugged .453 clip. Toss those two marks together, and the Jays sit sixth in the AL in OPS, at .756.

Going, going, A-Gon
No one exemplifies the Jays early season offense better than Alex Gonzalez. Through Sunday's game, Gonzalez had 29 hits, of which 19 were for extra bases (eight homers, 10 doubles and a triple), good for a .619 slugging percentage. At the same time, Gonzo has eeked out just three walks in 26 games so far, while striking out 28 times. So take Gonzalez's meager .303 on base, add it to the generous helping of slugicity, tally it all up, and he ends up sitting in 10th in the AL in OPS.

We believe in Vernon far
Speaking of the OPS leaders in the AL, V-Dub sits comfortably in fifth amongst qualifiers with a 1.075 mark. Moreover, Vernon is posting stellar Sabermetrically-correct numbers as well, ranking third in Runs Created (25.2), fourth in isolated power (.360) and fifth in secondary average (.450).

It's been an outstanding start to the season, and we hope that people aren't going to get used to it or get cynical about any drop off in performance from here on out. Vernon has looked like a new man, both at the plate and in the field. Or maybe he just looks closer to what we want him to be.

Either way, there's a lot less chatter about his contract. Which is good, because that talk is both boring and depressing.

Or if counting stats are more your bag...
The Jays finished the weekend with the most homers (38) and total bases (397) of any American League club. Boom baby!

Goodbye, hello
Every time the Jays send a player off the to the glue factory or back to the minors, it's an opportunity to meet someone new. As the month closed, we saw Jeremy Accardo sent out of The Manager's sights, and Merkin Valdez passed through waivers to see if he can ever figure out how to get his vaunted "stuff" over the plate. The Jays also sent Edwin Encarnacion away to deal with his crappy wrist and to make room for productive players, and they let hispter oaf Brian Tallet look after his severe case of too-many-cutters on the DL as well.

In return, we got a couple of appearances in high five lines (and four at bats) from Jeremy Reed; a nastier, more focused Brett Cecil, who appears to be here to throw strikes and here to stay; Fred Lewis, who we've grown increasingly accustomed to seeing at the top of the order and who makes the lineup make sense; Josh Roenicke, who looks like a keeper so far; and Rommie Lewis, who sounds like a swell story of determination that we may or may not remember a couple of months down the road.

At some point in May, the Jays are going to have to make decisions on what to do with Tallet and E5, which will mean that someone gets bumped from active roster.

The diminishing power of the 'pen
We cam into the season thinking that the saving grace of this team would be the bullpen. The pen was deep enough so that the Jays could send any number of pitchers back to the minors for further seasoning, and good enough to boast four guys who have had a regular closer gig in the past few years. All good, right?

Yeah, not so much. At this point, the only cushion in discussing the bullpen's performance in April is that there was one team that was worse. But if we're going to lean on the Royals' lack of performance as some solace, we might just as well direct our attention towards the forthcoming ice dance season through the rest of the summer.

The pen has tossed batting practice to the tune of a 4.92 ERA, while the starters have managed to be close to a run better (3.98, fifth best in the AL).

We love our jarheaded closer
Signing Kevin Gregg elicited a fair amount of derision this winter, but the big man has been the - really sorry for this pun - saving grace of the relief corps. Take a gander at his 0.66 ERA and six saves in six opportunities to go along with his 14 Ks versus one walk and one earned run, and you may come to appreciate him as much as we do.

We could talk about the crowds...
...but really, let's wait until the nice days come, and we actually know how bad it is going to be. It sucks that the Jays might lose 30% of their attendance year-over-year, but we actually think that this season might be the bottom, and that small increases are possible in the next couple of years if the management plays things right. All a part of the building, we suppose.

Although those Blue Jays in suits commercials aren't helping.

In closing, your honour...
We got through our look back at the first month of the season, and we haven't mentioned Silver Sluggers Adam Lind (.770 OPS through Sunday) and Aaron Hill (.761 OPS in limited time). And yet, the Jays pull through it with an even .500 record.

So, we're not exactly breaking out the party hats. But we're still here, and vaguely optimistic for something better than misery from here on out. Which is the faintest of notions around which one can wrap them arms in a loving embrace, but in a season like this, it'll do.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hope for The Franchise

Lost in the hubbub (but not to these eyes) of John Buck's Delgado-esque heroics and the ongoing theatrics of the AL's top power duo Vernon Wells and Alex Gonzalez (hey, we have to say these things while we can) have been sparks of life from the otherwise silent bat of Travis Snider.

Sample size alert! It's only been two games, but two doubles and a ding-dong (in memory of Jamie Campbell) give me hope that the most important bat in the Jays lineup may be starting to settle into a groove. A few points:

No player's struggles bring me more mental anguish than those of Travis Snider. His is a heavy burden to bear - he's long been seen as a focal point of the rebuilding offence, and many of us (present company definitely included) have taken for granted that he would indeed grow into the big mashing middle of the order raker that every contending ballclub requires.

Simply put - those dudes are hard to come by and are not easily replaced. And by living (and dying) on that assumption, every fastball that Snider can't quite catch up to brings on a mild case of angina.

And then I remind myself that he's 22 years old. He's learning how to be a professional baseball player on a stage where every flaw, every "not quite ready" skill is magnified. He's too good to fail. By all accounts, he's too driven. Cats that put balls into upper decks don't have slow bats; the missed fastballs are a sign of something else - and lest I pretend to be a professional baseball scout, I'm working on the assumption that it's something correctable.

Just like our man eyebleaf believes in Vernon Wells, I believe in Travis Snider. He'll figure it out. It's not like he & the Jays don't have a little time on their hands.

Fuel to the fire - The Adeiny Hechavarria Hype Machine
Since the (not so) splashy intro, we haven't heard much concerning the future and greatest shortstop (since Tony Fernandez, natch) for the Blue Jays. Until today, that is, with this beauty of a nugget from the Post's John Lott:

Meanwhile, Anthopoulos said he has received glowing reports on shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, the Cuban defector who signed a US$10-million contract a few weeks ago.

Hechavarria, 21, wowed Jays’ officials in a recent extended spring training game.

“He went 3-for-4 with a triple off the wall, a double and a single and played really good shortstop,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s only extended [spring training], but it’s pretty exciting to read the game reports. They said he made an outstanding sliding catch to his right, got up and fired a seed to first base.”

Yes, yes, and yes. More, please.