Back in the winter, I said the reason I don’t like to make predictions is because there is no telling what will happen over the course of a season. The way this season has progressed, you can see why.
There were a fair few people saying that Jose Bautista was the next Marco Scutaro waiting to happen. This was when he was at the top of the lineup, of course, and people anticipated that he’d have similar numbers. I don’t think anybody would have guessed that he’d lead the major leagues in home runs at the start of June.
People were worried about the starting rotation, with its general inexperience, and the sheer lack of Roy Halladay. I don’t think anyone guessed the Jays would be leading the majors in strikeouts at this point in the season either. Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil are a combined 16-6 with an ERA very close to 3.
People also thought that one of the Jays’ biggest strengths this season would be the depth and experience of its bullpen. Past experience suggested nothing less. Unfortunately, consistently effective relief pitching is very difficult to come by.
After all, one must remember that relievers are more often than not pitchers with flaws. They come up through the minors as starters, but due to ineffectiveness, are converted into relievers. This is why starters tend to have more consistent careers than relievers do.
Scott Downs is a former starter, and as one might remember in Downs’ early days with the Jays, he was not a very good one. It was not until Scott Schoenweis was traded that Brad Arnsberg made Downs one of the more effective Jays’ lefty specialists since Dan Plesac.
Unfortunately, the Jays’ ‘pen has suffered from a combination of injuries and lack of confidence. Injuries have lessened the effectiveness of Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo, two guys who I thought would be very valuable in the Jays’ bullpen this season. Downs, while his numbers are not terrible, has performed below expectations ever since that freak injury last season. Jason Frasor failed early as the closer and has been mediocre ever since. Since I’m almost positive he’s not hiding an injury, I would attribute this to a total lack of confidence. This does not come as much of a shock to me, though. Frasor had one good season in ’09, which followed several years of mediocrity. Career numbers tend not to lie. Plus, Frasor did his best last season once the team was already out of contention.
Then there’s Kevin Gregg. A fantastic start to the season earned him the closer’s spot, but once again, career numbers don’t lie. His 4.72 ERA last season with the Cubs about sums him up. He has great stuff, but does not seem to have what it takes to close over the course of an entire season. Who wants a closer with a career ERA of 4.11? Whether or not there’s room to improve, after I watched him walk FIVE batters in last Tuesday’s game against Tampa, I don’t think I would trust him in that situation again.
Of course, the problem is there is really nobody else that deserves to close. The reliever with the best numbers right now is Shawn Camp, another guy that I honestly had zero confidence in going into this season. He’s a quirky side-arm guy, but a 2.32 ERA is nothing to sneeze at. Even still, would I hand him the closer’s job? Definitely not. His career ERA is 4.54, and I would not recommend rewarding a guy having a flash-in-the-pan year with a closer’s job.
Since the Jays don’t have a hand-sculpted closer on their roster, they’re going to have to hope that their manager is capable of handling bullpen decisions in ways that will best help the team succeed. Uh oh…
Now I know I’m about a week too late to discuss this, and I know that a popular Toronto radio personality almost lost his job over this subject (more on that later), but it’s hard to deny that Cito was at least partially responsible for the Jays blowing not one, not two, but THREE late-inning games that SHOULD HAVE been victories. The Jays played six home games against two teams that they need to succeed against if they’re going to get anywhere. Remember last week when I said that going into the Tampa series, the Jays were a combined 2-7 against AL East teams not called the Orioles.
They beat Tampa in the first game, then Cito’s decision to burn all the valuable arms in his bullpen going into the ninth cost him dearly, as Kevin Gregg, as mentioned earlier, had a complete meltdown. The next night, his decision to let Shaun Marcum pitch into the ninth, having already thrown 96 pitches, cost the team another win.
It’s funny how many conventions there are in baseball. In Tuesday’s game, Joe Maddon’s outburst that led to his ejection may have seemed ridiculously immature on the surface, but boy did it ever rally his troops. Another common occurrence, I find, is that once you crack one pitcher, the ensuing relievers tend to fall like dominoes. This would explain why once Marcum was removed far too late, Scott Downs went on to allow a huge grand slam.
Sunday’s game was yet another inexcusable meltdown, and an unfortunate one, considering how much of a gem Brandon Morrow was tossing. Four hits and no runs through seven. But he opened the eighth by hitting a batter, then Scott Downs hit a batter and allowed a hit. Jason Frasor, by no surprise on my part, intentionally walked Mark Teixeira so that he could bring the tying run across with a wild pitch, then allow a two-run single to Robbie Cano. Yet another convention in baseball: freebies always come back to bite the pitchers in the butt. Hit-batsmen, in addition, tend to rally the other team – would you want to get hit by a 90+ MPH fastball?
Remember the off-season when there was talk that Frasor and Downs were going to be packaged together and traded away to the NL for mad value? Too bad this didn’t happen. These “set-up men” have performed well short of expectations, and this ineffectiveness, combined with Kevin Gregg’s meltdown, cost the Jays a perfect 9-0 home-stand against the AL East. Hypothetically, they could be 36-22 right now. But thanks to poor managerial decision-making and terrible relief pitching, the Jays sit fourth in the east instead.
Now, there are positives to take from this.
1. The mere fact that the Jays were leading in all of those games. These may be better teams on paper, but it looks like the Jays can battle with the big boys right now. Let’s hope they learn to close out their games.
2. Thanks to his bomb on Sunday, Vernon Wells has tied his 2009 home run total. Good for him, as this is exactly what he needed to do to avoid being our whipping boy this season.
3. The Jays still lead the majors with 97 home runs – 18 ahead of second-place Boston. A week later, and they’re roughly in the same spot, after facing Tampa and New York. Not bad at all.
The offense is tearing it up, and the starting pitching has been stellar. If the relievers can join the bandwagon, the Jays could very well keep this up. Of course, to expect five inning shutouts from Brian Tallet on a consistent basis is preposterous. At some point, the bullpen is going to have to wake up, or there are going to be a fair few televisions with steel-toed boots through them come the end of the season.
Before I go, I want to touch on a couple of things.
First, I want to discuss this whole Cito/Mike Wilner debacle. If you want my friendly perspective on the matter, check out comment #136 on his June 2nd blog.
For those who don’t know, Wilner was suspended from his Fan 590 post-game show this past weekend for pissing Cito off in a press conference before last Wednesday’s game. He questioned Cito’s bullpen decisions in Tuesday’s loss, and Cito childishly told him to check the stats as to why he made the decisions he made – when Wilner checked the facts, it turned out these stats were irrelevant.
Basically, as the tone of this blog suggests, I do not disagree with the points Wilner made. Like I said before the season, you very rarely run out of things to complain about when it comes to Cito’s in-game managerial style. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Cito, and I can’t help but think that the Jays’ success this season must have a great deal to do with Cito and his staff. But the man does not believe in pinch-hitting, and he has a great deal of difficulty handling his pitchers.
Having said that, I don’t think I would ever go so far as to go right up to him and tell him how to manage a baseball game. At the end of this season, he’s done, and hopefully he’ll be replaced by someone who makes better in-game decisions. At the same time, they’d be lucky if they found someone with half as much class.
While Cito did not handle the Wilner situation with class, everyone is entitled to a slip-up. And can you really blame him? It’s not like athletes and coaches don’t listen to the radio. I’m sure Cito knows that Wilner comes off as an arrogant know-it-all who constantly rips the callers on his show and has been calling for Cito’s firing for ages now. If you’re Cito, you’re backed into a wall, fully aware that your decisions likely cost the team a win, and a guy that you know has done nothing but publicly insult you for a year is trying to tell you how to do your job, how would you react? Wilner’s lucky Cito didn’t straight-up tell him to go fuck himself.
Wilner then responded by blogging about it, and saying (hopefully jokingly) that Cito would probably never talk to him again. It’s funny because this is very similar to how I tend to react to situations like this – business situations that can get personal. Cito is typically the definition of smooth and easy-going. Clearly he was frustrated, and Wilner was rubbing his face in the dirt. Will he never talk to him again? I think that’s a pretty ludicrous assumption. If Wilner had any class, he’d shake Cito’s hand, say no hard feelings, and move on.
In the mean time, let’s hope he takes this situation to heart. Complaining that Cito “belittled him” in front of the media scrum when a) he was, in essence, belittling Cito by telling him how to manage in front of the scrum and b) this is how he typically treats his callers – is rather ironic. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, one can only hope that Wilner learns a thing or two about being an arrogant prick on the air. I’m sure he’ll be a better journalist as a result of this incident.
If he doesn’t, then he should lose his job.
FINALLY: The entry draft began yesterday and the Jays selected 21-year-old Deck McGuire, a right-handed innings eater who is being compared to John Lackey, with the 11th overall pick. While he’s not the guy with the lofty ceiling that AA was looking for, he’s older, and therefore could potentially shoot up through the system faster than a younger guy. They also had the 34th, 38th, and 41st picks thanks to the departures of Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas, and the failure to sign James Paxton last season. With these picks, they selected three more right-handed hurlers: 17-year-old Aaron Sanchez, 17-year-old Noah Syndergaard, and – wait for it – 21-year-old ASHER Wojciechowski.
As the only professional athlete I’ve ever heard of that shares my name, I obviously expect nothing less than a Cy Young Award and a hall of fame career.
This week the Jays will try to get some revenge as they kick off a 9-game road trip tonight at Tropicana Field against the Rays. Brian Tallet will try to repeat his magic from last week against Jeff Niemann, who is 5-0 with a 2.79 ERA. Hate to say it folks, but combine that with the Jays’ dismal lifetime numbers in Tampa, and I don’t like this match-up at all.
But we’ll see.