Posted by: Asher Roth | April 26, 2010

Jays Open Up Seven-Game Homestand against Red Sox

Things were starting to look encouraging against the Tampa Rays. The Jays took the opener on the heels of a pretty strong start from Brett Cecil. On Saturday, I tuned in intermittently, to find that the game was first scoreless in the 5th, then I later found the Jays were up 3-2 in the 7th. I figured, alright, we have a pretty strong bullpen, right? As long as Frasor is kept out of the mix, we should be set.

Oh how they proved me wrong…

What followed was one of the most disastrous displays of relief pitching that I have seen in a good while. Scott Downs, for reasons unknown brought in to face Evan Longoria, allowed a lead-off single. He then proceeded to walk Carlos Pena who, I would assume, he was brought in to face. Left in against another right-handed hitter, B.J. Upton proceeded to knock in the tying run. Then Casey Janssen, who I thought should have started the inning, came in stumbling. He allows a bunt-single after tripping and falling when he went to play it. A bases-loaded walk, a hit batsman and a two-run single later, and it was Jeremy Accardo’s turn to allow a two-run single of his own.

Obviously this is not a good sign. Given the uncertainty in the rotation, and the pretty respectable resumes that most of the members of our bullpen have, few would have expected the follies of this weekend to rest upon the shoulders of the bullpen. Personally, I question Cito for having Downs face Longoria, but that’s just my opinion. When it comes to pitching, usually the strike-zone is contagious. When one guy can’t throw strikes, it’s hard to come in with a bunch of guys on base, and be expected to completely alter the momentum. Janssen failed to do that, so did Accardo.

On Sunday, it was Frasor who allowed 4 earned runs on 4 hits with a walk in 2/3 of an inning. Nice.

What’s lost in all this is that Ricky Romero was solid once again, allowing only 2 runs on six hits in seven innings, while Brandon Morrow allowed on 2 runs in six innings, surrendering only 3 hits (ignoring the 6 walks he surrendered). Both of these guys deserved to win, but the bullpen imploded this weekend, and the offense when MIA against David Price.

Oh well. It’s not like any of you can lie and say that you expected the Jays to have a plus-.500 record nineteen games into the season, so can we really complain?

Anyway, the real test begins tonight, as the Jays take on the surprisingly-bad Boston Red Sox. The Sox are 8-11, which is actually much better than they were about a week ago. They took four of six games this past week against Baltimore and Texas – real accomplishments, right? (See the Blue Jays). They also were swept in four games by the Rays last weekend, so they’ve had their struggles.

The reason? Could it be because Marco Scutaro has crashed back down to earth and is hitting a mediocre .254? Could it be the fact that Big Papi has a mere four RBI to accompany his single home run? Could it be because the guy with the second-most homers on the team right now is 38-year-old Jason Varitek, who has those homers in a mere 23 at-bats and all of which are solo-shots? Or could it be that the only starter on the team with an ERA under 5 is Clay Buchholz?

All of these tell us that this is a stacked roster with a whole lot of under-achievers. It’s only a matter of time before they all break out of this prolonged slump and climb to the top of the division standings.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t happen in the next few days.

Tonight, the eternally-inconsistent Josh Beckett takes on the over-achieving Dana Eveland to start off the three-game series.

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Posted by: Asher Roth | April 22, 2010

Addition through Subtraction?

It’s not very often that you hear that your team has sent the #2 man of its starting rotation and its starting third baseman on the disabled list, and rejoice.

However, that is very much the case here for the Blue Jays, who sent Brian Tallet and Edwin Encarnacion to the disabled list yesterday.

It’s no secret that the Blue Jays universe has not been the biggest fan of EE since he was acquired last season for five-time all-star and seven-time gold glover, Scott Rolen. While his bat shows the occasional pop, he’s hit .219 this year with a single home run, five RBI and 3 errors in 9 games. While I’m by no means saying that I’d PREFER Jose Bautista as my starting third baseman, EE’s absence moves Bautista to a spot where he has only 4 errors in 264 innings of work in his 1+ years as a Blue Jay.

In addition, there’s the added bonus that the Cito is now all but forced to put the newly-acquired Fred Lewis in the lead-off spot. While Lewis has only hit .188 as a Jay so far, two of his three hits have been doubles, and he’s already got two stolen bases. Finally, this is the left-handed lead-off bat that the Jays were looking for when they signed Joey Gathright in the off-season, and he was acquired for mere future considerations. And that’s not to mention that Lewis was very excited to come here, promptly informing the Twitterverse and Facebook about the trade before the teams even announced it. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate as a life-long Torontonian, it’s a guy who actually wants to play here.

The only bad news here is that EE is on the DL retroactive to last Thursday, which means he can return as early as next Friday. Maybe the Jays will realize that a guy whose injury is a sore throwing arm – when a pretty imperative element in a third baseman’s game is his arm – that it’s time for EE to ride the bench a little longer. Cito says he misses his bat, though, and since I don’t see him grabbing the DH spot from Lind any time soon, looks like we’re stuck with him.

The good news here is that Aaron Hill returns tomorrow night, and grabs EE’s spot on the roster.

The loss of Tallet is also addition by subtraction, if you ask me. Tomorrow night, Brett Cecil makes his first start of the season in Tampa Bay. Once again, it’s no secret that plenty of Jays fans were upset with Tallet having a spot in the starting five, let along holding the #2 spot (oh how far we’ve fallen from the days of A.J. Burnett setting up Doc…).

Injuries to guys like Tallet, who are taking valuable spots away from Jays’ up and coming prospects, will arguably be considered God-sents for Jays fans who realize that this season is a throwaway, and would much rather see them go to the likes of Cecil, R-Zep, Robert Ray, Brad Mills, Rey Gonzalez or, dare I even say, Kyle Drabek.

The bottom line is, Jays fans, that if Cecil indeed steps his game up and performs well in the next couple of weeks, maybe we’ll never have to see Brian Tallet make another start for a long time.

But this is, of course, Cito’s team, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

Posted by: Peter Houston | April 21, 2010

The amazing story of Tim Collins

LHP Tim Collins pitching for Dunedin

How many guys do you know that are 5’7″? OK, now how many of them are athletes? Still holding up a couple fingers? Alright, how many of them are actually GOOD athletes?

I guess it depends on how you define good athlete, but you’re probably lying to yourself if you’re still holding up more than a couple fingers. That’s why the story of Tim Collins is so interesting.

Collins, a 20-year-old from Worchester, Mass., is currently the closer for the Blue Jays AA affiliate. And you guessed it, he’s 5’7″ and 155 lbs. That’s what he’s listed at anyway. One Jays staffer actually told Will Hill that he’d be surprised if he was taller then 5’5″. That is not a typo, five-foot-five.

The funny thing is, the Blue Jays found out about Collins by accident. Former GM J.P. Ricciardi took his two sons out to see a summer league game in his hometown of Worcester to scout a future Oriole draft pick, Keith Landers. But, he ended up getting much more than he bargained for. In the fourth inning, out came Tiny Tim Collins. He faced 12 batters. He struck out every one.

Ricciardi was impressed. After Collins went undrafted out of high school, the Blue Jays scraped together some pocket change and signed him to a $10,000 minor league deal. Next thing he knew, Collins was off to the Gulf Coast League for his pro debut. But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. When he showed up in the clubhouse, some of his teammates thought he was one of the players’ little brothers. When he made his first appearance, the players on the other team laughed as he warmed up. Then he blasted a few 95 mph fastballs by the first batter he faced and struck him out. Who’s laughing now?

On the back of his mid-90s heater and a big curveball, Collins quickly rose through the Jays farm system. In 2008, his first full year at Class A Lansing, Collins posted a 1.58 ERA in 68.1 innings. He struck out 98 batters. The next year, between Class A Advanced and AA, Collins a 2.91 ERA in 77.1 innings. He struck out 116 batters. That is not a typo.

One thing is for sure, Collins is not your typical intimidating closer. But it’s not like there’s any shortage of vertically challenged 9th inning specialists to look up to. The Blue Jays on and off closer for the last couple of years, Jason Frasor, is 5’9″. Billy Wagner, a fellow lefty who has a career 2.39 ERA and has been closing games for the last 15 years, is 5’9″. Collins has even drawn comparisons to two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, who is another undersized pitcher who dials up the radar gun. Some people have started calling him Tim Collincecum.

But where is the love for Collins? In Baseball America’s top prospects by organization, Collins wasn’t even in the Blue Jays top 10. That’s BEFORE the Jays added Kyle Drabek, Brett Wallace and Travis d’Arnaud and they became our #1, #2 and #5 rated prospects. The only respect Collins got was “Best Curveball” in the organization. But for some reason I think it’s fitting. Collins has flown under the radar his whole life… literally.

Yesterday Collins got his first save of the season. In his 5.2 innings of work in AA this year, he’s yet to allow a run. Yup, he’s racked up 10 strikeouts too. Ho-hum, looks like another season of lights out relief for Tiny Tim.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that when he got that save yesterday, it was the first time I’ve ever heard about Tim Collins. But I certainly don’t expect it will be the last.

Posted by: Peter Houston | April 18, 2010

When should the Jays call up Brett Wallace?

Brett Wallace, arguably the biggest piece* that came to the Jays in the Halladay trade, has big expectations. Bigger than his thighs. And so far he’s lived up to them, and then some.

As of today, he is hitting .303/.395/.697 in 9 games at AAA. Throw in 4 homers for good measure. That early success, combined with Overbay’s struggles (who from now on will only be referred to by his batting average), has already started talk of when the big boy will get the big league call up. The way I see it, there are 3 important dates to consider in this decision:

1. April 19th – If a player makes their major league debut after April 19th, they won’t earn a full year of service time. That means that their free agency is delayed by an extra year. But don’t expect Big Baby Brett to be sitting by his phone on April 20th, cause Mr 0.82 will still be around.

2. a)  July 31st – The trade deadline. The reason this is important is because the Jays will be shopping Mr .082. I don’t think that’s any secret. If they can get something back for him (at this point I’d take a washing machine) it could clear a spot for Wallace.

b) August 31st – The waiver deadline. Teams can still make trades after July 31st, and up to August 31st, but it’s always smaller names because the guys have to clear waivers. Once they do, teams are allowed to work out a trade. Or, in the case of Alex Rios, you can just simply put a guy on waivers and someone else can pick them up and take on their contract. Could definitely be an option for Mr .082.

3. Late May/early June. Ok, this doesn’t qualify as a date, and it should probably count as #4, but bare with me. If a player is called up before then, they could potentially earn enough service time to qualify as a Super Two. For those of you who don’t know, and are too lazy to click on that link, a Super Two is a player who has between two and three years of service time but qualifies for an extra year of arbitration. To be classified as a Super Two, the player’s service time has to be in the top 17% of all players with between two and three years. It’s estimated that if you’re called up before late May you’ll probably qualify. Pretty much all a Super Two means is more money, so teams try to avoid them as much as possible.

All of this considered, I will be livid if Brett Wallace is not the starting first baseman on September 1st, if not August 1st. The minimum I’m willing to accept is a platoon with Randy Ruiz. Mr .080 (he just grounded out weakly to the first baseman) has got to go. And when he does, Brett Wallace has got to get the call. He turns 24 on August 26th, so it’s not like he’s THAT young. He put up great numbers at AA and for two different teams at AAA last year. So far this year, he’s proving the Pacific Coast League is amateur hour.

Bottom line, he’s our first baseman of the future. On August 1st, or September 1st, Big Baby Brett will be ready. Send Mr 0.80 packing and remind him not to forget his shaving kit, but it’s not like he’s been any better post-Fu Manchu/Hadlebar mustache anyway.

Oh ya, one last thing Big Baby Brett. We traded Doc for you, so no pressure or anything.

*It is NOT arguable that he is the biggest piece physically

Ricky Romero came on to the field this evening on the spongy new AstroTurf at the Skydome, and prior to his warm-up pitches, he let out a triumphant “HELLOOOOO?!” (See what I did there? His name kinda sounds like Ricky Ricardo… yup, I’ll be here all season).

But all jokes aside, it was a pretty swell day to be a Jays fan. As if it hasn’t been a great enough week already, what with the 6-2 record and all, today we got to see Ricky Romero pitch one for the ages. Just over a week into the season, we’ve seen two Jays pitchers flirt with no-hitters. On Opening Day, Shaun Marcum had a no-no through six, though his ended on a single.

But Ricky turned in one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen in my life (live). First off, he was working super-quickly, likely thanks to a great game called behind the plate by John Buck, who really did his research, considering they had not worked together in a regular season game before last night. From the first inning right to the end of the sixth, Ricky had a steady two strikeouts per inning. No, he did not strike out the side once, then strike out one in another inning – this was not an average, he LITERALLY struck out two per inning for six innings in a row.

His perfect game was spoiled with a walk with two outs in the third to Carlos Quentin, but Ricky was unphased. He was dealing consistent heat with a nasty curve ball and change-up, and he had a no-no going until the eighth inning, when A.J. Pierzynski came to the plate.

For those of you watching my live tweets last night, you’ll recall I said Pierzynski was once referred to as locker room cancer when he played for the Giants. We know he’s not a very likable guy – just ask former Jays Michael Barrett, who once sucker punched him in the face in an interleague game for show-boating after knocking him down at the plate. If only somebody did that last night.

Ricky’s first pitch of the 8th was in the dirt, and Pierzynski hopped up and down like it hit him. Now I’m not sure if he should have scored an Oscar for that performance, or maybe a spot on England’s national soccer team, but that kind of embellishment does not belong in baseball. Either way, the ball clearly didn’t touch him, and he was awarded first after a conference with the umpires.

Adding insult to injury, the next batter, ironically Alex Rios, smacked a no-doubter into the left field stands for his second of the year. That’s right – could a worse guy have possibly ended it for him? If we didn’t hate him before, there is definitely some serious hatred going on now. Ricky was pissed at himself, but he recovered nicely, getting the next three batters to ground out.

In the ninth, Kevin Gregg finished what Ricky started with style, by striking out yet another two batters, and getting Paul Konerko to ground out weakly. That’s right, folks, after fourteen hits the night before, the Sox struck out fourteen times last night. Only starter not to strike out was – Alex Rios. I guess you gotta hand it to him. In the meantime, Gregg looked unhittable. Take note, Cito. Looks like you may have a solid closer after all. His name is not Jason…

Jays bats were pretty solid last night too. John Buck, Edwin Encarnacion and Vernon Wells all hit doubles (Vernon hit two!), while Edwin, who is starting to look pretty comfortable on defence, also knocked in the first two runs of the game. Lyle Overbay also had an RBI single to bump his season batting average to .100. Jose Bautista was also hitless. Nothing like a leadoff man that hits .161 for you. Yikes.

But this day was not only sweet for Ricky’s performance. As most of you likely know already, earlier in the day, the Jays FINALLY locked in the shortstop of the future, signing 21-year-old Cuban prospect, Adeiny Hechavarria, to a four year, $10 million dollar deal.

We’ve already gone into how awesome this signing is in previous posts, but I’ll delve a little deeper. First off, for those who say “What a rip off for an unproven kid!”, consider that $4 million of that was a signing bonus, and I think he deserves that JUST for picking the Jays over the Yankees. And to those who say he’s still overpaid, consider that the Jays are only spending $4 million on their starting rotation – it’s about time they poured money into something other than Vernon Wells.

In addition, as Cito pointed out, the kid has been through a lot. Defecting from Cuba is no small feat. It means that Hechavarria, who is apparently close with his family, had to leave them behind to pursue his dream. Talk about potential emotional turmoil. But as some have pointed out, because he’s 21, he is a little more mature than the average prospect.

To those thinking, “But Alex Gonzalez is doing a great job!” let’s think rationally for a second. Last year, Marco Scutaro hit 5 homers in April. Gonzo has 4 right now. Last year, he had five. My point? He’s an admirable plug for the position right now, but people are saying that with his lanky frame and strong arms, Hechavarria could be the next Alfonso Soriano. As much as I dislike Soriano, I’ll take a strong defensive shortstop who can hit 30+ homers any day of the week. After all, when is the last time the Jays had a quality starting short stop?

I literally can’t remember. And no, Tony Batista does not count.

Anyway, Hechavarria starts the year in their minor league camp, then he should move on to Single-A, and hopefully make Double-A by the end of the year.

Before I go, one last thing. Yesterday, Sportsnet and TSN both reported that Ozzie Guillen was chirping the Jays, saying after Opening Day that fans should keep coming out to boo Alex Rios because there haven’t been so many fans there the last few years.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think he was chirping them, I think he was actually trying to say it would be nice if more fans came to games. Now, I only read the quotes, and did not hear his delivery, but it sounds to me that our beloved Canadian sports networks are trying to turn the MLB into as much of a drama shit-show as the NHL.

Speaking of the NHL, the playoffs start tonight. But I know you’ll all be watching John Danks take on Brandon Morrow at the ‘Dome tonight, right?

@amgr86

Posted by: Peter Houston | April 12, 2010

Booes, lose and booze

That’s how I would describe tonight’s home opener for the Jays. Booes, and lots of them, rained down on Alex Rios. Lose: the Jays fall to 5-2 after blowing another save opportunity in a home opener. And booze, lots of it, is what I need after watching that bullpen performance.

To be fair, the bullpen wasn’t completely terrible. Shawn Camp and Scott Downs combined for 2 innings of shutout relief. But as for Frasor and Accardo… ugh.

Frasor lost the Jays the game on opening day and blew the lead again tonight. You learn something new everyday, Jason: Don’t leave fastballs over the plate, even to number 9 hitters who average 12 homers a year. You might learn something new tomorrow, Jason: You’re not the closer anymore.

I’ll tell you one guy who is NOT going to be taking over for Frasor: Jeremy Accardo. He worked a solid 10th, but in the 11th he gave up a RBI triple to none other than number 9 hitter and Blue Jays Killer extraordinaire, Mark Teahan. He also allowed a couple other baserunners and looked really shaky. Forget 2007 when Accardo had 30 saves, Kevin “G’d up ready to die” Gregg is first in line to replace Frasor (he already has 2 saves this year). Is it too early to pull the trigger? In my mind, yes. Is it too early to start talking about when Cito will pull the trigger? Obviously not.

With all this kerfuffle over the bullpen, I almost forgot about our fabulous #2 starter! Brian Tallet = 6 innings, 6 runs. When is Cito going to realize that “battles hard out there”, “eats innings” and “gives us a chance to win” just doesn’t compare to “has good stats”?

But believe it or not, some good stuff happened. The Jays touched up a pretty good pitcher in Jake Peavy. John Buck almost hit the ball into Lake Ontario. V-Dub launched his league leading 5th homer of the year. And the Jays are still in first place in the AL East.

What’s somewhat impressive about the Jays early success is that they’ve been able to do it without arguably their best player, Aaron Hill. He hasn’t played since the second game of the season, and earlier today was placed on the DL retroactive April 8th. Expect to see him next Friday against Tampa.

To fill his roster spot, Jeremy Reed was called up from AAA Las Vegas. But that made me wonder, how are the other young pups faring in Sin City?

For starters, Jeremy Reed was just 3 for 14. It’s only 4 games into their season and a little bit too early to put any weight on these stats, but for what it’s worth:

-Brett Wallace is 4 for 19 with 2 HR.

– J.P. “John Buck Jr.” Arencibia is 3 for 15 with 3 RBI.

-Brian Dopirak is 7 for 20 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI.

-In their respective starts, Ray Gonzalez worked 6 innings and allowed 2 earned, Brad Mills went 6 with just 2 hits and no runs and Brett Cecil went 5, giving up 2 runs.

It looks like the Jays have a pretty good squad down in Vegas this year. Expect to see at least a few of these names up with the Jays before the season’s over. Since I’ve had to tear up my last couple Pro Line tickets and all this talk of Vegas has got me in that gambling mood, I’ll give 3-to-1 odds Wallace is up in September. Any takers?

Posted by: Asher Roth | April 11, 2010

Eveland Envelopes the Awful Orioles

After two fantastic come back victories, the Blue Jays did not need 9th inning heroics to win their fourth game in a row, a 3-0 victory.

Dana Eveland pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings, a result few would have anticipated prior to the start of the season.

Like the rest of the Jays victories thusfar, it was not pretty. Yes, they earned themselves a shutout, but this was mostly a combination of Jose Molina’s calling a gem of a game behind the plate, and the Orioles being a very bad team.

Not only did the Orioles intentionally walk Travis Snider to load up the bases in the fourth inning – only to then hit Jose Molina in the back, scoring what would be the winning run – but they would go on to intentionally walk him again later on, only to have Molina drive home another with a single to make it 2-0 in the 6th. Then, almost for comedy’s sake, they would intentionally walk Vernon Wells in the 9th inning after an Adam Lind RBI double.

Now, I know Travis Snider is an up and coming slugger, I know his stance brings back memories of Carlos Delgado, and I’m aware he had the game-tying hit on Friday. But to intentionally walk him twice, on a day that he goes 0 for 2 anyway, to me, is just plain gutless, and makes for very boring baseball. Intentionally walking someone, while being a compliment to the abilities of the hitter, is simply a really lame way to take their bat out of the game. And if the move doesn’t work out, as it failed to twice this afternoon, the manager looks like a silly coward.

Congrats, Dave Tremblay. You stuck to your guns. Even after intentionally walking Travis Snider, twice, leading to embarrassing RBIs by the Jays’ backup catcher, you did it yet again in the ninth.

Time for my heroes and bums section. First for the heroes:

– Dana Eveland: 7 1/3 innings pitched, 5 hits, 0 runs, 2 BB, 2 K. He escaped jams early on in the game and settled in to become lights out as the game went on. In the 7th, he only needed to throw 6 pitches. So far, if someone deserves to lose their spot in this rotation, and I’m aware it’s after one game each, but Eveland does not look to be that man.

– Jose Molina: After a terrible game on Thursday, where a blatant passed ball led to the only run Ricky Romero allowed, Jose redeemed himself. 2 for 3 with 2 of the 3 runs driven in for the team on the day. As mentioned before, he also called a fantastic game. On TSN.ca, Eveland said he just stuck to Molina’s game plan, only throwing 5 or 6 breaking balls (when he usually tosses them 40% of the time, he says), and mostly switching between his fastball and change-up. If Jose had not stuck to this plan, who knows what could have gone down.

– Both Adam Lind and Alex Gonzalez are seeing the ball well in the early going. Each had two hits on the day; all of which were doubles, and Lind added a huge insurance RBI in the 9th, while Gonzalez just missed hitting it out of the park. He also was solid on D.

– Edwin Encarnacion: deserves some props today for having two hits, scoring 2 runs, and playing surprisingly steady D, starting with a fine DP he turned in the 1st.

Bums:

– Shocker here, but Lyle Overbay. While he did play solid D, including a couple of nice diving plays, he was 1 for 5 with 4 left on base, including in the 1st when he popped out into foul territory with 2 men on. Season average is now an impressive .105. I guess he doesn’t wanna be traded.

– Jose Bautista: If this guy doesn’t step his game up even a single notch, I am going to be ripping on him all year. Where do we begin? The strike out in the first inning on a pitch that his bat seemed to go right through? The time in the 3rd inning when Adam Lind struck out on a hit and run, and Bautista decided to stop right before he reached second, when the throw was high, then gets caught in the most half-assed rundown ever, thus killing a chance with runners on the corners and one out? His .158 batting average – at the top of the order? How bout the fact that he left 6 – that’s right – SIX men on base this afternoon. The next Marco Scutaro my ass.

– Jason Frasor: First off, I wanna make clear that the heroes and bums section are strictly my opinion, and have not been voted on by experts in the field. Having said that, we are 5 games into the season, and already I’ve had enough of Jason Frasor. Over the years, the closer spot has had its share of roller coaster rides. Long gone are the days of Tom Henke and Duane Ward. Since then, we’ve had to endure the mediocrity of Mike Timlin, the horrible signing of Randy Myers, and the rise and fall of B.J. Ryan. But say what you will about Ryan, in that ’06 season before John Gibbons over-used him, he was lights out. He’d charge in from the bullpen, come out throwing strikes, and be done five minutes later. Jeremy Accardo was also solid in ’07, and I’m not sure why he’s not in the closing discussion. But Jason Frasor…

I attended the game in which he got his first career blown save (after successfully converting his first 10 opportunities, I believe), back in 2004. I remember two things about that game. One was that it was against the Diamondbacks in Interleague play, and the other was that Pat Hentgen got the start for the Jays, and it was one of the only good starts he had in those finals months before he gave up and retired. That day, Frasor blew it.

As I was saying before, the Jays have had their highs and lows with closers. There always seems to be a year that they turn to a guy that is alright, but simply does not have the guts to close. First, there was Kelvim Escobar in 2002, who posted 38 saves, while blowing eight of them. His ERA was 4.27, he allowed 75 hits in 78 innings, and had a K/BB ratio of only 1.93. Those are the numbers for a middle reliever, not a closer. Then there was Miguel Batista in 2005. Same thing: 31 saves, with eight blown, an ERA of 4.10, 80 hits in almost 75 innings, k/BB ratio of 2. This season, Jason Frasor comes out and blows a save on opening day (Jays could realistically be 5-0 right now). In the 3 games he’s actually picked up the save so far, he allowed a lead-off double on Wednesday, and in his last two games he has walked the lead-off man. Today, he allowed a walk and a hit while striking out one and throwing 20 pitches.

I’m not saying that these guys are bad pitchers. As we have seen, while being injury-prone, Escobar has put up great numbers as a starter, while Batista was a mediocre starter with a massive arsenal of pitches. I’m saying they’re not closers. These are guys who will pick up several saves, but will blow their fair share, and make way too many of their actual saves into nail-biters. As a fan, there is nothing that I hate more than a closer like Jason Frasor. But of course, Cito does not hear my pleas.

The Jays have a quality bullpen this year. If Frasor falters, they have plenty of options to replace him, even beyond the obvious choices of Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs. As I mentioned before, I believe Accardo still has the stuff and the guts to close, Cito just needs to give him a chance. Mark my words: he’s the new manager’s closer. If it’s not, it will be Brandon Morrow.

SOME ADDITIONAL NOTES:

RANDY WOULD BE DANDY – I think Randy Ruiz should have pinch hit for Lyle Overbay in the 9th. When you’re up 3-0 with guys in scoring position against a left-handed pitcher, and you have a natural slugger like Ruiz patiently waiting on the bench, why not bring him up? If the move pays off, you have a large amount of insurance. If it doesn’t, you’re still up by three runs with your “closer” out there. And honestly, with the chances of a ball only being hit to the right side being pretty low, I’ll take my chances on Ruiz. If one ball gets past him, oh well, at least you gave him a chance and can learn accordingly. But Cito doesn’t believe in pinch-hitting in practical situations, so I’m left to whine about it once more.

MY DAILY CYNICISM OF THE BROADCASTING – I don’t mean for it to be as such, but with so many inexperienced broadcasters in the mix in the early going, there are so many glaring errors that while it may not be necessary to point out, I simply can’t help but do so.

Tonight, Sam Cosentino filled in for Buck Martinez. Considering the fact that he’s a reporter, not commonly a play-by-play man, I thought he did pretty well. In addition, being a reporter first, while Buck is a colour-guy converted, Cosentino was more technically sound. While he referred to every bat on ball contact, whether it be a line-drive or a grounder, as being “pounded”, he knew such basics as not cutting off Pat Tabler, how many outs there were and who the person was at the plate. I also greatly enjoyed a point that he questioned why pitchers don’t follow through with the fake to third, throw to first move instead of faking it all the time, then mentioned Hentgen’s success in that area. This is something I’ve been wondering for years, and nobody really points it out.

On the other hand, he got on your nerves at times. He seemed to think that the fly ball by Adam Jones in the first innings was going to leave the park, when Travis Snider easily pulled it down in middle-left field. He seemed to get excited very easily, and when he did, he did not appropriately pull away from the mic, and thus was very piercing. This is a common error, though, when you are new to commentating. I know that in my time calling basketball the past couple years, I have been told countless times to not yell into the mic.

Either way, I know the twittersphere was rather critical of Cosentino today, myself included, but all in all, I thought he did a fine job filling in. It also raised a question to mind. When Buck can’t make a game, does Sportsnet ever ask former Jays play-by-play guys Rob Faulds or Jamie Campbell if they want to fill in? Or would that just be cruel?

MY QUESTION TO EVERYONE FOR THE COMMENTS SECTION:

If you are Rob Faulds or Jamie Campbell, and Rogers asks you to fill in for Buck Martinez, do you say yes?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Thanks for still reading up to this point. I’ve realized that finally having the time to watch an entire game has given me a lot to say about the team. How great is it that baseball is back? Keep in mind, I would say that whether the Jays were doing well or not.

Having said that, one can’t help but evaluate their hot start on a realistic basis. Just like last season, looking at the AL East Standings and seeing the Jays with a 4-1 record brings some shivers. Looking at the Jays’ starters and seeing that 4 of the five of them pitched a quality start is a good feeling. Watching Vernon Wells hit more home runs in the first three games than he did in any single month of 2009 is another positive sign.

However, the Jays’ victories have been driven by a smooth combination of great patience at the plate and poor pitching by their opponents. The Jays have walked 25 times in 5 games, including 10 against the Rangers on Wednesday. Having said that, they’ve also struck out 43 times (almost nine per game). These strikeouts have been at the hands of pitchers with nasty stuff, but poor control. Once the Jays face a playoff-contending opponent, they will have to get contribution from everyone in the lineup. That means that Lyle Overbay needs to learn how to hit in the clutch, and Edwin Encarnacion needs to start getting hits when guys are on base, although he’s done a fine job with the bases clear.

Is that going to happen? Is Dana Eveland going to be able to two-pitch the Yankees? Is Brian Tallet going to go six-seven innings a start? Is Morrow going to develop control? He certainly has velocity. Most importantly, when is Cito going to bite the fucking bullet and start Randy Ruiz? Does he expect him to be hot and on his toes when he rides the bench through five games while Lyle hits .105 and Mike McCoy has two games under his belt?

The answer to these questions, as will be the theme all season: you never know.

Tomorrow it’s Shawn Marcum and Kevin Millwood, two guys who pitched well on opening day, but received no-decisions, will square off at 1:35. I will be at work, and thus will need someone to text me updates. Any Volunteers?

@amgr86

Posted by: Peter Houston | April 9, 2010

Jays comeback in the 9th to win…again

In back to back games, the Jays have gone in to the top of the ninth trailing by a run. In back to back games, the Jays have gone in to the bottom of the ninth with a lead.

Today, it wasn’t Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay leading the 9th inning rally, it was an unusual suspect. After E5 got aboard with a walk to lead of the inning, good ol’ Travis Snider and the petrified look on his face stepped up into the batter’s box. It looked like he was either going to faint or wet himself. To make matters worse, the left handed Mike Gonzalez was on the mound. But low and behold, Snider promptly rips a double to right-centre field, cashing in the tying run. Johnny Mac steps up and shows Jose Molina that bunting isn’t rocket science, moving Snider over to third. Then Jose Bautista gets the job done by sending a sac fly to centre. 7-6 Jays.

Kevin Gregg came in and worked a perfect ninth for his first save of the year, striking out two. Now before you get your knickers in a twist over a potential closer controversy, it was made clear before the game that Frasor was unavailable because he’s pitched in every game this year.

There were plenty of other story lines to note in this one. Brandon Morrow made his first start as a Jay, and almost didn’t make it out of the first inning. After the Jays gave him a 3-0 lead in the top of the frame, he came in and walked 4 (!), hits Adam Jones with a pitch and allows 3 runs to cash. If it weren’t for a lucky ground ball that turned into an inning ending double play, I seriously doubt he would have finished the first. Shawn Camp aka Mr. Clean was already getting loose in the ‘pen.

Besides allowing a homer to Miguel Tejada, Morrow looked very sharp after the disastrous first inning. His final line was 5 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 5 K, 1 HBP. Enough fives in there? Think again. When he left the game, the score was 5-5.

In an eerily similar turn of events, a defensive laps almost cost the Jays the game in the bottom of the 8th. Instead of Jose Molina forgetting how to catch the ball, this time it was John McDonald who couldn’t quite put enough mustard on a relay throw to home plate. The ball short hopped John Buck, and squirted away from him before he could apply the tag on Felix Pie, who would have been out by 6 country miles. That put the Orioles up 6-5. But, just like yesterday, it obviously wasn’t a problem.

I have a couple quick thoughts I want to get out there before I wrap this up. One involves Cito making a good decision to NOT let Randy Ruiz pinch hit. Not something I thought I’d ever be praising Cito for, but in this case, it was a savvy move. When Snider was at the dish with no one out and the tying run on second in the ninth (E5 had advanced on a wild pitch), Randy Ruiz moseyed out to the on deck circle instead of Johnny Mac. It was actually the second time he stepped on to the field in the game, the first was when he went out to catch for Casey Janssen between innings because Buck didn’t have his gear on. Take anything you can get, right? Anyway, when Snider unexpectedly doubled in the tying run, Cito decided to send Johnny Mac back out instead of Ruiz. Why? So that J-Mac could use one of his only offensive skills – the bunt. He successfully moved Snider over to third, and then Bautista finished the job with a sac fly. The split second decision to go back to J-Mac, and not use Ruiz, arguably won the Jays the game.

This all was after Cito made a questionable decision to mix up the lineup. My eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw that he penciled in career .248 hitter Alex Gonzalez into the 2-hole. To Gonzalez’s credit, he’s been swinging the bat as well as anyone – OK, not V-Dub – and rewarded Cito by hitting a solo jack in the 3rd. We all know this is just an illusion, and hopefully Hill makes a speedy recovery from his hammy injury so he can reclaim what is rightfully is.

Well, that’s definitely enough for now. It’s Dana Eveland against David Hernandez tomorrow at 7 p.m. as the Jays try to take over sole possession of first place in the AL East. I’m not going to be able to say that very often, so might as well drop it while I can. Playoffs baby!

Posted by: Asher Roth | April 9, 2010

Jays take on AL East “Rivals”

Win opening series of the season: check.

Have Vernon Wells inspire even a minimal amount of confidence in his abilities after a horrendous season: quadruple-check.

Get the most out of your pitching in a complete hitter’s ballpark: BIG Check.

With those tasks out of the way, the Jays now get to play games that truly matter: games against an AL East opponent.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s Baltimore”. Yes, my impulse tells me to think this too. But this is an Orioles team that has been in a long process of rebuilding, and it seems as though it might finally be paying off – even if they’re still in the AL East, and thus any expected success on their part, much like the Jays, is a stretch.

They’ve got Matt Wieters, who despite being unproven, is probably one of the top offensive catchers in the game right now. They’ve still got Adam Jones, and that Bedard deal just keeps looking better by the day for the O’s, as Jones’ numbers have steadily improved. They’ve still got Nick Markakis, a fine run-producer.

On the other hand, for some reason, they got Miguel Tejada back, who is currently batting clean-up. He’s rewarded them by hitting .083 so far. While Tejada proved last year he can still hit for average, his power stroke has lost a lot of it’s juice, if you know what I mean. They also have the underwhelming duo of former NL castaways Luke Scott and Garrett Atkins in their lineup to provide some inconsistent pop.

On the pitching side, the future looks bright with youngsters Brian Matusz, David Hernandez, and today’s starter Brad Bergesen behind veteran workhorse Kevin Millwood and late-bloomer Jeremy Guthrie.

Is this team going to challenge for the division title? Certainly not this year. They’ll have to shed some dead-weight (Ty Wigginton, Scott, Tejada, Julio Lugo) when their core players are ready to really shine, but at least they seem to be on something close to the right track.

As usual, thanks to @MLBastian, here are today’s lineups.

BLUE JAYS (2-1, — GB)
1.. Jose Bautista, RF
2. Alex Gonzalez, SS
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. John Buck, C
7. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
8. Travis Snider, LF
9. John McDonald, 2B

Pitching: Brandon Morrow (0-0, -.–)

ORIOLES (1-2, 1.0 GB)
1. Brian Roberts, 2B
2. Adam Jones, CF
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Miguel Tejada, 3B
5. Luke Scott, LF
6. Matt Wieters, C
7. Nolan Reimold, DH
8. Garrett Atkins, 1B
9. Cesar Izturis, SS

Pitching: Brad Bergesen (0-0, -.–)

NOTES:

– Morrow gets the start for the Jays. My expectations of him are realistic, but if he lives up to the potential that comes with being drafted 5th overall, he could be a solid pick-up by AA.

– Former Jay Cesar Izturis gets the start at shortstop for the O’s. I always felt he didn’t have nearly enough time to prove himself here. This is because he only played 46 games in 2001 before the Jays made one of the worst trades in recent memory: Paul Quantrill and Izturis to the Dodgers for Luke Prokopec and Chad Ricketts (who??). Just writing Prokopec’s name brings the sweet taste of acid reflux to my mouth…

– Johnny Mac gets his first start of the season in place of the injured Aaron Hill, who is still day-to-day with a hamstring injury. Let’s hope this is a short-term thing…

– Bergesen was 7-5 with a very respectable 3.43 ERA in 19 starts before a come-backer off his leg ended his season. Sound like Doc in 2004? He was also 1-0 against the Jays last season in 2 starts.

This season series should prove to be interesting. These two teams split 18 meetings last year, and since they’re likely gonna be battling for that prestigious 4th place spot in the division, the games will, at the very least, matter equally to both teams.

@amgr86

Posted by: Peter Houston | April 8, 2010

Light your V-Dubs

No need, because he’s already on FIRE.

Not only has he hit 4 homers in the first 3 games of the year, he’s been hitting in the clutch. Boo-hoo, Vernon hit .205 with runners in scoring position last year. Cry me a river. So far this year he has:

1. Hit a homer in his first at bat of the year.

2. Driven in the go-ahead run in the top of the 8th off Neftali Feliz, who is absolutely lights out.

3. Hit a go-ahead homer in the 5th inning of game 2, followed by a ninth inning solo shot to pad the lead for a needy Jason Frasor.

4. Hit a GAME TYING homer in the top of the ninth, which sparked a 3-run rally to seal a Jays victory.

Suck it haters.

But Vernon wasn’t the only Jay playing like a hero today. Ricky Romero spun 7 strong innings, allowing just 5 hits and 1 run. What was most impressive was his ability to work out of jams. He also looks like he’s improved his command a lot this year, only walking 2, and getting ahead of most hitters.

Mike McCoy also deserves some props after he was inserted into the lineup a couple hours before gametime for Aaron Hill. He filled in more than admirably, notching his first big league hit in his first at bat, then added an RBI single up the middle in the 9th. He had a few grounders hit to him at second and looked comfortable making every play.

Jo-Bau and Overbay (who is currently winning the nicest handlebar mutsache competition, scroll down a couple posts) added their first hits of the year, and A-Gon had a couple as well.

Now for the not so pretty. Jose Molina. Where do I begin. 0-3 with 3 Ks, one after he failed to lay down a bunt to advance runners at first and second with no outs. He was also an embarrasment defensively, and almost cost us the game when he forgot how to catch the ball. He let a Romero pitch go all the way to the backstop (should have been a passed ball, not sure what the ruling was) which allowed the Rangers to go up 1-0 in the bottom of the 7th. He missed a couple others and eventually Cito got fed up and pinch hit John Buck for him in the 9th.

Travis Snider also looked like a lost puppy out there today. His swing has more holes in it than Swiss cheese and he just simply can’t catch up with anyone’s heater right now.

All in all, it was a great comeback victory for the Jays led by Mr. Not Clutch himself. The whole series should be really encouraging for Jays fans, mostly because their starters all had great outings against a great lineup in a hitters ballpark. Tomorrow, the Jays travel to Baltimore for the first of a 3 game set. First pitch is at 3:05. Word has it Sam Cosentino will be filling in this weekend as play-by-play man, but I’m not sure if he starts tomorrow or not. If Buck’s still around, I might start a count for how many times he cuts Tabler off. Anybody see the post game wrap-up? Awkward.

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