Monday, 15 April 2013

Jays win! Snapshots from Jackie Robinson Day.

Edwin Encarnacion on Jackie Robinson Day
On what quickly became a tragic Monday, the Blue Jays played the Chicago White Sox. I arrived at the stadium blissfully unaware of what had happened in Boston, as I had been buried in an archive all day, but quickly became aware of the tragedy. Terrible. Sad. I will leave it at that.

Today was also Jackie Robinson day. All the players, coaches, ball boys and umpire wore the number 42 to honour Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His number is now retired across major league baseball. (except for Mariano Rivera, who was grandfathered in, when he retires this year no one will ever wear 42 again).

As a historical researcher, I feel inclined to add a historical tidbit about Jackie Robinson. Did you know that his middle name is Roosevelt, a name he went by his entire childhood?
Yup, in the 1920 and 1930 census, Jackie got enumerated as Roosevelt.

11 year old Jackie Robinson in 1930.

For this game, I had unusually good seats so I took tons of pictures, but because the players weren't wearing their actual numbers it will be hard to reuse the pictures later. So I thought I would just put them here.

Mark Buerhle pitched into the sixth for a quality start

Mark Buerhle was better. He pitched 6.1 innings, gave up 9 hits and two runs. Both runs came in the first inning. He got himself out of jams, the defense backed him up and his ERA dipped below 7. This is the Buerhle we've been waiting for.

Edwin Encarnacion, umpire and Colby Rasmus

Edwin Encarnacion went 3-4, with 3 singles and Colby Rasmus went 1-3 with a double and a walk (and two strikeouts).

Dwayne Murphy stands with Colby Rasmus.

Colby Rasmus stands on first after taking a walk to load the bases

Adam Lind had an awesome night, going 2-3 with a walk. This is the Adam Lind I want to see every night.

 And of course, we can't forget about Munenori Kawasaki. The emergency short stop, who everyone, including me, seems to love. He's a pretty easy just to love. What with the quirks, the bowing, the dancing, the RBIs and the triples.  Kawasaki bagged a triple in the bottom of the fourth, and by the bottom of the eighth the stadium was chanting "Kaw-As-Aki." I'm sure things won't always be so rosy, but I hope the Jays keep him for awhile. I like the spirit he brings.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Start of the Season

Remember the off-season? Remember how everyone had such high expectations? Remember when suddenly everyone became a Blue Jays fan? Remember when everyone bought a flex pass because they would get first crack at post-season tickets?

It`s April 13. Ten games into the season. The Blue Jays are 4-6 and at the very bottom of the Al East. Our 2012 Cy Young winner is 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA. Most of those with brand new hats, a flex pass and who were thinking about where they would be on the World Series parade route have ankles that hurt just as much as Jose Reyes. The thing about bandwagons: people jump off them. The thing about baseball; not everything happens they way you want it to. Ask a Cubs fan. They could certainly enlighten you.

The Blue Jays began the season in a bad way. The starting pitchers didn't perform, the bats were cold, the bullpen was overstretched.

A photographic rendering of the start of the season
The Blue Jays get creamed 13-0 by the Red Sox, 11-1 by the Tigers. Josh Johnson has the shortest start to his career. The long reliever position becomes a revolving door.

Bitch Please
 And the bandwagonners began to jump. There was whining and bitching. Pleas to trade Colby Rasmus and bring up Anthony Gose. The plans to bring back the World Series trophy to Canada suddenly stopped. People got angry. They boo-ed RA Dickey. Fans ran onto the field. People thought paper airplanes were more appealing than baseball. Fans threw pizza, beer cans and pompoms. Everyone generally acted like the World Series had been guaranteed from the get go. Just because you have a stacked team, doesn't mean you should act like New York Yankees fans. This is Toronto! Did anyone really think it would be that easy?

Brighter days. The corporate machine of the Blue Jays plots their own Canadian World Series win.
 Then last night. Things finally seemed to be blowing in the right direction. J.A Happ wasn't pitching particularly well, but he was getting run support! Singles, doubles, advances on errors! The Blue Jays were winning!! Then one of the two players who have been performing consistently amazing (Jose Reyes)

                                            (for bonus points, the other player is J.P Arencebia).

 Who reminded everyone of the great possibilities, whose smile can surely light up a room, did SOMETHING to his ankle sliding into second base after a two run single, and he was removed from the field in tears. And even the most hard core fans started crying with him. Because suddenly their future stretched out before them, and in this vision, Mike McCoy is playing short stop and the ace has an ERA over 7.

Who me?

How will we go on without Jose Reyes? He's the light in the club house, the wind beneath their wings, and he makes Edwin belly laugh during batting practice.

 Life will go on. It's baseball. Injuries happen, slow starts, complete flubs and plummeting aces. Yes, it won't quite be the same without Reyes, but he will be back.

And in the meantime, the Jays still have a line up that includes Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, JP Arencebia and (very soon) Brett Lawrie.

It's only April. And the Blue Jays might not win the World Series. But it's too early to say.

It's going to be okay.


Friday, 29 March 2013

Opening Day Roster Revealed

The good people over at The Blue Jays Official Site just posted the projected opening day line up! It's only 5 days away! Let's add some pretty pictures, and Baseball Prospectus' thoughts (and hell my own too).

1. SS: Jose Reyes

BP projects: .293/.348/.464 with 34 2B, 11 3B, 15 HR, 36 SB.
Mine: Damn, that sounds just fine. Like everyone else, I am waiting to see Reyes hit his first triple in the Rogers Centre and tear around the bases. The only worry is injuries/issues with the turf. If Reyes stays healthy there is no reason he can't hit these kind of numbers.

2. LF: Melky Cabrera

BP projects:: .282/.334/.434 with 27 2B, 13 HR.
Mine: How much of Cabrera's break out year was tied to drug use? Will he bounce back? He had a great Spring and we all know the Rogers Centre is HR friendly. The Blue Jays is also where, in the words of Colby Rasmus, Kicked Puppies go to be loved. And I have every reason to believe Melky will be loved here. I'd love to see him hit 15 or more HR.

3. RF: Jose Bautista

BP Projects: .256/.373/.518 with 17 2B and 24 HR. BP is projecting that his wrist injury will sap his power, and Bautista will have less home runs but a higher batting average with more balls put into play.
Mine: I still think that if Bautista has a good year he could hit 30 home runs. And while a .256 batting average sounds decent, last year saw Bautista struggling to get balls into play. In this line up, Bautista isn't the crowning superstar and I think that will show in the numbers. For Bautista I see a .240/.360/.540 with 30 HR and a high walk rate.

4. 1B: Edwin Encarnacion

BP Projects:.258/.342/.476 with 27 HR, 86 RBIs and 27 2B.
Mine: Last year, I suggested that Eddie would have a big year and he did. I'm going to project a likewise big year. This is Edwin's element. Batting fourth on a line up of Dominican Superstars, with a lucrative contract, a trophy for the Dominican Republic and those E5 days long behind him. Eddie will be stepping up to the plate. Last year he hit .280, with 42 HR and 110 RBIs. This year, I see him staying hot with a .275/.365/.545 with at least 35 HRs. It will be a good year for the long ball with the Blue Jays this year.

5. DH: Adam Lind

BP Projects: .267/.322/.462 with 20 2B and 16 HR. They also suggest, "dude can't hit lefties, play defense or get on base."
Mine: This may be the ultimate in optimism, but I saw something in Lind this year at Spring training, and Mike Wilner and Dirk Heyhurst seemed to agree. Could this be the year that his play dosen't get him sent down to triple A? Could be a contributing member of this team? Can he stay healthy? I see at least one extended trip to the DL for Lind, but hope that his bat will come alive for this team, although perhaps not against lefties.

6. C: J.P. Arencibia

BP Projects: .235 /.290/.456 with 19 HR, 55 RBI, 25 walks, 100 SO. They also project 373 PA.
Mine: JP might never have a high batting average, but if he can stay healthy (hopefully the knuckle ball won't take too big of a bite out of him), I see him being a contributing member of this team. While I would love to see JP taking a few more walks, i'm not completely delusional and can admit that the walks to strike out ratio is probably pretty on target. JP has always been a great clutch hitter and with a potential for more guys on base, I see his RBI rate substantially higher than projected. He had 78 in 2011. I suspect around 70 for 2013.

7. CF: Colby Rasmus

Why are you sideways Colby??
BP Projects: .244/.314/.437 with 22 HR, 25 2B. "Another year of lousy production."
Mine: Colby is a heart player. If he feels comfortable, if his heart is in it, if he dosen't over think it. He will play well. We all saw that glimpse last season before his injury. Afterwards he was rife with strikeouts and terribleness. He now admits he tired himself out taking too much BP, so maybe he has learned a lesson, and with a down home, Texan manager it could go a long way to making Colby feel right at home. I do sadly see another unfortunate foray into cornrows. .248/.350/.460. I see more walks in his future, and a little bit more power. 25 HR.

 8. 2B: Emilio Bonifacio

BP projects: .262/.322/.359, 20 SB.
Mine: Bonifiacio will probably not get 500PA this year. I see him being put in as a pinch runner in high leverage situations, similar to Rajai Davis in the past few years. Because the old adage goes, you can't steal a base, if you can't get to first.

9. 3B: Maicer Izturis

 BP Projects: .268/.333/.390 with 18 SB, 5 HR, 27 BB, 42 SO over 355 PA
Mine: Izturis will not be consistently playing 3B, as both Lawrie and DeRosa will also be fielding that position. Izturis will likely be sharing 2B with Bonifacio and floating around the infield. Between Izturis and Bonifacio, I see at least one of them suffering an injury or playing poorly. I just can't say which.

SP: R.A. Dickey

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Sometimes Ricky, you just gotta bounce

Melky Cabrera survey Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
 Spring training baseball isn't real baseball.

The articles, tweets and general ruckus has been pumping out in a steady stream since spring training began. Those expecting a World Series are feeling a little concerned. However are the Blue Jays going to be 2013 World Series Champions when they are getting beat by the Houston Astros? Why can't Ricky throw a strike? Why has Colby only hit one homerun? Why do the Jays keep losing?

Because here it is folks: Spring training baseball isn't real baseball.

It's practice. Practice where players stretch out kinks, try new things, and maybe think about going to the beach after the game or take their kids to Disneyland. You don't have to win these games. There aren't 50,000 people in the stands. The Blue Jays aren't 1.5 games behind in the AL East.

So everyone is freaking out about Ricky Romero. John Lott posted an article this morning about Ricky's recent woes facing single A minor leaguers (64 pitches, 29 strikes, 5 walks, 4 runs). This quote stuck in my head:

“It’s part of spring training,” Arencibia said. “You’re going to have your lumps. I had to deal with it in 2011 when I hit .057 in spring training and everyone was like, ‘Could he hit big-league pitching?’ I stunk all spring training. Opening day I hit two home runs.
“There’s a big difference [between spring training and the regular season]. You just have to take it with a grain of salt and know that he’s going to be fine.”


Ricky is having control issues all over the mound. Jerry Howarth notably said on the radio yesterday, "Something is broken with Romero." Rumour is rife that he's hurt, that those off season surgeries were more or mean more than original thought, or just plain and simple that
Ricky has lost control.

I honestly don't know one way or the other. But this I do know. Ricky will break with the team from Spring Training and he will pitch in front of 50,000 fans at home against the Boston Red Sox on April 6th.

That is the game that matters, and everyone after that. If he truly has lost it, if he can't find the strike zone, if he can't get out of his own head. J.A Happ is sitting just an hour and a half away in Buffalo, and even though Spring training dosen't matter, his 1.90 ERA over 19 innings has been impressive.

Ricky Romero is a competitor.  He isn't the ace anymore. That has to be a weight off his shoulders. He is suddenly the starting pitcher that the team expect the least out of. And I think that's where he needs to be. If the Jays are winning games. If the other four starting pitchers are taking control, and the sluggers are doing what they do best, maybe he will relax a little bit and play his own game. It's there. We've all seen it. Maybe he can be the kid from 2011 again.

Here is who I think will be breaking spring training:

Everyday second baseman:

Emilio Bonifacio

 Back up catcher. (Yes, he does look like he's gone a few rounds and maybe passes a close resemblance to the swamp man). Henry Blanco. Josh Thole will be catching every day down in Buffalo in case JP has an injury.

The Blue Jays can use the veteran experience. Even of the swamp man variety.
 And because I can some more photos from spring training.

Jose Reyes.

Melky Cabrera.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Let's talk Blue Jays Spring Training.

"I know you can be overwhelmed and you can be underwhelmed. But can you ever just be whelmed?" (ten things I hate about you.)

I'm back from Spring Training. It was wonderful, after a long winter to watch baseball again. But I am nothing but a realist, and I knew that the team was not just going to bust out of spring training like a world series playing team. In that regard, I was describe my time at spring training as being "whelmed." And I think it's a good thing, and I am about to tell you why.

Last year at Spring Training the team went 22-4-1. Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon that this foreshadowed great things. We all know it didn't. Between the end of 2011 and 2012, the Blue Jays line up didn't change. While there were a few competitions (ie: left fielder), no one new was added. Everyone on the 2012 opening day every day roster, had been in the line up at sometime during 2011. These guys were used to each other, knew their team and knew their role.

Now it's totally different. Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, Travis Snider, Eric Thames, Omar Vizquel, Jeff Mathis are gone.

In their place, we have Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Iszturis, Melky Cabrera in the field along with these pitcher additions, R.A Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and Esmil Rogers.

These guys need time to meld, learn each others routines, and get a feel for this new team dynamic. Not to mention that the fans are just adding a tiny bit of pressure.

In my first game, I saw R.A Dickey's spring training debut. He went 2.0 innings, he allowed four hits, two runs, one walk and one wild pitch. His velocity varied between 58 and 75 mph. In his book, Wherever I wind up Dickey mentions that when he comes to Spring Training with a guaranteed job, he takes the time to fiddle with his pitch, work on his velocity differentiation and really fiddle with his knuckle ball. So let's all calm down and think happy RA Dickey, knuckleball thoughts. Also read his book, its awesome.

In the same game, newcomer and tall man, Josh Johnson did not dissapoint. I saw him pitch two innings, one hit, two strike outs. His fastball velocity was consistent at 92/93/94.

Let's talk Adam Lind. This is without a doubt his do or die season.
 I saw so much potential in him this spring. More pop in the bat, moving easily, seeing the pitch better, taking walks and good base running. I noticed that Dirk Heyhurst mentioned on the Fan 590, said that Adam Lind looks so much like his former teammae from 2009 (his silver slugger year). I have high hopes Mr. Lind. Outside of Dustin McGowan, Adam Lind and Casey Janssen are the longest serving Blue Jays on the squad.

Ricky Romero, former ace plummets to rocky number 5.

In Ricky's first game, he went 1.2 innings, he cruised through hius first inning. Then allowed three hits, one walk and two runs. He was lifted before completing his 2.0 innings. He reacted with a surprising level of anger after giving a home run to to Joe Benson and then immediately walked Brian Ponzier. He threw mostly fastballs in the high 80s. One fastball reached 90. I hate to say this, but I was seeing more of the same. Ricky Romero's worst enemy is Ricky Romero, and his home run followed by a walk demonstrates that. He did not come back and battle, instead he walked the next batter on five pitches. Of course, this was his first start, and he did have knee and elbow surgery in the off season. Who knows how much effected this his performance, but right now Ricky's primary battle is with himself.

Baseball prospectus had this to say about Ricky, "look up broken in the dictionnary and you'll see this joke. And also a picture of Ricky Romero." they further go to say, that if the injuries were the problems, then the Jays have a "pretty good starter" if not "you can guess what happens next."

A big smile from Edwin.

 Edwin was a bright spot in 2012. And I truly think that he has a huge role to play for the 2013 season. Even if he dosen't hit as many home runs as he did in 2012, I see great consitency in his playing. Also, during the process of his extension in July 2012, he mentioned frequently how happy he was to be in Toronto, how much he loves the city, the team and his fellow players and i think that will continue to have a huge effect on how he plays the game.

Jose Bautista. The face of the franchise. Can he rebound from the season that really wasn't? April and May were slow going, and when he did finally get going it seemed we only got to see a glimpse before he went down with the wrist injury that horrible day.  Without him, and the entirety of the pitching staff, the team crumbled. But really what could the Blue Jays expect putting what was essentially a Triple A team in the major leagues.

While I was there, on his second at bat, Jose hit a monster home run to right field. He knew he had it. He flipped his bat and trotted. It must have felt good, and you could see it in his body. That is the Jose that we love. Jose does the work, there is no reason not to believe that we'll all see the results. And let's face it, the huge injection of energy, power and charisma can hardly hurt. The fact that Maicer Iszturis, Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera are Latin guys can hardly hurt, and in fact could go a long way in helping Jose Bautista and Edwin make this their team and their time.

That swing.

He knows he's the boss.

Jose Bautista, Reyes and Izturis.

Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie.

Melky Cabrera.

 Melky Cabrera. I hate steroid use in baseball. When the Blue Jays aquired Cabrera, I didn't exactly jump for joy. Although, I felt a messure of respect for him, after he removed himself from the batting title race. When the Miami clinic scandal came out and tied Cabrera's name to Nelson Cruz and Alex Rodriguez, I felt relief that he had paid his punishment already and wouldn't become embroiled in this.

I did some research into Melky Cabrera. This is what baseball propspectus had to say about him in 2011.

"Cabrera arrived in Atlanta as a line-drive hitter who could at least hold his own in all three outfield slots, but he got fat and became a defensive hitter. In the end, the Braves were left with a pudgy switch-hitter who can't hit lefties, dosen't walk, dosen't hit for power and is limited a corner. When you add that all up, you get a release at the end of the year, followed by an invitation to join the Royals; meageries of mediocre outfielders. For the sixth year in a row, Cabrera may find himself with more playing time than he can possibly reward."

While nothing can excuse steroid use, I can kind of understand why it would seem like a viable option after many years of subpar performance.

I have decided to be open minded about Cabrera. The Blue Jays is a team for the rejects. Jose Bautista, Yunel Escobar came with rumours of bad attitudes and worse play. If Cabrera stays clean and works his ass off, I think this is the team for him. I don't expect him to the batting title champion or the All star MVP, but I think he will contribute and hope to be surprised. I think that a .285/.350/.400. If he could improve his walks, maintain his double rate and hit 15 HRs, he would have a verifiable second start in Toronto.
Bonifacio, Reyes and Cabrera. I rarely saw Reyes without a smile.

Jose Reyes. I didn't see much from him, but I did see his smile (see above) and saw him fly around the base paths on a double. R.A Dickey writes very good things about Reyes and his relationship with him when they were still on the Mets together.

"A player with Jose's talent comes along once every twenty five years, if that often. [...] a one-man energy plant and a breaktaking athlete."

"Jose moved quickly to his left, snared the ball, touched second and threw to first for the double play. End of threat. End of inning. Jose made this play all the time, and made it look easy. He probably saved me ten runs last year all by himself."

I am happy they are reunited in Toronto, and can't wait to see how many runs Jose can save for R.A.

So yes, a whelming Spring Training, and a team full of potential. I can't wait for April to start.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Trip Down South, Day 1

Blue Jays vs. Baltimore Orioles in the first Spring Training game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida.

The starting line up of Reyes, Izturis, Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind, Arencebia and Rasmus gave a first glimpse of the possible star studded line up for 2013. Watching Reyes round first after a single, Bautista flip his bat after hitting a tower home run in his second at bat, and JP following a single with a double. Gave me that familiar Spring Thrill: the "this could be our year" thrill!

I'll leave you with a few pictures and will check in tomorrow with a bigger update on what i'm seeing out there on the field.

Adam Loewen and Jim Negrych took over first and second base.

The Blue Jays version of the Bash Brothers.

Jose Bautista loosens up before the game.

Bautista, Reyes and Iszturis.