Everyone is asking me about the Blue Jays. Friends, colleagues, family members. I’m in Ottawa and everybody wants to talk to me about the Blue Jays. What is this, 1993? I’ve gone from getting sideways looks after uttering “28 days until pitchers and catcher report” to “Dude did you see Halladay last night? Freaking awesome!”. It’s all a little surreal.
Surreal, but I’ll take it. I, like so many others, spent time in baseball purgatory after the strike in ’94. Ten years I tried to ignore the game. Stopped playing, stopped watching, stopped caring. Then in 2004 for some reason, the spark was lit anew. I can’t point to an event that did it, but the passion within me was as strong as it had been while I was a teenager. I haven’t wavered since, not even when my boyhood team were moved to that baseball hotbed that is Washington D.C. Not even the steroid stuff can make me turn away. I’m where I belong and that’s riding the wave of a 162 game season. And right now we’re riding high and the “casuals” want in. No resentment from this quarter: there’s plenty of room on this bandwagon, hop right on.
Darrin Fletcher hit the nail on the head last night when he remarked that the game was being played in what felt like a playoff atmosphere. 43,000 packed into the dome, 12,500 of them walk-ups according to the Jays. That’s a lot of spur-of-the-moment interest in a regular season baseball tilt, wouldn’t you say? Not only did they show up, but they brought their Toronto FC attitudes with them: booing A.J. Burnett at every turn, “A.J. Sucks” chants, cheering every Burnett ball, booing the strikes. Can’t say I remember such an atmosphere in the old dome.
The true content of the game was superb as well with some great pitching from Halladay, and we established that A.J. Burnett is going to be Toronto’s bitch for as long as he’s in the American League. He had his moments, but the Jays pounded him for five runs in just over seven innings of work. Doc only allowed one run on five hits while going the distance for the first time this season. Boo ya. Oh and how good is Aaron Hill? Is this the ceiling or can he get better?
Tonight, Scott Richmond takes the mound and his opposite number will be Andy “Misremembering” Pettite. It will be the second game in a stretch of sixteen games in sixteen days for the bluebirds. As I did during their last long stretch of games when I asked for 14 wins in 20 days (they got 12), I will put up a number for wins I hope they reach. During this stretch they play three against the Yankees, four against the White Sox, three at Fenway, three in Atlanta and three against the Orioles at Camden Yards. For those keeping count that’s seven at home and nine on the road, and during this stretch we should see Casey Janssen and Ricky Romero return to the lineup (and B.J., but no one will notice). Looking into my crystal ball I predict:
10 WINS IN 16 DAYS
They’ve got nine to go after their win last night. Ten wins would put their record at 32-18 with May essentially in the rearview mirror.Obviously the most important games in that stretch are the ones against the Yankees and Red Sox, but when you’re chasing a pennant, they’re all important.
In other Jays news it looks like they are finally getting some attention from south of the border (not that I give a shit what Americans think of the Jays, I hope the Jays go to the World Series and wreck the advertising streams for MLB), as they are ranked No. 1 on the Sportsline Power Rankings.Huzzah. Also, B.J. Ryan has been informed he won’t be the Jays closer whenever he returns to the big club after his “injury”. My blood pressure thanks you, Cito.
According to Sporsnet I’m supposed to feel stoked about tonight’s matchup between Roy Halladay and his former understudy douchebag A.J. Burnett. Don’t worry, I am quite excited about the game, but like I’ve already mentioned I think Sportsnet went over the top by promoting it as the most anticipated game of the season. I’ll simply add a caveat: it’s the most anticipated game of the season that we know of. The hope here is that the most anticipated games of the season will come in September and, dare to dream, October.
A.J. coming back to Toronto is good enough on its own, even if he had been facing Brian Tallet or Scott Richmond. But the fact that he’s facing his former “mentor”, the man who is credited with nurturing A.J. into a mature human being – well, now you’ve got something.
Burnett has shown that when he wants to (like, you know, in a contract year), he can be one of the best in baseball. Halladay has shown that when he wants to (like, you know, every fucking time he takes the mound), he is the best in baseball. My guess is A.J. will want a win tonight more than any single game in which he’s pitched. He’ll be greeted with a chorus of boos, pitching against former teammates (some of whom don’t like him very much). In my darkest, deepest fantasies he throws at Scott Rolen’s head, who charges the mound and shoves a mammoth burger and fossil fries down his throat before giving A.J. something to really hurt about. For those in need of a refresher on what I just alluded to, here’s a quote from J.P. Ricciardi about A.J. two years ago:
We just need to find a way to keep him out there. I don’t know if it’s psychological, I don’t know if it’s just he gets to a point where he feels something [that] he’s so scarred from being hurt so many times that he just backs off. But I think he’s going to have to get over that hump at some point and pitch through some pain or realize what the difference is between being hurt and really being hurt.
The obstacle to Blue Jays fans falling in love with Burnett during his stint in Toronto was always a feeling that he was holding something back, that he had greatness within him but was scared to unleash it. Last year when he finally started showing us what he was capable of doing (in a contract year), you could see the thawing process. He got a standing ovation after pitching what would turn out to be his last home game. Then he cut and run to the highest bidder.
With all that in mind, though, it should be a great pitching duel. My own baseball season gets underway at 9pm tonight, so I’m a little pissed that I’ll miss everything after the 3rd or 4th inning (maybe I can translate that anger into a couple of dingers for a Gargoyle victory). However, I hope the Jays bats will feast on his 5.26 E.R.A. and have the game in hand, and A.J. hitting the showers, before I have to leave.
I asked for 14 wins. They gave me 12. It is May 11th and the Jays sit atop the American League East – nay- the American League. Twenty games in 20 days and they went 12-8, and the pitchers who were credited with the wins were; Jason Frasor (2), Scott Richmond (3), Brian Tallet (2), Roy Halladay (3), Brian Wolfe (1), Brett Cecil (1). I bet you Baseball Prospectus didn’t predict that!
With Casey Janssen and Ricky Romero having initiated their conditioning starts in the minors, and with Jesse Litsch apparently close to coming back (although information is scarce), the Jays will soon have an embarrassment of riches at starting pitcher, but no one’s blushing. This is great news since many of these studs are very young and will be on season-long innings counts. I don’t see Cecil, Ray, Romero, Purcey or even Richmond going more than 175 innings each, which won’t suffice. If the Jays are still in contention in August, some very creative management will have to come into effect.
Which is why I still hold true to my call to sign Pedro. He is certainly no longer a threat to the Cy Young award, but he could come in and eat up some innings while we keep our young arms fresh with spot starts in the Majors and uber-controlled outings in Las Vegas or New Hampshire. He would also add a bit of experience to a rotation that is greener than The Shire.
- A Sportsnet commercial this weekend claimed that tomorrow’s matchup of A.J. Burnett v. Roy Halladay was the most anticipated match of the season. No offense, Sportsnet, but I hope the most anticipated match of the Blue Jays season will come much later – like, in September. All’s fair in the marketing department, I suppose.
It wasn’t quite the SI curse, but the Jays did accomplish something last night despite losing 11-3: they put an end to Zach Greinke’s 43 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. It’s a long season, and you look for positives where you can.
Brian Tallet’s E.R.A. ballooned to 6.45, but believe it or not I thought he was a hard luck loser last night. Sure he gave up a couple of no-doubt bombs, but many of the other hits he gave up seemed to be bloops, squeakers and 1st or 3rd base grazers. When it comes down to it he allowed 10 runs, but I don’t think it was as bad as it looks in the box score.
The other issue that is soon to become urgent is the fact that Cito can only rely on two starters right now; Roy Halladay and Scott Richmond. Jesse Litsch and Ricky Romero are apparently very close to returning, which is good news. If Casey Janssen can continue his rehab successfully we can ship the Bri(y)ans back to Las Vegas or the bullpen.
On top of all that: SIGN PEDRO.
Aaron Hill continues his feel-good season. He leads he Majors in hits, stretching his advantage to four over Victor Martinez, who has 34. The man is on fire and we’re all happy to see it. I’m also ready to declare Marco Scutaro as leadoff hitter a success. His OBP is .422 (22nd in MLB) and he’s second in the league in walks with 22 (Jason Bay leads with 23). What more can you ask of a leadoff hitter not called Rickey Henderson than to get on base almost half the time? I really enjoyed his hustle during his first at-bat last night, hitting a bloop and stretching into a double when Mitch Maier lazily fielded the ball. Way to go get ‘em, Scoots.
Today’s game, which will be the Jays attempt to earn a draw in this series, goes at 2:10 Eastern. Ex-Ottawa Lynx Brian Burres gets the call for the Jays while Kyle Davies is the man for the Royals. We’ll see if I get hit with the blackout rule on MLB.tv!
Twenty games in 20 days. That’s what’s staring the Blue Jays straight in the face right now. The opponents for these games will be; Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles in California of Earth in the Milky Way and the Oakland Athletics. Before the season started, you could have said with confidence that the Jays were better than the Rangers, Royals, Orioles and maybe the A’s. The way they’ve played early on, the Jays could win every series. Surely they won’t as the law of averages must catch up to them some time. But as commenter Jeremy at Batter’s Box puts it:
A 10-10 split would put them at 20-14, a .588 percentage. Roughly a 95 win pace.Then again if they go .500 the rest of the way they’ll finish 6 games in the black, but that’s no way of looking at the future. No, my rose-tinted glasses will remain firmly in place and I’ll predict 14 wins out of the 20, putting them 24-10 for the season on May 11th.
I guess now we know why the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario revoked the Rogers Centre’s liquor licence for a couple of games this year. Some Toronto fans brought themselves into disrepute last night after causing a 10-minute delay in which Jim Leyland pulled his players off the field because of projectiles being thrown onto the surface. Stay classy, Toronto.
It’s easy to scold these miscreants, but which is better: the lifeless suits who fill Air Canada Centre for every Leafs game, or the small group of Toronto FC agitators who got themselves pepper-spayed and tasered in Columbus*, or these yahoos who threw baseballs at Detroit Tigers outfielders? Fan passion is a needed ingredient to a healthy sports franchise (just ask Toronto FC), but some residents of society’s underbelly mistake passion for drunken tomfoolery. The crowd I was a part of for the USA v. Canada game at Rogers Centre presented a much better example of desired fan behaviour; passionate support that never crossed the line (despite much alcohol being consumed on that festive day as well).
The incident occurred in the bottom of the eighth, and for a time I thought the story might end up being how Jays fans at the game refused to let their dire predictions for the season go unfulfilled, and snatch victory from the players by forfeiting the game through hooliganism. Thankfully calm was restored and the Jays were able to claim their first victory of the season on the strength of young bats inserted into this season’s lineup.
It’s a strange occurrence when Roy Halladay is not the story on a night that he’s the starter. No; this night belonged to the Jays bats, namely Adam Lind (4-5, 6 RBI) and Travis Snider (2-4, HR, 2B), who pushed 12 runs across, including eight against an over-matched Justin Verlander. Every Jay got a hit last night. It was great to see Aaron Hill turn a double play again and Lyle Overbay bashing a double to the gap, great to see Vernon Wells and Alex Rios having good performances overshadowed. Let’s hope this fight for the spotlight happens many more times this year.
For at least one day the Jays are ahead of the Yankees (snicker, snicker C.C. Sabathia), Red Sox and Devil Rays. Tonight, another youngster features for the Jays. David Purcey takes to the mound and we’ll get to evaluate whether his hot Spring was as irrelevant as most Spring statistics. Here’s hoping he can mesmerize the Tigers hitters and keep this good feeling going.
Viewing note: Sportsnet dropped the ball last night. The game was NOT available in HD in the Ottawa region. Viewers had to tune in to Sportsnet Pacific to watch the game because the Ottawa Senators were playing, but here’s what’s puzzling; the Senators game was in standard definition. It boggles the mind as to why Sportsnet would put the Sens game on their HD feed and their Jays telecast on standard def. Only once the Sens game ended did the HD channel carry the remainder of the Jays game. What a debacle. Oh, and Sportsnet – that “beautiful” camera view from the 5th deck? There’s a reason those are the cheapest seats in the place – you can’t see shit.
*For the record, I believe the incident in Columbus had more to do with badly trained police officers, but it does point to a disturbing trend for Toronto sports fans. You can also point to the incident at the FIFA Under World Cup involving the Chilean National team. Perhaps Toronto fans have been going to too many Bills games at Orchard park and this is learned behaviour.
Doom and gloom abounds when sifting through the piles of MLB previews and predictions concerning your 2009 Toronto Blue Jays. The obvious steps backwards taken by the franchise are easy to point out: losing A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum out for the year, Dustin McGowan doubtful in his ability contribute this year, two rookies in the starting rotation, no free agent activity to speak of…yup, that’s the easy part.
The front office has announced that they’re working towards contending – in 2010. The media has done a bang-up job of toeing the company line, predicting a dire 2009 season. Most outlets predict a finish no better than 4th place in the American League East. With the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles rounding out the division, I can see the logic in that.
So with no expectations and such dire predictions to live up to, where are we really?
1. Roy Halladay
2. David Purcey
3. Jesse Litsch
4. Ricky Romero
5. Scott Richmond
Although this does seem like the Jays are going into the season light on arms, it’s not all that bad according to Batter’s Box. Reading his post really lifted my spirits concerning this starting grid, and if things work out with just one of the youngsters, the Jays shouldn’t be too far off of what they were in 2008.
The bullpen poses a lot of questions, mind you. Jeremy Accardo was just sent down to the minors and B.J. Ryan hasn’t been able to hit any higher than 87 m.p.h. on the radar gun in Florida. Cito has actually begun musing about using Scott Downs in the closer role. Brandon League has had a fantastic Spring and Casey Janssen should be back to 100% after suffering through injuries. Jason Frasor is what he is, and the rest of the cast should be shuttling back and forth between Toronto and Las Vegas.
I get the feeling that watching the Jays pitch this summer will be anything but dull. How Brad Arnsberg manages the arms will be fun to monitor, and if one of the youngsters emerges as a stud we could be in for a heck of a fun ride.
Here’s what I’ve got for a batting order this year:
The Jays were near the basement in offense last season. Should a few “if’s” come through, it will be fairly easy to surpass last year’s numbers. The “if’s” are the following:
- if Aaron Hill overcomes his concussion to return to 2007 form;
- if Adam Lind continues to improve;
- if Scott Rolen stays healthy and re-emerges as a slugging 3rd baseman;
- if Travis Snider is as good as advertised;
- if Lyle Overbay can start hitting doubles again;
If none of these happen, we have the 2008 Jays offense; nothing lost, nothing gained. If however some of these “if’s” pull through, we’ve got something to cheer about it. It means the Jays can score more than one or two runs in support of Halladay. It means the young pitching staff can pitch with a lead on occasion. It means Wells and Rios can start taking more risks on the basepaths.
It means; a better offensive ball club than last year.
My advice to Jays fans watching their team this year is this; enjoy watching these young kids develop. It’s going to be a hell of treat to watch Purcey, Lind, Snider and Romero come of age. Sprinkle a little greatness with Halladay, Wells and Rios and you’ve got a compelling product to follow. Some days will be frustrating, as stupid mistakes are inevitable with such a young team. But whatever you do, don’t get down on these guys. Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace are going to work this bunch into a hitting powerhouse, and by the end of the season we’ll have no trouble imagining a pennant in 2010.
My prediction for 2009? 84 wins and 3rd place in the division. That’s right, only two wins less than last year. That’s how much I think we’ve improved on offense, and I don’t think we’re as terrible on the mound as some are saying. The Yankees are nowhere near as good as advertised, and will miss the playoffs; they’re the team the Blue Jays will beat for 3rd place.
Can’t wait until Monday.
Seems like everywhere you turn recently, you’ll find someone eager to pile on the 2006 Blue Jays and label their season a total failure, a huge disappointment and a colossal waste of money futilely spent.
That may well be the case for people who had predicted the Blue Jays as their dark horse World Series winner, or touted them as winners of the AL East. Meanwhile, those of us who kept our heads and knew this was a long-term project meant to secure key pieces of the puzzle for half a decade, are left scratching our heads at all the talk of gloom and doom.
The Blue Jays are currently 8 games above .500 with 10 games to go. With a four-game series on tap against the Red Sox, the Jays could easily finish higher than 3rd in the division for the first time since their last World Series season of 1993. They have already tied their win total from last year, sitting pretty with 80 victories.
A.J. Burnett has been dynamite for the past 2 months, Doc has been Doc, Stavo Chacin has gone 8-3 in an injury-riddled season and the bullpen has been steady. Aaron Hill has emerged as a stellar infielder (11 errors while playing short and learning 2nd), while his bat has caught up to its potential (.290 as of this writing). Brandon League has made jaws drop with his 100 mph fastball, and been retiring the league’s best consistently.
The big money free agents have delivered exactly what was asked of them: Troy Glaus, AJ Burnett (after recovering from injury), Benji Molina and BJ Ryan have strengthened the lineup considerably. With Ted Rogers’ proclamation that he wouldn’t mind pumping even more money into the lineup, JP Ricciardi should be well-equipped to go get a solid #3 starter and a shortstop since Ted Lilly will surely leave for California in the offseason, and John McDonald looks as bad at the plate as he looks good on D.
With all this in mind, it’s mind-boggling to witness the Toronto media’s negativity towards this season, when such obvious improvements have been made. Then again, it’s the Toronto media.