Archive for the ‘Blue Jays’ Category

All Those "Surprise" Teams…and the Jays

May 13, 2009

In the first week or so of this blog, away back 3-4 weeks ago now, I profiled the Orioles, Mariners, Marlins, and Padres, four teams that had started the season off much better than anyone anticipated. How about a month later (actually, just 22 days after the fourth post)?

  • Taking their records as of the day I wrote about them, the four teams were a combined 32-9 (.780).
  • Since? 28-66 (.298). .298!!!! These guys as a whole have been playing at a 114-loss pace since then, and I guess the Mariners have been playing a little better than the other three, but it’s not like any one team is dragging the pack down.
  • Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA-Adjusted Playoff Odds Report now has the O’s with a 1.39% chance of making the playoffs (down from 8% when I reported on April 15); the M’s retaining a 23.34% chance (down from 28% on April 16, and from a high of 42% on April 25); the Fish with a 4.51% chance (down from 6.59% on April 18); and the Padres at 1.18% (down from 7.46% on April 21). Realistically, then, we’re 4 1/2 months from the end of the ball, and three of the four Cinderellas have already headed home.

A team I chose not to write about, though, is the Toronto Blue Jays. It was almost as much of a surprise that they were 10-4 on April 20th as it was that the Padres were 9-4, but what with sharing their division with the Orioles, I didn’t think anybody had really figured the Jays for last place at the start of the season.

So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that, if one of the surprises from the year’s first week or two were going to keep it going, it would be the team that was the best to begin with. The Jays are 12-8 (.600) since that 10-4 start and sit at 23-12, first place in the East, jostling with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball. And to the extent that run differentials mean anything at this point in the season (they don’t), they’re just about exactly at the record their run differential would predict.

So why does Baseball Prospectus still hate them? Through Tuesday, the same report has them ending the year at 82-80 and in fourth place, seven games behind the third-place Rays and fifteen behind the first-place Red Sox. It gives them just a 4.58% chance to win the division and 13.83% to make the playoffs at all.

Well, there’s Aaron Hill, who, much as I like him, won’t finish the year hitting .350 with a .550 SLG. And Marco Scutaro, a 33 year old who averages ten homers per 162 games (he’s already hit 5) and has a career .330 OBP (currently sitting at .406). And there’s the fact that they’ve already had nine different pitchers who have started at least two games for them, and aside from the awesomeness that is Roy Halladay and possible late bloomer Scott Richmond, none of them figure to be very good (assuming they can even stay healthy).

Mostly, though, it’s that they play in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. The Jays might be good enough to win the Central or West, but I’m pretty well convinced that those three other teams in the East, flawed as they’ve all looked at one point or another in the early going, are still the best three teams in baseball.

I’ll be pulling for the Blue Jays, though. If it’s a four-team race into August or September, that could be some of the most interesting baseball we’ve seen in decades. And if it’s a three-team race sans Yankees or Sox, well, that’s okay, too.

Gameblog #1: Rangers at Blue Jays

April 24, 2009

I’m trying something new today that I hope will become something like a weekly feature: I’m going to watch every pitch of a more or less random ballgame and jot down my observations throughout. We’re starting with the red-hot Jays hosting the powerful but P- and D-challenged Rangers.

Warmups

Broadcast: Blue Jays; Jamie Campbell and Rance Mulliniks
Pitchers: Texas’ Kevin Millwood (1-1, 1.17 ERA, 3.10 FIP) vs. Toronto’s Scott Richmond (1-0, 3.48, 4.78)

Millwood has been the AL’s whipping boy for the last few years, but has started off strong in ’09. It’s hard for me to believe anything has really changed, and I have to think that this solid lineup and hitter-friendly stadium will be unkind to him. I’m sorry to say that I’d honestly never heard of Richmond before just this very moment.

First Inning

The formidable Kinsler-Young-Hamilton trio is dispatched quickly by Richmond. Mulliniks opines that Hamilton is struggling because he’s getting out in front and not letting the ball travel far enough into the zone. He lines out pretty sharply to right, but does seem a little quick, getting it off the end of the bat just a little.

On the other side, Aaron Hill is just crushing the ball right now. The sound the ball made off his bat was the kind of thing pitchers develop neuroses over. It was just a lineout, but it was an adventure (at least) for Murphy in left, and seemed almost to still be rising as he raced back and reached up to pull it in. Hard lineout by Rios, too; Millwood looks awfully hittable right now, 1-2-3 inning and all.

Second Inning

All the Rangers, except maybe Mike Young, swing really hard. They came in leading the AL in homers and just three away from leading the AL in strikeouts, and from watching them, it’s kind of surprising they’re not running away with both. The first swings of Blalock and Cruz tonight might have missed by a combined total of twelve feet, but they were impressive things to watch. Don’t even get me started on Chris Davis, who seems to just swing at the spot where he wishes the pitch was. Cruz got the first hit tonight with a sharp single to left, but otherwise nothing doing.

Very long homer by Vernon “$126 Million??!” Wells to lead off the bottom of the inning. Young shortarms a ball to first base after a routine grounder down the line, but Davis scoops the throw; does Young really have the arm for third? I have no idea, but that one didn’t look good at all. Lyle Overbay adds a solo shot, a screaming line drive to dead center field. I’m feeling good about my Millwood’s-wheels-falling-off prediction so far.

Third Inning

Another 1-2-3 with two strikeouts for Richmond (I keep wanting to call him “Scott Thornton” for some reason), who I guess looks pretty good. 92-93 MPH fastball, nice low-80s offspeed pitch, hitting most of his spots.

I know he’s never been a big fan of changing the batting order (or doing much of anything), but how is Cito still batting Travis Snider ninth? He’s probably the best hitter on this team right now. Dude’s slugging .686. Anyway, there’s another skipped-in throw by Young for an out, and then an even worse throw by shortstop Elvis Andrus that Davis can’t handle. Millwood rises above it all.

Fourth Inning

Hamilton gets a fastball biting down and in on him and crushes it to the opposite field for a solo shot. Definitely wasn’t out in front of that one. If you don’t root for Josh Hamilton, are you a bad person, or just misguided? Blalock follows that with a well-struck double down the right field line. Blalock runs like a fat kid with very full pockets. Richmond still isn’t making bad pitches, but these guys hit everything hard (when they hit it). He’s already set his career high with 6 strikeouts; thanks for swinging with your eyes closed, Chris Davis!

Millwood gets in a bit of trouble, but gets out of it, Davis making a nice play on another truly terrible throw by Andrus. 2-1 Jays now.

Fifth Inning

You know, I imagine a regular feature of these things will be a lot of ragging on lazy or just plain ridiculous comments by the broadcasters, but there’s really nothing here. Campbell and Mulliniks aren’t Scully and Allen by any means, but they stick to the facts and generally stay out of the way, or at least they’re doing that tonight. I’m a fan so far. Campbell is a native Canadian, and you can really tell.

Another absolute screamer by Hill in the bottom of the inning, this one a double over Murphy’s head with two out, and then an even harder-hit homer by Rios in the same direction. How Millwood even gets an out at that tiny stadium in Texas I might never know; he throws 90 MPH fastballs right over the plate that are supposed to sink but mostly don’t, and occasionally tries to get you to wave at a big curveball way out of the zone. Just five hits, but three of them have gone out. 4-1 home team.

Sixth Inning

First weird little thing by Mulliniks–“I don’t think there’s a team in the league that plays better defense than the Jays, and they’ve got great range!” People should realize by now that, crazy throws by the Rangers’ infielders aside, about 90% of defense is range, and surehandedness doesn’t matter if you can’t get to where the ball is hit. Davis finally guesses right, runs into one, and hits it a very long way, the fifth home run hit in this game. 4-2 Jays. They haven’t mentioned how many pitches Richmond has thrown, but it seems like he’s probably had it. We’ll see if Cito can get up the energy to pick up the phone. He doesn’t have a lot of bullpen to work with anyway, with BJ Ryan hitting the DL today.

In the bottom of the inning, Campbell points out that Davis’ homer was hit with a broken bat. That’s a strong man (though honestly I don’t know that the break was anywhere near where the bat made contact; it looked to just be part of the handle). Something needs to be done about those bats already. Nothing to report from the Jays’ sixth.

Seventh Inning

Brandon League in, so Cito did, in fact, pick up the phone (or tell someone else to). They’re interviewing a hockey player named Curtis Joseph now, and he (Joseph) is wearing a terrible sweater that clashes with the Jays cap he’s obviously never worn before (though he claims to be a fan). Mercifully quick 1-2-3 job by League. Listening to hockey talk gives me hives.

Millwood is still going. He’s like a starting pitcher and a mopup reliever all in one; as the Rangers, you should probably keep him in the rotation for lack of other options, but you can pretty much leave him out there as long as you want to (I mean, would you miss him, really?). Using nothing but guts and guile — and some ringing foul balls, and a very questionable third strike call, and a crazy twisting, stumbling, incompetent catch by Cruz on a warning track fly to right — he gets through 1-2-3 again.

Eighth Inning

Jesse Carlson is in, and making Hamilton look silly, but then Josh manages to flare a single into left. Batting lefties Hamilton and Blalock (who strikes out here) back to back seems like a bad idea — both are terrible, at least relatively, against lefties, so one good lefty reliever can shut them down. Davis (who Andruw Jones pinch hits for here) is also a lefty, and that’s just dumb. Andruw Jones looks more like a sumo wrestler than like one of the best center fielders ever to play the game, and he strikes out.

Jason Jennings replaces Millwood, speaking of ragdoll (former) starters. Gets Adam Lind to hit an easy grounder to Andrus, who uncorks a third nightmarish throw of the night. This one winds up in the stands. Wasn’t this kid (and his .390 wOBA coming in) supposed to be all glove and no stick? Guess nobody said anything about the arm…I can see why people think Hamilton is a good center fielder, and he makes a nice running catch here for the first out. It’s just that an actual good center fielder would’ve been there waiting for it. Anyway, Rolen makes the Rangers pay for the error with a hard-fought at-bat and a single to left. We head to the 9th at 5-2, and I guess we’ll see what they do about closer with Ryan out, though the three-run save isn’t one of the three thousand or so most exciting things baseball has to offer.

Ninth Inning

Scott Downs is your man tonight, and it’s as anticlimactic as you’d expect. Aaron Hill makes a really nice play on a ball up the middle for the first out, which suddenly makes me remember how much I’m not an Alexi Casilla fan. Downs strikes out Teagarden, and then fittingly, it’s Andrus, who has probably had the worst night of his young big-league career, who lines out to end it. Andrus has had the kind of night you write home about, but what you’d write is “please Mom or somebody for the love of God tell me something good about myself.” I mean…yikes.

—————————————————————————-

So that’s it! Pretty good game to start off with, with a lot of offense and the (superficially) best team in baseball right now running their record to 12-5, having won each of their first five series. Andrus has amazing athleticism, but should probably get himself a general idea of where first base is located. I never did see Young throw to first again after those first two, but I’ve seen enough that I’d be worried if I were a Rangers fan. Meanwhile, the Jays look unrealistically awesome right now, especially for a team with like half its players on the shelf.

If you just can’t get enough of this totally random game for some reason, check out the boxscore.

Let me know if you have an idea for a better name for this. “Gameblog” is fine, I suppose, but…meh. Back tomorrow with a whole lot less than this!