Archive for June, 2008
Sunday, June 29th, 2008
9:35 PM Eastern
I apologize in advance for this post being more pop culture-y than most, but I just watched a month-old episode of “Don’t Forget The Lyrics” with my six year-old (guilty pleasure, I admit, though I tend to kick its a** and that Wayne Brady is really dreamy) and then read her The Lorax before she went to sleep.
I can’t believe the idiot woman went for the Million Dollar Song! I don’t know how many of you are familiar with DFTL, and if you don’t care, skip down a paragraph or six, but they give you categories, and a choice of two songs per category, and you can walk away at any time and keep the entirety of the whole big whackload of money that you’ve won, unless you’re stupid enough to try for a million dollars. In order to get there, you have to already have won half a million (and on “have a celebration all across the world in every nation” – you have GOT to be kidding me), but to go for the big prize, you have to walk in blind, with no outs, and unable to walk away, though you still get a hundred grand if you blow it. So the fine folks at FOX are relying on nothing but unabashed greed to save them $400,000, and this time it worked.
Poor woman, she had done so well to that point, but they threw Milli Vanilli at her. She didn’t have a clue. I don’t know of which I’m more ashamed, by the way, that I got it wrong or that I actually really thought I had gotten it right. I’m thinking the latter. I thought the lyric was “you let her walk away, but you just can’t ease the pain.” I was close, but still would have lost. But I wouldn’t have been dumb enough to risk $400,000 blind.
As for the Lorax, I had never read it before. I know a lot of Dr. Seuss’ stuff, and I knew about that story, but I didn’t realize it carried such an anti-big-business message. I wonder what the good doctor would have thought about all these big box stores coming in and tearing apart all the proverbial Truffula trees that once thrived in their neighbourhoods. It brings a tear. You would think, too, that since it was written near the end of the hippie, earth-lovin’ era (1971 – right after the Beatles broke up, oddly enough), more people of my generation would have grown up to be tree-huggers. I guess more did than of the generation previous, but we have a long way to go to catch up to the mud-covered Woodstockites. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! And you don’t need a Thneed!
Right – baseball! I knew there was a reason we were here. A.J. Burnett was simply brilliant today, and didn’t have a huge lead to work with like last time, so the haters can’t use that excuse. It was also his second brilliant start in a row, so you can throw that one out the window, too. Look, at some point you’re going to have to face it – the guy can pitch. He’s incredibly frustrating, because he can’t pitch this way all the time, but not even Bob Gibson could pitch this way all the time.
It’s funny, because a commenter yesterday asked if I caught Chad Billingsley’s tour de force against the Angels Saturday night, because he’s awesome. I didn’t see the game, but Billingsley pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three hits, walking three and striking out seven in a 1-0 win in which his team didn’t get a hit. Burnett pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three hits, walking four (one intentional) and striking out 11 in a 1-0 win in which his team didn’t get a hit (with a runner in scoring position). Pretty awesome. Yeah, but Billingsley does that all the time, right? Right. He’s 7-7.
Burnett even saved his best for last, striking out Greg Norton looking to end the 6th with two on after the intentional walk to Mark Teixeira, and then after throwing a wild pitch to put a runner at 3rd with one out in the 7th, striking out Brandon Jones and Brent Lillibridge. All with no margin for error, since the offense was brutal.
That’s two terrific starts in a row for Burnett – 15 innings, one run on seven hits, seven walks (one intentional) and 18 strikeouts. Can he keep this up all year? Of course not. Is he a very good pitcher? Without question. Should they trade him right now? Well, maybe if they can get Phil Hughes or Matt LaPorta straight up – but they can’t.
The Blue Jays were up to their same old tricks, offensively, though. Actually, they lowered the bar, going an incredible 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position. They stranded a pair of leadoff doubles and got out of a first and second, none out without scoring. It was the low-water mark for the season, but they got the win because of a well-timed double by Alex Rios – who is now 15/40 (.375) since Cito Gaston took over. Eight of those 15 hits have gone for extra bases (seven doubles and a homer).
John McDonald made two incredible plays on defense, which we’re used to but still took my breath away. First, Scott Rolen tried to make the one-knee-slide-spin-and-throw that he usually does so well on a grounder by Lillibridge in the 3rd, but the ball went off his glove. McDonald was right behind him, though, picked it up and fired to first for the out. The other web gem came in the 4th, when Burnett walked the first two hitters of the inning. Norton hit a comebacker, and Burnett’s throw was sailing towards right-centre. McDonald leapt, snared it, kept a toe on the bag to get one out and threw to first for the then-easy double play. Wow.
Best play of the day might have been by Rolen, though. With a runner on first and one out in the 8th, Kelly Johnson hit a slow chopper right down the third-base line. Rolen had only one play – a do-or-die backhand short-hop-and-throw as all his momentum was carrying him towards the Jays’ dugout. He pulled it off, and it was beautiful to watch.
For the second straight game, Cito Gaston showed plenty of (too much?) faith in his pitcher by not having a reliever up and warming at what may have been a crucial time. Burnett was sent back out for the 7th having thrown 99 pitches, and no one was up. He gave up a leadoff double, that runner got to third with one out, and still no one was up. I have always been of the “better safe than sorry” school of bullpen usage. I don’t want my pitcher to think I think he can’t get out of whatever situation he’s in, but I also want to be covered just in case he can’t. By not having a reliever up in that situation, Gaston is telling A.J. Burnett two things: 1 – you’re my guy; and b – you’re EXPECTED to throw seven innings. I haven’t decided whether or not I think that’s a good thing. I kind of like it, but it still scares me.
I mentioned yesterday that in Saturday’s 8th inning I would have pinch-run for Rod Barajas when he led off with a double in a game the Jays led 6-5. John McDonald would have been my choice to run, and Gregg Zaun would then have pinch-hit for David Eckstein, and the game would have finished with Mac at short and Zaun behind the plate. I asked Cito about his choice to not run for The Captain, and he said that he doesn’t like divesting his bench of the back-up catcher if he doesn’t need to. Had the Jays been down a run, he would have had a pinch-runner in there. Fair enough.
Here’s today’s edition of The JaysTalk:
The Jays are off to the west coast, so that means The Late Night JaysTalk for five nights. Those tend to be a barrel of laughs, so make sure you tune in!
Before I go, I want to let you all know that you really have to behave yourself in the comments section. I know that it’s the internet, and that anonymity emboldens people (especially a certain type of person), but stay away from personal stuff. Be as knee-jerky and reactionary as you like, though I have to say that I enjoy a well thought-out, intelligent comment far more (and we get plenty of those, both that agree and disagree with me), but don’t use this forum just to spew hate, please. And don’t threaten me. On that note, the once-unbanned Anton will never return to the comments section.
Saturday, June 28th, 2008
7:45 PM Eastern
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and John Parrish did pretty well at that this afternoon, looking terrific in pitching six strong innings. It was the first win for a lefty starter for the Blue Jays this season, and it gives them a chance for a second straight series victory after taking until this week to get their first one for the month of June.
What struck me the most about Parrish is that he only walked two over his six innings. This is a guy who historically has walked more than twice as many, on average, over his major-league career, but in Syracuse he got his BB/9 down to 3.84. This spring, Parrish worked with Brad Arnsberg on staying straighter and not throwing across his body so much. The goal was to increase both his control and his stamina and if that’s been accomplished, the Jays might have another nice weapon on their hands. Still, he’s only scheduled to make one more start before Shaun Marcum comes off the disabled list, against the Yankees on July 13th, the day before the all-star break.
Cito Gaston put a different line-up out there for the first time since last Sunday (when they had no DH), and it worked rather nicely. The additions (Eckstein and Barajas) combined to go 3-for-7 with a double and a homer, four runs scored and two RBIs. Joe Inglett kept up his surge in the last game of his 20s, singling twice, once driving in a pair of runs. And it came in a bat-around inning – the 5th time the Jays have sent eight hitters or more to the plate in an inning in the last five games. If you’re looking for a basis for comparison, the Jays had had four such innings the first 23 days of June.
It’ll be interesting to see how Gaston uses Brian Tallet next. The Braves hit for the cycle off Tallet in the 8th inning, scoring four runs to turn a 6-1 blowout into a temporary nailbiter. The lefty only gave up one hard-hit ball, Mark Teixeira’s home run, and Cito did leave him in after that to strike out Greg Norton and get Brian McCann on a grounder. Gaston hasn’t found a situation yet where he trusts Brandon League, despite having had 8th-inning leads of 13, six and five in the last five games, and now you have to wonder what might happen after that Talletic performance.
One thing that made me raise an eyebrow was the lack of a pinch-runner for The Captain in the 8th inning. Lead-off double in a one-run game, you have speed on the bench in Brad Wilkerson, Johnny Mac and Scoot. I would have pinch-run with McDonald and then pinch-hit Gregg Zaun for Eckstein. What Cito did worked beautifully, though, with Eck singling in the run. The Wells two-run double made the defensive replacement idea kind of moot anyway.
Make sure you tune in Sunday afternoon for a fine conversation with Cowboy Joe West – we went about 14 minutes and I could easily have talked to him for another hour. That interview will headline the pre-pre-game show, starting at noon Eastern on the FAN590 and here on the website.
Here’s today’s edition of The JaysTalk, for your listening pleasure:
Comments are encouraged, as always. The 24/7 JaysTalk seems to be a big hit!
Saturday, June 28th, 2008
12:10 AM Eastern
Cito Gaston said it after the game – as good as Jesse Litsch was last night, Jair Jurrjens was tonight. He had the Jays looking like their old selves, off-balance, no clue, unable to hit the ball hard, and going down seemingly without a fight.
The kid is good, and might even be able to get the Dutch a win at the World Baseball Festival in the spring. Heck, if you look in the archives you’ll see he was my pick for NL Rookie of the Year and as we all know, my predictions are never wrong.
Dustin McGowan didn’t look great, and came out spec-less after the second inning, but really only Mark Teixeira did any damage. He’s really good, too, and the way he hit tonight almost made me think it’s a good idea to offer him the 8 year-$260 million deal that a commenter wanted to give him earlier this month. Almost. Texy would fix a lot of the Blue Jays’ problems, though, that’s for sure, and he will be available on the open market after the season.
So I’m guessing those of you who thought the Jays’ problems were fixed now that Cito and his gang are here and Gibby, Denbo and Pevey are gone are having second thoughts now, huh? Not even the fearsome twosome of Marco Scutaro and Joe Inglett could get the offense cooking tonight. I know some people have had issues with me throwing out Tuesday night’s scorefest in assessing the job that Scoot has done as the leadoff man, but one great game can skew all kinds of numbers. If you do throw that game out, Scutaro has been horrible out of the leadoff spot under Gaston, and I’m hoping that experiment ends tomorrow afternoon.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? The Mariners come in with the worst record in baseball and take two of three, the Braves come in with the worst road record in the game and make it look easy in the opener. The Blue Jays are SIX GAMES UNDER their pythagorean win-loss record, making them the unluckiest team in baseball this season. Amazingly, if the teams were ranked by how many games their run production for and against says they should have won, the Jays would be three games behind the wild card Oakland A’s and 3 1/2 back of the Red Sox for first in the East. The question has to be asked – what did the Blue Jays do to get karma so brutally turned against them? Have they had any breaks go their way the last five years? It certainly doesn’t seem they have.
Here’s tonight’s episode of The JaysTalk – it begins cordially enough, at least, but things went downhill as the show progressed. I don’t know, I just have a hard time thinking that someone who talks to his buddies has a better idea of the pulse of big-league baseball than someone who is actually at the ballpark every day talking to players, coaches, scouts and executives and other people who talk to such people everyday. Maybe it’s just me.
Remember, we have the extendo-pre-game show on Saturday and Sunday, starting at noon Eastern on the FAN590 and here on the website. I’m hoping to have an in-depth interview with new first-base coach Dwayne Murphy Saturday, I already have a good chat with umpire Joe West in the can for Sunday. The plan is for me to be outside the Dome at Gate 6A (southeast tip of the ballpark), but if the weather is as bad as it’s supposed to be, we might not want to expose our delicate radio equipment.
Comments are always welcome – and the banned Anton has asked for forgiveness (I’m not sure, let me know what you think) – I doubt I’ll be able to answer any before the game tomorrow, though.
Thursday, June 26th, 2008
11:15 PM Eastern
Before the game, who in his or her right mind wouldn’t have thought that the Blue Jays would have trouble scoring more than one or two runs tonight? Edinson Volquez rode in to town leading the majors in ERA, strikeouts and opponents’ batting average, with a WHIP of 1.17, and Lord knows the Jays have had a hard time putting together any offense against even mediocre pitchers. Not tonight, though.
It was an ominous beginning for Volquez – he walked Matt Stairs to lead off the second, and Scott Rolen followed by going deep, a laser beam into the 100 level in left field. It was the first homer that Volquez had given up to a right-handed hitter this season in 17 appearances (16 starts). The game would feature some other firsts (of the season) for the young righty: First time he failed to make it out of the 5th inning, first time he’d given up more than three runs (he gave up seven, five earned) and first time he didn’t strike anybody out. This was a terrific building-block game for the Blue Jays’ offense. Their fourth in a row, kind of.
The Jays scored three runs in the 3rd inning, with only one hit! They caught a break when Jerry Hairston, Jr. didn’t touch second thanks to Volquez’ high throw on a potential double-play ball by Rios, and second base ump Joe West actually noticed (good on him – most umps wouldn’t), but they took advantage of a couple of walks, a hit batsman, and a CLUTCH TWO-OUT SINGLE BY LYLE OVERBAY (sorry, I had to) to turn a 2-0 lead into a 5-0 lead. Overbay, it should be noted, has now come through with a big hit twice in the last three opportunities he’s had to do so.
How many innings have we seen this year wherein the Jays get multiple hits and walks, and even a home run and only score a run? This was good. So was the 5th, when they sent Volquez to the showers with three doubles in four hitters. Vernon Wells had the second one, driving in Alex Rios for his second RBI of the night and career 614th. Wells passed Tony Fernandez for 5th on the Jays’ all-time list.
Jesse Litsch pitched the way Volquez was supposed to, facing one batter over the minimum through five and going eight strong innings, allowing just three hits, walking only one and setting a career high with six strikeouts. Given the fact that the Reds’ line-up was loaded with good left-handed hitters like Ken Griffey, Jr., Adam Dunn, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, and other left-handed hitters like Jerry Hairston, Jr., Corey Patterson and Paul Bako, this was certainly unexpected. Coming into the game, lefties were hitting .302 against that smooth son of a Litsch. Tonight? .143.
I feel bad for Votto, especially. He comes home for the first time in his big-league career, probably won’t be back for six years, and goes home pretty much empty-handed. He’s going to be a great hitter, and will serve our country well in future World Baseball Festivals, but in this series he was held to just one double in 11 at-bats, with two walks.
After the game, it was Wednesdays with J.P.; The Thursday Edition, and after we began the show by saying that what’s Dunn is Dunn, we got down to some baseball talk. Here it is, for your listening pleasure:
Among some of the highlights, J.P. said that he has complete autonomy over all baseball decisions, and that after getting to know Cito realized that he was the guy to take over the club, better than other big names like Buck Showalter and Bobby Valentine, because Gaston was familiar with the players. Ricciardi likened Cito to the late Bobby Mattick, who he thought of as kind of a wizened sage in the time they got to spend together.
J.P. agreed with the opinion that I’ve put out here several times that a coach can’t have the kind of effect on a hitter that many seem to think Gary Denbo did here. Granted, he has a bias, since he hired Denbo, but he also hired all these hitters (yes, Wells and Rios beat him here, but they’re now operating under contracts to which he signed them). But like he said, these guys are all adults, they’re not high-schoolers who will jump when they’re told to.
Aaron Hill is going to Florida on Monday to begin light workouts if he stays OK through the weekend. That would put him a couple of days ahead of the two weeks of nothing prescribed by the University of Pittsburgh docs last week. J.P. said the fog is starting to clear, and he was bang-on when he talked about Hill being glassy-eyed and not looking right last week. It was painfully, and sadly, obvious. Hopefully he looks better now. He’s in town, but hasn’t been around the ballpark.
Lastly, Ricciardi didn’t sound sold on Joe Inglett, though he knows he can’t ever send him to the minors again. He said that Inglett, and players of his ilk, “will never get the benefit of the doubt” since he’s been long since labeled a back-up, or even a AAA lifer. Gaston loves what he’s seen out of him so far, though, and how could he not?
I’m seriously looking forward to seeing Cito and the gang in the baby blues tomorrow night. With Bobby Cox in town, as well. I hope someone remembers to fly the U.S. flag upside down!
Comments are encouraged, as always. I caught up today – thanks for your patience!
Thursday, June 26th, 2008
1:10 AM Eastern
It’s not Lyle Overbay who is overwrought, it’s JaysTalk Nation (that sounds awful, doesn’t it? I won’t use it again). Tonight, once again, the Jays’ first baseman was the target of the venom of most JaysTalk callers, upset that they didn’t have the chance to tear into J.P. Ricciardi, who will be on the show on Thursday night instead.
Yes, Overbay hit into a huge double play tonight. Yes, it was the 15th time he has hit into a twin killing this season, meaning he is GIDPing at a near-record pace. Yes, the double plays he hits into always seem to come at important times. No, he doesn’t suck.
It’s hard to define when an “important time” to not hit into a double play is, because really, hitting into a double play at any time is pretty counter-productive. Five of Overbay’s DPs have come with the Jays in the lead, though, and another seven have come in games in which his teammates combined to go 6-for-56 (.107) with runners in scoring position. The Jays went 1-6 in those seven games, and each one of those six losses was by one run. Sure, Overbay hitting into a double play didn’t help, but neither did the rest of the Jays barely outhitting me with an opportunity to drive in runs.
No double play is good, but Overbay has only hit into three really ill-timed ones. Tonight’s – bases-loaded and 1 out, in a tie game in the 7th inning; a 3-2-3 job with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 10th against Seattle when the Jays were down a run; and one against Texas with runners at first and second and nobody out with the Jays trailing 3-2 in the 6th. They wound up winning that game, though.
So, is Lyle Overbay killing the Blue Jays? Hardly. He’s second on the team in on-base percentage, RBIs and extra-base hits (tied with Scott Rolen), third in homers and doubles and first by a mile in walks. Is he your classic super-banger, middle-of-the-order first baseman? Not by a longshot. Is he an above-average major-league hitter? Without question. Is he having a disappointing season? Absolutely. Is he a main reason that the Blue Jays are having a disappointing season? Absolutely not. How many question can I ask of myself, then answer? I think this is the last one.
OK, one more. Is his standing on the team leaderboards a result of him having a good year or the standards on those leaderboards being so low due to a team-wide offensive failure? It’s the latter. It’s a TEAM-WIDE OFFENSIVE FAILURE. Everybody. Only Rod Barajas and Joe Inglett are performing above a level that could reasonably be expected of them.
Sorry, but I don’t like it when everybody gangs up on one guy like it’s his fault that things aren’t going well. It’s never one guy’s fault. Not even Gary Denbo.
Now then, onto the game. First – it was near-miraculous that Roy Halladay was able to make his start, never mind throw 121 pitches and basically dominate save for a bad change-up to Ken Griffey, Jr. and a four-batter blip in the 3rd inning. I know he’s just a human being, but I’m not so sure sometimes.
The feeling around the team has changed, without question, as a result of the 22 runs over two games going into this one. They’re starting to score, so they don’t look as flat. When they fell behind 5-0 in the 3rd, I didn’t think the game was over. A week ago, I would have. Even though they didn’t hit with RISP (2-for-11 tonight), they still scored five runs because they’ve remembered how to hit home runs. Adam Lind hit a laser beam the other way (Denbo would be proud), and Joe Inglett jerked one down the line, but after Inglett’s homer, the Jays fell back into the old pattern, scoring one run on eight hits and leaving 10 men on base.
One thing that always infuriates me, and I suppose managers and pitching coaches even more, is when a pitcher won’t throw a strike to a hitter who is trying to get out. It happened in the 10th inning tonight, and resulted in the winning run. Didn’t cost the Jays the game, because they’d had many opportunities to win it before that happened, but it did result in the winning run.
After Brian Wolfe walked Norris Hopper on five pitches to lead off the 10th, rookie Paul Janish came up to bunt, and Wolfe wouldn’t let him. He threw a ball, then Janish fouled off a bunt attempt and Wolfe didn’t hit the plate again, walking him on five pitches, too! He then missed with a fastball before throwing a buntable pitch to David Ross, who got himself out, as planned. My philosophy has always been that if a player wants to get out, I’m more than happy to oblige. If you get too caught up in throwing a pitch that’s going to be difficult to bunt, you risk walking a guy. Just put one right down the chute, let him get out – had that happened, that game might still be going on right now.
Before I go, I had one of the greatest conversations I have ever had with a pro athlete tonight, and I wanted to make sure I mentioned it, because so many of these guys get a reputation for being jerks. Ken Griffey, Junior answered 10 questions (posed by our own Jason Rozon, you’ll be able to hear them on TBJTW this week or next) and then after he was done, stuck around for a good half-hour, just talking. About our kids, about golf, about paintball, about Pop Warner football in Florida, about anything and everything and not about baseball. He even commiserated with me about the fact that I have two young girls, and felt for me that I may yet have to go through cheerleading. Griffey and I are the same age, but his kids are a lot older than mine. I asked for his advice on what to do when young men start coming by to date my girls, and he said “All you have to do is shoot the first one, then they’ll all think you’re crazy and no one will come around.” That’s a much better strategy than what I had been kicking around.
I’ve been around pro athletes the last 20 years, and never with one so comfortable, friendly and engaging with people he had just met. It got to the point where I felt uncomfortable about being down there so close to go time, since I had work to do upstairs to get ready for the broadcast, but there was no way I was going to leave. I’m thinking it’s getting late, and he has to face Roy Halladay in half an hour! It was tremendous.
Here’s tonight’s edition of The JaysTalk – unfortunately, there was no J.P. Ricciardi, though it was a pretty good show nonetheless:
Before everyone starts to think that J.P. is running scared because of the events of last week – this isn’t the first time that he’s not come on after a game goes late (this one was 3:35), and he always shows up the next day, so we will have Wednesdays with J.P., The Thursday edition after the series finale with the Reds.
Comments are encouraged as always. I’m sorry for not getting them up quickly today, I’m doing the best I can.
Wednesday, June 25th, 2008
1:35 AM Eastern
I swear, I half expected that when I walked out onto the field at the Dome after the pre-game media conference with Cito Gaston, the old AstroTurf would be back. It was a surreal experience, a home game with Gaston at the helm. I hadn’t covered one of those since I was back up the dial at the big 6-8, and I was way more of a blend-into-the-background type then, as someone who would only cover a game or two per homestand.
Cito talked about his hitting philosophy before the game, saying that he wants his guys to go up with a plan in mind, looking for a specific pitch, or a pitch in a specific zone. He said that if you go up looking fastball and you get a curve, then start to think “hmmm, I might see another curveball here” then look for that and get a fastball, well, you’re sorta screwed. At the very least, if you’d stuck to the plan, fastball or curveball, you would have gotten your pitch once.
For those of you who talked about Cito being a more active guy during the game than John Gibbons (which I dismissed as revisionist history, because it is), he said that if anything, he’s MORE relaxed and laid-back now than he was the first time around.
He also said that shortstop is the one position that’s the most up in the air. He hasn’t yet decided between David Eckstein, John McDonald and Marco Scutaro. All indications to this point are that he favours Scoot, who didn’t disappoint tonight with a four-hit game (three hits in the first two innings!) and started a terrific double play to end the second inning. Scutaro has led off each of Gaston’s four games – two against starting lefties, two against righties – and has hit .353/.450/.353 (though before tonight, it was .182/.308/.182, how’s that for sample sizes?). If Scutaro is the shortstop, and he’s not yet but I can’t imagine the line-up will change after tonight, then the Jays really have no use at all for David Eckstein. I mean, he’d be a fine back-up, but what they could get for him on the trade market would be worth more than what he would be worth to them. If that’s the call Cito is going to make, then it would be incumbent upon J.P. Ricciardi to start offering Eck around to see what he can get back. And Cito made no bones about the fact that he’s in complete control of the on-field personnel.
Eckstein was in a good mood today, despite not being in the line-up. He even asked me how the old-man softball game went while the Jays were away.
Once the game started, the Jays got to pounding, sending 11 men to the plate in a six-run first and 10 more to bat in a five-run second. Five of the first-inning runs scored with two out, on homers by Scott Rolen and Gregg Zaun, and Alex Rios crushed a homer to left-centre to lead off the second – his first big fly since May 1st.
Rolen’s shot was on the first pitch after Stairs’ sac line-drive opened the scoring.
The last time the Jays batted around in the first two innings of a game? As we noted on the broadcast, it was May 26, 1997, when the Jays sent nine men to the plate in each of the first two and scored four runs twice en route to an 8-1 win over Texas at SkyDome. Cito was the manager that day, too. That would be the horrible offensive Jays team that scored only 654 runs that season and hit just .244/.310/.389. Only two Jays hit more than 16 home runs that year. So it’s not great company in which to be lumped.
Still, the offense is definitely showing signs, but let’s not everybody jump on the “Cito has fixed things” bandwagon just yet. The Jays have scored 22 runs in the last two games, but those games were started by a couple of guys having awful seasons. Of course, as I have said before, they spent a lot of time earlier on this year making some very bad pitchers look pretty damn good.
How amazing is this – after the second inning, the Jays had matched their season high for total bases in a game. That, if nothing else, should explain just how far below its level the offense has been.
As for the Adam Dunn thing, he seemed to have a cheering section of sorts somewhere down the third-base side, but it wasn’t particularly big. There was a much bigger ovation for Ken Griffey, Jr. when he followed Dunn into the batters’ box in the first. Dunn went 1-for-3 with a walk and a double and played a sub-par left field. Fine by me, I’d still take him in a heartbeat.
Interestingly enough, the 1989 Jays were also 37-41 after 78 games, and they wound up with 89 wins and a division title. That won’t be enough to win the East this year, but it should be enough for the wild card. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
Here’s tonight’s extendo edition of The JaysTalk for your listening pleasure:
Comments are encouraged, as always, there would be no 24/7 JaysTalk without you!
Sunday, June 22nd, 2008
11:25 PM Eastern
What are these things, when the guy in the Blue Jays uniform hits the ball with the bat and no one catches it? I mean, I’ve seen it a bunch of times this year, but there usually aren’t other people in Blue Jays uniforms scattered about the field when it happens. And these strange, crooked lines that get put up on the scoreboard when they do it. Weird.
For over two weeks now, there has been a big, fat “0″ in the Blue Jays’ first-inning runs column. Over two weeks! On June 7th, Alex Rios singled in Marco Scutaro’s first-inning double to tie the score 1-1 in the now-famous “A.J. Burnett wasn’t prepared mentally” game against Baltimore. Remember all that way back? They didn’t score in the first inning again until today. You have to go all the way back to May 24th to find the last time the Jays had scored more than once in the first inning – two days shy of a month! Brad Wilkerson hit a Grand Slam with two out against Luke Hochevar and the Royals. I usually don’t yell, but THIS WAS ONLY THE SECOND GAME ALL SEASON IN WHICH TWO DIFFERENT BLUE JAYS DROVE IN A RUN IN THE FIRST INNING!!!!!!!!! That’s just sick-making. The other time was April 9th against Oakland, by the way.
They got two runs today, from two different guys, and probably could have had more had Rios not gotten himself picked off third with one out and Lyle Overbay at the plate. Still, even with that blunder, the Jays managed to put up a total of eight runs and snapped the losing streak at seven, picking up their 5th win in June and their first for Cito Gaston v.2.0.
Vernon Wells contributed a couple of sacrifice flies – one to deepest left-centre (a homer in any other ballpark save Fenway Park and old Yankee Stadium) and another to right field. Both of them came on the first pitch. That’s not a surprise, Vernon’s M.O. has never been to get deep into counts, but dig this – Overbay’s 6th inning double, the two-out two-run blast off the centre-field wall that broke the 4-4 tie, also came on the first pitch. Stop and digest that for a second.
That one hit, more than anything else that has happened all season, lends a bit of credence to the idea that the hitters might just have screwed themselves into the ground trying to follow Gary Denbo’s lead.
I’m still not buying it completely – I can’t imagine that a group that has had so much collective success in the past wouldn’t realize that what they’re doing isn’t helping and go back to doing things the way they always used to. Too eager to please? Too smart? That’s what people used to say about John Olerud and Shawn Green when they were here under Cito Gaston v.1.0. I’m not convinced.
The argument could be made as well that the changes to the coaching staff may have caused a virtual team-wide exhalation, releasing the tension by figuratively wiping the slate clean. That wouldn’t explain the three runs in the first 21 innings thing, though. Still, it was fun to watch.
Also fun to watch was Adam Lind blasting a home run to almost straight-away centre, hitting a hard grounder through the 3-4 hole for a single and drawing a walk in four plate appearances. Welcome back. Twice as many hits today for the kid as he had in his entire first call-up this year. He’ll be in left pretty close to full-time, and hopefully will improve drastically on the .278 obp of a year ago. At least he can hit the ball out of the park.
It should be noted, before everyone gets too excited, that the Jays’ 8-run outburst came off two pitchers who are having spectacularly bad seasons in Ian Snell (165 baserunners in 85.2 IP) and Franquelis Osoria (81 baserunners in 50.1 IP) – ok, maybe Osoria hasn’t been SPECTACULARLY bad, but still awfully rough. Still, the Jays have faced crappy pitchers having awful years before, and haven’t hit them.
Confusing, like I said. Good thing we get another 85 games to watch!
I like the idea of using Scott Downs as a two-inning reliever, and so too does Cito, it seems. Of course, it means that he likely can’t be used on back-to-back days for that kind of work, which means more late-inning stints for Brian Wolfe or maybe Brandon League, who blew Gaston away with his stuff a couple of years back. Although, maybe Cito knew that with an off-day coming up, he could get away with using Downs for two. Crazy like a fox, that guy.
Dustin McGowan was unbespectacled (despectacled?) today, which leads me to believe that he feels he only needs the glasses to aid him with night vision as his diabetes affects his system. The lack of artificial vision aid didn’t help him in the 4th inning, when he gave up five straight singles to lead it off, allowing Pittsburgh to tie the game. Of course, he looked pretty bloody good the rest of the time, and looked great making that diving try on the Freddy Sanchez bunt in the 4th. Speaking of which – why the hell would you pinch-hit for your pitcher in the 4th inning and send the replacement up to bunt? Especially when that replacement is Freddy Sanchez, a year and a half removed from a batting title? Sanchez may be hurt, but if that’s the case, send a hitter up and wait until a better time when you need to get that bunt down, although he did pop up two bunts in that at-bat. Confusing.
Here’s today’s edition of The JaysTalk, by the way:
I’ll close by saying that I’m really not impressed with some of the commenters taking my saying that I’m not allowed to criticize Ernie Whitt to mean that I’m admitting that I’m a corporate shill. Do you really think that if they were going to tell me not to take shots at someone, that Ernie would be the guy? Again – NO ONE tells me what I can and can’t say on the air. I’m not going to tell the whole story, because I’m going to have to try to deal with Ernie at the World Baseball Festival in March, but last month there was a now-famous edition of The JaysTalk when someone actually suggested in all seriousness that Whitt should take over as the General Manager. There were about a dozen calls saying he should take over as the field manager (at least it felt like it), and I was pretty dismissive, but without getting personal or stating any of my reasons other than Ernie’s lack of experience as a manager. Whitt decided to confront me about it the next day, and based on the manner in which he spoke to me and the language that he used, I decided it wasn’t worth the headache to discuss him on the air anymore. I believe he again revealed himself in today’s Toronto Sun, with his quote that he believes he’s the best manager the Blue Jays have never hired. This is a guy who has never had a full-time gig managing professionals, at any level other than the odd week-long tournament.
Comments are encouraged, as always. The 24/7 JaysTalk includes off-days!
Sunday, June 22nd, 2008
12:05 AM Eastern
Not a team that can hit home runs. The Blue Jays used to be able to do that, but they don’t that often anymore, and they just lost their 7th in a row to a team that went 0-for-0 with runners in scoring position. Three home runs, each with a runner on first, and off the Pirates went to their insurmountable lead.
I believe the Jays are now 1-24 this season in games in which they’ve been behind by three runs at any time.
Two transactions to touch on, because I really don’t want to talk about the game other than to remind people who thought that Jesse Litsch was going to the all-star game or going to win the Cy Young that mid-May is no time to judge how good a player is.
1 – Shaun Marcum is placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation and Adam Lind is recalled from Syracuse.
Marcum’s injury is very, very scary. The Jays are trying to put the best spin possible on it (shut down for 7-10 days, then a rehab start, then he’s back), but Marcum is going to go see Mr. Tommy John himself, Dr. James Andrews, on Monday. That doesn’t mean that Marcum blew his elbow ligament in Milwaukee on Wednesday, it’s always good to send you guys to the best to get checked out, but it also means that this injury is not just routine nothing soreness.
Lind is back, hopefully to play a whole whack of left field (though he didn’t play today). The last time he was brought up they said he wouldn’t be here if not to play, so I’m assuming he gets the lion’s share of the time in left, and not just 19 at-bats worth. The speed of his call-up relative to the managerial change makes one wonder if there was something about him that Gibby didn’t like. Lind’s presence should mean that Brad Wilkerson takes a permanent seat on the bench, or maybe plays left against certain lefties.
2 – Kevin Mench is designated for assignment and Brandon League is recalled from Syracuse.
Mench just didn’t work out. He was a guy who had mashed lefties his whole career, but came here and couldn’t do it at all. He hit .214/.286/.262 against lefties in close to 50 plate appearances without a home run. There’s nothing else in his game that warrants him being here besides his ability to crush lefties, so there you go. A low-risk, high-reward gamble that didn’t pay off, and bait is cut after just over a month.
Mench was brought in to platoon with Matt Stairs at DH, and that job can now go to one of Rod Barajas or Gregg Zaun. Or, Lord help us, David Eckstein.
League’s return coincides with Cito’s, since Gaston probably took a look at the bullpen and asked for another righty who could get some people out on a regular basis. League had allowed 46 baserunners in 34 1/3 innings with the Chiefs, striking out 32. He may still be behind Brian Wolfe and Shawn Camp in the pecking order of righties in the ‘pen, but now there are four righties to go with the four lefties in an (gulp) eight-man bullpen. It’ll likely stay that way until Saturday, when they need a starter to fill in for Marcum. League is a good test of the brilliance of both Brad Arnsberg and Bruce Walton. He has all the talent in the world – can they get him back to his dominating form of a couple of years ago, pre-surfing lat thing? You know what I think – it’s up to League himself.
Here’s tonight’s edition of The JaysTalk:
Comments are welcome, as always. Remember, Sunday means The Blue Jays This Week at 7:05 pm Eastern. We’ll delve into the Flashback-to-move-forward Friday, as well as hear from Reed Johnson and Shaun Marcum, who answers 10 questions. Hopefully, Dr. Andrews will ask better ones.
Saturday, June 21st, 2008
12:25 AM Eastern
Boy, that Cito Gaston sure got the bats going, didn’t he? The Blue Jays are such a sad-sack squad this season that they can’t even get the “win the first game with a new manager” thing right!
At least Gaston got a chance to observe just how dysfunctional this offense is up close and personal-like. Now he can see what he wants to do to try to fix it, because I’m sure he believes he can. I wish him the best of luck, but I think it has to come from the players.
This is going to be short, because it’s been an awfully long day.
Three things jumped out at me in this game:
-Alex Rios played really, really well. It might have been his best game of the season. I’m not sure if it was because of the managerial change (he couldn’t have had anything against Gibbons, could he? Gibby left him in a top-three spot in the line-up throughout his struggles and rarely sat him, right up until Thursday) or because he was so embarrassed by the Prince Fielder inside-the-parker, but wow. A sliding catch, a perfect throw to nail a runner at the plate (and Barajas held on to it!!!!!!!) and two doubles.
-Cito brought B.J. Ryan in in the 11th with a runner on base and nobody out. I can’t remember the last time that Ryan has come in without having a clean inning to work with, though it did happen quite a bit in 2006. Good for him for going to the big guy when he needed him.
-Scott Downs got to pitch two innings, the 8th and 9th – there’s Cito showing confidence in his relievers and letting them stay out there if they deserve it.
Nyjer Morgan’s line drive off of Roy Halladay’s skull was scary as hell. Originally, I thought it hit him in the right shoulder, which was frightening enough, but on the replay, a direct hit to the side of the head – wow. The fact that he kept his feet and was able to walk off the field unaided amazed me. The Jays say he shouldn’t miss his next start, which is scheduled for Thursday against Adam Dunn and the Reds, but they also said that Aaron Hill would probably only miss two or three games with the concussion he suffered last month. Two things about head injuries: You never know, and you don’t mess around with them.
Lastly, to revive a great Toronto tradition from 1989-1997, let the second-guessing of Cito begin! I say that mainly tongue-in-cheek, because the guy never got a break, even when the team was winning division titles and World Series Championships on a regular basis. Then again, why wouldn’t he pinch-run for Matt Stairs in the 10th?
Here’s tonight’s edition of The JaysTalk:
Comments are encouraged, as always, The 24/7 JaysTalk rocks on into the Cito Gaston era II.
Friday, June 20th, 2008
6:15 PM Eastern
As I wrote last night, I expected that yesterday was probably John Gibbons’ last game as Blue Jays manager. I thought maybe the 9th inning rally would have shown that there was enough of a spark in the team to save him, but it was doubtful.
But my expectation was that Gibbons alone would walk the plank, that the coaching staff would remain virtually intact, and that Brian Butterfield or Marty Pevey would take the reins until a veteran manager was hired. Man, was I wrong.
The Blue Jays instead looked ahead to the past, re-uniting half the coaching crew that took them to their last World Series win with Cito Gaston back as interim manager, Gene Tenace back as hitting coach and Nick Leyva back coaching third base. Dismissed along with Gibby, Gary Denbo and Marty Pevey was heir-not-so-apparent Ernie Whitt, and Dwayne Murphy, the ex-Oakland centrefielder, takes over as first base coach.
It’s a stunning move. Incredible and unprecedented. So crazy that it just might work? The jury’s out on that.
I have been unrelenting in saying that I don’t think the Jays’ current predicament is John Gibbons’ fault, and I didn’t think a managerial change would cure the team’s complete and utter inability to produce runs. Those opinions are now put to the test (though chance alone says that the hitting with runners in scoring position is bound to improve).
I have also said in this very virtual space that Cito Gaston isn’t the right guy to take over long-term, that trying to re-create the past doesn’t work, and that the end of Cito’s time at the helm here was pretty rough (I think the words “train” and “wreck” were used).
I’m not backing off on that either, but I do agree with Bob McCown who said this afternoon that even though he was no fan of Gaston’s, he couldn’t think of a better guy to come in and run this thing for the next little while.
Cito has a ton of managerial experience, obviously, and has had a great deal of success. He is the only one about whom that can be said who is also very familiar with the Jays’ players, having worked with them at Spring Training and served as a consultant to Paul Godfrey the last few years. I’m interested to see how this works out.
My recollection of Cito as a manager was that he wasn’t a great tactician, but he was a fantastic communicator. I wonder what, if anything, has changed about his management technique over the last 10 years. I’m immediately thrilled by two things about the line-up for his re-debut: Lyle Overbay is hitting second and John McDonald is playing shortstop with Roy Halladay on the mound.
I don’t love Overbay so high in the line-up against lefties, but I don’t remember Cito switching things around too much lefty-righty (I could be wrong). I love McDonald in there against all lefties (no idea if that’s the plan or not), and in there with Halladay pitching.
I’m going to miss John Gibbons. He got a pretty raw deal here (from his players), handed a team this season that had all the ingredients to succeed at a very high level, and the hitters just plain stopped hitting. Gibby is a great guy and was a good manager. I hope he gets another shot somewhere, though the last Blue Jays manager to wind up managing a different major-league team was Jimy Williams, who was fired 19 years and a couple of weeks ago.
One last note – this change has Paul Godfrey’s fingerprints all over it. Not that the team President shouldn’t have a major input into big decisions, but it seems more a Godfrey move than a J.P. Ricciardi move to me. Does this mean the clock is ticking on J.P.? I don’t think so. It may even mean his leash is longer, since this is Godfrey’s guy who has been put in place, not Ricciardi’s. This is not to mean I believe that Godfrey forced Ricciardi into this hire, but I do think – just my opinion – that it was his firm suggestion that Gaston be the guy to take over for now.
Those of you who hate J.P. and everything he ever does should be right behind this move, I would think, and those of you who love him (though that number certainly seems to be dwindling lately) may be scratching your heads. Isn’t this a great game?
Finally, to explain the reason this post is coming up so late and why I haven’t been on the air much today, I spent most of this afternoon attending the funeral of my great-uncle Jack Young. A wonderful, warm, kind-hearted man, he passed away Wednesday at the age of 88. It was very strange to have my phone ringing off the hook while I was on my way to and back from the cemetary, but I felt I did as much, work-wise, as I could have today. He was a big sports fan, owned a few racehorses, so I think he’d have been happy to see how in-demand I was today. But that was my deal this afternoon, spending time with family, dealing with the really important stuff, and trying to get the Jays news out as best I could.
Most heartfelt condolences to the whole family, my Great-Aunt Estelle and her children Arthur and Linda, Errol and Lorna, Karen and Jerry, David and Ellen, and all the grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins, etc. It sucks when real life intrudes on our little fantasy world here.