Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Having that nearly-annual moment...

Where we realize that the Jays are not going to be at home over the Canada Day weekend.

(Mind you, they were at home last year, and there were plenty of photos of RickRo in his Canada Day duds to prove it. But we settled on the image above because of the gratuitous presence of Ed Sprague. We thought it proved our point.)

Okay, this is probably where we turn into a big sooky-baby spoiled kid in the mall parking lot, wailing at not being spoiled enough and blowing angry snot bubbles out of our nose. But is it too much for MLB to just do the Jays a solid and maybe let them play at home every July 1? The team is stuck in the perpetual Group of Death year after year, so the least you can do is give us one day to attract some extra proud Canadians down to the ballyard to hear some Trooper blasted over the loudspeakers and have some fireworks set off in the Dome.

We complain to avoid the real problems...
If Ricky Romero were to throw a perfect game, it could end up being one of those 10-hour long deals, because the Jays bats seem to go somnombulent when he is on the mound. Watching Aaron Hill whiff at Jake Westbrook's slider last night like he was channeling the Retro Handsome Alex Gonzalez made us wonder if the boys don't just breeze past the scouting reports when the good pitchers are on the mound.

When is a 4.50 ERA impressive?
It's impressive when you think that the pitcher still has a number somewhere in the mid 6.00's, until you realize that Brandon Morrow, tonight's starter against the Cleveland Racially- Insensitives, has given up a grand total of five earned runs in his last 34 innings of work, dropping his ERA down to respectability.

There's a part of us that wants to think that Morrow can become a younger, cheaper version of A.J. Burnett, with less douchebaggery and fewer excuses attached. Over the past month, Morrow's certainly been the far better pitcher of the two.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

In defence of "fun"

To be honest, I hadn't planned on a second post this weekend. But that's the thing about this blogging game: you never know when the mood will inspire. Part of what I (try to) do around these parts is react to the copious amounts of coverage around the team and provide my - opinion - when I disagree. Let's be perfectly clear on this - disagreement doesn't mean disrespect. Hell, I disagree with the Tao from time to time (cough Shawn Camp cough). Now allow me to get down to it before I earn my dismissal.....

The Sun's Bob Elliott and the Post's John Lott both penned familiar refrains in weekend columns concerning Roy Halladay and his legendary demeanor, work ethic, and preparation. More specifically, how those attributes allow Doc to mesh much better with his new team than old and how those attributes explain the difference in the recent successes of both franchises.

Lott, with help from Halladay, insinuates that it's the mental aspect of the game and unparalleled preparation of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard that drives the success of the Phils.

“The part that surprised me the most is the preparation of the players — talking about Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy, those guys — the time they put in, the attitude they go out and play with, that definitely surprised me."

It would be a fool's quest to argue that intense focus and preparation don't contribute to team and individual success. Hell, it's those very traits that led Jays fans to hold Halladay in such reverence. That, and the filthy, filthy stuff.

But do you know what I think led the Phillies to a World Series title? The talent of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins. During Halladay's tenure as a Jay, never was there such a collection of stars up and down the lineup to support him. Hard work and pre-game prep undoubtedly played a role, but each of those players were anointed as up and coming stars before playing a major league game. It wasn't their work in the video room that earned those advance props. It was their talent level.

Point being, you need both to win. Talent and preparation. Halladay never had a roster full of both attributes during his time in Toronto. That's the real difference.

For his part, Elliott re-lives the now infamous pre-season quotes from some of the young Jays - in this case, Shaun Marcum - about how the clubhouse was to be a looser place, now free from the cold reign of King Halladay.

"In the spring, Shaun Marcum said with Roy Halladay gone the Jays clubhouse would be looser, the Jays would “have fun,” and Marcum would “talk to young guys.”

It was a shot at the departed Halladay’s intensity. People within the Jays organization have said the clubhouse was more relaxed once Halladay left with his all-too-serious attitude. "


That interpretation of the players message bothered me in the spring, and it bothers me now. Undoubtedly pressed with dozens of questions along the theme of "Whatever will you do without Roy?", I'd like to believe that Marcum was insinuating they would find their own way, and things would naturally have a different feel without baseball's best pitcher stoically leading the way. Call me a wild-eyed optimist, but I just did not read those comments as an indirect insult to the departed staff ace.

Further, and maybe I'm unfairly merging thoughts on both articles here, the insinuation seems to be that fun, loose baseball teams will never succeed against extremely focused, intense clubs. Perhaps (and even likely) the long season will flush out the argument further, but now seems like the wrong time to make such a point towards the 40-35 Jays, hanging tough in the monstrous AL East.....while the disappointing 39-33 Phillies find themselves in 3rd place in a weaker division. And hey, someone tell that to the young '03 Marlins roster, or '04's collection of Boston's self-proclaimed idiots.

Disappointingly, Elliott ends his column with a none-too-subtle throwaway:

"Marcum takes the mound Saturday to provide fun."

A 5-1 Jays victory over the focused Phils, with Marcum throwing 6 strong innings? Yeah, I'd say that was fun.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

He's theirs, now

I joked around about it in the comments today (y'know, I may have added a little dash of melodrama for your entertainment....it's kind of what I do), but in all sincerity, I really wasn't looking forward to this. Roy Halladay taking the mound to face the Toronto Blue Jays.

Even on paper, that looks gross. I shuddered at the thought of how it would look in the flesh. Then a funny thing happened when the Doc settled in to face his old teammates (Freddy Lewis leading off notwithstanding):

I was strangely unaffected by it all.

Oh sure, a part of me waxed nostalgic watching Halladay completely disembowel the Jays through 7 vintage Doc innings. But you know.... he's not our guy anymore. He's Philadelphia's guy. Has been since the winter. And that's OK. I'm not so foolish or arrogant to say we don't need him or wouldn't take him back.....but we've got our own guys, man.

We've got Shaun Marcum playing the role of staff leader. We've got Ricky Romero and his emerging ace-dom. We've got Brandon Morrow emerging into far more than Mariners fans ever dreamed he'd be. Brett Cecil will shake off a few rough starts and solidify his spot as one of "our guys". Sometime soon, Kyle Drabek will be our guy too.

(And Jesse...oh Jesse....we'd like you to be our guy, but, um, let's just wait and see.)

Point is, Roy Halladay has moved on. Turns out I have too.

Weekend MiLB update
Not that I want to turn this corner of the blogosphere into a regular "running features" page or anything, but for those too disinterested in perusing the minor league boxscores, here are a few names making noise on the farm.

(Then again, if MiLB boxscores aren't of interest, you probably aren't reading anymore anyway. So frig off already.)

GCL Blue Jays (Rookie): Blog favorite and 2009 Jays 3rd rounder Jake Marisnick belted his first professional homer in just his 5th pro game. Boo-ya.

Auburn Doubledays (Class-A short season): Arencibia, Jeroloman, and D'Arnaud get the ink (for now), but not yet 20 year old Carlos Perez is drawing raves. Trade John Buck! OK, maybe not yet.

Lansing Lugnuts (Class A): sorry Lansing, I'm just not feeling it.

Dunedin Jays (Class A): ....but don't worry, Travis. I've still got (baseball) eyes for you. If nothing else, it keeps me off Hechavarria's player page. Ugh. No, I will not link to it.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Class AA): Don't look now, but Zach Stewart's coming around. It has to be tough, being known as the guy traded for the GBOAT. Is it selfish of me to want to see the Jays just convert him into the closer in waiting already?

Las Vegas 51's (Class AAA): Can Chris Lubanski be our new Dopirak, who was our new Ruiz? Everyone OK with that?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Awkward angry meetings with our exes

We've already wasted too much energy and too much digital ink waxing poetic, philosophic and nostalgic over Roy Halladay. So, on this, the first meeting in which our side faces its former ace in game action, we have one simple thought:

Fuck Doc.

Seriously. Fuck him, and fuck his "30 win season", and his postseason aspirations, and his perfunctory full page ads in the Sun. You wanna wear another team's laundry, then fine...but we hope our guys hammer you all over their borrowed "home field" tonight.

In this post-Halladay era, the supposedly hapless Jays sit at 39-34, four and a half games back in the AL East and the AL Wild Card race. Meanwhile, the unstoppable force that is the 138 million-dollar Phillies, armed to the teeth with Doc and an incomparable offense, sit at 38-32, mid-pack in the NL East. Behind the Mets. We're pretty sure that's the way that you all figured it was going to play out.

Look: We respect all that guy did for our team while he was in Toronto, so we don't wish anything painful or catastrophic upon him. We just want to watch his neck get sore as he's watching moonshots lofted into the Philadelphia skyline tonight.

Friday Rock Out - Sad Bastard Country Ballad Edition
In honour of our continued attempts to put our former ace out of our mind, we offer the greatest of all sad bastard country ballads, captured live on Canada's own Ronnie Prophet Show.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Go Starting Pitcher Power Rankings!

There was a time when we were all punk rock about this blog, and all about taking down the hegemony of the clichéed, tiresome sporting press. (No, really. If you look close enough, you might find that day.) So the idea that we are going to indulge in something meaningless and lame like the filler "power rankings" pieces that publications pull together to pass off zingers as analysis is kinda antithetical to what we had set out to do.

But on the other hand, we're much better with the zingers than with the analysis. As such, we've decided to pull together a weekly (or until we get tired of it) Starting Pitcher Power Rankings column, mostly so that we can let you track our mood about the Jays' emerging rotation. (Who says the post-Halladay days aren't fun!)

So, get your respective Team RickRo, Marcum or Cecil homemade t-shirts on, and get ready for the introductory rotation roundup.

1. Ricky Romero (Last Week: 2...in my head, which is where this all comes from anyhow.)
Like we said on Twitter after last night's tough loss to the Cardinals: You know that RR Cool Jay is the ace of the staff because he's been losing or getting no-decisions in well-pitched games in the painful fashion that seemed to be inflicted on Roy Halladay endlessly over the past decade.

2. Shaun Marcum (Last Week: 3)
Marcum moves up, in spite of less then exemplary results this week. He put up decent Game Scores of 57 in a win at San Diego, and 56 in a five-inning outing against the Giants, but not enough to get back to the summit.

3. Brett Cecil (Last Week: 1)
If Brett Cecil were a 20 pack of Chicken McNuggets, we would eat him up in all at once, and not even share. But just as we were stitching the letters on our Team Brett t-shirt, he got knocked around by the Padres and Cards, pushing his ERA to 4.06.

4. Brandon Morrow (Last Week: 4)
There's this suspicion that we have that one day, Brandon is going to have a full month's worth of those starts that make us swoon. He's a number four who we could see leap-frogging to the top of the heap in one stupendous week.

5. Jesse Litsch (Last Week: Unranked)
Because of our commitment following last weekend's outstanding start against the Giants, we cannot comment negatively on any other aspects of Jesse's year so far. Suffice to say, Jesse Litsch is awesomely awesome in every way.

6. Kyle Drabek (Last Week: 9)
PCL pitchers have been awful, while Drabek has been a little better than okay in the Eastern League. We're wondering if the Jays shouldn't just leave him there and forgo any Sin City escapades.

7. Marc Rzepczynski (Last Week: 7)
Probably keeps a spot in the rankings based on reputation, in spite of his 7.01 ERA. However, a good outing against Sacratomato this week (7.2 IPs, 9Ks, 0 ERs) keeps him in the mix.

8. Brad Mills (Last Week: 6)
Mills has scuffling for most of the past month. Hasn't pitched since June 11.

9. Brian Tallet (Last Week: 5)
Last year was the Summer of Tallet. The Summer of Tallet is over.

10. Bobby Ray (Last Week: 8)
He's been hurt since May. But he's not getting any worse.

That's the countdown kids. Feel free to let us have it in the comments or on the Twitter. And remember: Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Clip and save: A reusable post on the bullpen

We probably don't need to say this game in and game out, and since we'd like to preserve precious resources (of time, energy, and psychological fortitude), we're offering you a reusable blog item that you can refer to after most games. Feel free to clip the following out and put it in your wallet for future reference:

(Clip along the dotted line)
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"The Jays' bullpen really looked bad out there last night."

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(Clip along the dotted line)

Excuses, apologia, and the GoBau! movement
Because our mancrush on Brett Cecil and his Thrilling Thunderous Thighs remains strong, and because we fear that we may have jinxed him with our ruminations on his ace-dom, we won't discuss the six runs that he gave up, nor will we give much of an airing to the fact that this was his second cruddy start in a row and his ERA has just popped up over 4.00.

Instead, we'll focus on José Bautista and his two mammoth home runs. GoBau! Ballots for Bautista, yo! Get your vote in now!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reprieves, squandered second chances and weekend stuff

We'd hate to go down the road of talking how something in a baseball helped us to see what really matters and all that jazz. Still, we were left dumbfounded when John McDonald hit his ninth inning homer on his first Father's Day after his father's recent passing. We don't really need to tart the moment up, because most of you readers saw it yourself, and had your own moment with it. We hope that you can remember whatever you felt in that moment, and we'll leave it there.

A bucketload of Sunday transactions
The Jays have been nudging the pawns around board for the past few weeks, adding players with marginal roles like DeWayne Wise and Nick Green to the roster, while sending Jeremy Reed away and waiting for Travis Snider's wrist to recover.

But Sunday's transactions are a bit more intriguing to us. The Jays dispatched Jorge Padilla to the Mets for essentially nothing, which tipped us off that something else might be moving later in the day. (We can't remember is Padilla was still on the 40-man, but we figured a move like that was making room for something else.)

Before the Jays even had time to hit the showers after yesterday's loss to the Giants, the team announced that they were calling up Triple-A slugger Jarret Hoffpauir, while sending Edwin Encarnacion off to Vegas to chill and get his swing back.

We love the move to bring up Hoffpauir, as it shows that the team might not be quite so stubborn about trying to get the most out of the minor-league veterans on its roster. He's posting a .910 OPS in Vegas, with more walks (21) than strikeouts (15), which shows a level of maturity with the strike zone. Moreover, he's in his 27 year-old season, which means (if the old scouting addage holds true) that the next few years might be his most productive. So why not give him a chance?

The only thing that is perplexing about this is the sequence of adding journeyman Nick Green and his career .656 OPS to the mix while dispatching Encarnacion, who's OPSing .765 this year. We're not entirely sure what Encarnacion is supposed to learn at this point in the PCL, and the Jays should know that they have a guy who will hit the ball hard and whiff a lot. We're not sure how that's supposed to change from here on out.

Maybe this is just the beginning of the end for Edwin.

A Minor League Hero is something to be
Another couple of transactions that might have slipped below the radar drew our attention this weekend. First off, our off-season mancrush Brian Dopirak was dropped from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Vegas.

It's funny to us now how much we spent the off-season bitching and moaning about the raw deal that Dopirak and Randy Ruiz were getting, and how the Jays should be making room for both of them on the 25-man roster. Now, Ruiz is getting back into game shape and helping the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, while Dopirak is rocking a sub-.700 OPS and grounding into double plays like your grandma.

We're sure there's a lesson to be learned there.

Meanwhile, Kevin Ahrens (the next Chipper!) and his .524 OPS was shipped from high-A Dunedin to end-of-the-line Lansing last week, with an order to stop with his switch-hitting nonsense (Thanks to Lott at the NP.) We'd say something hopeful about the young-ish (21) Ahrens' chances of pulling it together, but a slide back to the Midwest League at this point pretty much wipes clear most of the optimism that we might have had for him.

Litsch is bitchin'; Brian leaves us cryin'
How good did Jesse Litsch look on Saturday? Good enough that we're going to give him one week's worth of free passes. There shall be no discussion of his follicular colouring or pigmentation, nor shall there be any brickbats launched at the expense of his physique. You toss a three-hitter where you attack hitters like that, and you get yourself a nice reprieve.

As for the man he replaced in the rotation, Mr. Tallet: Shave your stupid lambchops, you beatnik.

Optimism! More Optimism Please!
Five Dunedin Blue Jays were named to the Florida State League All-Star game, including starter Henderson Alvarez, catchers Travis d’Arnaud and Yan Gomes and infielder Tyler Pastornicky. (And some other dude got added, but we're inclined to believe that it was a sympathy thing...or we're just too lazy to go back and find who it was.)

We've got a lot invested emotionally in Alvarez, d'Arnaud and Pastornicky at this point, so any good news coming from wherever they are is fine by us. We just wish we didn't have to wait so long for them to get here, because the more levels that they have to traverse, the more that we get nervous about whether if they can surmount the next obstacle.

On the other hand, the past few weeks worth of performance from J.P. Arencibia (still young at 24!) has us feeling like we might actually start to see real live prospects emerge from the system any day now. Arencibia is doing a passable job in terms of throwing runners out (24%) while reclaiming some of his past form at the plate (.884 OPS, 14 HRs, 35 RsBI.) It was in his 24th year that Mike Napoli finally emerged from the minors to start making a dent in Anaheim, and Arencibia's numbers compare pretty favorably with the Angel's backstop.

We could definitely learn to live with that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Blue Jay Miscellany

Be forewarned: I'm about to be an insolent little prick and rankle the feathers of the truest of optimists among us here in Blue Jay land. Ready?

The Blue Jays will likely miss the playoffs again this season. That's not to say they will definitely miss the playoffs. It certainly does not say that I hope for anything less than post-season baseball for the team. What it does say is that the Yankees, (Devil) Rays, and Red Sox are very good baseball teams. I don't see any of them faltering dramatically. I also don't see Exec of the Year Alex Anthopoulos (where's the Jack Z love now, huh? HUH?!) mortgaging the future - his vision of the future - to take a run in an insanely talented and crowded AL East this season.

Donnie Downer or what, right? I know. I'm sorry. What can I tell you? That's how I see the season shaping up. But let me tell you something else:

I'm enjoying this season - this Roy fucking Halladay-less season, no less - more than any season in a number of years. This is a team with a strong core - built on pitching - that seems poised to settle into definite contender status in the immediate and foreseeable future. This is a team that will run out a 5-man rotation built among the best of Marcum, Romero, Cecil , Morrow, Drabek, Jenkins, Rzepczynski, Stewart, and McGuire (if the dude wises up and signs - more later).

I'm not particularly sold on the bats as currently comprised, but there's definite hope with Lind and Hill (there both better than this, c'mon), Snider (hurry back!), a resurgent Vernon Wells, and a crop of youngsters (Wallace, Arencibia, Emaus, etc) from the freshly stocked farm on the way.

And there's more good news:

Brandon Morrow has a chance to be really, really good
Oh boy. I can't say for certain which attribute impresses me more: his ability to clock an easy 96 (I refuse to say "cheese") on the gun, or his ability to dial it back and reign it in when his mechanics fall out of line and he has trouble spotting the zone. He's AJ Burnett without being a headcase. That's a good thing, friends. He's also developing that fantastic character trait which seems to be prevalent amongst the Jays young arms - battling it out when taking the mound without their best stuff.

I'm not saying Morrow should necessarily be mentioned in the hot-topic "who is/will be the ace?" conversation....but don't sleep on this arm.

Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are better than this
Let's not sugarcoat this. To date, the pair that last season carried the club on their backs have been.....bad. Mendoza-line bad. Regardless of their second halves, the year end lines will not be pretty. It's hard to finish with respectable stats when you approach the all-star break scraping .200.

But both are too talented and too devoted to the craft to continue the shittacular output for a full season. I'm optimistic. Why wouldn't I be?

More minor league shenanigans - welcome back Auburn Doubledays
Apart from the coolest name in the minor leagues (debate for another team), the Jays short season A-ball team begins play this weekend, with another crop of prospects to (stress over) follow.

I would tell you that roster notables include SS Gustavo Pierre, C Carlos Perez, OF Marcus Knecht, and P Asher Wojciechowski, Drew Hutchison, and Daniel Webb....but what do I know. Very little, that's what.

Feel-good stories make you feel good
What can I say? I'm a sucker for them. Here's the draft-day memory of an undersized right hander drafted in the 42nd (!) round by the Jays. A book-end for Timmy Collins? I'm down.

Catcher backlog?
The Jays have one of the season's top offensive catchers on the major league roster. They also have 5 or 6 legitimate catching prospects lining up nicely in the queue....with Arencibia knocking on the door from AAA after surpassing Brett Wallace as that team's top offensive force. I'm not saying the Jays will be out of contention by the trade deadline....but if they are?

Deck McGuire aint mad at us
Seems early reports (cough GRIFF cough) of ol' Deck's sour attitude on being drafted by the Jays were a tad premature. Still, it looks like a drawn-out negotiation that will come down to the August signing deadline. Which sucks, because apart from a lost year of development within the Jays system, we'll likely be robbed of seeing Deck McGuire, Auburn Doubleday.

And that would just about blow what's left of my mind.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Working for the weekend

Hey kids. Remember us? Your somewhat-less-than-dutiful-blogger? Yeah, that's us. Nice to see you again.

So, it's been one of those weeks, where suddenly just about every free hour of our day gets sucked into some sort of vortex of consultative stratgery and mid-management monkeyshines. Working for a living is a drag, and we keep pulling our eyelashes out to wish upon them that one day, a big sports-media conglomerate will come and whisk us away from all discussions of business plans and outreach and stakeholder relations.

(Although some relations with stakeholders sounds fun on a Friday night, youknowwhatI'msayin'?)

Anyways, we'll try to squeeze in some extra work this weekend so that we can get some regular infotainment posted throughout next week. We wouldn't want to have you all start coming to your own conclusions about the state of the Blue Jays, because what use would we be to you then?

There's a post on the staff ace, which has probably totally changed by now, although likely for the better. It seems like folks are already picking their sides, and aligning themselves behind one of the top three starters, but we really want to see someone make the case for the fifth starter, whoever that is this week.

Speaking of rotations...
The Jays miss Tim Lincecum in this weekend's series, which we suppose is a good thing. But instead, they run into Barry Zito (3.10 ERA, 4.71 xFIP), Matt Cain (2.05 ERA, 4.54 xFIP) and Jonathan Sanchez (2.78 ERA, 4.13 xFIP). That's pretty scary, and we don't even know what the hell an xFIP is, or where it grazes in the winter.

Moreover, the Jays will counter with Brandon Morrow (who's been better over the past month, with a 3.60 ERA), the Pasty Ginger Ghost of Jesse Litsch (we can't bear to watch, so we'll be FFing through his innings) and Team Marcum (who we encourage to make his case for acedom).

There's a part of us that wants to think that this weekend, those three Gigantes pitchers get their comeuppance, and start to realize that pitching in the AL East is different than soft tossing into the 7-8-9 hitters in a Quadruple-A lineup and in a cavernous NL West ballpark. We'd really love to see a few of the Jays scuffling hitters (JoBau, Hill and Lind, in particular) get dialed in and start peppering the 200 level outfield seats with scorching hot projectiles.

More xFIPpery
Did you know that RickRo is seventh in the Majors in xFIP? He trails only Cliff Lee, some cat named Holiday or something like that, Frank Liriano, Lincecum, Wainwright and Josh Johnson. Which is some pretty elite company.

More over, he's far ahead of chuck-and-duckers like Chris Carpenter, King Felix, Ubaldo Jimenez, or C.C. Sebaceous Glands.

A few more advanced metrics like this, and we just might find ourselves on Team RickRo by the end of the weekend.

A Friday Rock Out for Jonah Keri
The wise and sage Mr. Keri noted his undying devotion to Loverboy to us over Twitter last month, so we figured we'd make his day with an utterly appropriate Rock Out. Because when it comes right down to it, we have to concur with the words of Mr. Mike Reno:

Everybody's working for the weekend
Everybody wants a little romance
Everybody's goin' off the deep end
Everybody needs a second chance


Have a great weekend, y'all.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Note to self: Don't get ahead of yourself

So there we were, yesterday, piecing together our argument about how Brett Cecil is the new ace of the staff, and how we should all bow to his thunderously thrillingly massive thighs and the way that they propel him in a consistent manner towards the plate as he attacks hitters with an impressively diverse arsenal of pitches, speeds, and locations. What a dreamboat.

Really, the whole piece was working its way towards being one of our better posts in recent memory, certain to generate comments (comment whore!) and controversy (Team RickRo was going to be incensed.) We'll probably even come back to it, and tart it all up and include FIP and xFIP comparisons and all that jazz.

But next time, we'll probably wait until a night when someone other than RickRo, Cecil or Marcum toe the rubber. Because it makes us feel like we're wasting our time when we make the case for our guy, only to see him get rocked that night in his start.

We probably don't believe in jinxes, but we're pretty sure that we toyed with the baseball gods when we went on a campaign of unparalleled gushing over him on the night of his start. Sorry about that.

Now, we presume that we have to make an offering to those same baseball gods, so this afternoon, we'll be torching our Donruss Roy Halladay card from 2003 (Cy Young year!) with the T-Bird logo (Power of the T-Bird!). We hope this sacrifice pleases them.

The Sad Ballad of Dusty Lambchops
It's another sad story told in minor chords for Dustin McGowan, who had yet another setback in his recovery from labrum surgery. We probably haven't even considered him as part of the club's future for some time now, but we still feel bad for a kid who seemed to be on his way towards the top of the Jays' rotation.

We'd love to see those sideburns on the mound in game action once again, but McGowan's story reminds us that an upward trajectory isn't guaranteed for any young or emerging prospect, and that the vagaries of time and the wear and tear caused by the unnatural and violent action to which pitchers subject their extremities can derail the most promising careers.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Try not to look so sad, chums

It's been quite a ride so far, hasn't it? The hot start through the nine weeks of the season helped to separate the true believers from the doubters, and the hopeless romantics from the incorrigible cynics.

Ah, the salad days: Homers were bountiful, and pitching performances were surprisingly satisfying. Brett Cecil got the call, and quickly emerged as the future (if not present) ace of the staff. Travis Snider was out of the lineup, but we hardly seemed to notice, given the performances of Fred Lewis and José Bautista. We'd even managed to relax about the whole thing with The Manager, even stepping in occasionally to (quietly) defend one of his moves. We looked at the standings daily, and saw the Jays sitting above the Red Sox, and mere percentage points behind the Yankees.

These were good days, and times to savour. We could hardly have been happier. We relaxed, smiled, and put on five more pounds.

But on the tenth week, it suddenly went ugly. There were shit-kickings, painfully close games that got away or never seemed far from our grasp. But all of it added up to a week with only a single narrow escape of a win. (And that win only added to our general anxiety about Kevin Gregg as our closer, leading people to start talking wistfully about the days of the Beej and Billy Koch. Or maybe that was just us...)

We've all been conditioned at this point to keep our eyes open and to anticipate the moment in the season where it all goes wrong for the Jays, and where they slip off the pace and back into the mid-pack (or lower) of the American League for good, so a week like this is certainly going to resonate. And while we're generally committed to be the last dude handcuffed to the ship's rail when it hits the ocean floor, we'll confess that there was much about this past week that causes us concern.

(Like JoBau's inability to hit inside pitches. Or the Jays' inability to get guys on and move them along. Or the spectacular ratfuck that is the fifth spot in the rotation. Or the prospect of meeting up with the Padres and the Cardinals.)

But if we can offer any solace in this, we'd tell it you like Ray Charles' momma told him: There's gonna be hard times. This past week sucked, but you've got to just pick up your replica retro Jays cap, dust it off, slap it back on your mellon and hope for a better week ahead.

This team has surprised us already, so let's try to hang onto those happy thoughts, even as they drift into memory. Because the alternative is a long miserable summer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Interleague play does not inspire greatness

Scattered thoughts as Interleague play continues to suck the baseball loving life out of me.....

*

The following is 90% emotional and 10% rational - based on the Jays ongoing shittacular interleague performance - but seriously: a 15-game stretch against National League opponents? Really, Bud Selig? The novelty hasn't worn off at all, not even just a little? I like the concept of interleague play - maybe line the Jays up against past World Series opponents like the Braves and Phillies - but a half dozen series against the like of the Rockies and Padres? Oh well, at least this gives T.O. fans a chance to see Doc again. Oh, wait. (I'll stop now....)

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The following might cause me to lose posting privileges indefinitely, but I'm just gonna go ahead and say it anyway.....Shawn Camp for closer. Who's with me? Anyone? Aw, c'mon...let's talk about this a little. Pros: dude seems unflappable, has remade himself this year by adding the pre-requisite Blue Jay change-up, keeps the ball down, and is always around the zone. Cons: doesn't strike out a tonne of hitters, would result in the Tao completely losing his shit. Just think about it, is all I'm saying.

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Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, Marc Rzepczynski, Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek, Chad Jenkins, Henderson Alvarez, Deck McGuire....and a capital "E" etcetera. Something's gotta give. Eventually.

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One and a half seasons into his second career as a professional baseball hitter, and Adam Loewen is OPS'ing .911 in AA New Hampshire. Kind of makes you wonder "what if?", doesn't it? What could have been, and what still might be. Fingers crossed.

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You know what I enjoyed in this eve's 1-0 loss to the Rockies? Jose Molina's little "fuck you" fake throw to hold a runner who advanced to third on a wild pitch and rounded a little tooooo aggressively for Molina's liking. It doesn't take much for me, let me tell ya. (Insight you probably didn't need, I'm aware.)

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Seriously though, Camp for Closer? Can we get some momentum on this? Sort of like "Ballots for Bautista", but without the 0-for-20something slump. Gotta strike while the iron's lukewarm, baby.

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Speaking of a slumping Bautista, it's inevitable that he'll slow down, but Aaron Hill and Adam Lind have to get going in the second half, don't they? Lind confuses the shit out of me - he'll square up and hit the ball on the screws for three at-bats in a row, then look completely lost flailing for his next three AB's. Maybe he needs to spend a few games in a row saddling up next to ol' Clarence on the bench again. Playing in NL parks for the next few games seems like the perfect opportunity. I do not, however, advocate the same for Hill. No offense, Mike McCoy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Next up?

Heyo! Ack here, in case you'd forgotten. I know - try to temper your enthusiasm, but I'm hoping that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. What? I was only out of the loop for a week? One goddamned week? Well then...

It was during my nightly ritual of scouring MiLB boxscores for the Jays minor league affiliates that it dawned on me - in the midst of a slump (and a corresponding Overbay hot streak), perhaps we've been too quick to anoint Brett Wallace as the next foam-at-the-mouth prospect whose recall we eagerly await.

What about that guy Arencibia (or Aaron Cibia, for all you DJF hounds)? Remember him? The Player whose initials the Jays Talk crowd hold against him? OK, let's get serious for a moment here....

After a fairly miserable 2009 campaign (.728 OPS) and a slow start to 2010, Arencibia has apparently found his groove and currently sports a much improved .848 OPS to rock along with his 12 HR/33 RBI. Here's the part where you say "yeah, but those are inflated by Vegas". So what if I told you that his home/road OPS split was .731/.991? Then what? PCL inflated? Yeah/sure/maybe, but at some point, you have to stop discounting players because of the league they play in, no? I mean, whaddya want, a 1.0+ OPS? C'mon. Arencibia may never reach that coveted foam-at-the-mouth status (yeah, I know - I made that up), but he can certainly become a legit major leaguer.

JPA is in a pretty tough spot for a recall, all things considered. John Buck is handling the starting duties as well as any of us could have expected, and you can't recall a hitting-first catcher to be your once a week backup. Seems inevitable he'll see big-league at-bats before the season is through, though. And hey, with his relative aversion to taking a walk, he'll instantly be a favourite of hitting coach Murph. Heyo! (yeah, it's good to be back.)

Oh, and about Wallace....let's not allow his recent statistical nosedive and negative reviews (insider alert! But here's the money quote: "First-base prospects are expected to hit for average, draw walks and hit for power. Wallace is doing one of those things, but his power is a bit of a myth, and the walks are something that might not have ever been there in the first place.") talk us off the kid.

Because sometimes, it's about more than the numbers. It has to be. He's going to hit.

Brett Cecil is an Ace in the making (if he isn't already).....
You're damn right he is. Go ahead and convince me otherwise.

No, seriously. Why can't he be? Because he doesn't throw 95+? Get the hell outta here with that.

.....and Brandon Morrow could make for a fantastic #4
Speaking of throwing 95+, Morrow seems happy to harness his filth instead of just whipping max effort fastballs past major league hitters (though that's always fun, too). I'm telling you....if Papi Walton can smooth out his mechanics and Morrow settles into a consistent delivery....wow. Just, wow.

With all the talk of the upside in the arms within the system and those the Jays just drafted (Deck McGuire - now that's a baseball name), Morrow might trump them all.

Just another reason this is a fun team to watch and follow. And that's enough for me, anyway.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This rotation is doing just fine without what's-his-name

It's probably easy to forget this after the shit kicking that the Jays took in the first two games of the Rays series, but their rotation - or, at least 60% of it - has been something to behold thus far into the season. Take a gander through the league leaders, and you'll find three Jays starters in the top 20 of the ERA, WHIP and Ks.

Ricky Romero is currently sitting in third in strikeouts (86), ninth in ERA (3.06) and 17th in WHIP (1.20), while Shaun Marcum is 15th (65), 16th (3.38) and 7th (1.13) respectively. Brett Cecil doesn't have the innings to rack up the counting stats, so he's sitting back in 39th overall in strikeouts, but his 3.22 ERA is good for 13th while his 0.99 WHIP places him third. (And if you need him, Brandon Morrow's 74 Ks are good enough for 7th. So there.)

Maybe this has crept up on some of you who were inclined to follow along with the notion that the absence of Roy Halladay was going to create a giant sucking vacuum in the rotation, and that the 100-loss season would certainly ensue because one-fifth of the starting corps was gone. "A bunch of guys named 'Who?'" is the laugh line that we seem to recall.

But last night's awesomely manly performance by Cecil brought us back to remembering how much we've enjoyed the pitching performances from the top three so far this year, with the occasional quality start from Morrow tossed in for good measure. The Jays numbers as a starting rotation sit in the middle in both the AL (6th of 14) and MLB (16th of 30) in terms of ERA, although with the improvement seen in Morrow, the expulsion of some of the lesser lights and reinforcements on the way (Litchtits!!!1), we're cautiously optimistic that the starting pitching can actually improve.

With a team that is sitting three and a half games back in the Wild Card chase in a season that was supposed to be lost before it got underway, we really hope people start to recognize how much great baseball our guys are playing, and how close this team is to making the next step.

(And yeah, we're a hopeless booster for this team. We wouldn't have poured all of these hours and all of the effort into this little ratfuck of a blog if we weren't hopelessly devoted to this team. If you want someone to be cynically aloof about the Jays in 2010 and in the future, there are an infinite number of options out there for you.)

Speaking of next steps...
It's the National League for the next two weeks, and we have a whole lot of stuff to say about the Rockies, Padres, Cards and whoever. But we'd rather leave The Ack something to talk about this weekend.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Litsch is back

So all of our rotation issues are officially solved. Right?

Err...maybe. We suppose that would be a nice thought, and were we the type who could write off Litsch's 8.18 ERA and 34 hits in 22 innings over a four game stretch through the Pacific Coast League, we could start to think about how nice it is to have a solid fourth/fifth starter back in the rotation. Unfortunately, we're not able to convince ourselves that young Jesse's AAA beatings were completely the result of thin, dry air in deserts at altitudes.

(Although it would be really nice if we could, because then we could explain away the brutal ERAs being posted by Brad Mills, Ray Gonzalez, Marc Rzepczynski and most everyone in Las Vegas other than Zack Jackson and Bobby Ray. And even their averages in the high-3.00's aren't exactly the stats of which championship dreams are made.)

It could be that the Jays have decided to give Litsch the same treatment that Brian Tallet received when coming back from his injury: The courtesy of a couple of starts, with a decision on his rotation spot to follow. But where Tallet's lopey/gangly/junky/lefty stuff might make him a useful LOOGY or swingman in the suddenly porous an pitiable bullpen, Litsch's sub-90's fastball and crafty cutter might mean that he's a man without a role or a future in these parts if he can't prove himself to be useful from the start of his new beginning with the team.

It's not to say that we're rooting for Jesse to fail, because nothing would make us happier than to see him come in and post a sub-3.70 ERA by pounding the strike zone and mixing his pitches well. We're just not confidant that, post-surgery, he's going to be willing to toss his cutter more than 40% of the time, as he did when he was successful.

Moreover, we're not sure that now is the right time to move him into the rotation when the aforementioned Bobby Ray is pitching better (UPDATE: Oops...Bobby Ray is hurt, and hasn't pitched since mid-May) and Litsch seems to need more time to get his stuff correct.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Draft Analysis: We want you as a new recruit

Hey man, cut us some slack here, will ya?

Sure, we could put on our most authoritative voice, and write a lengthy post on relative merits of this year's draft. We could fake it to the best of our abilities, and then point to the aspects of our guesswork that came true as proof of our insight. But given that we're still smarting from the spanking that we took from those who questioned our literary bona fides this weekend, we're going to avoid any puffery and play along like the happy fool that we are.

(And no, Meredith, we're not going to let this go. You hurt our feelings. Harrumph.)

So join us as we look at the draft, shake our head like a Magic 8 Ball, and see what floats to the top.

First Round, pick 11 - Deck McGuire, RHP, Georgia Tech: It was funny after the fact to hear Keith Law proclaim on last night's Prime Time Sports that the Jays probably wouldn't pick him, given his supposed low ceiling. Not that we're harshing on the KLaw or anything...Just that we figured that his thought process would be similar to that of just about every Jays fan that we heard from or saw on Twitter: A lower-ceiling college dude? No way! The Ghost of J.P. live on!

They say ("they" being the draftologists and experts that allegedly really know this shit) that Deck profiles as a number three starter with a shorter (two-year) trip to the Bigs. Given the guys who we have under control for the next three to four years, having a good third starter shouldn't be looked upon as a bad thing, especially when he might serve as your number five.

Plus, he's tall. And you can't teach tall.

(And as a side note: Our inner Chris Berman has gone nutty cuckoo coming up with bad nicknames for Mr. McGuire: "Upper" Deck? "Back" Deck? "Poop" Deck? "Captain's" Deck? "Flight" Deck? "Gun" Deck?)

Compensatory Round Picks - RHPs Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Asher Wojciechowski: Our initial thought was that Alex Anthopoulos felt that since the Jays blogosphere has managed to master the spelling of his name and that of Marc Rzepczynski, we need a new challenge. Well, we say bring it on.

Also, we shall refer to the latter two picks a Syndy and Wojo from here on out.

Someone asked us on Twitter why the Jays were going so heavy on pitching in the draft, and our response was that you need 12 arms on your roster at any given time (even if The Manager uses just nine), and it never hurts to add some additional depth to the pitching in your system. And while we might just be making this up, it seems to us that you can trade for a bat later on to fill out your lineup more easily than you can a pitcher.

The Rest of the Draft So Far: Some more pitchers, one of whom we'd guess surprises us all and becomes the real jewel of this draft. (Our guess is Sam Dyson. Just because.)

The first Canadian picked by the Jays came with the 113th pick overall, which we're certain is way too late for Bob Elliot's liking. Speaking of which: At the time that we type this, James Paxton and James Eliopoulos remain undrafted. We're sure that is some sort of crime against Canadian baseball or something.

Nevertheless, outfielder Marcus Knecht looks like at least a reasonable gamble. Also, the music in his MLB.com video is fonkalicious.

Also, the Jays have just picked Dickie Thon Jr., and for those of us who remember Dickie Thon, that's kinda awesome. Kinda makes us feel old too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Accentuating the positive

We're nothing if not a beacon towards positivity, right?

(And those of you who know really me are probably trying to figure out if that's a laugh line or not...Although we'd point out that in the cynical, angry world of sports blogdom, we're pretty happy, sunshiney and positive. Or at least we look that way in comparison to others.)

So, if we were to be something less than positive, we'd point out that in two key series this week, the Jays walked away having not made up any ground, and find themselves tied with the resurgent Red Sox. So there's the missed opportunities.

But since we're eliminating the negative and latching onto the affirmative here, let us point out that our boys hung tough in every game against the two best teams in the league, and were in a position to win each and every one of them. And with some bullpen work that was a little more assertive or better orchestrated, they may well have done it.

All of which augurs well for the last three games of this nine-game stretch, which was supposed to tell us something of something about this team. Maybe it's telling us that they're worth watching, and that they're not that far from actually carrying this sort of performance through the entire season.

And now, a few quick hits...

Wilner's unplanned vacation
We were as shocked as anyone when we heard that the Fan 590 bounced Mike Wilner out of his seat for the weekend, ostensibly to remind him to play nicer with The Manager. We have no doubt that Wilner can abrasive to some, and his confidence in his arguments can be read as arrogance by some. But the "suspension" or spanking and or whatever this is makes us wonder what they are thinking at the Fan.

They should probably understand what they have in Wilner, and why his stubborn dedication to reason and his unwillingness to buy into mawkish cliché is precisely his appeal. Tamping that fire down in order to keep The Manager happy is a recipe for boring, awkward radio.

(Which supposes that this was a Fan 590 call, and not from somewhere above. We'd love to hear Handsome Tony explain this as all a part of his master plan.)

(Also, check Neate Sager's take over on Out of Left Field, which is a nicely nuanced analysis of the situation.)

On book reviews
If you are planning on buying any particular books that we're perhaps reviewed around here, and you'd like to hold us to account for our overly generous estimations of a particular tome, we'd suggest that you perhaps take a read through this post. We pretty much put all of our cards on the table, and fessed up to being an entirely unreliable critic. So don't come looking for an explanation for our bad taste in athlete memoirs.

On the rotation (which is awesome) and the bullpen (which is less so, we think)
Before the season, some folks wanted to tear down the Jays' post-Doc rotation as a bunch of no name chuck-and-duckers, which might have been more of a reaction to the lack of a certifiable ace than the actual talent available to the Jays.

But after watching the Jays' top four hurlers shine against two of the best offenses in the game, we'll have to admit to getting way ahead of ourselves in considering the possibilities in the coming years. Marcum, Romero, Cecil and Morrow are all young, and may well have their best years ahead of them. And when we rattle the names off in our head, and consider the possibility of adding another quality arm to that list (Drabek? Rzep? Mills?), we'll confess to getting ahead of ourselves, and envisioning their names being pored over across the continent as a playoff team's probable pitchers.

(And really, Shaun Marcum was born to pitch in the playoffs, wasn't he?)

It's really to bad that we end up crashing back to earth when considering the performance of the bullpen. It's not that they've been awful: Kevin Gregg's actually been pretty good, notwithstanding his game of footsie with the strike zone against Tampa the other night, and we've officially come around on Shawn Camp. But Scott Downs continues to look as though his best days are behind him, and Jason Frasor hasn't yet shown the velocity or movement that made him a success last season.

Meanwhile, The Manager continues to mismanage his assets, and treats his seven man relief corps as though he has only four arms out there. Rommie Lewis, David Purcey and Casey Janssen are given as much rest as most of the starters while the other four relievers are run into the ground.

Even with the economical performances put on by the starters, that sort of wear and tear on the pen is going to catch up with this team, if it hasn't already.

The Draft
We'd totally forgotten that the MLB draft kicks off tonight. In previous years, we may have spent the whole afternoon poring over names and the possibilities for the Jays' four early picks. But given that player development is a gruesomely tiresome and long process, we'll just sit back and let the names of the prospects wash over us this evening, while we consider the progress of Kevin Ahrens.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Rock Out - Whitesnkake!!!!1



'Cause we know what it means to walk along the lonely street of dreams.

Have a great weekend, and we'll be back, filling in for the Ack, who will be skulking around the Rogers Centre for the Yankees series. If you see him, buy him a tasty beverage. He's good people.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

9th inning nervous breakdowns

So there we were, safe at home and comfortably ensconced on the couch with the lovely and generous Mrs. Tao after a night of birthday boozing topped off with some ill-advised McNuggets. The Jays were leading in the ninth, and there's no way the fates would allow us to suffer through another late inning shitshow. Right?

Oh, how we wish the fates truly intervened in such things.

A great take-out slide from Ben Zobrist, a ballsy suicide squeeze, some more relief pitcher nibbling and Carl Motherfucking Crawford, and suddenly a series win turns precisely into the aforementioned late inning shitshow. By the end of it, we were sure that someone had laced our sweet and sour sauce with something goofy, because nothing seemed to compute any more.

And the rest of the night turned into a full blown peyote vision or fever dream or something. Junior Griffey retires? Armando Galarraga throws a perfect game? Except that he doesn't. because the grumpy dad from that American Chopper show miss the easy call by a full stride at first base? The sports channels lead off with three baseball stories, on the night of a Stanley Cup Finals game? My god! Someone, strap me down! I hear the Sirens singing!

By the time I had sweated out the rest of my booze and grease at about 3 am, we were sure that we'd imagined most of the evenings events. But if we hadn't, the one thing that we could rationalize about them was this: The Rays are a really good team. The sort of really good team that is going to make you work for all 27 outs, and that can make you fill out the full column on your scorecard at any given time. That's why they're in first.

And that's why we shouldn't completely take this series to mean that the Jays aren't good. They took the Rays to the limit in all three games, and with some sturdier bullpen work and bullpen management, they could have taken all three games.

Hopefully, we're not drifting to far into cliché here - we're not sure that the booze is totally out of our system, so this might be an "I love you guys, man!" moment - but we're optimistic that the Jays could walk away from the series and use is as a learning moment. Maybe all of that character-building hokum is real, and the team is going to walk away with the notion that they should have won, and they could have won, and most importantly, they are going to win next time.

And then they can take their frustrations out on the Yankees. Who deserve it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Angel Hernandez wasn't enjoying Kevin Gregg's tasty nibbles

So...that's what Cubs fans were on about all season. Funny, because having been off the continent during Gregg's previous meltdown, we were still in the midst of our jarheaded love-in with the Jays closer.

So maybe that's why we're so eager to make excuses right about now. Like how it struck us that maybe home plate ump Angel Hernandez was making good to the Rays after refusing to call time to Carlos Pena and tossing Joe Maddon, and maybe his strike zone got a little cramped.

When we threw that notion out on Twitter following the game, intrepid reporter Ian at The Blue Jay Hunter undertook the task to get the Pitch FX data, and boy-howdee did he ever get the data. So if you'd like to pause for a moment and go read his most excellent analysis, have at 'er.

Not satisfied to wait until this morning, though, we actually got off our butt and looked up the pitches to Jaso, Zobrist and Navarro ourselves. On Gameday, which is admittedly totally unreliable, we found our suspicions confirmed. Conspiracy!

Then, this morning on Brooks Baseball, we found that the more reliable system seemed to confirm that Hernandez just made some very good close calls, although the fourth and fifth pitches to Zobrist were really close. And if it's a sunny Sunday Get-Away-Day, either Zobrist or Jaso is punched out and the Jays are high-fiving their way back to the clubhouse, another game closer to the peak of the AL East. Believe that.

The truth is that Gregg played a pretty dangerous game for a pitcher with men on base by trying to pick the corners throw pitches away from hitters. Gregg has some decent tailing motion on his fastball, and getting them in on the hitters hands or over the plate might have been rewarded with a ground ball or two, and a save/win.

For now, we hold our breath, and hope that this is more of a blip than a trend, and that Gregg heeds the words that Pappy Walton offered on his trip to the mound last night: "No problem."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A One-Sentence Post on..."Meaningful Games"

We don't necessarily believe in the whole fetishism around "meaningful games" - because games pretty much have the meaning that you bestow upon them, so the degree of meaning is more a reflection on you than on the team - but we have to confess that we were so geeked about last night's game that we were rooting for José Molina to knock Eva Longoria into next week when he had the chance.