Monday, July 21, 2014

3 Up 3 Down: AA on Trades, Colby's Bunt and Artificial Turf

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There's nothing like facing off against the team with the worst record in baseball to cure what ails a struggling club. Turns out a series against the Texas Rangers is precisely what the Blue Jays needed to get back on track and pick up a series win.

Frankly, a sweep or taking two of three from the Rangers was expected, as Texas is one team that has suffered mightily with season-ending injuries. However, a strong outing by Marcus Stroman and some timely hitting on Sunday helped the Blue Jays get back on track.


AA Holds Court, Remains Vague




On Sunday, Alex Anthopoulos held court with the press and also spoke with Sportsnet's Barry Davis and answered questions mostly pertaining to the upcoming July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.

As per usual, AA remained his elusive self and failed to give any real concrete answers as to what the Blue Jays' plans are in the coming weeks. While it's clear they need to make moves now, I think they're really taking the "wait and see" approach.

With the surging Red Sox and Rays, the dynamic is really shifting within the American League East and in just a few weeks, it really could be anyone's game. So it's my estimation that they're sitting back and letting things unfold leading up to July 31st.

A curious tweet sent out by Bob Elliott hinted that the Blue Jays have told teams aren't able to take on additional payroll, and judging by the Ervin Santana saga from earlier this season, that wouldn't at all surprise me.


In the video, Anthopoulos emphasized moves could be after the non-waiver deadline, which indicates the Blue Jays would more likely be looking at taking on players with big-money contracts that will pass through waivers.

Cliff Lee seems like the prime example for this scenario; he's owed $25 million next season and has a $27.5 million club option for 2016. However, for the Blue Jays to take on that kind of cash, they'd likely have to jettison a big-money contract of their own.

I guess what I'm saying is I'm not counting on Alex Anthopoulos getting anything done prior to July 31st, but there is potential for the Blue Jays to swing a deal for somebody that clears waivers.


Colby Lewis Hates Bunts



Did you know that according to the unwritten rules of baseball, you're not allowed to bunt with a two-run lead? And if you see a huge hole on the left side of the infield, that you're not allowed to take advantage of said situation?

At least that's the world according to Texas Rangers starter, Colby Lewis who got in a heated exchange with Colby Rasmus. Here's what Lewis had to say about the situation via Chris Toman's piece on MLB.com.

"I told [Rasmus] I didn't appreciate it. You're up by two runs with two outs and you lay down a bunt. I don't think that's the way the game should be played ... we are playing the shift, and he laid down a bunt basically simply for average."

Wait a second, is Lewis complaining about Rasmus laying down a bunt when the Blue Jays only had a two-run lead? The very same team that's struggled to score runs for the better part of a month?

Since when did a two run lead become insurmountable? If the game had been 10-0, then I would have understood, but it's two damn runs. Get a grip, Colby.

Also, Colby Rasmus is hardly the first person who has ever tried to beat the shift by bunting the other way. David Ortiz has attempted this, Jose Bautista has done this, and it hasn't been so they could pad their statistics. It's so they could get on base and ultimately help their team win.

If Lewis was going to be upset, he should be upset at Anthony Gose who laid down a bunt base hit and then attempted another in his following at bat. If anybody's trying to bunt for average, it's Anthony Gose.


Let's Talk About Turf, Man



This is likely a topic that deserves its own post entirely, but talk of the quality of the turf at the Rogers Centre has really become a concern in recent weeks.

Jose Bautista voiced his displeasure with the artificial playing surface during the All-Star break, and over the weekend the quality of the turf compared to real grass was very apparent.

In was the turf from Sunday's game, the seams of the Astroturf were very evident by first base. This is hardly a new problem for the Blue Jays, and also one that likely won't have a resolution for many years to come.

But when the field looks that shotty on television, one can only imagine what it must be like for the players who have to play on it.

Images courtesy of Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images Sport and MLB.com

Friday, July 18, 2014

Flashback Friday: J.P. Arencibia's Big League Debut

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If there's one thing I've learned in the last five years, it's that banking on highly-touted prospects is a dangerous game. They'll lift you up with astronomical expectations, and many times they'll also break your heart.

J.P. Arencibia was no different; he was lauded as the Toronto Blue Jays "catcher of the future", but after three full seasons with the club, the Blue Jays found themselves casting him away and non-tendering him this past winter.

So in honour of his return to Toronto this evening since being non-tendered last winter, this week's Flashback Friday takes a look back at J.P. Arencibia's historic big league debut from August 7th, 2010.

Leading up to Arencibia's eventual call-up, many had been pining for months to bring him up from Las Vegas. Arencibia annihilated the Pacific Coast League in 2010, as was eventually voted as the league's MVP (Randy Ruiz won the 2009 PCL MVP as well).

However, it would soon be discovered that success in the PCL wouldn't necessarily translate into Major League success.

After starting catcher John Buck suffered a laceration to his right thumb, that presented the opening for J.P. Arencibia to fill in as the everyday backstop. Blue Jays fans got their wish in early August of 2010, and off the bat J.P. did not disappoint.

J.P. Arencibia promptly deposited the very first pitch he saw from James Shields into the left field bullpen. His first swing in the majors translated into his first home run.



But he didn't stop there. J.P. followed that up with an opposite field double in his second at bat, a single to left in his third at bat, and then another home run in his fourth at bat. It's interesting to note that J.P. used Jose Bautista's bat in his fourth trip to the plate.

Ultimately, Arencibia finished the day 4 for 5 with a pair of home runs and 11 total bases. Not a bad way to start off your MLB career. And of course after a show like that, J.P. had the blogosphere salivating at the prospect of a young power-hitting catcher.

From Tao of Stieb:
I kid you not when I tell you that watching the highlights, again, more than 12 hours after Arencibia's debut still leaves me with chills.

It was an unforgettable performance for both The Player and the fans, and it's these moments exactly that allow the loyal to dream of better days in the near future.

From Hum and Chuck:
Arencibia had the most magical Jays debut since a certain pitcher was pink, round and efficient. So magical it was historically magically. 4 for 5, 2 homers (I think he'll fit in here) and a triple short of the cycle. "I could never have imagined this, ever." Aw.

And from yours truly:
Aside from maybe Travis Snider, can you recall a player in recent memory that has conjured up this much excitement in a Blue Jays uniform? All it took was one pitch to make his presence felt in the city of Toronto. And you know what? I think it was love at first sight.

Former Blue Jays beat writer extraordinaire Jordan Bastian discovered J.P. Arencibia was actually the first MLB player since 1900 to hit two home runs and collect four hits in his debut.

J.P. was also the first Blue Jays player to hit a home run in his very first Major League at bat since Junior Felix did the same on May 4th, 1989.

It's a cynical way of looking at it, but his first game was essentially the peak of J.P. Arencibia's career. Honestly, I don't think I've ever witnessed a Blue Jays prospect have a rapid and meteoric rise like his, only to be cut from the team just a few years later.

On its own, J.P. Arencibia's big league debut was the stuff that baseball fairytales are made of. Unfortunately, his debut just wasn't a precursor for a legend that would last much longer beyond that.

Image courtesy of Toronto Star

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Moustache All-Stars: The Best Staches of the First Half of 2014

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Later tonight in Minnesota, MLB's greatest stars will assemble at Target Field for the Mid-Summer Classic. A collection of baseball's elite players will unite in one location; the brightest starts under the bright lights at Target Field.

The question that facial hair aficionados will be asking is; "what about the moustache All-Stars? What about a game featuring the very best 'staches of the first half?" Worry no longer, friends. Here they all are for you in one convenient and handsome collection.



Tim Lincecum - San Francisco Giants



Of all the moustaches on this list, Tim Lincecum's is by far the best performing of the bunch. Lincecum locked down his second career no-hitter earlier this season, and did it sporting a moustache, nonetheless. Coincidence? I think not.

Considering that one third of all the no-hitters thrown in 2014 have been by men who have adorned moustaches, I'm surprised we haven't seen an onslaught of 'staches in recent weeks attempting to duplicate the same success as The Freak.

Was his mustache subtle? Yes. Was it kind of creepy? Yes? Was it effective? Hell yes.

Dale Thayer - San Diego Padres



This is actually the second appearance for Mr. Thayer on the "Best Staches of the First Half" list, the first time being back in 2012. Back then, his moustache was actually quite modest. But as you can clearly see, Thayer's moustache has grown by leaps and bounds.

It's almost gotten into Al Hrabosky territory. Throw in the bushy moustache with the Padres signature camo uniform, and it looks like Dale Thayer is ready to backwoods huntin' after the game.


Carlos Villanueva - Chicago Cubs



"Would you like a sarsaparilla with that curveball?" Carlos Villanueva's moustache is very turn of the century, and hands-down the most refined  and stylized of all the moustaches in this list.

Any man who not only has the finesse to apply moustache wax to keep this thing in tip-top shape has my utmost respect. Well done, Carlos V.


John Axford - Cleveland Indians




Over the years, John Axford has really carved out his own niche and made himself into a modern-day Rollie Fingers. Which means if he ever decides to shave his moustache for good, it's almost as if he loses part of his identity as well.

If this whole baseball thing doesn't pan out and if his Oscar predictions fail to bring in the money, John Axford could probably just throw on a candy-stripe suit and join a barbershop quartet. "Goodbye my Coney Island baby ..."


Donald Lutz - Cincinnati Reds



A relative unknown commodity and a newcomer to the list, Donald Lutz is the rookie to the group. Lutz also has the distinction of being the first MLB baseball player to be raised in Germany.

And considering his former homeland country just took home the World Cup trophy and that baseball players are notoriously creatures of habit, I highly doubt he'll be shaving this thing off any time soon.


Brett Lawrie - Toronto Blue Jays



While Brett Lawrie's moustache was fairly short-lived and short-haired, the impact of it was felt for days and weeks to come. In fact, he seemed to be fairly proud of his impromptu upper lip hair growth as clearly demonstrated by this GIF.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flashback Friday: The John Gibbons/Shea Hillenbrand Altercation

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John Gibbons has had a tough week. Judging by the sound of his voice and the look on his face at some of the post-game pressers, it seems like John Gibbons has aged 20 years in the past month or so.

The usual jovial Blue Jays manager has sounded increasingly dejected, and dealing with an injury-riddled roster like that of the Toronto Blue Jays would certainly take a lot out of a person.

As bad as it's been the past month or so, John Gibbons has dealt with adversity in the past when it comes to his players. Most notably his dustup with Ted Lilly and the focus of this week's Flashback Friday; his altercation with Shea Hillenbrand.

It was the midst of the 2006 season and as the Blue Jays approached the All-Star break, they owned a 49-39 record and found themselves in a good position entering the second half of the season. Everything appeared to be fine ... but it wasn't.

Underneath the surface, there was conflict brewing between the Blue Jays designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand and manager John Gibbons.

The rumour was that Hillenbrand was upset with his playing time, however he started 70 of the Blue Jays 88 games in the first half and played in 80 of 88 games total. So it's not like John Gibbons was benching Shea Hillenbrand often.

There were also reports that Hillenbrand was upset that the team did not give him ample days off to complete the adoption of his child. He took the weekend off to fly to California, and upon his return to the team, he was not penciled into the starting lineup.

So on July 20th 2006, after not being in the lineup for the second straight game, Shea Hillenbrand decided he had enough. He famously wrote two key phrases on the clubhouse bulletin board; "play for yourself" and "the ship is sinking."

Word traveled quickly of the remarks in the clubhouse and John Gibbons promptly called a closed-door meeting with the team. It got to the point where Gibbons was so irate that he stood up and challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight.

Here's Hillenbrand's story of said altercation:
"(Gibbons) held a team meeting and singled me out, and was cursing at me in front of the team, and challenged me to a fight and wanted me to punch him in the face."



It was quite evident that the front office sided with John Gibbons through the entire altercation as it was announced shortly thereafter that Shea Hillenbrand had been designated for assignment.

At the time, Hillenbrand was actually having a successful season as the Blue Jays full-time DH, with a slash line of .301/.342/.480. But considering that Shea Hillenbrand was cast aside by the Blue Jays, it's miraculous they were able to parlay him into anything.

Within a few days, the Blue Jays completed a trade to send Shea Hillenbrand along with Vinnie Chulk to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Jeremy Accardo.

At the time, Accardo was a relatively unknown commodity, but the following season he filled in for an injured B.J. Ryan as the Blue Jays closer and had a very successful season in 2007; posting 30 saves with a sparkling 2.14 ERA in 64 appearances.

Hillenbrand was not as lucky, as he finished out the season with the Giants and then finished off his Major League career by playing a combined 73 games in 2007 split between the Dodgers and Angels.

By all indications, the John Gibbons/Shea Hillenbrand altercation seems like water under the bridge between the two. Hillenbrand surprisingly endorsed the re-hiring of Gibbons in 2012 and admitted he didn't handle the situation very well.

I suppose the adage coined by J.P. Ricciardi in the above video rings true here; if you can't play for John Gibbons, you can't play for anybody.

Images courtesy of USA Today and info courtesy of ESPN
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