Monday, April 30, 2012

Edwin Encarnacion's Revelation


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Most of his career, Edwin Encarnacion has been somewhat of an enigma. A player that has been on the cusp of greatness; a player just waiting to come out of his shell. But lately, Encarnacion been more of a revelation.

In a lineup where Jose Bautista has suddenly lost his power stroke, Edwin Encarnacion has picked up the slack. In fact, you could almost say that EE has supplanted Bautista as the team's go-to slugger ... for the interim at least.

While most are trying to dissect what's wrong with Jose Bautista (myself included), I think the much more intriguing query is what is going right with Edwin Encarnacion?

So what can this sudden power surge by Edwin Encarnacion be attributed to? To be honest ... I have no idea. I scoured FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and any other online baseball resource to try to find that one standout statistic which would uncover EE's turnaround, but it was to no avail.

By all indications, Edwin Encarnacion has been doing what he's always been doing his entire career. And yet for some reason this April, he's been crushing the ball; which has lead to one of the best months of Edwin's career.

I'm not going to chalk it up to intangibles, but there has to be a reason why Edwin Encarnacion has been as hot as he has been since Opening Day. Maybe Dwayne Murphy has nudged EE into becoming a dead-pull hitter, because nearly all of his hits this season have been to left field.

Whatever the reason for Edwin Encarnacion's success, he really should be hitting in the highest leverage position possible in the batting order, which naturally would be the cleanup spot. But just one day after anointing Encarnacion as the new cleanup hitter, John Farrell revoked that title and gave it back to Adam Lind.

Farrell's reasoning for moving Lind back into the cleanup spot over the weekend was that he wanted to keep the alternating right/left batters in tact against the Mariners left-handed starters. I'm not usually one to question Farrell, but the only thing crazier than leaving Edwin Encarnacion out of the four hole is keeping Adam Lind in there right now.

It is absolutely essential to maximize that cleanup spot, and the Blue Jays need to stick with the hot bat and put Encarnacion in there. Adam Lind could very well heat up again and have a torrent first half as he did last season, but Farrell isn't doing himself any favours by keeping Lind there.

In the meantime, Encarnacion's patented bat flip is very quickly becoming one of my favourite things about the 2012 season. He may not have the staredown power of Jose Bautista, but EE's reaction post-home run is absolutely priceless.

And it also helps that he has his own song! If the season keeps progressing the way it has, I have a feeling I'll be posting this track quite often this summer.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Flashback Friday: The Blue Jays Flare Magazine Photo Shoot


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Anybody who can catch nine innings has my utmost respect, let alone in stilettos.
It's not every day you find the Toronto Blue Jays in a Canadian magazine publication. So it definitely seems like something worth mentioning ... a mere eight years after the fact, don't you think?

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look at the Toronto Blue Jays 2004 spring photo shoot in Flare Magazine.

The Blue Jays rounded up Reed Johnson, Chris Woodward, Miguel Batista, Orlando Hudson and Vernon Wells for this photo shoot. I don't know the exact release date of the Blue Jays issue, but one can only assume it happened during March of 2004 during Spring Training.

For whatever reason, Flare Magazine decided it would be a good idea to incorporate members of the Blue Jays roster and models to try to sell the latest fashion trends. It definitely made for some memorable photos.

 "You see that Chris Gomez guy? He's totally going to steal my job at shortstop."

 Miguel Batista practices "smizing" at opposing hitters.

 And to think .. the other split-squad game had Joe West as their umpire.

"If I can run in these heels, then you can at least hit 30 home runs this season."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Run Support Curse of #37


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Stop me if you've heard this headline before; Henderson Alvarez puts forth strong outing, Blue Jays bats go silent. Over the course of his young career, it's almost gotten to the point where you can copy/paste that same headline for nearly every one of his starts.

Poor Henderson Alvarez ... the guy just cannot seem to catch a break when it comes to run support. But this isn't an isolated incident for Alvarez, it's quite the ongoing trend.

In his 14 career starts with the Blue Jays dating back to August 10th of last year, the Blue Jays have averaged just 3.14 runs in support of him. Not surprisingly, Henderson Alvarez has just six decisions in those starts and just one win to show for all his hard work.

With last night's loss, Henderson's teammates have posted just one run in support in five ... count them, five of his 14 career starts as Blue Jay. Essentially, Alvarez has to post a line of zeros to ensure himself as chance at a win.

Obviously it isn't Henderson Alvarez' fault, he did everything he possibly could have to give his team a chance to win. But perhaps there's something else going on here ... something supernatural ... something to do with the number on the back of his uniform.

@Daxacer cleverly coined it the "Curse of #37", which invariably is the curse of little to no run support.

All we have to do is look back to the patron saint for the number 37, Dave Stieb. He notoriously received little to no run support during his tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays, as his teammates averaged 4.5 runs in support over the course of his career.

Most notably in 1981, Dave Stieb tossed 11 complete games posting an 11-10 record with a 3.25 ERA and yet only received an average of 2.8 runs in support. So if there's anybody who knows about tough luck losses, it's Dave Stieb.

Incredibly, the curse of number 37 doesn't stop there. Thanks to @Minor_Leaguer for pointing out that Jo-Jo Reyes was the one to don the infamous number 37 last season, who not surprisingly also had trouble with run support.

Instances like this really go to show the futility of the win statistic for a starting pitcher, as it hardly tells the entire story. At first glance, Henderson Alvarez might not look like that great of a pitcher, but if you break it down much further than the win-loss record you'll see he's quite the serviceable arm.

But just one small piece of advice for any young Blue Jays pitcher who has their choice of number on the back of their uniform; perhaps it's best to stay away from #37.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Royal Flush


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Under ordinary circumstances, I wouldn't feel all that bad about the Blue Jays contributing to a team's 11-game losing streak. But there's something different about the Kansas City Royals ... something very likable about their underdog squad.

Truth be told, the Royals haven't hit that poorly as a team since Opening Day. It's just their pitching that's been atrocious, which as everyone knows is half the battle.

I think the Royals have the pieces to eventually become a contender with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas at the helm, and residing in the AL Central definitely plays in Kansas City's favour.

Why Worry About Bautista?

I find it a little humourous that some pundits are already writing off sluggers like Jose Bautista and even Albert Pujols because they haven't hit 25 home runs within the first two weeks of the season. It's a long schedule, these guys will definitely come around.

I'm not even worried that Jose Bautista has 14 walks and just 12 hits, because that just indicates he's making the adjustments. The first week or so of the schedule, Jose was having a horrible time catching up to the fastball ... even in fastball counts.

Pitchers are now compensating this season by feeding Jose Bautista a steady diet of breaking balls, and frankly I don't blame them. Unfortunately for them, Jose has a very keen eye for those breaking and off-speed pitches, which is why he's drawing so many base on balls.

Now that he's altered his plan of attack, he's drawing more walks and letting Edwin Encarnacion do the dirty work. Considering how hot Edwin has been hitting, that's not a bad strategy at all.

Colby Rasmus ... My New Hero

It's interesting how a player like Colby Rasmus has gone from being a whipping boy in the media to the newest sensation on the Blue Jays roster.

In those first two series against Cleveland and Boston, he was stinging the ball left and right with nothing to show for it. Now that his BABIP has settled down a little bit, the fruits of his labour are beginning to be reflected in his batting average.

Some might say this warrants moving Rasmus up a little higher in the batting order, but I actually think he's perfect right where he is. John Farrell obviously wants to continue to keep that alternating left/right sequence in order.

Rasmus might have been a candidate to move up to the two-slot, but with the way Kelly Johnson is performing ahead of Jose Bautista, there's no need to tinker around very much with the current starting lineup.

Colour Me Worried About Sergio Santos

This is just me thinking worst case scenario here, but what if something is really wrong with Sergio Santos? This now marks the first time he's even been on the disabled list in his Major League career. Could it be that all those innings have finally caught up with him?

While his MRI came back negative and thankfully won't require surgery, it just all sounds a little bit fishy to me. And Tom Verducci's article from last week didn't help my paranoia about the Blue Jays closer, either.

He discovered that 34% of all relievers and 50% of all starting pitchers will go on the DL at some point every season. Also, the turnover for closers in the Major Leagues was an astronomical 66% from Opening Day 2011 to 2012.

Luckily, the way the Blue Jays bullpen was constructed in the offseason makes is very easy for every reliever to just move up a rung in the depth chart. I believe the quality of arms behind Sergio Santos can pick up the slack in his absence.

If Santos' injury extends behind the projected four weeks that the Blue Jays think it might take for him to get back, then I might start to get a little worried. Again, this is just yours truly being extremely paranoid, but I would hate to see Santos go down in year one of his tenure as the Blue Jays closer.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Jose Bautista Staredown Rematch


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Click here for the Bautista/Hochevar Staredown Animated GIF
Apparently, hell hath no fury like a pitcher scorned. Obviously Luke Hochevar has been holding a grudge for a very long time, because in his first opportunity since their last staredown at the plate, Hochevar took the very first opportunity to plunk Jose Bautista.

Follow this link for the Jose Bautista/Luke Hochevar Rematch Animated GIF.

While a tit for a tat is commonplace in baseball, Hochevar's reaction after hitting Jose Bautista said it all. He started walking towards the batter's box as if he was looking for a fight. While Bautista was obviously upset, he did not engage and just took his base.

It's kind of funny because Jose Bautista wasn't even the guy who got hit in the first place. If you remember, it was actually Yunel Escobar that got plunked during a game against the Royals last year. Then Jose Bautista came back and retaliated the best way he knew how ... with his bat.

Bautista definitely pimped the home run, but I'd say it was warranted after Luke Hochevar hit his teammate. But after all those months, I guess Hochevar much like an elephant had a hard time forgetting.

Adam Lind's Triple Play Hair

Congratulations to the Blue Jays for turning the 3-6 triple play against the Kansas City Royals. It was just the fourth triple play in franchise history, and the first since September 21st 1979 against the Yankees.

Perhaps the more impressive feat was how Adam Lind's hair seemingly stood on end afterwards. I guess he has truly perfected the bedhead look.

For more Animated GIF's and screencaps from last night's contest, check out the Blue Jay Hunter Tumblr.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Flashback Friday: Frank Catalanotto's Six Hit Game


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Image courtesy of NBC Sports
There was something in the air in the south side Chicago the evening on May 1st 2004. Maybe not everyone in the city felt it, but there was one person who definitely did: Frank Catalanotto of the Toronto Blue Jays.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the day history was made; the day when Frank Catalanotto set a Blue Jays franchise record for recording six hits in a single game on May 1st 2004.

Catalanotto must have eaten a big bowl of Wheaties for breakfast for that day, because on the tail-end of a double header against the Chicago White Sox, he went 6 for 6 with five singles and a double.

The man himself Frank Catalanotto was gracious enough to answer some questions about one of the best games at the plate ever for a Blue Jays hitter.

My first question ... do you remember what you ate for your pre-game meal? Was it anything different from your normal routine?
My pre-game meal was exactly what I ate every single day before a game. I had grilled chicken, fruit salad, some carrots, a bottle of water, and a bunch of almonds. I was a little superstitious when it came to that ... and I ate that every single game.
Pitchers are definitely creatures of habit when it comes to their game day routines. As a hitter, was there anything you did different before the game that might have attributed to the results?
I didn’t do anything different … it was just like any other day. I remember taking batting practice and I was hitting the ball good and seeing the ball well. After my first at bat, that’s when I realized I was really seeing the ball well out of the pitcher’s hand and I knew it was going to be a good day.
As the game progressed, were you aware that you were going for a franchise record?
I didn't realize that until after I had five hits. I remember I was in the dugout and I was just about ready to go on deck, and Vernon Wells and a couple of others said to me “Hey Cat, don’t screw it up!”.

Usually guys would keep something like that hush-hush, but guys like Vernon and Reed Johnson encouraged me not to screw it up.
I think the fact that your teammates alerted you to the record, and then you went out and picked up your sixth hit anyway makes it even more impressive.
I guess so! I will say this though, I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever. I honestly knew that I was going to get a hit. I felt so good and it was like there was nobody on the planet who could get me out. Those days are very few and far between, so I was happy to have that day.
I've heard some players say that when they're locked in, it feels as though the baseball looks like the size of a beach ball. Did the same happen to you during that game?
Absolutely, when the ball came in it looked like it was going in slow motion and it looked like a beach ball. Again, you don’t have many of those days so you can take them when you can get them, but that’s exactly how it felt.
Once you get the ball rolling and pick up your first hit, does that change the approach at the plate at all? 
For the most part it’s the same plan. My first at bat I would always take a pitch to get a feel for what the guy’s ball might be doing; how it’s breaking, how fast it’s coming in.

My second at bat especially after I got a hit, I’d say “I’ll be aggressive here” and get after this first fastball because they might try to get ahead of me with strike one.

But other than that, I always tried to drive the ball to the opposite field, and for the most part my approach didn’t change that much.
This is more so a general question about hitting, but it also pertains to your 6 for 6 game. When you went into the batter's box, was there a specific pitch you were looking for? Fastball, breaking ball, etc?
I think the whole day I was basically looking fastball. I was able to react to anything; I got a hit on a curveball and a hit on a changeup, and I think the other four were on fastballs. When you’re seeing the ball that good, you don’t have to look for anything else because you can make the adjustments.
Your six-hit game was during the second game of a double header, and for whatever reason it seems like those games always lead to high scoring affairs.That game in Chicago, there were 16 runs and 29 total hits that game. What is it exactly about those double header games that lead to so much offense?
That’s a great question … but now that you mention it, it’s true. Maybe it’s because the pitcher that’s there for the second game is there for the whole day. It’s a long day for him, he’s waiting around to pitch, and maybe he’s fatigued or maybe he’s not on the same schedule as he would be if it wasn’t a double header.
How did you celebrate after the game? Did any of your teammates buy you a congratulatory steak or anything like that?
The game ended very late and the next day we had a day game, so we had to be at the ballpark at 8:30 the next morning. But I had interviews lined up until about 1:30 in the morning . I didn’t even leave the ballpark until after midnight.

Then when I got back to my hotel room I had three or four radio stations that wanted me to go on and talk about the record-setting day. After all that, I had to get up for a day game the next day but I didn’t really get to celebrate with my teammates.
Where would you say that six-hit game against the White Sox ranks among your personal career highlights?
It's right up there … I’d have to say one of my other biggest career highlights is my first hit ever. It was special to me because I really worked hard to get to the Major Leagues. As a Minor League player, you can’t wait for that first hit to say that you got there.

I got a hit against Rick Helling of the Texas Rangers when I was with the Detroit Tigers in 1997, and it was an RBI single to right field. That’s one I’ll always remember, but the 6 for 6 game is a very close second. It was definitely the best day I ever had.
Lastly, will readers find any details about the six-hit game in your new book "Heart & Hustle"?
I actually do detail it in the book. It was a special day for me and a day where I was felt like I was in the zone. In one of the chapters I detail being in the zone and the six hit game does come up.
If you want to hear more about Frank Catalanotto's epic 6 for 6 game and many more of his career highlights, be sure to pick up a copy of Frank's new book "Heart & Hustle: An Unlikely Journey from Little Leaguer to Big Leaguer".

If you order Heart & Hustle from his website, Frank will kindly autograph your copy and even write a personalized message for you! And Frank is also one of the most active Blue Jays alumni on Twitter, so be sure to give him a follow: @FCat27.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Did the Blue Jays Fix Jeff Mathis?


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
No, that's not your eyes deceiving you ... that is in fact Jeff Mathis rounding the bases after a home run. It may have been his first of the season, but he's already matched one-third of his home run output from last season.

Statistically speaking, Jeff Mathis has been one of the worst hitters in the Major Leagues these past few years. But offense has not always been Mathis' strong suit, as he's been revered as a great defensive catcher, and one that calls a great game.

But now that the Blue Jays have their hands on Jeff Mathis, maybe then can turn that reputation around and at least transform him into a respectable hitter.

Whatever John Farrell and Dwayne Murphy have done, it seems to be working. Albeit it's a minutely small sample size, but Jeff Mathis has four hits in three games; three of those hits being for extra bases.

I don't know whether the Blue Jays have "fixed" Jeff Mathis, but there is definitely something about his batting stance. Below is a screencap from a random at bat with the Angels last season.

It's hard to tell from this particular angle, but it looks like Mathis' legs are very close together. Compare that to this screencap from Wednesday night's game against the Tampa Bay Rays:

This clearly shows Jeff Mathis has a much more open batting stance, and his feet definitely have a bigger gap in between them. I'd even go as far to say that Jeff Mathis' new stance looks  very similar to Brett Lawrie's. Here's the reverse angle:

Again, nine at bats is an extremely small sample size, but the results thus far are encouraging. If Dwayne Murphy can work his magic with Jeff Mathis like he did with Jose Bautista and even increase Mathis' output by 1%, then that will at least be some improvement.

Sorry kids ... J.P. isn't going anywhere

Before things start to get out of hand, I think it's only appropriate to address the starting catcher "controversy" ... if you could even call that. Jeff Mathis is not going to usurp J.P. Arencibia as the starting catcher.

Arencibia's 2 for 32 start to the season is a little disheartening, but by no means is his job in jeopardy. Mathis may be the defensively superior catcher, but even at his very worst offensively, J.P. Arencibia still has the ability to hit over the Mendoza Line through the season ... Mathis does not.

I really don't understand why there's all this concern about J.P. Arencibia, because he's the same three true outcome hitter this season that he's always been. J.P. is a hacker; which means he's going to strike out a hell of a hot, but he will get a hold of some pitches.

In the meantime, I'm not holding my breath for J.P. Arencibia to ever hit above the eight spot in the lineup. John Farrell should never have him in a high leverage spot in the lineup, and that's why he'll probably always hit 8th or 9th.

Fans may have less qualms with Jeff Mathis right now, but he'll continue to only get the odd start behind the plate. J.P. Arencibia is here to stay, folks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Kelly Johnson Conundrum


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
To sign Kelly Johnson to a contract extension or to let him walk? That is the question.

Although the Blue Jays don't currently have a gaping hole up the middle of the infield, they could very well be short a second baseman come this offseason. 

Things are arguably still in the honeymoon phase with Kelly Johnson. At the moment, he's one of the team's best hitters, and he's making the days of Aaron Hill seem like a distant memory. And I believe that's partially why now is the time to strike and re-sign him to a new contract.

Not that Johnson would really sign a "hometown discount" so to speak, but the Blue Jays could probably get him to sign for less money and a shorter duration now rather than wait until the end of the season.

It might seem a little premature to sign Kelly Johnson to a contract extension so early into the season, but the pool of prospective free agent second baseman is becoming shallower by the week. Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler are the latest players off the market, and so the options are becoming increasingly limited.

Phillips' $72.5 million dollar contract and Kinsler's $75 million dollar deal is now a yardstick for what Kelly Johnson could potentially fetch on the open market.

If Kelly Johnson goes the entire season and doesn't receive a multi-year deal from the Blue Jays, I think he's basically as good as gone. And if they can't get KJ to sign on the dotted line before the trade deadline, then they might as well trade him.

The Blue Jays could still scoop a Type A pick for Kelly Johnson, but with all the changes to the CBA and Elias Rankings, they would now have to offer him a one-year contract the average sum of the Top 125 paid players in MLB (around $12 million).

So if the Blue Jays would be willing to offer Kelly Johnson $12 million on a one-year deal, they would almost certainly have to offer him more than that per year on a multi-year contract to keep him in Toronto. I'm just venturing a guess at $15 million per for 3-4 years.

Again, that's just me pulled a number out of the air, but the dollar amount is merely arbitrary. The real question is whether the Blue Jays see Kelly Johnson 3-4 years down the road. With all the recent changes to the CBA, it's tough to say how salary negotiations would go down with a Type A free agent.

At an annual salary of $15 million, Kelly Johnson would be making more than top-tier second baseman like Brandon Phillips and Dustin Pedroia. This isn't a knock on KJ, but if the Blue Jays are going to spend that kind of money, they better be getting an elite second baseman.

All this reinforces how shallow the pool is for elite second baseman. And in this instance and with the new CBA, the player holds the upper hand and not the team. The only way for the Blue Jays to gain an edge here is to re-sign Kelly Johnson as soon as possible.

In a way, the Blue Jays are in a similar position with Kelly Johnson now as they were with Jose Bautista last year. It's a huge risk to put that kind of money up front, but I think it's better than the alternative; waiting until the end of the season and then possibly shelling out even more after they put up a career year.

There is another alternative, and that's to fill the position internally. There was some talk during Spring Training about the possibility of shifting either Yunel Escobar or Adeiny Hechavarria over to second base.

I don't know what the transition is like from playing shortstop to second base, but I can't image it's very easy. And not something I could see the Blue Jays just springing on Escobar or Hechavarria in the offseason, and then only giving them Spring Training to get acclimatized to the new position.

So this is the conundrum the Blue Jays are left with at second base; do they sign Kelly Johnson to a multi-year contract extension at what will likely be a top-tier salary? Or do they let him walk, collect the compensatory pick, and fill the void some other way?

While the latter option is the most financially attractive option, perhaps it's not the best overall strategy for the team. The Blue Jays don't necessarily need to have premium players at every single position, but they certainly shouldn't keep the position in limbo or fill the void with a replacement level player.

It's a risky venture, but I think it's better to bank on Kelly Johnson than risk the alternative.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Weekend That Was in Blue Jays Land


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
Damn, it feels good to have baseball back in town. After being away for six months, the Blue Jays  truly were a sight for sore eyes. And this nine game homestand which includes the Home Opener is a great way to get the city acclimatized to the Blue Jays once again.

It wasn't all sunshine and lollipops, thought. While the end results were a 3-3 record against the Red Sox and Orioles, it could've very easily been 4-2, 5-1, or even 6-0.

There are so many thoughts and observations from the series against the Orioles that I thought I'd just mash them all together on one post.

Drabek's Looking Deadly

He may only two starts into the 2012 campaign, but Kyle Drabek is rapidly solidifying his spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation. It's funny how at the onset of Spring Training, out of all the candidates to crack the starting rotation, he was one of the ones on the outside looking in.

I know it was from his second last start, but Drabek's two-seamer was especially on point against the Red Sox this past Tuesday. Just check out the movement on this pitch to strike out Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Drabek did tail off a little bit in his start on Tuesday, but he was solid start to finish yesterday. The fact that he's surrendered just four combined walks in two starts is a very promising sign, because personally I think walks were his undoing last season.

One final observation about Kyle Drabek; is it just me, or is he looking and sounding more and more like Gregg Zaun?

Lawrie Caught Stealing Home

It was one of those head-scratcher moments from Saturday's game, and the aptly titled "Caught Stealing Home" has a Photo Story of Brett Lawrie's attempted steal of home from Saturday's 6-4 loss to the Orioles.

The replays on TV made it look a lot closer than it actually was, as the overhead view showed that Lawrie was basically dead in the water at the plate. Jason Hammel's throw to home was high, but Matt Wieters got the tag down in plenty of time.

I'm not sure if it's right in any universe to attempt to steal home during a tied game when the bases are loaded, let alone when your best hitter is at the plate and could easily blow the game wide open with one swing of the bat.

I suppose that's one of the apparent side affects of having an adrenaline-filled player like Brett Lawrie on the Blue Jays roster. Sometimes he might let his instincts take over rather than think things through, and that's something I'm sure he'll learn in time.

Have Bautista and Encarnacion Switched Bodies?

See if you can guess who is who between Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion;
Player A has a slash line of .289/.325/.632. Player B has a slash line of .206/.333/.324.

If it were any other year, you'd probably say Bautista is Player A and Encarnacion is Player B ... but it's actually the other way around. It's as though Jose and Edwin have switched bodies in some strange "Freaky Friday" occurrence.

There's no question Jose Bautista has seen a steady diet of breaking balls from opposing pitchers. In fact, maybe Jose has been guilty of taking a few too many pitches this early on, and that's been his Achilles heel.

On the other hand, Edwin is capitalizing on his opportunities and perhaps he's been getting all those fastballs that Jose Bautista used to see at the plate. Needless to say, EE has been keeping me busy posting Animated GIF's of all his home run bat flips over on the BJH Tumblr.

The Team Hitting (or lack thereof)

The only thing worse than losing 2 out of 3 games to the Baltimore Orioles is the fact that the Blue Jays let two of those games get away. Although it was the bullpen coughed up those late-inning losses, it didn't help that the team didn't receive much run support.

As a team, the Blue Jays are hitting .231 which currently ranks second last in the American League.  If you think about it, it's pretty miraculous the Blue Jays have a 5-4 record considering how poorly they've hit as a team.

In saying that, the club was hitting a paltry .214 as a team going into Sunday's game, and then emerged from that nine-run 13-hit performance and boosted the team batting average by 17 points to .231 in a single game.

The starting pitching and the bullpen has been pretty decent up until this point, but the starting lineup needs to start picking up the slack if the Blue Jays want a shot at winning those close ball games.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Flashback Friday: Slash Plays the National Anthems at the 2005 Home Opener


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It's one of the highest honours for a musician; the opportunity to play the National Anthem at Major League Baseball game. Unfortunately, often times these performances are remembered for all the wrong reasons (ie: Roseanne Barr).

Thankfully, there is one National Anthem performance at the Blue Jays Home Opener that has stuck with me all these years for all the right reasons. And it turns out not even one note had to be sung to make it a memorable National Anthem performance.

I'm happy to announce that Flashback Fridays are back once again, and for the inaugural Flashback Friday of 2012, we go into the Blue Jays vault and take a look at Slash's performance of the National Anthems at the 2005 Home Opener.

With the good though comes the bad, as Slash committed perhaps one of the biggest jersey fouls in Blue Jays history; he donned a half Blue Jays/half Red Sox jersey hybrid. In an attempt to appeal to both cities, Slash actually did a disservice to both teams.


The above photo of Slash is also incredibly rare for three reasons: he isn't wearing a hat, he isn't wearing sunglasses, and slash is actually sort of smiling. It also shows the full-on atrocity of the Jays/Sox jersey hybrid.

The Blue Jays must have really been going for the hip factor at the 2005 Home Opener because they also recruited Julian, Ricky and Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys to throw out the first pitch.


For anthems where not one single word was sung, it definitely resonated with the crowd. I don't know whether this was an attempt for the Blue Jays to look a little more hip in 2005, but it definitely worked as Slash was flawless in his performance.

Images courtesy of Getty Images

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sergio Santos Back in the Good Books


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
A few years back, Shaun Marcum was responsible for creating the phrase "pitch like a man". Now the next evolution of that phrase is "pitch like your wife's going into labour".

With the impending birth of his third child on his mind, Sergio Santos took the hill yesterday afternoon and picked up his first save of the season. One would think he would've been even more rattled than he was during Monday's Home Opener, but perhaps that sense of urgency helped Santos perform even better.

I didn't actually watch the end of the game myself, but I did catch the last few outs on the radio. Jerry and Alan remarked that Santo's slider looked the best it had since Spring Training, most notably on the strikeout against Kevin Youkilis.

Sergio Santos received the brunt of the criticism from Monday's game, and he definitely redeemed himself from that less than stellar performance at the Home Opener. He's now four appearances into the season and it's still far too early to make an assessment on Santos.

For now I think Santos is out of the dog house, but he didn't really deserve to be there in the first place. Had the Home Opener actually been a game in September, then I might have been worried. However, there should be no cause for concern ... especially this early in April.

Going merely by his pitch repertoire and his velocity, Santos is the quintessential closer. With his fastball/slider combo, Sergio has that strikeout power. One of the inherent side effects is he's going to be wild and he's going to probably walk a lot of batters.

Santos ranked second amongst AL relievers last season with a 13.07 K/9, but he also ranked 13th in B/9 at 4.12 walks per nine innings. He also had five wild pitches in 2011, the fourth most amongst AL relief pitchers.

In the span of two appearances, we saw Sergio Santos at his very worst ... and we saw him at his very best. On Monday, he couldn't find the strike zone, and yesterday he had complete command of his pitches.

Sergio Santos has the power to be a very dominant closer. But he also has the power to be a very wild one as well. Appearances like the one on Monday will inevitably rear their head once again, but let's just hope they are few and far between.

I guess it's better to mentally prepare oneself for the possibility that a closer could come unraveled at any time. Not even Mariano Rivera is immune to it.

In the meantime, John Farrell should just offer this piece of advice to his closer: "pitch like your wife's going into labour".

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Home Opener Aftermath


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
The Blue Jays Home Opener is a magical time of year. It's the culmination of months of anticipation and excitement. But judging by the mood of the crowd, you would never think that.

I still believe the Home Opener is all those things, but a deflating loss at the hand of the Boston Red Sox certainly left the fans with a bad taste in their mouth. And it didn't help that the meltdown was at the hands of their new closer, Sergio Santos.

Depending on whether the Blue Jays win or lose their Home Opener, the mood along the neighbouring streets along the Rogers Centre is notably different. In past years, it was boisterous and full of excitement. This year, the tone was sombre and one of disappointment.

It might have felt like the Blue Jays lost Game 7 of the World Series, but in actuality it was only game four of the 2012 season. There is a lot of baseball left to play ... after all, we're only 2.5% of the way through the season. A lot can happen in the next 158 games.

I know there were a lot of fans at the Rogers Centre last night who attended their very first Blue Jays game last night. Unfortunately,  you only get one chance to make a first impression ... and the way that game ended, I'm afraid the Blue Jays didn't start off on the right foot.

The casual baseball fan probably heard ad nauseum about the bullpen woes from last season; 25 blown saves, and and endless parade of closers who couldn't get the job done. And if the Blue Jays cut that blown save in total by just half, then they might have had a chance at the playoffs.

Then Alex Anthopoulos rebuilds the bullpen in the offseason, with the crowning jewel being a new closer in the form of Sergio Santos. And then he starts off the season by blowing his first two save opportunities, and suddenly we're back to the same closer conundrum from last year.

Sergio Santos isn't going anywhere; he's under contract through 2014, and up to 2017 if the Blue Jays exercise all his options. Santos probably going to be the closer no matter what until his contract is up.

So for those who might think that the sky is falling and that Francisco Cordero needs to usurp Sergio Santos as the Blue Jays closer, I urge you to step back from that ledge, my friend. It's only four games into the season.

Not to mention, combined with Sergio Santos' wild ninth inning, it's not as if the offense provided a lot of run support for the pitchers to work with. On an ordinary night, two runs on five hits is not enough to beat the Boston Red Sox.

In fact, the Blue Jays offense has averaged only 3 runs in their first four games (not including runs scored in extra innings). So it appears as though the starting lineup has some work to do, as well.

Dustin Pedroia took advantage of couple of fastballs up in the zone (in nearly the same location) and that was the difference maker. The margin for error was very slim, and Santos simply could not stop the bleeding once Pedroia led off the ninth with a double.

Despite the deflating end to the ballgame, I thought the Blue Jays Home Opener was exciting nonetheless. It was great to have baseball back in the city of Toronto, but it's just unfortunate the game had to end the way it did.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Rogers Centre Beer Locator


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Let's face it; cheering on your Toronto Blue Jays is going to make you thirsty. Which means you're going to need to know where the closest suds are to your section at the Home Opener.

Fret not, my friends! Presenting The Rogers Centre Beer Locator. It gives you the locations of each and every beer stand inside the Rogers Centre.


Whether you're looking for Bud Light, Budweiser, Bud Light Lime, Labatt Blue, Alexander Keith's, or Stella, it's all there. The only notably absent beer is Rolling Rock, which just became available at the dome late last season.

In case you're looking for the specifics, there are individual maps for the 100, 200 and 500 levels, including the beer vendor sections. Just click the tabs at the bottom of the excel sheet for the beer type.

100 Level



200 Level



500 Level



For those keeping score, that's 29 places in total where you can find beer at the Rogers Centre. And that doesn't even include the Roundhouse, Sightlines Restaurant, or the HSBC VIP Club on the 200 level.

I'm sure there will likely even be additional beer stands at the Rogers Centre for the 2011 season, which puts the number of locations at well above 30 beer stands.

Not to mention, there's dozens of roaming beer vendors traveling section to section ... so there really is no shortage of locations to get your suds at the Rogers Centre. So you can't go so much as a few sections before you run into a beer stand.

But it's useful to know certain things; for example, that Alexander Keith's isn't available anywhere on the 500 Level. Also, that Labatt Blue tall cans are only available on the 200 and 500 Levels.

There is no other game where the timing of beverage breaks is more crucial than the Blue Jays Home Opener. I hope this Beer Locator aids you in finding the closest beer stand near you so that you miss as little on-field action as possible.

Update: apparently beer sales will be limited to one at a time in 500 Level for the Home Opener. I guess that really isn't all that surprising, but I thought you were only allowed to buy one beer at a time anyway?

Cheers to a Happy Blue Jays Home Opener, everyone!

Rogers Centre Internal Maps courtesy of RogersCentre.com

Friday, April 6, 2012

Video: Everyday Edwin's Shufflin'


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Well, that was one heck of a Season Opener, wasn't it? The Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians made history by going 16 innings on Opening Day, and there truly was a little bit of everything.

Check out the BJH Tumblr for lots of Animated GIF's, photos and reblogs from Opening Day.

And if there was one person who was particularly happy about J.P. Arencibia's game-winning home run in the 16th inning, it was Edwin Encarnacion.

Everyday Edwin's shufflin' ...

Thanks to @James_in_TO for the inspiration over at Blue Jays Bits

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Toronto 2012 Blue Jays: A New Hope


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Image courtesy of Cambridge Cream Tumblr
After a long, cold, desolate winter, there is no better way to warm the heart and soul than with some Blue Jays baseball.

The season opener is an all too familiar exercise, but there's something different in the air this year. The 25 men that will take the field today in Cleveland represent a new hope for a new generation of Blue Jays fans.

Jason Stark of ESPN is very optimistic about what the future holds for the Toronto Blue Jays. Billy Ripken also thinks the future is bright for the Blue Jays. Heck, even Larry King thinks they'll win the division this year.
 
No longer is it just a few writers and executives on the fringe singing the praises of the Blue Jays. All across the league, people are looking to model themselves after this up-and-coming team.

The way I see it, this many people can't all be wrong. The more and more pundits that recognize the potential of the Toronto Blue Jays, then a winning formula definitely must be there.

It's not just the writers and the executives who are starting to believe in the Blue Jays again, but the fans are as well. They were ravenous to scoop up Home Opener tickets, and they were sold out mere hours after they went on sale.

Whether they wanted to or not, the Blue Jays maintained incredible top of mind awareness over the offseason. Even though they didn't land any big name free agents, they were on the tip of the tongue when it came to being linked to those players.

The new uniform unveiling in November was another way the Blue Jays cultivated interest in the club. In the days leading up to the unveiling, I don't think I've ever seen folks so rabid for something that had nothing to do with a game on the field.

And then there's the Blue Jays incredible Spring Training record. At 24-7, it was the best spring record in franchise history, not to mention the best record in both Cactus League and Grapefruit League play.

A strong Spring Training doesn't necessary mean that this success will carry over into the regular season, but I'm starting to get the sense that this is just another sign. And the signs keep adding up.

Now with the additional Wild Card spot added for this season, you could say the Blue Jays chances to make the playoffs are the best they've been since 1995.

In order for the Blue Jays to have a shot at the post-season, an inordinate amount of things are going to need to break right for them. It's not impossible for them to do it, but the odds are stacked against them.

That's just 2012, though. Despite how some General Managers employ a short-sighted strategy, the road to a dynasty is not a sprint, it's a marathon. It's a slow progression; building little by little, year by year, until a perennial contender is born.

That's how the first Blue Jays dynasty was born through Pat Gillick, and that's how Alex Anthopoulos is hoping to build the second coming of a Blue Jays dynasty.

The praise from the baseball writers, the Home Opener sell-out, the new uniforms, the Spring Training record, the new Wild Card ... I think these are all signs that the Blue Jays are almost there.

In a city like Toronto where the fans have an insatiable thirst to see a team in the playoffs, it's crucial to not only sell hope ... but to preach patience. It's important to convince fans that the organization is going about things the right way, and they have a set plan.

The plan is to win. The timetable for that is not certain, but with all the positive signs, it feels like it's on the horizon. And I truly believe people will look back to the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays season as the beginning of a new era ... a new hope.

And hope springs eternal for the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

So Long, Brett Cecil


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Brett Cecil came to Spring Training  in the best shape of his life. He lost 38 pounds in the offseason and entered camp with a fresh attitude. Ultimately, those accolades weren't enough to keep him in the starting rotation.

I can't say that I was very surprised to hear Brett Cecil was optioned down to the minor leagues. However I was taken aback that the Blue Jays pulled the trigger so soon, and that they sent Cecil down so far.

There were a few concerns last week when Brett was originally supposed to face the Baltimore Orioles in Spring Training, albeit an incredibly depleted lineup nearly void of any Major League talent. That probably should have been the first red flag that there was something really wrong with Brett Cecil.

I'll certainly give Brett credit that he put forth lots of effort to show that he was committed to being a better pitcher in 2012 than he was in 2011. His mission to get in shape got him back in good graces, but ultimately it couldn't make up for the fact that he just could not locate.

You probably know me as the eternal optimist, which is why what I'm about to say is such a departure from my usual optimistic outlook; but I would not be surprised if Brett Cecil does not pitch in the Blue Jays starting rotation ever again.

That could mean two things; perhaps the Blue Jays feel Cecil is better served to pitch in shorter stints and he'll be the next starter-to-reliever pet project. That could also mean that Brett Cecil just doesn't have what it takes to pitch in the American League East.

I hate to kick a guy when he's down, but I think the latter might be true. Brett Cecil's velocity has been a concern for some time now, and while pitchers like Shaun Marcum can get away with not having a "blow it by them" fastball, Marcum does boast a stellar command of his pitches.

And when Brett Cecil doesn't have either velocity or control, that's a huge cause for concern for the Toronto Blue Jays.

If the club didn't have the wealth of pitching depth as they do, then they could afford to keep Brett Cecil out there to see if he works the kinks out himself. However, there are so many talented young arms in the farm system that look like much more viable options than Cecil.

I wouldn't have pegged Joel Carreno as the first one to take Brett Cecil's place in the starting rotation, but I think it's a great opportunity to see what Carreno is capable of stretched out as a starter once again.

His sample size from the bullpen last year was small yet impressive, but I guess the Blue Jays value Joel Carreno more as a starter than a reliever. Had it not been for players like Luis Perez who are out of options, I would've said Carreno was a safe bet to crack the Opening Day roster.

Brett Cecil has the edge when it comes to big league experience, but others like Joel Carreno have much more potential. In a regime where "high ceiling" is the greatest thing since sliced bread, Brett Cecil just doesn't cut it.

That's not to say the Blue Jays starting staff needs to be comprised of five aces for them to compete.Take a look at the back end of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays rotations; they aren't bona fide studs by any means ... but they do at least have some potential to become #2 or #3 starters down the road.

Perhaps that was the motivation behind transitioning Jesse Litsch from the starting rotation to the bullpen. Sure, Jesse could have held his own and ate up some innings, but they weren't quality innings.

Even if Brett Cecil does manage to regain his composure and gets called back up to the Blue Jays, I don't think he fits in very well with the long-term plans of this starting rotation.

Now that Toronto has a wealth of options in the pitching department, the Blue Jays might not think twice about overlooking Brett Cecil and promoting the next "high ceiling" prospect ahead of him.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jose Bautista and the Back to Back 40 HR/100 BB Club


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
What do Jose Bautista, Babe Ruth, and Albert Pujols have in common? Well, aside from all being incredible baseball specimens, they're all members of a very exclusive club.

It's one that only 22 players in Major League Baseball have the distinction of belonging to, and it's the back-to-back 40 home run season/100 walk club. It might not be as illustrious as the 40/40 club, but it's pretty impressive nonetheless.

In case you're wondering who else belongs to the consecutive 40 HR/100 BB club, the list of its member is a who's who of the most feared hitters in baseball history. Thanks to @tonyni at Stats Inc for the numbers:



The unfortunate part is seven of the 22 names on that list came were connected with the steroid era of baseball, which does somewhat taint the exclusivity of that list.

For instance, Barry Bonds was intentionally walked an all-time high 120 times during the 2004 season. So he didn't even have to take the bat off his shoulders, and he managed to surpass 100 walks.

It really gives you a new appreciation for Jose Bautista's patience at the plate because of the 232 combined walks he drew in 2010 and 2011, only 26 of them or 11.2 percent of them were intentional base on balls.

Jose Bautista will embark on putting up a third consecutive 40 home run/100 walk club; which is a club that includes only the upper echelon of hitters: Babe Ruth, Jim Thome, Barry Bonds, and Adam "I don't even like baseball" Dunn.

As Bautista's reputation as a dangerous hitter continues to flourish across the league, I don't think the 100 walk milestone will be as difficult to achieve as will the 40 home run part. Inherently that means Bautista will likely see even less pitches to hit in 2012.

Ever since the end of the steroid era, the prototypical feared slugger is much harder to find ... which truly makes Jose Bautista a once in a lifetime player.

Thanks again to Tony for all the info and the legwork on the stats. Follow him on Twitter at @Tonyni

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