Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Man in White Returns


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Well, here we go again.

Why is it that whenever the Blue Jays enjoy some success as of late, some people feel the need to attribute it to external sources?

First there was Jose Bautista who was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. Even though he passed drug test after drug test, that still wasn't enough concrete evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bautista wasn't juicing.

Then last summer, ESPN unearthed the entire "Man in White" scandal. The Rogers Centre has been a home run haven these past few seasons, and some believe it was due to a mysterious man in the stands relaying signals to the Blue Jays.

Just when you thought the whole "Man in White" thing had been put to bed, Jason Hammel brought it all to a head once again after getting knocked around by the Blue Jays in a 4-1 loss:
"I don’t think you can take swings like that, not knowing they’re coming. There’s rumours and things like that, I don’t know ...I can’t speak on that but they were taking very, very strong hacks on breaking stuff. It’s something I’ve never seen before." (courtesy of John Lott, National Post)
Here's a thought ... maybe Jason Hammel isn't as good as he thought he was? Maybe he was lucky for the fact that he only gave up three home runs going into last night's game, and then proceeded to give up four in one game.

As a matter of fact, maybe the Orioles aren't as good as they thought they were. They've been playing over their heads since Opening Day, and perhaps being swept by the Blue Jays was a reality check for a team that was expected to finish last in the division.

I don't want to fuel the fire of conspiracy theories that the league is conspiring against the Blue Jays, whether it be the umpires or players. But I am sick and tired of the Blue Jays being labelled as "whiners" or worse yet, "cheaters".

If the Red Sox or Yankees were accused of sign stealing or employing a Man in White, just imagine the uproar it would cause. However, since the Blue Jays were already linked to sign stealing at the Rogers Centre, Jason Hammel decided to piggyback on that rumour and attribute his loss to an outside source.

If Boston or New York had orchestrated some sort of sign stealing scheme, don't you think there would need to be some pretty conclusive evidence first? Instead, it was all just hearsay from Yankees and White Sox players, and now the Orioles that the Blue Jays had a little help from the stands.

Let's not negate the fact that Jason Hammel has been a junkballer who has bounced around Tampa Bay, Colorado, and now Baltimore. Hammel has had a pretty good start to the 2012 season, but even Justin Verlander has a bad start every now and then ... and he doesn't chalk it up to the other team stealing signs.

Unless somebody has concrete evidence that something is going on at the Rogers Centre, I don't want to hear about it anymore. Maybe Jason Hammel should have just admitted he got beat by the team that has the fourth most home runs in the American League.

Or you know ... blame it on the "Man in White".

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ricky Romero and the "Care Factor"


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
Today's professional athletes ride a very fine line. Some of the best players blur the line entirely, while others are clearly on one side of the divide or the other. I'm talking about the “care factor”; that line between appearing to care and appearing to not care.

Whether they show it or not, every player cares … otherwise they wouldn’t play the game. However, you can clearly find examples of guys who play with their heart on their sleeve, and others who appear to be more subdued.

Take a look at the Blue Jays roster and you’ll find examples of guys on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. There's Brett Lawrie who plays the game with reckless abandonment, and then there are others like Colby Rasmus who prefer to take the laissez-faire approach.

I’m not saying one of these styles is necessarily better than the other. Brett Lawrie plays how he plays, Colby Rasmus plays how he plays …. that’s just their personality. Nobody expects them to be anything but themselves both in “real life” and on the field.

On one hand, fans want to know these players truly care about winning and they want to know the players actually give a damn. Proof of that is often times shown on the field in either results or just pure emotion.

But on the other hand, one wonders if these players sometimes get a little too consumed with the pressures of having an entire team's fanbase rest on their shoulders. That was no more evident than a series of Ricky Romero's tweets that he sent out last week.

One of the things I've always respected about Ricky Romero is he presents himself as the consummate competitor. He's obviously very passionate for the game of baseball and doesn't like to lose. So one can understand his frustration coming off a 7 walk outing last Wednesday.

Lashing out on Twitter seems like an odd therapy of sorts for a professional athlete. Romero may have been directing his anger towards his "haters", but in truth I think that anger stemmed from himself.

I'm not against a Blue Jays player going out there and speaking their mind. In a world of cookie-cutter and cliché ridden answers from post game pressers, I truly appreciate athletes who are able to present their thoughts raw and unfiltered.

That's exactly what Ricky Romero did following his loss in Tampa Bay last Wednesday; he presented his thoughts unfiltered for every single one of his 101,000+ followers to see. There's no question it wasn't the best way for Romero to vent, but he got it off his chest nonetheless.

Earlier this week on TSN 1050, Richard Griffin insinuated that last night's game would be not only a watershed moment for Ricky Romero, but the Blue Jays as a whole. I find it difficult to use a game in late May as an indicator for the entire season, but I guess Toronto passed the litmus test.

Romero was cruising until that two run home run given up to Chris Davis, but I really don't think he should be all that mad since Chris Davis and Adam Jones have given the Blue Jays so much trouble this season. Davis and Jones are hitting a combined .413 against the Blue Jays this season with 9 home runs in 8 games.

If anybody was going to get to Ricky Romero, it was going to be Chris Davis and Adam Jones. Frankly, I'd rather Romero get beat by those hitters than Ricky beat himself up by surrendering walk after walk.

In the end, I guess it really doesn't matter whether somebody like Ricky Romero reads like an open book on Twitter, or whether Colby Rasmus just keeps to himself. So long as they put up results on the field, they can say whatever they want or whatever they don't want to on Twitter.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Texas Rangers Hangover


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After having 34 runs scored against them on 44 combined hits, the bullpen racking up 15.1 innings of work over the weekend, and two of the three starters not making it to the fourth inning, I think it's safe to say the Blue Jays were happy to get the hell out of Texas.
It must have been disheartening for the Blue Jays to have their posteriors kicked by the Texas Rangers, but they are the best team in baseball right now. And it was very evident that Toronto was just overmatched in every facet by the Texas Rangers in that series.

Among all the lowlights in this series, there were a few highlights for the Blue Jays. It appears as though Colby Rasmus is finally coming around, Jesse Chavez looked great in his big league Blue Jays debut, and Jeff Mathis was one of the most effective relievers all weekend.

Most figured the Blue Jays had a very tall order going on the road to Tampa Bay and Texas, and that they did. However, considering that Toronto has dropped the last six of seven games, it's somewhat surprising the Blue Jays are still hovering at the .500 mark.

On their last road trip, Toronto went 5-5 through Los Angeles, Oakland and Minnesota, and that's all anybody can expect of the Blue Jays on the road; to play .500 ball on the road, and .600 ball at home.

It's easier said than done, but if Toronto does exactly that and plays .500 on the road and .500 at home, then they'll need to go 41-41 on the road and go 48-32 at the Rogers Centre. That would put the Blue Jays at 89 wins, right in the thick of things for a playoff spot come season's end.

Going into this road swing, it was expected that the Blue Jays might have some trouble with the Rangers ... and they did. After all, they were outpitched by the best starting staff and bullpen in the Majors, and were outhit by the most powerful lineup in the American League.

I know it sounds like I'm making excuses for a squad that just got swept out of Arlington Texas, but by no means do I believe this is the tipping point for the Blue Jays 2012 season. It sucks to lose a series in that way, but in this instance it's beneficial to forget what happened and move forward.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Flashback Friday: The 1994 Blue Jays on Toronto High Five


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Occasionally when doing research for these Flashback Friday posts, I come across videos from the Blue Jays vault that truly capture an era from the past. And no era is more prevalent in Blue Jays history than the 90's.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the the 1994 Toronto Blue Jays featured on the show "Toronto High Five".

Not much is known about "Toronto High Five", but from what I gathered it was a community program that ran all across Ontario. I don't really remember it, but then again I was eight years old at the time and was too busy watching Jr. Jays Magazine on YTV.

It seems like the Blue Jays gave these guys a press pass for the day, and Toronto High Five proceeded to talk to the Toronto Blue Jays during their Spring Training. You can watch the video in full above, or the specific player interviews below.
 
Paul Molitor



I'll admit, I laughed out loud when I saw the quintessential 90's TV effects combined with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch's "Good Vibrations" to start off the Paul Molitor interview. Feel it, feel it!

Ed Sprague



Even though the 1994 season was strike-shortened, Ed Sprague alludes to the expanded playoff format. 1994 would've been the first season to institute the Wild Card, potentially hurting the Blue Jays chances of a three-peat.

Randy Knorr



If you thought the Blue Jays have a log jam at the catching position with J.P. Arencibia and Travis d'Arnaud, just think back to 1994. The Blue Jays had Pat Borders, Randy Knorr and Carlos Delgado all at one position.

I'll give this guy credit for having the stones to ask Randy Knorr if he thinks he'll be traded, and if Borders was traded, how he felt about platooning with Carlos Delgado.

Carlos Delgado



Here's a very rare look at a young fresh-faced 22 year old Carlos Delgado. I can't think if anything cooler than watching Delgado taking CP wearing his cap backwards.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Those Pesky Rays


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As a Blue Jays fan, it's in my DNA to have a strong disdain for the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. It's as if I am programmed to hate these two teams ... and very soon, I might just have to add a third team to the mix.

For the first time in the last 16 series in Tampa Bay, the Blue Jays had an opportunity to win a series at Tropicana Field. Although they came very close, Toronto could not snap the streak ... and so it stands as 17 straight series losses in Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Bay Rays are truly becoming the new Kryptonite of the Toronto Blue Jays.

It used to be that taking two of three or even a series weep at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park was one of the most gratifying things as a Jays fan. But now I just want the Blue Jays to win a damn series at Tropicana Field.

The unfortunate thing is my disdain is completely unwarranted towards the Rays because their organization is going about things the right way. Unlike the Red Sox or Yankees, they aren't delving out $100+ million dollar contracts and driving up prices in the free agent market.

It's not even a David and Goliath scenario when the Blue Jays stack up against the Rays, if anything it's a David/David battle. So that's what makes it even tougher to hate the Rays because they're doing a lot with a very minimal payroll.

The Tampa Bay Rays are taking reclamation projects like Luke Scott and Fernando Rodney and turning their careers around. The Rays are signing blue chip prospects who seemingly have a day or two big league experience to long term deals.

This is an organization that announced during the 2010 off-season that they were actually looking to cut spending ... and they still made the playoffs. It's almost the polar opposite of what happened to the Blue Jays during the 2005 off-season, where they ramped up spending considerably and missed out on the post-season.

The one area where I think the Blue Jays currently have the upper hand on the Rays is the trade market. Alex Anthopoulos is very good at his ability to extract high ceiling talent from other teams and maximize their potential in a new environment with the Blue Jays.

However, the Rays have stockpiled so many prospects in trades over the years that at least of of them will pay dividends eventually. The results from their trades may not have come to fruition yet, but the reinforcements are likely on their way.

I just really miss the days when the Blue Jays used to steamroll the Rays. Those days are now long gone, and every victory over Tampa Bay feels like the Blue Jays dodged a bullet.

So really, all this anger is misplaced towards the Tampa Bay Rays. I say anger, but what I really mean is jealously.

The Red Sox and Yankees may be the classic division rivals, but I'd safely say the Rays are now the team to beat for the Blue Jays.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Where Does Vlad Guerrero Fit In?


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Image courtesy of Shi Davidi
When the Blue Jays first announced that they signed Vladimir Guerrero to a minor league deal, I thought "this is a square peg in a round hole signing". Quite simply, the way the Blue Jays roster was constructed, it didn't make sense to have Vlad around.

But it's funny how things can change in a few mere days. Early last week, Vlad appeared to have a long road back to the Majors. Now with the demotion of Adam Lind, Guerrero could be in a Blue Jays uniform sooner than we think.

The $1.5 million dollar question is where exactly does Vladimir Guerrero fit in the Toronto Blue Jays roster?

There isn't a firm timetable in when Vlad will be ready, but most guesses are that he'll have to make it through Dunedin, New Hampshire and Las Vegas before getting the call to from the Blue Jays front office.

Even if they're fast tracking Vlad through the ranks, it will still take at least a few weeks to get him back up the Majors. And that would bring Vlad's debut to the beginning of Interleague play, right around the June 8th mark.

At that point, Guerrero would really only be a viable pinch hit option late in the game during that Interleague run. He could get the odd start at DH in those games back under AL rules at the Rogers Centre.

Of course, this is all hinging on what happens with Adam Lind. Not surprisingly, he's been tearing it up in Triple A, and Lind could also be back with the Blue Jays sooner rather than later.

So is there a place where Adam Lind and Vladimir Guerrero can coexist on the roster? It's a possibility ... but a faint one at that. It's likely either one or the other; and frankly I like the prospect of Vlad's bat in the lineup over Lind's.

Even at 37 years old, Vladdy seems like a potent bat in the lineup. He hit 34 doubles last year with the Orioles, which would've been second to only Edwin Encarnacion on the Blue Jays roster.

The problem with Vlad of course is that his glove does not play into the game whatsoever. Perhaps that's why he's been waiting so long to find a contract, because the days of the pure DH in the American League are slowly fading away.

New age managers like John Farrell and Joe Maddon much prefer hitters who can field multiple positions rather than a someone who is strictly a DH, even though they might provide more offensive pop.

So in order to pencil Vladdy into the lineup, John Farrell is undoubtedly going to have to do some defensive shuffling. With the absence of Lind and Guerrero's inability to field, some other players are going to have to pick up the slack in the meantime.

I don't think Edwin Encarnacion is ready to pick up the bulk of the starts at first base, which means Yan Gomes could get a much longer look than originally thought. Gomes provides a lot of infield flexibility, and especially with these Interleague series coming up in June.

Vladdy would be great as a pinch-hitter in those NL rules games, but that's about it. So even if Guerrero manages to crack the roster, don't be surprised to see him relegated to bench duty.

Again, I really like Vlad's bat in the Blue Jays lineup, and we all know the Blue Jays can afford to score some more runs. But until Adam Lind can prove that he's a much more viable option at the plate, I say give Vladimir Guerrero a look and see what he can do.

It might not be very long before we see Vlad's patented pine tar-covered batting helmet in Toronto.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Tropicana Field Catwalk Photo Essay


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Friday, May 18, 2012

Adam Lind's Leash Runs Out


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
My apologies for being a little late to the party with a reaction to the Adam Lind demotion. I wanted to let my thoughts percolate for a while on the issue and formulate a somewhat coherent post, rather than just my knee-jerk reaction.

Much like with Travis Snider last season, I don't think Adam Lind's demotion to Triple A was warranted. So it came as a shock that month and a half into the season, the Blue Jays decided that the best thing for Lind was to send him to Las Vegas and work out the kinks.

I definitely think that Brett Lawrie's suspension had something to do with this move. With Lawrie still occupying a roster spot, the Blue Jays needed somebody to take over the hot corner for the weekend.

It's really all about timing; Lind was about 45 days away from accumulating  5 years of service time, which would've allowed him the right to refuse minor league assignment (hat tip to @Minor_Leaguer). Rather than release or demote a player that didn't really deserve it, the Blue Jays chose to burn Adam Lind's last remaining option.

Some are saying that this could be the last we'll ever see of Adam Lind with the Toronto Blue Jays, but I don't believe the end is nigh for him. For one, it doesn't really make sense to trade Lind right now because his value could not be any lower.

Secondly, finding a taker for the remainder of his contract would be an adventure in itself. Nearly every American League team has an established first baseman, so the National League is really the only prospective landing spot for Adam Lind.

Here's the thing about Adam Lind; 2009 was a career year for him, but ever since then ... he's been the same player that he's always been. I don't think much has changed with Lind, he hits for power, he doesn't draw many walks, and he's an okay defender.

The only thing that has changed ... is the expectations for Adam Lind.

With the American League (and especially the AL East) being a hotbed for slugging first baseman, Lind simply doesn't measure up to the competition. I don't think the Blue Jays necessarily need somebody the calibre of Adrian Gonzalez at first, just so long as that offensive output is made up at some other position.

Adam Lind is one of the lone holdovers from the previous Blue Jays regime, and while the team as a whole has upgraded at most of the positions, first base has always remained a point of contention. So maybe that's why the expectations for Lind have risen to such great heights.

I don't doubt that Adam Lind will be back with the Blue Jays in the near future. But moving forward, Lind's position within the Blue Jays organization has really come into question.

Unless Alex Anthopoulos has a clear vision to upgrade the first base position, maybe the best solution might be to just let Adam Lind ride things out and decline his option years; a similar situation the Blue Jays potentially faced with Aaron Hill.

For better or worse, Adam Lind is not the reason why the Blue Jays are 21-18. If he performed better, Toronto might have a marginally better record, but it takes more than one player to make that much of a difference.

Trust me, it frustrates me just as much as you to see Adam Lind clog up the cleanup spot in the Blue Jays lineup. But that's not Adam Lind's fault, that's John Farrell's fault for continuing to parade him out there for 21 games in the four spot.

At his low base salary, the Blue Jays can continue to afford to employ Adam Lind at first base. There are certainly much worse options out there at a much higher price tag right now. Maybe it requires a creative solution on the part of the manager and general manager to maximize what's left in Adam Lind's bat.

Lind's leash may have run out, but his time with the Blue Jays has not.

Flashback Friday: The Mike Sirotka Trade


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These days, the Blue Jays front office has built a reputation for their shrewd moves. They've mastered the formula of extracting high ceiling players from other teams and maximizing their potential with the Blue Jays.

Alex Anthopoulos AKA "the Silent Assassin" has been instrumental in acquiring players like Brandon Morrow, Yunel Escobar, Colby Rasmus, Kelly Johnson and Sergio Santos just to name a few.

But there was a time not that long ago when the Blue Jays as being the fleecees not the fleecers. For this week's Flashback Friday, we look back on one of the worst trades in Blue Jays franchise history, the one involving none other than Mike Sirotka.

Mike Sirotka was not a household name at the time of the trade in January of 2001 but by the time the dust had settled on the deal, Sirotka's name was one that Blue Jays fans would not soon forget.

Gord Ash was the General Manager of the Blue Jays at the time, and he dealt with the then rookie General Manager of the Chicago White Sox, Kenny Williams. The two would craft a six-player trade that would send David Wells and Matt Dewitt to Chicago in exchange for pitches Mike Sirotka, Kevin Beirne, Mike Williams and outfielder Brian Simmons.

David Wells and Mike Sirotka were unquestionably the cornerstones of the trade, as the White Sox were getting a 20-game winner, and the Blue Jays thought they were receiving a promising young starter whose best days were ahead of him. They thought wrong.

Sirotka showed up to Blue Jays Spring Training camp in 2001, but it was revealed that he was suffering from a shoulder injury. He was eventually shut down by the Blue Jays and he would actually never throw a pitch in the Major Leagues ever again.

Just to add insult to injury, not only would Mike Sirotka never appear for the Blue Jays, but the team was also on the hook for the remaining $6.6 million dollars on his contract.

The trade was surrounded in a great deal of controversy because the Blue Jays thought the White Sox sent them damaged goods. Sirotka apparently passed the initial physical, but a second test by Dr. James Andrews showed a possible torn labrum.

That should've been a red flag right there as a visit to Dr. James Andrews is essentially a kiss of death for any pitcher. The Blue Jays claim that the White Sox didn't disclose all the proper information, but Kenny Williams assured them that he did let Toronto know about Sirotka's shoulder injury.

After Gord Ash and the Blue Jays discovered the severity of Sirotka's injury, they went to the commisioner to try to appeal the trade, but the claim was denied. Here is what Bud Selig had to say about the issue:
"After careful consideration of all the information before me, I uphold the transaction and deny the Toronto club's claim for relief.

Although there is a dispute about whether certain facts about Sirotka's condition were disclosed before the clubs agreed to the trade, the Toronto club talked directly to Sirotka about his health on the day of the trade and believed it had the opportunity to make the trade conditional. The Blue Jays never elected to do so."
Selig's advice to the Blue Jays was essentially "buyer beware" and he did not overturn the trade or force the White Sox to compensate them for Sirotka.

Considering what happened with this trade, somebody in the Blue Jays front office really dropped the ball on the whole Mike Sirotka trade. The fact that they knew about his shoulder troubles and went ahead with the trade anyway is just mind-boggling.

Either the front office was so confident in Mike Sirotka's abilities that they were willing to take that risk on him, or David Wells demanded a trade and the Blue Jays needed to deal Wells for whatever they could get in return.

Either way, this trade was a big blunder of the Gord Ash era, and could very well have been the beginning of the end of his time as the Blue Jays General Manager. He was ultimately fired from his post later that season.

It was a costly lesson learned, but one that hopefully still resonates with the front office to this day. It's imperative that General Managers do their homework on prospective trade targets, especially when it comes to injury history.

One wonders what Mike Sirotka's career with the Blue Jays could have been like, but at least there's one person out there in the Sirotka fan club.


Images courtesy of Bluebird Banter and @mybabyisaverage

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Brett Lawrie Unleashes on Bill Miller


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Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
Brett Lawrie is used to slamming his batting helmet into the ground celebration ... not anger. Like most, I always assumed Brett Lawrie's aggressive style of play might cost the Blue Jays a few games, but never like this.

Lawrie is a very rare breed of baseball player these days in that he wears his passion for the game right on his sleeve. You never have to wonder how he feels about a particular situation, because it's always very clearly shown on his face and his play on the field.

I very much appreciate Brett Lawrie's enthusiasm, but passion's evil cousin anger reared its ugly head last night. While I can understand why Brett was so upset, it definitely does not in any way excuse him for slamming his helmet towards an umpire.

His outburst towards Bill Miller notwithstanding, did Brett Lawrie have a case? Both the 3-1 and 3-2 pitches were questionable, so let's take a look at what set Brett Lawrie off.

3-1 Pitch
The overhead cameras really caught how truly far this pitch was off the plate. At no point does the ball even come close to crossing the plate, not even in the back corner. Perhaps Jose Molina's incredible pitch framing ability had something to do with it.

3-2 Pitch
Now, the 3-2 pitch isn't quite as ludicrous ... if anything it's a borderline call at the top of the strike zone. One can argue that Brett Lawrie was going to trot down the line regardless and Bill Miller was also going to call it a strike no matter what.

The catalyst for the overreaction on the 3-2 pitch was Lawrie's reaction to the 3-1 pitch; he was nearly half way to first base by the time Bill Miller called strike two. Perhaps Miller thought Lawrie was trying to show him up, and in turn he retaliated by calling an emphatic strike three.

As I said off the top, Brett Lawrie is a very passionate ball player. He plays the game 100 percent unfiltered, and while most fans can appreciate that, maybe it rubs some people the wrong way. And that can even include some umpires around the league.

Having said that, it doesn't excuse umpires like Bill Miller and Bob Davidson to umpire with an agenda. In a perfect world, the Major League umpires would be held accountable for their actions just like the players, but what happens to the umpires will remain behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, what most people will remember from this incident is Brett Lawrie's freakout and nearly hitting an official with his batting helmet. In no way am I condoning what Brett did, but it's instances like these that really show the glaring inefficiencies of Major League officiating.

I do sympathize somewhat with umpires because they do have a thankless job. But the men in black should just stick to calling balls and strikes, fair and foul balls, and not be seen or heard from. And yet there are some like Bill Miller who find it necessary to insert themselves in the game.

This all hearkens back to a very old school style of baseball. The Bryce Harper/Cole Hamels plunking brought the whole issue of pitchers intentionally hitting opponents to light, and the Lawrie/Miller incident brings the umpire's influence issue to the forefront.

It's one thing for players to go eye-for-an-eye and plunk each other to send a message, but it's another when an umpire gets involved and tries to show up a player by making a ridiculous call just to send a message.

Both Brett Lawrie and Bill Miller were both in the wrong last night for what they did. But there's one big difference; Brett Lawrie will have consequences for his actions, and Bill Miller will not ... or at least, we'll never hear about it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Video: Bautista and Lawrie's Dugout Dancing


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It all started with Edwin Encarnacion, and now it looks like the rest of his teammates are getting in on the fun of dancing in the dugout.

Over the weekend in Minnesota, Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie put on their best dance moves in the dugout. It really must be getting contagious in the Blue Jays clubhouse.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Review of the New Blue Jays Uniforms


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Image courtesy of TheStar.com
During the Back2Back reunion in 2009, the Blue Jays went into the vault and dug their old home white uniforms for the special occasion. At the time, I recall thinking just how great it was to see those old uniforms back once again.

I don't think I was alone in hoping that these uniforms would reemerge one day again in some shape or form. Luckily, our prayers were answered.

It might seem odd to review the new Blue Jays uniforms, but I figured now is a good a time as any to evaluate how they look. After all, at this point we’ve been able to see the new set in action for over a month now.

A few weeks ago, Eric from Definitely Not Jays Talk asked me about my thoughts on the new uniforms and I said I could not be more pleased with the results. The Blue Jays could not have done a better job of rebranding and re-imaging themselves in the off-season.

At first, I was a little unsure about the new serif font (which is Penumbra Half Serif for those counting at home), but now I think it’s grown on me. The in-game graphics on Sportsnet and the Blue Jays website look very sharp and crisp; a stark contrast to the previous logo and uniforms.

While the fans were pretty vocal about their thoughts on the old set, I was very surprised to hear that Alex Anthopoulos despised them just as much as we did.



Maybe it was the bright lights, the comfy red chair and George Stroumboulopoulos' boyish charm, but I was a little shocked to hear the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays use words like "brutal, awful and embarrassing" to describe the previous uniforms.

And the new set really does put the old one to shame. I think the huge difference is obviously the incorporation of the colour blue back into the uniforms. I can’t say for sure if it’s the exact pantone of Blue, but the colour is brilliant both literally and figuratively.

One of the best things about seeing all those photos from Blue Jays Spring Training earlier this year was the sea of blue. It really is a much more appealing colour to the eye, and it manages to be eye-catching without being gaudy like the Marlins Marlins uniforms.

With the black, it seemed like the logo faded into the background whereas the new uniforms are distinct. That particular hue of blue that's the most predominant in the blue alternate uniforms was the perfect choice.

I know the Blue Jays won’t come outright and say which of their three jerseys has sold the most, but I’m willing to bet it’s the blue alternate. I own one myself and if you haven’t seen one up close yet, trust me when I say the uniform is even more beautiful in person.

I’m not usually one to buy a white uniform, simply because it becomes a magnet for dirt and beer spills, but I’m leaning strongly towards picking up a home white jersey as well. It's a very classic looking ensemble, capped off with that beautiful blue cap.

You’ll notice that the Blue Jays actually have four different uniform configurations this time around: the home whites, the away greys, the home alternate blue with home white pants, and the away grey pants combined with the home alternate blue jersey.

Even the away grey jerseys are very sharp looking. I think having the constant of the blue cap for all three versions of the uniform was a very wise idea. In previous years, I had no idea which games dictated which cap/uniform combinations.

Were the away greys always worn with the “toothpaste T” caps? Were the alternate home black uniforms always worn with the primary logo cap? There was a bit of confusion as to which caps always went with which uniforms.

My only criticism is that you’ll notice the actual size of the Blue Jays logo is very different depending on on which cap it is. The fitted hats all feature a fairly large sized bird on the front, but several of the adjustable caps have a much smaller primary logo on the cap.

Images courtesy of Jays Shop
For those such as myself who just can’t pull off a fitted cap for one reason or another, you’ll have to resort to an adjustable cap with a much smaller logo on the front. But this issue doesn’t really pertain to the player’s caps, just to fans looking to buy caps.

I think the Blue Jays made a very wise decision to go with the solid blue cap rather than going with a white-paneled front cap. As much as I love my old Blue Jays cap, I find it to be more of a novelty or fashion cap rather than one you'd want to see on the field.

That's where I think the Baltimore Orioles made a crucial mistake in the design of their new uniforms. While they also decided to go back to their roots, the Orioles opted to go with the white panel cap to go with their home uniforms.

Even though I endorse the O's reverting back to the cartoon bird as their primary logo, there's something that doesn't sit quite right with the white panel cap. Personally, I think it would look much better with a solid black cap instead.

I guess that goes to show that very subtle things can make a big impact on the overall look of a new uniform. If the Blue Jays chose to use a white panel cap, who knows how people might have reacted to the new uniforms. It may only be a minor thing, but it's those details that make all the difference.

To the untrained eye, there might not be much difference between the old logo and the new one, and perhaps that was all part of the plan. Eventually I think it will get to the point down the road where people will see the new logo and just assume it’s the old one.

A new generation of Blue Jays fans are going to grow up watching this team, and all they'll ever know is the latest version of the logo and the uniform. And I think that's a good thing because this set is an homage to the old one, and not a carbon copy.

I can possibly see a tweaking of the primary logo down the road, but the new Blue Jays font itself doesn’t need to change. The bird could be streamlined a little bit and I think the size of the maple leaf could be taken down a touch.

Much like some of the fans who were kids during the heyday of the Blue Jays dynasty, I think the new Blue Jays logo and uniforms have matured as well. Where the old logo may have looked a bit minimalist, the new bird has evolved.

The fans have grown up ... and the logo has grown up too. But this one set that's going to stick around for many years to come.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Flashback Friday: Ernie Whitt's McDonald's Commercial


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Have you ever been sitting in your local McDonald's enjoying a nice McChicken sandwich, only to look up briefly and see Ernie Whitt across the restaurant? Apparently this scenario happened for one young lady.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Ernie Whitt's McDonald's commercial from 1986.

This isn't the first time that a Blue Jays player has been featured in a McDonald's commercial, as George Bell and even Bobby Cox have appeared in spots for Mickey D's.

The most incredible part of this commercial is that there was a time where Blue Jays caps were only $1.99. Heck, you can't even get a large fries for that much these days!

Video courtesy of the ever-awesome RetroOntario Youtube channel

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lind and Arencibia: Message Received


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
There are some managers who aren't afraid to present their opinions unfiltered to both the players and the media. And then there are other managers who use the more subtle approach. But I think eventually even the more subtle managers need to take a page from their outspoken counterparts.

In the wake of a stunning loss on Tuesday night at the hands of the Oakland A's, John Farrell decided to shake things up and made some drastic changes to not only the starting lineup, but the bullpen as well.

If Farrell was looking to send a message to multiple members of the Blue Jays roster, it was certainly received loud and clear; and perhaps that message resonated most with Adam Lind and J.P Arencibia.

A lot of fans (your truly included) pined for weeks to have Lind removed from the cleanup spot. And then when John Farrell finally moved him down to bat in the eighth spot, I got a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Here's somebody who's been a lightning rod for criticism since 2010, and now all of a sudden I can't help but feel bad for the guy. John Farrell has done his best to treat Lind with kid gloves, but maybe some "tough love" was necessary in this particular situation.

Looking at the boxscore from yesterday's game, you'd never know Adam Lind had just been demoted from the cleanup spot in the starting lineup after going 2 for 4 game with a home run. Some say moving him out of that high leverage spot was the catalyst for it all, but I personally think it was the high socks.

And then we have J.P. Arencibia; the afternoon after being pinch hit for Omar Vizquel in the top of the ninth, J.P. responded the very next day with an emphatic home run. It was almost as if Arencibia responded to his manager and said "pinch hit THIS!"

Apparently J.P. Arencibia was pretty shaken up after being pinch hit for in Tuesday's game, and I guess he took it a lot more personally than I ever expected he would. John Farrell might not have intended it to be a motivation tactic, but it certainly yielded some great results the following game.

Even though he has just over one season's experience as a manager under his belt, there are some instances where it's very evident that John Farrell is still a little green. Much like the Blue Jays themselves, there is still room for improvement.

I can appreciate that Farrell isn't trigger happy with the lineup, because that was one of the criticisms of former manager John Gibbons. He almost tinkered with the lineup too much, while Cito Gaston didn't tinker enough.

It seems like John Farrell is still finding his way as a manager, and I'm cool with that. In order to find out what works best for his club, he's also going to need to find out what doesn't work. And I guess he can now scratch batting Adam Lind fourth and pinch hitting for J.P. Arencibia off that list.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Capital "C" Closer Woes


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
On paper, the Blue Jays appeared to have one of the best bullpens in the American Leauge going into the 2012 season. Despite Alex Anthopoulos' attempts to solidify the back end of the bullpen, sometimes the best laid plans go awry.

So much for the term "proven closer"; Francisco Cordero ranks second in saves among active Major League closers with 329, and yet he's blown his last three save opportunities. And he can't seem to pitch a clean inning; a very crucial quality in any shutdown closer.

Had this one save been an isolated incident, I probably would've given Francisco Cordero the benefit of the doubt. A one run cushion isn't all that much to work with, but the sequence of events that happened in the bottom of the ninth was more than just your ordinary blown save.

Cap it all off with a grand slam off the bat of Brandon Inge, who was let go by the Detroit Tigers less than two weeks ago, and that just added insult to injury.

I recall at the beginning of the season that some folks were calling for Sergio Santos' head already and wanted the "proven closer" in Francisco Cordero to usurp him ... and this was after just the Home Opener. Due to the injury to Santos, they may have inadvertently gotten their wish.

Francisco Cordero's loss in velocity has been well documented, but he still managed to be fairly successful over in the National League Central the past six seasons. Perhaps his skill set just does not translate very well to the American League.

I know that John Farrell is merely trying to do some patchwork on the bullpen until Sergio Santos comes off the disabled list, but in the meantime he can't keep parading Francisco Cordero out there in save situations.

The way the Blue Jays bullpen was constructed, I just assumed that every reliever would just move up a rung while Sergio Santos went on the DL. It turns out that it was much more of a domino effect than anyone could have foreseen, which really has shook up the hierarchy of the Blue Jays bullpen.

Whether it's Luis Perez, Casey Janssen, or maybe even Jason Frasor, John Farrell needs to shake things up and give the ball to somebody else in the ninth inning. If given enough rope, Cordero would probably straighten things out, but the Blue Jays can't afford to wait and see how long that takes.

As Jeff Blair suggested on the Fan 590 this morning, I think the closer by committee is the way to go in the interim. If the matchups favour lefties, then go with Darren Oliver. If it favours right-handers, perhaps lean on Jason Frasor to get the final three outs.

The closer position is an extremely volatile title. Just look around the league and see how many closers (including so-called "proven closers") have lost their job just over a month into the season. It's a job that comes with a lot of lustre, but is also a lightning rod for criticism.

This applies to the entire league, but I think the best strategy for the Blue Jays right now is to just use the best pitcher in which the situation dictates. The game doesn't need to culminate with getting the ball to the closer; it should culminate with allowing the best pitcher for that situation to get the final three outs.

Hell, if it worked for the Tampa Bay Rays for so many years, I don't see why it can't work for the Blue Jays.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday Morning Musings


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Image courtesy of Daylife via AP
Well, I'd say a 2-2 record is a pretty good way to start a 10-game road swing, don't you think? I know most people would have rather swept a struggling Los Angeles Angels squad, but their lineup was bound to turn it around sooner or later.

It's just unfortunate that Albert Pujols and his teammates had to rediscover their stroke in the final two games of their homestand. Considering how great the Angels rotation is on paper, I'd say splitting the series with them was very respectable.

Middle of the Rotation

Somebody asked me on Twitter over the weekend what I thought was the most surprising thing about the 2012 Blue Jays thus far. And I would absolutely say it's the middle of the starting rotation.

Aside from Ricky Romero, the two through five starters were big question marks at the onset of the season. The Blue Jays aren't out of the woods yet by any means; but Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek are certainly exceeding expectations.

Drew Hutchison has been taking his lumps these past few starts, but that's to be expected from somebody who only had just over 31 innings of work above A ball before his very first big league start.

Although there are other concerns on the roster, it's nice to not have to worry about who is taking the hill any given night, because the possibility is always there to see a Blue Jays starter throw a gem of a game.

Adam Lind's Leash Continues

With the good comes the bad, and Adam Lind is pretty easy target these days. It also doesn't help that John  Farrell continues to have Lind hit in perhaps the most crucial spot in the lineup.

At first I thought it was because John Farrell was trying to coddle Adam Lind so to speak. But that went completely out the window as Farrell continually sits Lind against left-handed starting pitchers.

So whichever excuse John Farrell wants to provide this week, I'm simply not buying it. Edwin Encarnacion should be batting cleanup no matter what and the Blue Jays aren't doing themselves any favours by having Lind batting fourth.

If anything, John Farrell should move Adam Lind down in the lineup to help him regain his confidence. And if he flourishes in a lower leverage spot in the lineup, then they can consider promoting Lind back to the cleanup spot.

Vizquel Cuttin' a Rug

Who knew Omar Vizquel was since a good dancer? He must be picking up some dance tips from Edwin Encarnacion.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Flashback Friday: Diamond the Mascot


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Image courtesy of HF Boards
As Blue Jays fans, I think there's a soft spot in all of our hearts for a Blue Jays mascot. Whether it's BJ Birdy, Domer, Ace, or Diamond, perhaps the reason why we look back on these mascots so affectionately is because they remind us of a simpler time; our childhood.

As an adult, it might seem silly to admit you enjoy the antics of a costumed bird, but as a young fan, I think mascots help pave that gateway to fandom. Often times, people can link their early memories to a mascot, simply because they're so cheerful, colourful and accessible. 

But much like your favourite Blue Jays who might get traded away, mascots are vulnerable to moving on as well. After plenty of time away from the game, one such mascot is speaking for the first time in several years.

If you've ever wondered what happened to Diamond after all these years, you finally have an answer. For this week's Flashback Friday, I was fortunate enough to speak to Angelina M., or more fondly known to Blue Jays fans as Diamond the mascot.

For many years, Diamond was the better half of the current Blue Jays mascot Ace, and Angelina had the distinction of being the very first female mascot in Major League Baseball history (unless you count Mrs. Met).

She was gracious enough to answer some questions about her history as Diamond, what it was like to be a mascot for the Toronto Blue Jays, and of course her thoughts on being a successor to BJ Birdy.

1.) First of all, how did you land the job as Diamond?
To land the role of Diamond, I had to audition for it. There were three major components to the audition - a dance sequence, an acrobatic sequence, and an improv sequence.

In the end, I think management was trying to find someone who could be larger than life, who could maintain the crowd’s interest and who had enough personality to stand next to Ace without being overshadowed.

Thankfully, with my gymnastics and counseling backgrounds, they saw what they wanted in me for the role of Diamond.
2.) What was it like to be the first female mascot in Toronto Blue Jays history (and the only female mascot in Major League Baseball at the time)?
It was absolutely amazing! The costume designers did such a great job at creating this super sassy, ultra hip character that it was quite easy for me to bring her to life.

Diamond was a bit a of a tomboy, had the attitude of “what you can do, I can do better” and she always had this playful youthfulness to her. She was a character women, young and old, could identify with in a predominantly male sport and she quickly became “one of the guys” with the male audience.

Diamond stood for many things and pushed the envelope on many fronts in Major League Baseball and I am very proud I had the privilege of participating in that magical experience.
3.) How long did you perform as Diamond - and was it always you, or did you ever have anyone else fill in?
My stint as Diamond was for the 2000 season only as I returned to school full time that September. Up until the end of July, I was the only individual to perform as Diamond that year.
4.) What was a typical day like as Diamond? (a rundown of the day's events)
The day in the life of Diamond was usually quite eventful. If we weren’t participating in a charity event or corporate function, Ace and I would be out and about for pre-game interactions with fans at the gates, on the concourse and even on the field.

We started each game by assisting with the first pitch, posing for pictures and signing a few autographs. Once the game was rolling, we’d make our rounds to each level working our way up with quick Skybox visits in between.

During the third inning we would launch t-shirts into the crowd off of the dugout, in the fifth inning we’d tag along with the grounds crew to tidy the bases and for the seventh inning, we’d run out onto the field to participate in leading the stretch.

Throughout the game, we’d dance on the dugouts during pitching changes or game breaks, joke around with fans, and assist with any trivia contests or announcements.

After weekend games, Ace and I would run the bases with children, hand out souvenirs, pose for family portraits, sign our rookie cards and help create an amazing experience for each kid.
5.) You had the tough task of taking over for a mascot (BJ Birdy) that was a staple of the franchise for 20 years. Did you find it was a difficult transition, and did fans give you a hard time?
Oh, BJ Birdy. Fans loved him and rightfully so. I grew up watching BJ Birdy too, you know. Change can be a difficult thing for some people to grapple with but it is a part of life and is inevitable.

I think it is during these changes that people grow and discover what it is they’re really made of. At the time, the Blue Jays organization was coming off of back to back world series wins and a debilitating strike, which also left many other teams struggling to bounce back.

Major League Baseball was in a transitional phase as a whole, so when the Jays decided to launch not one, but two new mascots, it just made sense. Sometimes it’s nice to start with a clean slate. Other times, it’s required to move forward. That being said, many fans embraced Ace and I.

They loved how energetic we were, how great it was that both genders were being represented, how young and energetic we were, how trendy our outfits were and how we tried to bring something new to the game.

Other fans, however, loathed us for those exact same reasons. Some individuals were just more open to letting you do your thing, others needed you to prove yourself so there was a two month transitional phase that Ace and I struggled through.

It was difficult at times, but I learned very early on not to take things that were said and done personally. Not everyone is going to like you, period. Not everyone is going to dislike you either. All I had control over was going out there and giving it 150% each game which it what I did.
6.) As we've seen down at the Rogers Centre during the summer months, it can get pretty hot down at the ballpark. How did you survive the dog days of summer inside what surely must have been a sweltering costume?
I cannot describe how hot it got in that costume, especially during the dog days of summer. There was a small fan in the costume’s head which helped cool me down a bit but when you’re when you’re jumping, dancing, running and constantly moving, it didn’t help much.

On those really sweltering days, Ace and I needed to take more drink breaks to stay hydrated and longer rest periods in air-conditioned rooms throughout the game. As much as you want to be out there entertaining the fans, safety did become an issue and we took many precautions to avoid any mishaps.
7.) If you could give the fans one "insider secret" from being a mascot, what would it be?
I guess the best ‘insider secret’ I could share is that not everyone who is a MLB mascot is male. When I went to Atlanta for the All Star game, I was so pleasantly surprised to meet other women in costume. Although we were only a handful, it was great to know I wasn’t alone on the field.
8.) Lastly, the million dollar question; what ever happened to Diamond?
To be honest, I don’t really know what happened to Diamond. It was saddening when I heard the news of her retirement, but she will always hold a special place in my life and heart ... always.
Thanks very much to Angelina for providing a great deal of insight on what it was like to don the Diamond costume. It was very cool to learn about the life of a real live mascot for the Toronto Blue Jays.

I think there will also be a soft spot in all of our hearts for Diamond, and maybe one of these days we'll see her back on the field reunited with her mascot family - Ace and Junior.

Image courtesy of Operation Sport

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Brett Lawrie Saves the Day


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images

If you saw this heavily-tattooed, 6 foot tall 215 pound man running towards you at breakneck speed, point in your direction, and then leap two feet in the air, you'd probably fear for your life. I can only imagine that's how Brett Lawrie's teammates must feel.

In one swing, Brett Lawrie made us forget the five-run second by the Rangers. He also made us forget that Francisco Cordero was one strike away from putting away the Rangers in the top of the ninth.

The lasting image from that game will be Brett Lawrie gliding through the air as he careened into home plate. And did anybody else notice Lawrie’s homage to Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run as he rounded second base?

As John Farrell said in his post-game presser, Brett Lawrie definitely “has a flair for the dramatic”. Not only that, he has a tendency to really turn on the afterburners in the late innings … which is about right after his second or third Red Bull of the game.

@Minor_Leaguer pointed out that Brett Lawrie is batting .433 this season between the 7th and 9th inning, and lifetime he has an average of .360 from innings 7-9. As evidence by his heroics last night, Lawrie is one bat you definitely want in the lineup late in the game.

Lawrie’s breakneck pace is likely going to receive a bit of backlash as it gets him into a bit of trouble here and there. The throw in the dirt to Adam Lind on Friday night against the Mariners cost the Blue Jays the game, but his bat saved the game last night against the Rangers.

Brett Lawrie plays the game at one setting; full tilt (h/t Tao of Stieb). Whether his team is down by a run, the game is going into extras, or the game is a complete wash, Lawrie is giving leaving it all out on the field.

At the risk of fueling the Brett Lawrie narrative, as a fan … there’s nothing I appreciate more than his style of play, regardless of what the score is.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What's Wrong with Jose Bautista Now?


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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
Initially, I didn't want to contribute to a sense of panic in Blue Jays Land, but I'll be honest ... I'm beginning to get a little worried about Jose Bautista. And not just because I paid $70 dollars for him in the BJH Fantasy League.

Bautista has been mired in slumps before, but never to this extent. And never has Jose been swinging so wildly at pitches and missing in fastball counts when he knows very well a heater is coming right down the pipe.

Last summer, Jose Bautista was also suffering from a second half slump. Post All-Star Break, Jose's slash line was still fairly impressive at .257/.419/.477, but it wasn't quite to the echelon as we were used to seeing him at.

At the time, the problem seemed to be that Jose Bautista was having trouble turning around on those fastballs, and by all indications it's more of the same here in the early going of 2012. Time and time again, Bautista is struggling in hitter's counts.

This season, Jose Bautista is hitting a measly .130 in batter's counts while hitting .250 in pitcher's counts. Compare that to the 2011 season, where Bautista hit .372 in hitter's counts and .245 in pitcher's counts.

While it doesn't surprise me that Bautista holds his own in 1-0, 1-2 and 0-2 counts, what is a little perturbing is that he's batting just .130 when he's out ahead in the count. In many instances when he knows a fastball is coming, he either misses it completely ... or hits into a harmless pop up.

Looking at the strikezone report on Joe Lefkowitz' Pitch F/X Tool, it's pretty easy to see where the glaring hole is in Jose Bautista's swing.

Jose Bautista vs. LHB 2012

Image courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's Pitch F/X Tool

Jose Bautista vs. RHB 2012

Image courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz's Pitch F/X Tool

Keep in mind these are all still very small sample sizes what with it being just 23 games into the 162 game schedule, but it is a veritable donut of nothingness in Jose Bautista's swing against right-handers on fastballs.

Unless they're lobbing it right down the middle (right down the donut hole AKA Timbit), Jose Bautista is not doing any damage whatsoever on fastballs from righties. And that should be very concerning, because destroying fastballs has been Bautista's bread and butter these past two seasons.

My good friend Navin suggested on Twitter that in the past two years, Jose Bautista has not looked as bad as he did during that three pitch strikeout in the fourth inning. And I would tend to agree ... Bautista was lost and chased a pitch that was outside of his wheelhouse, thus contributing to yet another strikeout.

It all seems rather simple solution, but it's the execution that is the main hurdle here. Is it maybe that instead of looking for the fastball, Bautista is expecting a breaking ball and thus trying to overcompensate when a fastball comes down the pipe?

Because he very clearly has the bat speed to hit the fastball, even though right now you might not be able to tell it as such.

Here's the only hairbrained theory I can offer, and it stems from something Frank Catalanotto told me a few weeks back regarding his six hit game. He recalled seeing the ball so well that day, and that he looked fastball the whole game, while simply making the necessary adjustments for off-speed and breaking pitches.

Jose Bautista has a keen eye for his pitch, perhaps one of the best in the game right now, therefore allowing him to draw plenty of walks. But maybe his ability to track the breaking ball is helping him more as an on base weapon and not so much as a hitter.

So if Jose is priming his swing for an 88 MPH curveball, of course he's going to have trouble catching up to a 95 MPH fastball later in the at bat; because he's not primed to swing at the fastball, he's primed to swing at the breaking ball.

Again, this is just a hairbrained theory from yours truly who has zero Major League experience, but at this point I'm willing to chalk Jose Bautista's struggles up to anything. Even if it's incredibly wrong, it feels better to diagnose it as something because then at least we know what to look for.

Whether it's mechanical or whether it's a mental issue, something needs to change with Jose Bautista. I don't think it's time to be concerned about him just yet, but the last thing the Blue Jays need is for Bautista to look like that donut of nothingness.

In the meantime, I'll be drowning my sorrows in a pile of bear claws.

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