Flashback Friday: The Earthquake at Petco Park

Friday, May 31, 2013  |  by 

Baseball is a game with an inordinate amount of variables. Each time a pitcher uncorks a pitch, there are virtually hundreds of things that can happen.

It can be a crazy and downright wacky game at times, but the majority of players have experienced most of those odd scenarios. However,  no amount of training could prepare the Toronto Blue Jays for what they were about to experience one fateful day in San Diego.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the earthquake that hit during the Blue Jays/Padres game on Monday June 14th, 2010.

The earthquake came in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Blue Jays enjoyed a 6-3 lead over the Padres. It looked as though the players were going around the horn following a routine groundout when the quake struck.

It registered as a 5.7 magnitude earthquake, but the players and coaches had a multitude of reactions to the quake. Some shrugged it off as commonplace while others were rightfully concerned about the stadium shaking.

Players like Aaron Hill, Vernon Wells, John Buck and Scott Downs had no knowledge of the earthquake, while others sitting in the dugout like Shaun Marcum definitely felt something rumble underneath his feet.
"That was first earthquake ... that was pretty fun. I was in the clubhouse. I didn't feel it until they said something on TV. So, I kind of stopped moving and the TVs were moving a little bit and I kind of started floating back and forth a little bit. That's always fun."
Vernon Wells took the nonchalant approach to the 5.7 magnitude earthquake from his view in centre field at Petco Park.
"I didn't feel it ... I didn't know what everybody was fired up about. I was like, 'A plane flew over. What's the big deal?'"
As you can see from the video, the players in the field assumed it was just business as usual. But once the foul pole in left field started to sway, that's when most people in the stadium knew something unusual was going on.

Chase Headley, the man due up for the Padres, stepped out of the box and being accustomed to playing near the San Andreas fault, certainly knew what was taking place. As did Padres outfielder Will Venable, who was in the clubhouse watching tape on Kevin Gregg to prepare for his at bat.

Perhaps the most interesting reaction to the earthquake belonged to the fans; as the public address announcer urged fans to stay calm, they cheered as the earthquake went on for approximately 45 seconds.

Video courtesy of MLBAM, quotes and info courtesy of MLB.com

Jose Bautista's Manic May

Thursday, May 30, 2013  |  by 

Courtesy of Yahoo
Last year it was the June Swoon  ... this year it's the Manic May. Yes, once again Jose Bautista has kicked his game into overdrive. I guess it's safe to say that Joey Bats is back.

It's funny, there are many parallels between Bautista's unprecedented run in June of 2012 as his incredible May from this season. Many had written off Joey Bats going into those banner months, and yet he must have used it as fuel to silence his critics.

From a power standpoint, Jose Bautista's June of 2012 was far superior to that of his May of 2013 (14 home runs compared to five), one could argue that this month has been even more impressive.

Let's go through the basic numbers; Jose Bautista entered May batting at the Mendoza line. And as May is almost set to wrap up, Bautista is flirting with .300, currently batting .292. Jose has managed to raise his batting average an incredible 92 points in 26 games.

Jose Bautista currently holds the Blue Jays franchise record for largest increase in average from month to month. Not to mention, Bautista has been on base a total of 57 times in the month of May. As a comparison, J.P. Arencibia has been on base 21 times this month.

Again, using Jose Bautista's June Swoon as a benchmark, in that month he collected 26 hits and drew 22 walks. In May, Jose Bautista has racked up 34 hits and has drawn 22 walks. That translates into a .366 batting average and .479 on base percentage in May.

Not surprisingly, Joey Bats leads the American League in walks this month and subsequently on base percentage and times on base as well. And Bautista ranks up there in all the rest of the major categories with a heavy hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis,

And to think, the month isn't even through yet as Jose Bautista still has two more days in the month to do some additional damage against opposing hitters.

Looking back at Bautista's splits over the past few years, it's odd because there always seems to be that one outlier month in the season where Jose simply cannot get it going. On the flip side, Bautista always has that one month where there's almost nothing he can't hit.

That is a very promising sign for someone who had a lot of question marks surrounding his health in the offseason. There were some major concerns about whether Jose Bautista could pick up where he left off last year, and even after undergoing wrist surgery, Bautista hasn't missed a beat.

Perhaps part of Jose Bautista's torrent May can be attributed to being moved into the two slot in the Blue Jays lineup. Small sample size alert, but since John Gibbons moved Bautista to bat second back on May 12th, he's batting .439. Yes, .439.

The move into the two slot may have been out of necessity for John Gibbons, but it's worked wonders for Jose Bautista's game ... not to mention Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera, who have also been benefactors of new spots in the lineup.

Jose Bautista may be gaining the reputation of being a slow starter, he certainly knows how to make up that lost ground. And with so many of the Blue Jays stars on the shelf, the timing simply could not have been better for Jose Bautista to heat up.

Monday Morning Munenori Musings

Monday, May 27, 2013  |  by 

The 2013 season certainly has had its share of highs and lows for the Toronto Blue Jays. But it's moments like yesterday's dramatic walk-off win that reiterate just how talented this team truly is.

Down by three runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Blue Jays stormed back and scored four runs, the catalyst of course being Munenori Kawasaki's double to the gap.

Munenori Kawasaki: The Happiest Man on Earth

Out of all the Blue Jays photos, screencaps, and GIF's I've seen this season, I think the one above is my absolute favourite so far, because it very clearly captures what the essence of baseball is all about ... fun.

There's no question that Munenori Kawasaki is fun personified. Just like John Gibbons said, the game-winning hit couldn't have happened to a better person; you could really see Kawasaki's pure and unadulterated joy as he rounded the bases.

He may not be the biggest offensive threat in the lineup, but Munenori Kawasaki's plate discipline is not that if your prototypical bottom of the order bat. Kawasaki really does know how to make the most of what he has.

There's no telling what will happen with Munenori Kawasaki once Jose Reyes comes off the disabled list, but you can truly tell that he is making the most of his opportunities with the Blue Jays right now. And above all else, he's having fun doing it.

Brett Lawrie Being Brett Lawrie

Aside from Munenori Kawasaki's dramatics, I think the one takeaway most people will remember from this game is Brett Lawrie's little outburst after Luis Rivera didn't send Lind home after he flied out to right field.

Nobody knows for sure what Lawrie said to Rivera, but judging by John Gibbons reaction, Brett must not have had very kind words for his third base coach. Good thing Gibby called him out on it, because behaviour like that simply should not be tolerated.

It's one thing to act like that towards an umpire, but it's another thing entirely to show that kind of disrespect to a coach on your very own team. Thankfully John Gibbons noticed it right away and corrected that behaviour.

Lawrie displayed some questionable coping tactics earlier in the series, and frankly his ejection on Friday was warranted. Even though it appeared Brett was trying to stifle his anger as best he could, the umpire saw the flipping of the batting gloves as an offense worth of ejection.

Sure, Brett Lawrie is still only 23 years old, and that's relatively young for a professional baseball player. I'm sure we can all look back and think of some stupid things we did when we were 23, but the problem is Lawrie's mistakes are out there for everyone to see.

I don't believe John Gibbons needs to go as far as Richard Griffin suggested and make an example out of Brett Lawrie by benching him for tonight's game, but it's definitely something the Blue Jays should be mindful of moving forward.

While I appreciate that Brett Lawrie plays the game with a level of intensity that very few baseball players do, it shouldn't allow him to fly off the handle and go off on his teammates or coaches.

Bautista Batting Second ... Why Not?

Due to some injuries, lineup tinkering has been somewhat of a necessary evil for John Gibbons here in the early going. He's had to adjust on the fly and play around with several lineup configurations, among one of them is batting Jose Bautista second.

It might seem a little unorthodox to have Bautista batting second and Encarnacion batting third, but I actually quite like it. Right now, the Blue Jays top four hitters (Lind, Bautista, Melky and Encarnacion) are occupying the top four spots in the lineup.

In 13 games since moving into the two hole, Jose Bautista has collected a total of 22 hits and is batting .448. Edwin Encarnacion is batting .333 over that same stretch with a total of 17 hits. 13 games may be a small sample size, but it's a promising start.

The thing I like most about having Bautista and Encarnacion batting second and third is that it seems like they have either been on deck or were due up in those key game-changing situations these past few weeks.

Having them in the top of the order may only net Jose Bautista and Encarnacion an extra at bat or two per week, but those extra at bats are now being taken by two of the Blue Jays best hitters. And more often than not, they've been in high leverage situations.

John Gibbons may be a man who is constantly tinkering with the starting lineup, but I believe we'll continue to see Cabrera, Bautista, Encarnacion and Lind penciled into the top of the order for the time being.

Flashback Friday: A Tribute to Epy Guerrero

Friday, May 24, 2013  |  by 

Courtesy of OOTP
Pat Gillick is widely regarded as the architect that built the Blue Jays dynasty in the late eighties and early nineties; a team that won five division titles and two consecutive World Series.

But look a little closer, and you'll see there's another man who helped lay the groundwork for that perennial contender. He is the man who had his fingerprints throughout the entire Blue Jays organization.

If Pat Gillick was the architect, he was the man who was built the frame of a Blue Jays dynasty. His name is ... Epy Guerrero.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the life of the late Epifano Obdulio Guerrero. Epy passed away Thursday, but his legacy will forever remain as a pioneer for signing and developing some of the best Latin players to ever play the game.

Pat Gillick was often credited from turning the Blue Jays franchise, but Epy Guerrero had a large part to do with the Blue Jays success. Guerrero was essentially Gillick's right-hand man on the ground, scouting and signing the best talent.

The two spent nearly 30 years working together, bouncing around from the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and eventually settled with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979. By all accounts, Pat Gillick taught Epy Guerrero everything he knew about scouting:

Everywhere you look on the Blue Jays roster, there were the fingerprints of Epy Guerrero. He recommended the Blue Jays go after George Bell, Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee in the Rule 5 Draft. Epy also suggested the Blue Jays convert Pat Borders from a third baseman into a catcher.

Guerrero also persuaded the Blue Jays front office to acquire players like Fred McGriff, Roberto Alomar, Juan Guzman, Alfredo Griffin and countless others.

If ever there was a scout who could spot a diamond in the rough, it was Epy Guerrero. By all accounts he was a tremendous scout, but sometimes he spotted those skilled players in rather unorthodox ways. 

Epy Guerrero signed Damaso Garcia simply after watching him play soccer. Many overlooked Tony Fernandez because he walked with a limp as a child, but Epy saw potential and paid for knee surgery for Fernandez and subsequently signed him to a contract.

We have confirmation of the Tony Fernandez story via Enrique Rojas of ESPN:

Not only did Epy Guerrero had a strong influence on which Latin players the Blue Jays went after, but he also prevented the Blue Jays from letting go of a diamond in the rough. And that would be their current face of the franchise, Jose Bautista.

Bob Elliott has a fantastic piece from last year in which he confirms that Guerrero convinced the Blue Jays to not trade Jose Bautista.
"Guerrero said he ran into then manager Cito Gaston at the winter meetings in Las Vegas in December of 2008. Guerrero said Gaston told him that the Jays were about to trade Bautista and asked him to take a look at the hitter when he returned home.

“I phoned Cito after seeing Jose play for Licey and said ‘you better keep this kid,’ ” Guerrero said. “He was figuring out the timing on the leg kick, getting it down right.”

Bautista does not doubt the story."
It's remarkable to think that Epy Guerrero picked up on that, but then again, it shouldn't be all that surprising considering he saw something in George Bell, Carlos Delgado, Damaso Garcia, Tony Fernandez, and many other Latin players.

Epy Guerrero had a supreme eye for talent, but not everyone agreed with his evaluations of certain players. Of course there was one famous player that got away from the Blue Jays despite a glowing review from Guerrero, and that's future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.

To get a closer look at the young Dominican, Gord Ash sent Mel Queen (the man famous for rebuilding Roy Halladay) to scout Pedro Martinez. Queen wasn't quite as fond of Pedro as Guerrero was, and thus Martinez slipped through the Blue Jays fingers.

To this day, Epy Guerrero's Training Complex in Santo Domingo is one of the preeminent baseball development camps in the Dominican Republic. It's a place where young people learn to eat, breathe and sleep baseball.

In fact, Steve Clarke lists a visit to the Epy Guerrero Training Complex as one of his 100 Things Blue Jays Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Now more than ever, I think people will be making the trek to Santo Domingo to check it out in person.

Epy Guerrero has many accolades to his name, but most importantly I think he'll be remembered for cultivating some of the best Latin talent the Major Leagues has ever seen.

He was the one man who planted the seed for Blue Jays player in the Dominican Republic. Epy Guerrero made the Toronto Blue Jays a team that Latin American kids dreamt of playing for.

And he's a man whose impact on the Blue Jays and baseball won't soon be forgotten.

For more great Epy Guerrero tributes, check out Back in Blue, Retro Jays Cards and Random Jays Stuff.

Bio info courtesy of SABR

Jose Bautista: The One Man Wrecking Crew

Thursday, May 23, 2013  |  by 

Courtesy of Yahoo
There are 25 men on a Major League roster. 25 men working as one cohesive unit. In any pre or post-game interview, most baseball players will tell you that it takes 25 guys to win a game. One man alone cannot single-handedly win a baseball game.

They must have forgotten about Joey Bats.

Jose Bautista did in fact single-handedly win yesterday's game for the Blue Jays. He was on base five times, collected four hits, and drove in all four Blue Jays runs. He also provided the game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth and the go-ahead run in extra innings.

As noted by @Minor_Leaguer, Jose Bautista's Win Probability Added in that game was 1.053, so in essence he really did win that game all on his own for the Blue Jays. Sure, Mark Buehrle turned in a strong effort, but without Bautista it could have been a 4-0 game.

In fact, that impressive offensive output by Jose Bautista ranks as the highest WPA game for one batter in Blue Jays history (hat tip once again to @Minor_Leaguer). Statistically speaking, that was the single greatest game of Bautista's career.

I think my favourite part about Bautista's game-winning hit was that he swung at a pitch outside the zone that he basically had no business swinging at, and yet poked it into right field. And Evan Longoria did the very same to the Blue Jays in this series.

Not to mention, the Rays had the shift on Jose Bautista and were expecting him to pull the ball to left. Instead, Bautista beat the shift and managed to hit it to the opposite field for just his third hit of the season into right field.

Just like Evan Longoria has become a thorn in the side of Blue Jays pitchers, perhaps Jose Bautista has unofficially been deemed as the thorn in the side of the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff. 

Bautista really has been the definition of clutch for the Blue Jays, as seven of his 11 home runs have come in the sixth inning or later. If the Blue Jays are trailing, one can always count on Joey Bats for some late-inning heroics.

It's games like last night's that really makes one appreciate Jose Bautista. With the team struggling as of late, the plethora of injuries and just the overall bad luck of the Blue Jays, the contributions of Joey Bats have been somewhat overshadowed.

While it is great to watch Jose Bautista as the Blue Jays one man wrecking crew, games like last night remind me of the offense-starved squads from 2011 and 2012 in which Bautista excelled, but many of his teammates did not.

One of the most promising things about this Blue Jays team going into Opening Day was how the starting lineup finally looked to be balanced. No longer would it be just Bautista and Encarnacion out on an island; they finally had a supporting cast to balance out the lineup.

But due to a combination of injuries and lack of offense from certain players, the Blue Jays two best hitters are once again driving in the lion's share of the runs on this team.

However, for all the shortcomings in this Blue Jays lineup, Jose Bautista is truly a one of a kind talent that should not be taken for granted. If this team is going to be successful, it's going to have to rely heavily on Joey Bats.

There are many players on the Blue Jays roster to be concerned about, but Jose Bautista has proven that he's the last player anybody should have doubts about. He continues to be the one man wrecking crew ... but hopefully some of that will rub off on his teammates.

Flashback Friday: The Ballad of Danny Ainge

Friday, May 17, 2013  |  by 

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
Blue Jays fans know all too well how John Farrell leveraged his way into a job with the Red Sox, but did you know that there was another man before him who pioneered the art of jumping ship from Toronto to Boston?

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the ballad of Danny Ainge.

Ainge was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 1977 amateur draft as just a fresh-faced 18 year old senior from North HS in Eugene Oregon.

Not unlike many professional athletes, Danny Ainge didn't limit himself to just one sport; he was an all-American baseball, football, and basketball player. He was the 70's version of A.C. Slater; any sport Ainge played turned to gold.

Since Danny Ainge was a multi-faceted and multi-talented athlete, obviously he was pulled in many different directions throughout high school and college. Although the Toronto Blue Jays initially drafted him, Ainge pursued basketball at Brigham Young University.

It's hard to fathom, but he actually juggled both a professional baseball and college basketball career at the same time.

Ainge made his Major League debut with the Blue Jays on May 21st 1979. Danny was just barely 20 years old and he was already playing in professional baseball. Mind you, he was playing professional baseball while still in college. Talk about multi-tasking.

Perhaps it was a case of too much too soon; The Blue Jays fast-tracked Danny Ainge to the majors, as he was playing with the big league club less than two years after he was drafted. Ainge was immediately shipped to Triple A, where he collected just over 500 plate appearances before gaining everyday at bats with the Blue Jays.

Via Basketball Marswheel
Pat Gillick deemed Danny Ainge as the next Brooks Robinson, and the Blue Jays had plans to hand the reigns over to him as their everyday third baseman. Unfortunately, things didn't quite pan out that way.

Ainge struggled at the hot corner and batted a paltry .187 during the 1981 season with the Blue Jays. I guess that was when Danny decided it was time to jump ship to basketball.

On September 21st 1981, after less than three years with the Blue Jays and a total of 211 games, Danny Ainge voluntarily retired from baseball. But as the door to his baseball career closed, a window of opportunity opened in professional basketball.

There was just one problem; Danny Ainge still had a binding three-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. However, that didn't stop the Boston Celtics from selecting him in the 1981 NBA draft.

It's interesting to note that the seed for this entire shift was planted years before Danny Ainge officially decided to abandon the Blue Jays. Here is what he said about his baseball future in March of 1980:
"I've failed at things before. I think I've failed at baseball the last three years. I've set goals for myself, and I haven't come close to them. If I keep failing for a certain period of time, I'll definitely try something else. Basketball? Probably."
At that point, the Blue Jays front office was essentially fighting a losing battle, but they weren't going to go down without a fight. They attempted to convince NBA teams to not waste a pick on Ainge by writing letters to them reiterating that Danny was fully entrenched in a professional baseball career.

And thus began the long and drawn out legal battle over the rights of Danny Ainge between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Celtics. The Blue Jays contested that Ainge still had a binding contract with the team, while the Celtics countered that Ainge wasn't interesting in playing baseball anymore.

So the Blue Jays front office was in a situation that was very similar to the John Farrell debacle; they had somebody under team control that obviously didn't want to be there, and with another organization interested in their services.

The jury ruled that Ainge's contract was still binding, and the Boston Celtics were forced to buy it out. It was never officially disclosed what the actual dollar amount was, but the figure was reportedly somewhere in the $500,000 dollar range. 

Here's Danny Ainge speaking personally about his brief time in Toronto, and his desire which lead him to choosing basketball over baseball.

There really are a lot of parallels between the Danny Ainge and the John Farrell situations, and I actually found that writing this post was somewhat cathartic and taught me a very valuable lesson; life is too damn short to keep doing something you don't want to.

Rather than meddle as a failed baseball prospect, Danny Ainge took fate into his own hands and instead switched to basketball. Since then, he's won two NBA rings as a player, and one as General Manager of the Boston Celtics ... a position he still holds to this day.

All things considered, one can't really fault Danny Ainge for following his dreams. It's just unfortunate the Blue Jays got the raw end of the deal.

Info courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Thursday Thoughts: Melky, Ortiz, Playoff Odds

Thursday, May 16, 2013  |  by 

Courtesy of Yahoo
Winners of four straight. Winners of their last 7 of 10. A lineup that has averaged 6.8 runs per game. Winners of consecutive series for the first time since mid-May of last year (hat tip to @BFullmer_Fan).

Does this sound more like the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays you were expecting? For a team that was long overdue, the Blue Jays seem to finally be putting it all together.

Despite some rather big injuries to their roster, the team is performing like a well-oiled machine and beginning to look more like the powerhouse squad they were billed as in the offseason.

Courtesy of Yahoo
Melky's Weary Legs

Last week, there was a play in which Melky Cabrera was thrown out by a mile trying to stretch a single into a double. Initially, it looked like he was dogging it after he made the turn around first, but it turns out it may be some wobbly legs that are holding Melky back.

The Blue Jays deemed that Cabrera's injuries didn't warrant a DL stint, but the way he's hobbling around the outfield, perhaps they should stick him on the disabled list. Toronto is in a bit of a hard spot right now, since there really aren't any outfield spots left.

Ideally, the Blue Jays would like to keep Melky's hot bat in the lineup, but aside from perhaps Emilio Bonifacio, there are virtually no other potential left field replacements.

Melky Cabrera did an okay job in the outfield in last night's game, but I worry that this continued play in the outfield will only worsen his condition. Perhaps a week-long shift to full-time DH could be a short-term solution to aid in Melky's recovery.

I understand why the Blue Jays are weary to do that though, because relegating Melky to DH takes a spot away from Adam Lind. Especially against right-handed starters, Gibbons would want to keep Melky, Lind and Encarnacion in the lineup if possible.

His MRI may have revealed that there were no major issues, but mind you the Blue Jays are still parading Melky in the outfield for nine innings a game, where there's a potential his legs could get worse before they get better.

This is not the postseason where players constantly play through pain; we are just barely past the quarter pole of the 2013 season.

Now all this could seemingly be solved by calling up Moises Sierra and sending down one of Brad Lincoln or Mickey Storey. Unfortunately, AA seems to be fixated on the three man bench/eight man bullpen configuration for some reason.

What Are the Odds Now?

There's no question the Blue Jays were perhaps the most active team in the offseason, and the plethora of moves bestowed them the title of World Series favourites. But after a lackluster start to the season, things have changed.

Below are the Blue Jays World Series, playoff, Wild Card, and win total odds (as well as a couple others) courtesy of Bodog.

Odds to Win World Series
Preseason: 7/1
Current: 22/1

Odds to Win AL
Preseason: 3/1
Current: 12/1

Odds to Win AL East
Preseason: 7/4
Current: 10/1

Will they be a Wild Card team?
Yes: 6/1
No: 1/10

Total Wins
Preseason: 88.5
Current: 74.5

Mind you, there is still a lot of baseball left to play this season, but these updated odds really reiterate just how much up an uphill battle the Blue Jays have for hereon out.

The forecast for only 74.5 wins scares me a little bit, as that would be just 1.5 more wins than last season. The big question is can the Blue Jays dig themselves out of this incredibly deep hole in the early going?

It's interesting to note that Toronto's odds of winning the AL East or making the Wild Card haven't actually changed all that much since the offseason. Perhaps that's because the division itself has been an open playing field here in the early going.

And just for the heck of it, I checked the Blue Jays playoff odds over at Coolstandings, and they currently have Toronto pegged at a 5.1% chance of making the postseason.

So at 22/1 World Series favourites, I suppose now is as good time as ever to put some money down on the Toronto Blue Jays.

Ramon Ortiz - Staff Ace

When I first learned that Ramon Ortiz would be starting against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park last Friday, I honestly expected the worst. He seemed like a cow that was being sent out to the big old pasture in the sky.

But then something remarkable happened ... he actually did okay.

In two spot starts, Ramon Ortiz has lasted five and six innings respectively, giving up a total of two earned runs and surrendering a total of ten hits combined. Yes, we're talking about the same 39-year old Ramon Ortiz.

While he's been a revelation in a pair of spot starts for the Blue Jays, by no mean should they expect these results to continue. Ortiz tends to allow a lot of base runners, and he's been bailed out on numerous occasions by his defense with a bevy of double plays.

Ramon Ortiz is pitching way over his head, and my fear is that he's just about to the point where he's flying too close to the sun. Any minute now, people are expecting him to implode right before our very eyes.

Obviously, the starting pitching depth is an issue right now for Toronto, but the instant another arm comes off the disabled list, Ramon Ortiz should be shipped back out to Buffalo.

What a Beautiful Ballpark

There really is nothing quite like an open roof game at the Rogers Centre. Luckily, @samzday captured the Toronto skyline in amongst the Blue Jays game perfectly.

In Appreciation of Casey Janssen

Monday, May 13, 2013  |  by 

On a team where there are numerous question marks, there are few things that are as constant and as certain for the Toronto Blue Jays as Casey Janssen.

No, Casey Janssen may not be the sexiest pick when it comes to closers; he may not be a fireballer with a 100 MPH fastball like Aroldis Chapman, and he may not be a strikeout machine like Craig Kimbrel, but Casey Janssen gets the job done.

Going into Spring Training, like most, I thought Sergio Santos had the leg up on Casey Janssen as the Blue Jays Opening Day closer. With both closer candidates completely healthy, Santos simply profiles better as a typical closer.

But that's the thing about Casey Janssen; he isn't your typical closer.

Janssen isn't armed with a blow-it-by-you fastball, but rather a cut-fastball, not unlike the most dominant closer of all time, Mariano Rivera.

Speaking of Rivera, Buster Olney and Hall of Famer and current Orioles colour commentator had some kind words for Janssen, comparing Mariano Rivera's cutter to Casey Janssen's on the ESPN Fantasy Focus Podcast.
"Jim Palmer actually saw it first, when Janssen started throwing his cutter, he said 'man, that thing's like a Mariano Rivera cutter with how much it's moving'.

So I went last night to Justin Havens and asked him to tell me what Janssen's cutter movement was today, and he said it was the best cutter movement since the middle of last season. It looks like right now, he's in one of those modes where he has great command of this terrific pitch, and he pitches with a lot of confidence.

Yeah, the Blue Jays aren't off to a great start, but it looks like Casey Janssen is back from the health issues he's had, and he's throwing a great cutter."
Obviously, Mariano Rivera will always be on an echelon all of his own, but that is some heavy, heavy praise for Casey Janssen.

As Palmer and Olney suspected, Janssen's cutter has even more movement this season than last; nearly a full inch more compared to last season (4.24 inches of vertical movement in 2012 versus 5.12 inches of vertical movement in 2013).

With that kind of vertical movement, Casey Janssen's cutter almost mimics that of a curveball rather than a cutter; which makes the pitch even more difficult for opposing hitters to track, as Casey also locates his four-seam fastball extremely well.

Again, Janssen's repertoire doesn't induce all that many swinging strikes, but rather he relies of his ability to locate. More often than not, Casey racks up his strikeouts via strikes looking rather than strikes swinging.

Because Casey Janssen has incredible pinpoint control of his pitches, he very seldom gives up walks. In fact, he has faced 47 batters this season and has not walked one of them. Last season, Janssen faced 242 total batters and walked just 11 total in 63.2 innings.

Going back to 2012, if the Blue Jays ever needed a shutdown inning, Casey Janssen was the man to call on. Dating back to May 9th of 2012, he has allowed just one earned run in all of his last 32 converted save opportunities. One ... single ... run.

I think Janssen's success can be contributed to two very simple things; he throws strikes and he works quickly. By the time Casey has thrown strike one, he's already going through his somewhat manic routine on the mound preparing to throw strike two.

One could go on and on about Casey Janssen's accolades, but he really has been an mainstay in the Blue Jays bullpen which has often been a revolving door of sorts. I can safely say that I haven't been this confident to see a Blue Jays closer take the mound since B.J. Ryan's unprecedented 2006 season.

And even if Sergio Santos does come back 100% healthy, I would be reluctant to relinquish the closer role back to Santos, simply because Casey Janssen has been performing so well in late and close situations.

It's not even really about the "closer" title par se; John Gibbons must consider Casey Janssen his best high leverage reliever, which is why Gibby calls upon Janssen when the game is on the line or the Blue Jays need a shutdown inning.

All but one of Casey Janssen's 12 appearances this season have been in high leverage situations. And of all those appearances, Janssen has surrendered just four hits total.

For all that he does, Casey Janssen is an extremely unheralded and underrated relief pitcher. Again, not a lot has gone right for the Blue Jays in the early going of this season, but Casey Janssen is about as sure a thing any Blue Jays fan could ask for.

Flashback Friday: Roy Halladay's "Born to Play" Commercial

Friday, May 10, 2013  |  by 

I think most Blue Jays fans would agree that they have a soft spot for Harry Leroy Halladay. After spending 12 years in a Blue Jays uniform, there are a lot of great memories surrounding Doc's time in Toronto.

And while he may be in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform now, that doesn't make the recent news about Halladay's injury any easier to take. But for the meantime, at least we have cute little commercials like these to remember Doc by in Toronto.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Roy Halladay's "Born to Play" television commercial.

Now, for the most part, the Blue Jays commercials have been hit or miss over the years, with some campaigns more effective than others. But this one with Roy Halladay is right on point.

I don't doubt that a young Roy Halladay kept the neighbourhood raccoons very well fed during his formative years in Denver.

If you'll look closely, you'll see that the kid in the video has already perfected his grip on the two-seam fastball.

A point to young kids who want to grow up to be like Roy Halladay; it turns out you don't need to eat all your vegetables to be a Cy Young Award winner after all.

A Blue Jays PSA: Don't Boo The Home Team

Tuesday, May 7, 2013  |  by 

It's only common sense that booing one's home team is in bad taste. Unfortunately, fans sometimes forget that heckling the hometown Toronto Blue Jays is not exactly the best use of one's energy.

Thankfully, this Blue Jays PSA reminds us which occasions are and are not acceptable for booing at the Blue Jays game. Now if only we could do the same for the wave.

Hat tip to Emily W for the video.

Lady Luck Bounces the Blue Jays' Way

Courtesy of Yahoo
Baseball is a game of skill, but it is also a game of luck. As much as the best hitters and pitchers will make the most of their opportunities, sometimes lucky bounces here and there become difference-makers.

To say that lady luck hasn't been very kind to the Toronto Blue Jays as of late would be a huge understatement. And generally, anything that could go wrong for them on the field has gone wrong. That was until last night.

The Blue Jays 8-7 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Rays was unlike any game the Blue Jays have played all season long. For one, they beat the Rays at Tropicana Field (which is a rarity in itself), but they did it in such a dramatic fashion.

For weeks now, the game recaps for the Blue Jays have essentially had same lede over and over; a lackluster starting pitcher performance combined with little to no run support, and some shoddy defense or a base running gaffe sprinkled in for good measure.

But for the first time all season, the Blue Jays finally bucked the trend. Despite a lackluster pitching performance by Mark Buehrle, they overcame a seven run deficit at Tropicana Field. The Blue Jays didn't give away any outs, and their bats came alive for the second straight game.

If you decided to tune out after learning Mark Buehrle surrendered seven runs in the third, frankly I can't blame you. History was bound to repeat itself, as the game was setting itself up for the anemic Toronto offense to come into play again.

Overcoming a seven run deficit obviously makes for an entertaining ball game, but that's one thing the Blue Jays games haven't really been as of late; entertaining.

The Blue Jays have not really been all that much fun to watch, so one can only imagine if a similar negative attitude has permeated into the Blue Jays clubhouse. After going 11-21 in the first 32 games of the season, it doesn't seem like a culture that would breed positivity.

Nearly any deficit the Blue Jays have experienced early this season has seemed insurmountable, and experiencing that day-in and day-out must have had some negative side effects on the players.

From a managerial standpoint, this game started off as a bit of a head-scratcher. John Gibbons elected to start Henry Blanco over Mark Buehrle, which was a bit of a perplexing decision, but perhaps Gibby thought Mark Buehrle would work better with Blanco.

In the end, it worked out as mid-game defensive replacement provided the go-ahead home run. And who thought that Mark DeRosa's pinch hit two-run home run in the fifth inning would be the rallying point for the Blue Jays? Because I certainly didn't.

Although John Gibbons made some questionable moves prior to and during the game, ultimately it all panned out. He really did maximize his three-man bench and used it to the fullest, utilizing all position players in some shape or form in that game.

Of course another person who had a big hand in the Blue Jays comeback was Yunel Escobar. It's kind of funny that Joe Maddon brought him in as a late-game defensive replacement because Escobar proceeded to miss a routine grounder and then what appeared to be an inning-ending double play ball.

There's no question that was a huge win for the Blue Jays, and it was the first step which will hopefully be the Blue Jays ending a 17 series losing streak at Tropicana Field dating back to 2007.

Yes, the last time the Blue Jays won a series in Tampa Bay, T-Pain's "Buy U A Drank" was playing on your radio and Spider-Man 3 was out in movie theatres. That's a damn long time.

Aside from the starting pitching, it really was a full-team effort to pull out that win. And it's games like these that show the true potential of this squad. After a comeback like that, one hopes this was truly the turning point for the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays.

Flashback Friday: Fifth Deck Home Runs at the Rogers Centre

Friday, May 3, 2013  |  by 

Courtesy of TheBallparkGuide.com
When it comes to home runs, I think most players and fans alike would agree it doesn't matter how high or how far the ball goes, just so long as the ball leaves the yard. But every so often, it's nice to sit back and admire a moon shot, right?

Aside from the Level of Excellence, the Rogers Centre (affectionately remembered as the Skydome for most) is home to another esteemed club; and that is those who have hit home runs into the fifth deck.

It's a a very exclusive club, one that only 13 players belong to since the Skydome first opened in 1989. For this week's Flashback Friday, we look back at the members of the "500 Level Club" at the Rogers Center.

First and foremost, a big thanks to Ken Kosowan who helped provide the data for all the players who have hit home runs into the fifth deck at the Rogers Centre. Here is a full list of all the sluggers below:

Date Player For Against Pitcher Distance
Oct 7 '89 Jose Canseco Oakland Toronto Mike Flanagan 480 -LF
Jul 25 '96 Mark McGwire Oakland Toronto Huck Flener 488 -LF
Jul 27 '96 Joe Carter Toronto Oakland John Wasdin 483 -LF
Jul 19 '98 Carlos Delgado Toronto New York Andy Pettitte 467 -RF
Sep 25 '98 Jose Canseco Toronto Boston Bret Saberhagen 451 -LF
Apr 12 '99 Jose Canseco Tampa Toronto Graeme Lloyd 459 -LF
Apr 22 '99 Shawn Green Toronto Anaheim Tim Belcher 449 -RF
Jun 3 '01 Manny Ramirez Boston Toronto Chris Carpenter 491 -LF
Apr 17 '02 Raul Mondesi Toronto Boston Darren Oliver 456 -LF
Aug 29 '02 Josh Phelps Toronto New York Roger Clemens 455 -LF
Jul 7 '04 Josh Phelps Toronto Seattle Ruben Mateo 435 -LF
Jul 28 '04 Gary Sheffield New York Toronto Miguel Batista 440 -LF
Sep 16 '04 Vernon Wells Toronto Baltimore Rodrigo Lopez 445 -LF
Jun 27 '09 Jayson Werth Philadelphia Toronto Brad Mills 448 -LF
May 31 '11 Shelly Duncan Cleveland Toronto Jo-Jo Reyes 446-LF
Apr 20 '13 Edwin Encarnacion Toronto Boston Jon Lester 427-LF

In total, eight Blue Jays have launched a baseball into the fifth deck: Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, Jose Canseco, Shawn Green, Raul Mondesi, Josh Phelps, Vernon Wells, and most recently Edwin Encarnacion.

Jose Canseco alone has hit bombs into the fifth deck three times; once as a member of the Oakland A's in 1989, once in 1998 as a member of the hometown Blue Jays, and then again the following season with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Now, to see the names in table is one thing, but to truly appreciate the grandiouseness of these towering home runs, you really do have to see the replay. Unfortunately, I could only find video of a few of them, but that makes them all the more impressive.

First off, it's Jose Canseco's 480 foot home run off Mike Flanagan in Game 4 of the 1989 ALCS. The fact that this home run came in the postseason definitely ups the ante for greatness.

And then we have which still stands as the longest home run ever hit at the Rogers Centre/Skydome. Traveling a whopping 491 feet total, here's Manny Ramirez' tape measure shot off a young Chris Carpenter.

Even the Blue Jays fans that day tipped their cap to Manny as they cheered his near 500 foot shot into the then tarped-off fifth deck of the Rogers Centre.

Of course I would be remissed if I didn't include the most recent member of the 500 Level Club, Edwin Encarnacion. It seems odd that this home run "only" went 427 feet, but it still managed to reach the fifth deck, and is the first man to do so since 2011.

In the future, it might be cool if the Blue Jays did something similar like what the Orioles have done with home runs that have reached Eutaw Street, and commemorate them each with some sort of plaque in the stands.

Once again, thanks to Ken Kosowan for the assistance with the data.

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