Friday, June 28, 2013

Are the Blue Jays Naming the New Centre Field Porch at the Rogers Centre?

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Courtesy of CityNews
Just a bit of spitballing here on a Friday afternoon, but allow me to draw your direction to a very curious tweet sent out earlier this week by Blue Jays public announcer Tim Langton. In it he hints at a new feature at the Rogers Centre.


After a cryptic tweet like that, naturally folks will start wondering what exactly it is. A few people have already taken a crack with a couple of guesses, and Tim has responded with a few further hints.


A "small upgrade" leads me to believe it might be something like cupholders for all the seats, but and upgrade could mean an inordinate amount of things.

There are a couple of folks who thought it might be related to the estranged inhabitants of the Rogers Centre, the Toronto Argos. However, Langton reiterates that it is related to the Blue Jays.


Astute photographer and season ticket holder @James_in_TO made an excellent guess that it might have to pertain with the future inductee into the Blue Jays Level of Excellence, Carlos Delgado.


Minor Leaguer from Bluebird Banter and I have wondered for months if the Blue Jays were planning on officially naming the new centre field porch, formerly Windows Restaurant.

Minor Leaguer has been pining for "Tom's Terrace" in honour of the late Tom Cheek, while I guessed it might be "Delgado's Landing" in honour of King Carlos. And I think this tweet basically tells us everything we need to know:


And fans might not even have to wait until the Blue Jays return home on Monday to see what the new addition to the ballpark is, as the Argos host their season opener tonight at the Rogers Centre.

Fans will have to keep a close eye out see if they can spot the new addition inside the Rogers Centre. So if it is in fact an official name for the centre field porch, which do you prefer; Tom's Terrace or Delgado's Landing?

Nice view courtesy of Cooks and Son's
Or perhaps the Blue Jays will be looking to tie in a sponsor like Budweiser and call it the "King Club". Regardless of which name it is, it would be nice to have an official title for the brand new centre field porch.

Let's not forget, Tim was the one who revealed the first photo of the new windowsless Windows Restaurant at the Rogers Centre back in March.

Or who knows ... maybe it isn't even a name for the centre field porch at all, and it could be something as simple as cupholders on every seat in the Rogers Centre? I know that would be make plenty of fans, namely @Captain_Latte very pleased.

Flashback Friday: "The Audience"

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On any given night, the Rogers Centre might have an audience of more than 40,000 fans within the confines of its concrete foundation. But there will always remain 15 fans outside the stadium that remain a fixture on the exterior of the Rogers Centre.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at one of the most prominent sculptures around the Rogers Centre called "The Audience".

For those who frequent Blue Jays games quite often, it's almost one of those things that becomes second nature. Unless you were going to a Blue Jays game for the first time, you might not even notice it.

However, if you stop and look up while you're on Blue Jays Way, you'll notice several inhabitants on the northeast and northwest corners of the stadium. They are the "keepers" of the Rogers Centre so to speak; forever perched on the corners of the building like gargoyles.

In total there are 15 different statues, and they're all meant to symbolize the different subsects of fans; you have the hecklers, the father and son, the muscle man, the hungry fan, and many others.


Although the builders of the Skydome already planned on having some sort of art around the ballpark anyway, it was actually mandated that 1% of the total construction costs be designated to public art projects. The Skydome was the first major development in Toronto to do such a thing.

Renowned Canadian artist Michael Snow was the lead artist on the project, and you'll probably notice his other handiwork around Toronto; most notably the Canadian geese display inside the Eaton Centre.

He first developed The Audience as a small scale project with plaster, and later graduated to a 1/3 scale model constructed of A-frames, and then finally built the full scale sculptures out of a steel skeleton.

The frames themselves were sprayed with heavy foam, and were then carved out to resemble to characters ... not unlike an ice carving. Once the shapes took place, the characters were sprayed with protective fiberglass and lastly a bronze-like finish.

When asked about which particular fans the sculpture represented, Snow explained his choices of characters:

"The sculpture reflects sports, with the fans doing what they do, both positive and negative, in reaction to what they're seeing. But they're all individuals, so there's no code that works for them all.

The general style and mood is deliberately more Roman than Greek. There are references to historical styles and idioms within the overall style: Hindu, Romanesque, Gothic."
The final cost of The Audience sculpture is not known, but the total budget for all the art projects in and around the Skydome had a price tag of approximately $2.5 million dollars. The project took a total of 15 months to complete from conception to completion.

So the next time you're heading to the Blue Jays game and going through Gate 2 or Gate 13, be sure to take a glance upwards. Who knows, you might even see yourself in one of the characters up there.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia, Don Shall and  Chestnut Park

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Season of Ups and Downs for R.A. Dickey

By
Courtesy of Yahoo/USA Today
One okay start, one bad start. A string of good starts, a string of bad starts. A couple of good starts, a couple of really, really bad starts. A good start, a bad start, a good start, a bad start, a phenomenal start.

If there's one thing that's been consistent about R.A. Dickey this season, it's that he's been consistently inconsistent.

It really has been a Jekyll and Hyde act; as one day Dickey looks like his 2012 self, and the next, it looks like he's throwing batting practice to the competition. One game he's hot, the next he's cold ... which is very apparent in his win/loss splits. 

SplitWLERAGSIPHRERHRBBSOWHIPSO/9SO/BB
in Wins701.09749.12876115400.8727.32.67
in Losses088.18847.16145431319281.6905.31.47
in No Dec.006.00212.0129837101.5837.51.43

Including yesterday's complete game shutout, R.A. Dickey has only really had four great starts on the season. Some have been okay, but the bulk of them have been for a lack of a better word ... horrible.

Dickey has surrendered six or more earned runs in six of his 17 starts to date. Meanwhile, he's only pitched into the eighth on three occasions. At this point last season, R.A. Dickey had gone seven innings or more eight times.

I realize comparing his Cy Young Award-winning season and 2013 is like apples and oranges, but is it fair to say that his 2013 season has been somewhat of a disappointment? Obviously a Cy Young Award season is a tough act to follow, but most expected him to be much better than this.

Believe it or not, R.A. Dickey threw the first complete game by a Blue Jays starting pitcher in over a year. Not since June 6th 2012, when Brandon Morrow went the distance ... oddly enough, also on a two-hit complete game shutout. 

The part that has bothered me the most is the revolving door of excuses. When Dickey struggled in the early part of the season, first it was attributed to a sore back. Then once he strung together a couple of good starts, Dickey declared he was healthy again. And when things started to go south for a second time, that's when the bad back excuse crept up again.

There's no question there's a lot of pride on the line here for R.A. Dickey. The Blue Jays seemingly moved heaven and earth to bring him to Toronto, and he wants to prove to the organization (and the fans) that he was worth it.

In doing so, that means he's probably going to pitch through a nagging injury if the training staff allows it and that they deem it doesn't warrant a DL stint.

While I respect that R.A. Dickey wants to play through the pain, I think it's doing a disservice to this team if he's not completely healthy. This isn't like Josh Johnson playing with a blister on his finger; the knuckleball is a much different animal.

The knuckleball strikes me as the type of pitch where everything needs to be on point. Nothing can be out of sync, otherwise it throws the whole thing off. So if a nagging back injury is affecting the velocity of his knuckleball, that would be a contributing factor as to why Dickey has struggled thus far.

If R.A. Dickey isn't performing at 100% with his knuckleball, the ill effects are much more apparent than the average fastball. As we've seen already this season, a few miles per hour decrease on Dickey's knuckleball has lead to some disastrous results.

According to this fantastic piece by Dave Cameron at FanGraphs, Dickey's knuckleball velocity reached 76.7 MPH in yesterday's start; the fastest it's been since Opening Day. It's not quite at the 77.2 MPH average from last year, but it has been trending upwards his last four starts.

That's why the Blue Jays are in somewhat of a tricky situation with R.A. Dickey, and to some effect, Melky Cabrera as well. If both of these guys are hurt, do the Blue Jays put them on the disabled list, or do they play through the injuries?

Obviously, losing a starter of Dickey's calibre for a couple of weeks would be tough for the Blue Jays, but what would they rather have; 30 plus starts of a mediocre R.A. Dickey, or 25 or so starts of a really really good R.A. Dickey?

There's no absolute guarantee that some time on the DL would guarantee a 2012-like resurgence for Dickey, but it couldn't hurt, right? I'm no doctor, but wouldn't you think if he continues to play through his back pain,  things could actually get worse before they get better?

With the All-Star break on the horizon, that will give R.A. Dickey some much-needed recuperation time. Because the R.A. Dickey I remember is much closer to this (yesterday's strikeout of Evan Longoria... than this (a tape measure shot by Adam Dunn). 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Welcome Back, Jose Reyes

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My, isn't this man a sight for sore eyes. After missing the last 66 games over the past two and a half months, the day has finally arrived; Jose Reyes has officially returned to the Toronto Blue Jays.

It's a day that many people have been looking forward to for a long, long time. And for some, the last vision they have of Jose Reyes is him writhing in pain after awkwardly sliding into second base in Kansas City.

In his first ten games of the season, Jose Reyes came exactly as advertised. He was dynamic, he was charismatic, and he was the best player on the roster those first two weeks of the season. And then we all remember what happened.

Jose Reyes was like that shiny new toy a kid just barely got out of the package before breaking it. Reyes had just suited up for the Blue Jays before he was carted off the field in tears.

I think Reyes’ injury was a substantial blow simply because he embodied the new hope for the 2013 Blue Jays. It wasn’t  that the Blue Jays shiny new toy was broken, it was essentially a microcosm for the early part of the season.

Jose Reyes was one of the players who were supposed to turn this team around. And then in an instant … he was gone. But like any good baseball player, that didn't keep him down for very long.

I’d like to say the past two and a half months have flown by without Jose Reyes, but they haven’t. At times, it very was apparent this team was severely lacking not only with him out of the lineup, but on the field as well.

However, if the 11 game win streak proved anything, it was that it’s possible for the Blue Jays to win without Jose Reyes. The fact that they’ve managed to hoist themselves back to .500 without him is nothing short of spectacular.

And the Blue Jays are in a very unique position with Jose Reyes returning because it's almost as if they are acquiring an All-Star shortstop prior to the trade deadline. Except this acquisition isn't going to cost them anything in the way of prospects or trade chips.

As entertaining as Munenori Kawasaki has been these past few months, Jose Reyes is an upgrade in every facet of the game. Not many teams can add a piece like that without giving up the farm to get him.

As a side note, who ever thought we'd be having a discussion as to whether or not Munenori Kawasaki would be demoted once Jose Reyes was ready to return to the Blue Jays? When he was called up, Kawasaki was thought to be merely a band-aid solution at short.

I just assumed it would be automatic that Kawasaki would be send down when Reyes was ready. But it turns out Munenori made that decision much more difficult than anybody could have ever anticipated.

Personally, I know I've started a lot of sentences started with "once Jose Reyes gets back", and that's really the gist of it. Jose Reyes is back two and a half weeks of schedule and the Blue Jays are back at .500.

Jose Reyes’ return is a cause for celebration … but not an extended celebration. After all, there are still 86 games left to play this season.

Monday, June 24, 2013

11 Straight Wins: The Winning Streak Continues

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Courtesy of Yahoo/Reuters
When it began as a win in extra innings against the Chicago White Sox and a four game sweep of the Texas Rangers, the results showed promise. When it continued as another sweep of the Colorado Rockies, it was encouraging.

But now after yet another sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, this winning streak by the Blue Jays is getting crazy.

First and foremost, as the Org Guy noted, these past couple of weeks have been really, really fun. It's really the polar opposite of how the season began; people expected the Blue Jays to win, and they didn't.

But now that expectations have tempered a bit and the pressure is off, they are winning. 

Not that heading down to the Rogers Centre wasn't already an event, or watching a Blue Jays game on TV wasn't already appointment viewing, but now it really is. Because everyone wants to see just how far this streak is going to go.

And the way this team is playing right now, it's like they can do no wrong. Everything is going their way.

People spoke at length last year about  "Orioles Magic"; a Baltimore team that was destined to lose over 100 games and post their 15th consecutive losing season somehow managed to squeak into the Wild Card elimination game and nearly made it to the ALCS.

If that was Orioles Magic, perhaps this is "Blue Jays Magic".

I wonder if this how it must have felt during those World Series runs in 1992 and 1993. After all, the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays were never swept in a series the entire season. And that team never lost more than five straight games.

This may only be a small 11 game sample, but the losses in those banner years like 1992 and 1993 were so few and far between that it seemed like the Blue Jays didn't even have time to dwell over losses. That's because they were already well on their way to their next win.

The same goes for the 2013 Blue Jays as of late; they're too busy winning to think about anything else. And that's a good thing.

I think the most impressive thing about the 11 game win streak is how they've managed to creep up back above .500. I think getting back to .500 before the All-Star break was a realistic and yet lofty goal for the Blue Jays. But low and behold, they've done it.

With 88 games left to play in the season, the Blue Jays are right in the thick of things. And with reinforcements on the way, they look to do even more damage in the second half of the season.

The starting pitching has been phenomenal, the bullpen has been a virtual graveyard for earned runs, and the offense has provided just enough offense to win.

Incredibly, they've trailed a total of just 5.5 innings in the past 11 games. So of the last 100 innings played by the Blue Jays, they've either lead or been tied in all but 5.5 innings.

The funny thing is the Blue Jays have actually been outhit in five games during their 11 game win streak, and yet they've somehow found a way to make the most of those offensive opportunities.

Before the win streak started, on June 11th the Blue Jays sat 12 games back of the Red Sox for the division lead. In the matter of less than two weeks, they've made up seven games and now sit just five games back of the Red Sox.

Obviously, this next week is going to be extremely important as the next seven games come against division rivals. A series win in Tampa Bay would be the cherry on top of an incredible month, and a series win in Boston would go a long way to making up even more ground in the division.

As great as this win streak has been, unfortunately it's going to come to an end eventually. But up until now, it's been one fun ride ... one ride that no one really wants to end. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Jose Bautista Staredown: Darren O'Day Edition

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Courtesy of Yahoo/Getty Images
It's a lesson that opposing pitchers should really know by now: do not mess with Joey Bats.

Whether they plunk Jose Bautista, his teammates, or simply look at him the wrong way, it certainly doesn't take much to rub Joey Bats the wrong way. And he usually retaliates the best way he knows how; with his bat.

I was fortunate enough to be there for yesterday's game, so in between praying for the ball to stay fair and freaking out after realizing Bautista hit a home run, hardly anybody around us noticed that Jose chirped Darren O'Day just before he reached home plate.

The screencap below of the fans in section 130C is one of the the best crowd reactions I've ever seen. The fact that there were so many people in unison that jumped out of their seats and launched their hands in the air really warms my heart as a Blue Jays fan.


At first I wondered what prompted the taunting by Jose Bautista, but it turns out the seed was planted one night before. Darren O'Day struck out Jose Bautista swinging to end the seventh inning of Friday's game, and this staredown ensued between the two.


O'Day kind of skipped off the mound in celebration, and rightfully so; he ended a scoring opportunity for the Blue Jays in a rather emphatic fashion. For some reason, Bautista didn't take too kindly to his reaction.


Call me crazy, but I get the sense like these two guys don't really like each other.


My lip-reading skills are horrendous at best, but it looked like Jose Bautista said something to the effect of "Say what? What was that?" He stood there in the batter's box after he struck out and basically stared down Darren O'Day the entire time waiting for a reaction.

To me, it seems like Bautista actually instigated the whole situation, but it's difficult to tell with the timing of the camera angle. Regardless of who started it, Jose Bautista finished it (at least temporarily) the following game with this game-winning home run.



And just to add injury to insult, Bautista chirped O'Day just before he reached home plate as the cameras captured him saying something to the effect of "keep talking" (thanks to GameReax for the GIF).

Courtesy of Yahoo/AP
It may not have been the traditional "eye for an eye" retaliation by the Blue Jays, but one of the things that makes Jose Bautista so incredibly entertaining is he almost always answers with a clutch hit.

Now, this saga between the Blue Jays and Orioles is likely far from over. Knowing the old school mentality of Buck Showalter, it wouldn't really surprise anyone if Jose Bautista got a fastball between the numbers in his first at bat this afternoon.

If he's smart, Showalter will wait until the game is beyond reach for either team before he calls for a beanball to Bautista and puts him on base for Edwin Encarnacion. But perhaps the sanctity of the game is more important and the Orioles will go for it right away.

Jose Bautista may occasionally run his mouth, but he backs it up. Were it anybody else, it might be considered childish behaviour to stare down an opposing pitcher like that. But it seems like that kind of thing just fuels Bautista to perform even better.

Remember, you don't want to see Jose when he's angry ... because it usually doesn't end well for the opposition.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Take a Bow, Munenori Kawasaki

By
Courtesy of Yahoo
Take a bow Munenori Kawasaki, you've earned it.

He may not have been responsible for the game-winning hit, but had it not been for Munenori Kawasaki's game-tying home run, the Blue Jays would not even be in the position to celebrate a walk-off win.

It's kind of funny how Kawasaki has evolved from a player with a cult-like status, to suddenly becoming a fan favourite. I mean, I can't remember a guy that Blue Jays fans have taken to so quickly than Munenori Kawasaki.

That was no more apparent than in his fourth and final at bat of the game. Over 35,000 fans at the Rogers Centre were on their feet chanting "KA-WA-SA-KI, KA-WA-SA-KI". Not only that, but even Edwin Encarnacion was cheering for him in the dugout.

That may have been in large part due to the fact that the game-winning run was standing at second base, but even still ... the fans were cheering for Munenori Kawasaki like they cheer for Jose Bautista.

And then of course, once Rajai Davis drove in the game-winning run, Munenori Kawasaki leapt from the dugout like a kid whose team just won the Little League World Series.


Look how happy that guy is. Really, you'd be hard-pressed to find a man who enjoys playing the game than Munenori Kawasaki. Not that every other player in the Major Leagues doesn't love baseball, but you get the sense that Kawasaki really really really loves baseball.

I suspect the main reason why people love Munenori Kawasaki so much is because he plays baseball with pure and unadulterated passion. He plays as though every game may very well be his last, and with Jose Reyes set to rejoin the Blue Jays, that very well be the case.

Losing an All-Star shortstop would be a huge blow to any team, and Munenori Kawasaki's infectious personality has at least provided a welcome distraction while Reyes makes his journey back to the Blue Jays.

It's kind of an unfortunate that Kawasaki may be out of a job next week, but it's a necessary part of the business. However, Munenori doesn't play with a chip on a shoulder ... he plays like every game is a gift.

And how's this for foreshadowing? Kawasaki obviously isn't known for his home run hitting prowess, but he did in fact launch a ball out of the yard during batting practice, and the National Post's John Lott captured this photo immediately afterwards.

Courtesy of John Lott
So it's almost fate that Mune followed up a rare home run in BP with his very first big league home run. And that home run could not have come at a better time.

The legend of Munenori Kawasaki may be coming to a close, but it sure has been one heck of a ride.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Flashback Friday: Garth Iorg's Batting Stance

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Over the years, the Toronto Blue Jays have had some players who have owned some rather unorthodox batting stances. Tony Batista, Alex Rios, and Rance Mulliniks to name a few. But none quite as interesting as the man above.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we look back at Garth Iorg's incredibly unusual batting stance.

Garth Iorg spent his entire nine year career in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform, but as one can imagine, any sort of footage on Garth Iorg is hard to find. The only thing I could dig up was this  video below on Youtube from a random at bat against Roger Clemens.



As you can tell, Iorg's stance in the batter's box doesn't look all that peculiar watching him from the traditional angle. It's only until the camera shifts to the side view where you can really notice the difference.

Considering the angle Iorg stood at, it's no wonder he never fell backwards in the batter's box. His weight is almost entirely on his back foot, with his front foot just barely touching the ground.

But it's not just Garth Iorg's foot placement that's completely unorthodox, it's his hand position as well. Note that his hands are actually slightly above his head in the ready position before he takes his swing.

His batting stance may have been crazy-looking, but for all intents and purposes, it worked.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

There's Light at the End of the Tunnel

By
Courtesy of Yahoo/Getty Images
Winners of eight straight. Yes, winners of eight straight. The more and more you say it, the better it sounds.  For the first time in a very long time, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The season isn't even half over, and yet it feels like the Blue Jays have already run the gamut emotions that come with a grueling 162 game schedule. Going into the season, the Toronto Blue Jays were World Series favourites. But it's funny how quickly things can change, not only for the better ... but for the worse.

For me at least, it was a very odd feeling having the Blue Jays pegged as the team to beat.

I remember talking to Mr. 1 Blue Jays Way about this at the Home Opener; how it was so surreal that the Blue Jays were the favourites. Historically, the Blue Jays have always been the underdog, and we wondered if this is what it must feel like for fans of perennial contenders like the New York Yankees.

Not that a season is ever completely over this early in the schedule, but things were beginning to look pretty grim for the Blue Jays. The barrage of injuries was feeling more and more like the brutal summer of 2012; where anything that could go wrong did go wrong.

For a while there, it appeared as though history was doomed to repeat itself. The backups to the backups were even getting hurt. The Blue Jays had more players on the disabled list than any other team in baseball.

And yet in spite of all those injuries, the Blue Jays have finally turned the corner.

Really the goal this first half of the season has been for the Blue Jays to simply get to .500. For a while there, it looked like an insurmountable obstacle to overcome, but believe it or not the Blue Jays are just one win away from crawling back to .500.

There were many people I spoke to who said something to the effect of "all the Jays need to do is rattle off a good 6-7 game win streak and they're back in this". True to form, the Blue Jays have done exactly that and they are effectively back in the hunt.

That's the great thing about baseball; since the schedule lends itself to a lot games being played in a short amount of time, the Blue Jays have made up a tremendous amount of ground in a relatively short window.

Just over one week ago, the Blue Jays were nine games under .500, 12 games back of the Red Sox for the division lead and 10 games back of the Wild Card. Now they're one game under .500 and sit just 7.5 games back of the Red Sox and four back of the Wild Card.

So how the heck have the Blue Jays come back? It's been primarily thanks to some solid starting pitching. Had the starting five started off the season like this, I don't think anyone would've batted an eye because the Blue Jays were thought to have had one of the best rotations in baseball.

But since they underachieved in April and well into May, the starting rotation really had nowhere to go but up. And once the revolving door of waiver claim arms and callups finally stopped spinning for a few minutes, that's when there was at least some semblance of consistency to the starting rotation.

Does anyone expect Esmil Rogers and Chien-Mien Wang to continue to pitch like this? It would be presumptuous to assume they can keep up this pace, but really all the Blue Jays need is a couple of warm bodies there in the back end of the rotation.

And let's not forget the contributions of the bullpen, perhaps the most underrated and unheralded contributing factor to the Blue Jays resurgence. Janssen, Cecil and Delabar are the three big names who have solidified the back end of the pen.

Then of course there's still Loup, Oliver, Wagner, McGowan and Perez. The latter of that list which have yet to really prove themselves, but each reliever has their own unique skill set and are slowly but surely settling into their roles.

It really shouldn't be a surprise that the Blue Jays have one of the best bullpens in the American League. After all, John Gibbons' reputation as a bullpen savant precedes him, so he's simply doing what he's always done ... and that's run a very efficient relief corps.

And then there's the offense. The crazy thing is this lineup isn't even firing on all cylinders right now. Adam Lind has been a revelation and Edwin Encarnacion continues to anchor this offense, but Jose Bautista hasn't even hit his stride yet.

The way this team is performing, once the Blue Jays jump out in front, they do not relinquish the lead. That's why they're 26-0 when leading after seven innings. And during their eight game win streak, Toronto has trailed for only 4.5 innings in a total of 65 innings played.

Let's not forget there are also some very reassuring reinforcements coming in the way of Jose Reyes as early as this coming Monday. So the team who has had absolutely no problem scoring runs as of late will get one of their best run producers back in a matter of days.

Not to rain on everyone's parade, but here's my fear, though ... and I think it's a legitimate one. I'm afraid that these comeback seasons by Adam Lind and Brett Cecil might be wasted. As good as these two have been, are they playing over their heads?

There are some bona fide superstars on this Blue Jays roster who consistently deliver for this team, but I fear there are guys like Lind and Cecil who are just waiting to turn into pumpkins at midnight. And I would hate to see their breakout campaigns overshadowed by a lost season.

That's why I think now more than ever, the Blue Jays should to be buyers at the trade deadline. Alex Anthopoulos needs to do whatever he can to upgrade this roster and make a run at the playoffs. Because who knows if or when guys like Cecil and Lind will have seasons like this ever again.

After all, the Blue Jays are already all-in. If the front office deems that there is still a window of contention in 2013, then they should go for it.

In baseball, people talk a lot about momentum swings; and whether you believe in it or not, things are finally swinging the way of the Toronto Blue Jays. Although it may be nearly half over, things are just starting to get interesting.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Lansing Lugnuts Experience at Cooley Law Stadium

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Courtesy of Lansing Lugnuts Facebook
Minor league baseball; it's where a love for the game truly begins. Sure, the bright lights of the big leagues may shine a little brighter, but the minor leagues are where the game is accessible unlike any other level of baseball.

That accessibility is no more apparent than at Cooley Law Stadium in Lansing Michigan; the home of the Lansing Lugnuts, the Single A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

I just so happened to visit the ballpark this past weekend, and here's a review of my experience at Cooley Law Stadium.

Atmosphere

If I had to use one word to describe Cooley Law Stadium, it would be "cozy". The stadium itself is tucked in amongst some buildings in downtown Lansing, and it really gives a nice and cozy feel to the ballpark. 

There were facets of three Major League ballparks that I immediately noticed after I took my seat; Camden Yards, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field. Now I know those are three pretty lofty comparisons, but let me explain.

Cooley Law Stadium has the feel of Camden Yards because of the brick exterior of the ballpark, as well as the brick buildings in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark. It also has an air of Fenway Park with a Green Monster-esque towering left and right field walls.

And finally, the home of the Lugnuts even has a hint of ivy on the right field wall next to the grass, not unlike the outfield walls at Wrigley Field. So Cooley Law really has taken some of the best parts of the most iconic ballparks in baseball and put them into one package.

Had we arrived at the ballpark earlier, I really would have loved to spend more time exploring the surrounding neighbourhood around Cooley Law Stadium, but from what I did see in my travels, it was just a great general atmosphere in and around the park.

Much like my trip to Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, I really got the sense of community at Cooley Law Stadium. By sheer coincidence, I was sitting directly behind Carol Walker; the woman responsible for teaching English to the Lugnuts Latin players.

In addition to that, Carol told me her family actually has taken in players in her home. Including Roberto Osuna, as well as former Lugnuts and current Major Leaguers Henderson Alvarez and Carlos Marmol.


Entertainment

There is no shortage of family involvement at a Lansing Lugnuts game. There was practically something happening every inning to keep the young fans entertained. This includes things like a t-shirt cannon, a hot dog cannon, a fan-lead chicken dance, and even something as simple as singing happy birthday to one young fan.

This is one area which the Lugnuts really excelled at; fan involvement throughout the entire game. Another thing they had was lawn seating just beyond left and right field, so families could sit on the grass and watch the game. Behind them, there were inflatable slides and even a playground for kids to enjoy.

I don't know if this is something that happens across the board at most minor league baseball games, but the Lansing Lugnuts spared absolutely no expense in keeping their fans entertained for a full nine innings.

The game even concluded with a great fireworks show, one that was quite impressive for a minor league ball game. And on Sundays, kids actually get to play catch on the field prior to the game, and they can run the bases after the game, too.


Food and Drink

There are no shortage of culinary offerings at Cooley Law Stadium; the concourse is littered with many different options, including BBQ, gyros, pizza, gourmet hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as your traditional ballpark fare.

My father and I tried some of the gourmet hot dogs; my dad's was a hot dog with pulled pork and coleslaw, while I had the "firecracker" hot dog with chicken, jack cheese and jalapenos. Did I mention they put it in a pretzel bun? All that for only $6 dollars.

The selection of craft beer is excellent as well; my dad and I partook in a Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy pictured above, which would be especially refreshing during an afternoon game. We also tried a few brews from the Craft Beer Garden; Pyramid Breweries' Apricot ale and a Frankenmuth ale.

The Craft Beer Garden is its own little patio of sorts, tucked in the corner down the third base line. But there are some tables there for fans to enjoy their craft beer and still have a great sightline of the ballgame.

The beer prices were fairly reasonable as well; $6 dollars for a traditional draft beer, $6.75 for specialty brews, and $7 dollars for the craft beers. With some of the choices, you also get a souvenir Lansing Lugnuts collectable cup.

Not to mention, for those particularly thirsty patrons, the Lugnuts also have a dollar beer night during their Thursday home games. On Tuesdays, it's Dollar Deal Day, where hot dogs, fountain drinks and icecream sandwiches are just a buck.


Prospects

As far as prospects were concerned, I missed a Roberto Osuna start by one night, but I did happen to see a very electric left-handed reliever from Puerto Rico named Efrain Nieves. His fastball touched 95 MPH and struck out four batters in 2.2 innings of work.

Nieves was actually the Blue Jays Rule 5 minor league draft pick from the Detroit Tigers last year, so we'll see if his electric arm will make waves in the organization in the coming years.

Obviously, Roberto Osuna and Daniel Norris are the two big names that everyone will recognize, and deservingly so as they rank two and three among the Toronto Blue Jays top prospects. Osuna already boasts a 8.40 strikeout to walk ratio through his first seven starts.

Parking

Parking was a breeze around Cooley Law Stadium. Had we arrived a little earlier than 10 minutes before game time, we might have been able to park a little closer, but there were ample lots within a one to two block radius of the ballpark.

We parked for just three dollars, and the walk was only a few minutes. Getting out from the game was also fairly easy, as it's just a trip north up North Larch Street.

For those looking to save a few bucks, you can also venture a few blocks further and park on the street for free. But if time is of the essence, I'd recommend just shelling out a couple of bucks and park close to the stadium.


Overall

If you're ever in the vicinity of the southwest corner of Ontario or happen to be in Michigan, then I'd definitely recommend checking out a Lugnuts game. Combining it with another event in the area like a Nascar race or Tigers game, then it makes it totally worth the trip.

For those adventurous Blue Jays fans that plan on seeing all the minor league affiliates, Lansing is a must-visit. Although the talent level at single A is very raw, there is a real sense of a grassroots level of appreciation for the game.

If you're bringing kids to the ballpark, they'll surely have a blast as there's no shortage of things for them to do. The food and drink choices are excellent, and just the overall atmosphere of the ballpark is warm and friendly.

And who knows, you might just catch a glimpse of one of the Blue Jays hot young prospects in action like Roberto Osuna or Daniel Norris.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Flashback Friday: John McDonald's Father's Day Home Run

By
Courtesy of SI
“Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?”

Every time I watch that famous scene from “Field of Dreams”, I get a little misty-eyed. Mostly because I couldn’t imagine an instance where a son wouldn’t be able to play catch with his father.

No one can deny the special bond between fathers and their sons and daughters ... and for many of them, that link is deeply-rooted thanks to baseball. That's why for many, Father's Day has become synonymous with the game of baseball.

It was no different for John McDonald and his father Jack. As a man with 27 career home runs to his name, McDonald isn't your typical power hitter. During his time with the Blue Jays, Johnny Mac will undoubtedly be remembered what he did with his glove, not his bat.

Although he may not have possessed a home run swing like that of George Bell or Jose Bautista, John McDonald hit what will be remembered as the most emotional home run in franchise history.

It's all rather poignant as we get set to celebrate dad's special day, and so for this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at John McDonald's home run on Father's Day 2010.

The game itself was all but over for the Blue Jays. The game was well out of reach as they trailed the San Francisco Giants 9-3. It was during the bottom of the ninth when Cito Gaston decided to make a late game defensive substitution; swapping Aaron Hill for John McDonald at second base.

John McDonald was activated from the bereavement list on Father's Day 2010. And in his very first at bat with the Blue Jays just days after losing his father Jack, McDonald struck a ball to left that just narrowly cleared the fence.



John McDonald isn't the type of player to celebrate his own plays, but as he rounded first base he let out a huge fist pump in celebration. As he rounded second, John was visibly overcome with emotion, and as he touched home plate, he pointed to the sky as a tribute to his late father, Jack.

As if it weren't incredible enough that John McDonald hit a home run on father's day, it was actually something Jack McDonald requested just days before passing away; he wanted his son John to hit a home run just for him, and when he did, he wanted John to point towards the sky.

WFSB in Connecticut had a great feature on the life of Jack McDonald, and the backstory leading up John McDonald's special moment on Father's Day.



I don't think John anticipated that in his very first at bat after being activated off the bereavement list, he would clear the yard with the two-run home run ... but he did. 

Not only did he show up that day to play, but John McDonald also insisted on being there on Father's Day for a Q & A with fans before the game; a tradition John and his father Jack had participated in during years past.

John Lott of the National Post captured John McDonald's post-game interview following the game, and I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a dry eye in the Blue Jays clubhouse that day as McDonald describes the experience in the video below.



John McDonald's home run on Father's Day was a moment that transcended sports. Whether or not you're a Blue Jays fan or even a baseball fan, everyone can appreciate that special moment.

Baseball at its core is a game, something completely trivial, and very rarely does baseball ever intersect with real life. But when it does, it creates truly special moments like this .... moments which people will remember for the rest of their lives.

So this Sunday on Father's Day, make sure to give your dad an especially big hug.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

J.P. Arencibia Is Who He Is

By
Courtesy of Yahoo/USA Today
Charismatic. Passionate. Talented. These are all words that people would use to describe the Blue Jays starting catcher, J.P. Arencibia. While all the other adjectives are a nice touch, it's the final one that's the most important: talented.

J.P. Arencibia has received a lot of flak as of late (why now suddenly I'm not quite sure), but as the villagers get restless, I think it's because Arencibia's weaknesses are becoming more and more apparent as the season progresses.

It's odd because years ago, the prospect of a power-hitting catcher was enough to make anybody salivate. Heck, J.P. Arencibia's big league debut was probably one of the most entertaining games I've ever witnessed in person. But no one could have anticipated the side effects.

I guess what it all boils down to is J.P. Arencibia is looking more and more like a one-dimensional hitter. And in the modern era of baseball, that one tool is simply is not enough anymore when general managers and coaches are looking for upwards of five tools.

It's not as if Arencibia's defense gives him immunity from criticism, either. This year, he's had even more difficulty handling the starting staff. At the plate, J.P. is carving out a niche as a two outcome hitter, those outcomes of course being strikeouts (32% of his at bats) and home runs (5% of his at bats).

For someone who is arguably one of the faces of this franchise, J.P. Arencibia's future with the team is somewhat uncertain. He's eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, and is under team control through 2016. However, it doesn't seem as though Alex Anthopoulos is banging down the doors to sign J.P. Arencibia to a contract extension.

Low on-base power-hitting guys are a dime a dozen out there. Look at nearly every Major League roster and virtually every team has at least one (or in some cases two or three) players just like J.P. Arencibia.

The only difference is Arencibia is a catcher. And I think that is what's thrown a wrench into things for the Blue Jays; it's his position.

Last year, the Blue Jays had Eric Thames and Travis Snider, and because the Blue Jays were rich in outfield depth, they opted to deal them for relievers. I wonder if J.P. Arencibia were a first baseman or even an outfielder, would the Blue Jays have cut bait with him already?

It's a bit of a strange hypothetical scenario, but when you look at things that way, it really becomes evident that Arencibia is a one-dimensional player at a premium position.

Some have hinted that the future for J.P. is a possible move to first base, but if that's the case, his current offensive numbers would still rank him amongst some of the worst in the league. So is that really a viable option?

For the longest time, I thought having a power-hitting catcher like J.P. Arencibia was a luxury that the Blue Jays were extremely lucky to have. I mean, what other team could boast a backstop that had 20-30 home run power?

But the more I think about it, the more I see the benefits of that power don't outweigh the drawbacks.

So here's the burning question; would you trade the home run power of J.P. Arencibia for the defensive prowess of say a Jose Molina or even a Yan Gomes? If you're the Toronto Blue Jays, then yes ... because you can afford to make up the offense in other places.

Due to the bevy of injuries, J.P. Arencibia has been placed is some high leverage spots in the lineup. Of the 59 games he's played this season, J.P. has batted third, fourth or fifth a total of 38 times. 64% of his at bats have come in those premium spots in the lineup.

The truth is, if the Toronto Blue Jays are relying on J.P. to carry the load offensively, that's a huge problem. Again, this can be linked to the Blue Jays simply not having any other choice but to bat J.P. high in the order.
However, with a healthy lineup, Arencibia should not be batting higher than sixth.

It's the responsibility of John Gibbons to recognize the type of player J.P. Arencibia is. The onus is on Gibbons not to shoehorn Arencibia into a scenario where he's likely to fail, and recognize which spot in the lineup is suited best for J.P.'s strengths.

Here's the thing; J.P. Arencibia is going to be J.P. Arencibia. There is no change on the horizon, and it's very unlikely he's going to evolve into a different player. No one is expecting him to be the next Adam Lind, Jose Bautista or even Edwin Encarnacion.

J.P. Arencibia truly is a "take it or leave it" player. And I think the fan base should either embrace him for who he is; an okay defender, a not great thrower, an above-average framer, and power-hitting, high strikeout, low on base catcher.

Why? Because he's not going anywhere any time soon. At least, not until another catcher in the system starts to look like a much more viable option than Arencibia. And the only way to make the next few years more tolerable is to accept his flaws and move on.

I'm not saying fans should outright expect J.P. Arencibia to strike out every single plate appearance, but just know that he's going to be swinging for the fences pretty much every single time at the plate.

And while it may lead to strikeouts 32% of the time, the flipside of that is J.P. Arencibia has the uncanny ability to run into some home runs as well. The strikeouts come much more frequently, but it's the unpredictability of those home runs which make him exciting to watch.

As much as I despise the idiom "it is what it is", it's actually very appropriate in this instance. J.P. Arencibia is going to be J.P Arencibia. I don't expect him to change, and nor should he.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Week That Was in Blue Jays Land

By
Courtesy of Getty Images/Yahoo
Who knew that a short three game stint at home for the Toronto Blue Jays would end up being more like four games? The series against the Rangers had a little bit of everything; great pitching, a grueling 18 inning affair, and an overall close three games.

In the end, the Blue Jays ended up taking the series against one of the best teams in the American League, which should be cause for celebration. But that's not what people will be talking about. Here's a quick wrap-up of the week that was in Blue Jays Land.



Bautista Blows Up

Most might have been outraged at Jose Bautista's behaviour in yesterday's game, I actually didn't mind it. Bautista is the kind of player that lives and dies on borderline calls, and when a call doesn't go his way, he obviously gets upset about it.

Jose Bautista doesn't seem like the kind of player who would try to show up the umpires; he just genuinely feels like he has a very firm grasp of what the strike zone is around him.

When Bautista argues calls like that though, I feel like he's on a one-man crusade to turn the tide against the umpires. My suspicion is Jose is hoping somebody else will stand up in support of those egregious calls ... but it's just not happening.

Unfortunately, Bautista's outbursts usually backfire and end up making him look like the bad guy instead of the other way around. Had it been a truly bad call, Jose might have had more people vouch for him, but that called strike one to him in his final at bat was borderline at best.

While Jose Bautista has shown clear displeasure with the umpires this season, he's only been ejected once for his so-called "attitude". And tossing his equipment onto the field may have been somewhat childish behaviour, but at that point he was already ejected anyway.

The only unfortunate part would've been had the Blue Jays had in fact tied the game and sent the game to extras, that would leave them without one of their best hitters in the lineup.


The Rotation is Clicking

It may have taken a good nine or ten weeks, but it appears as though the Blue Jays starting rotation is finally showing signs of life. On paper, they were billed as one of the best starting five in baseball, and we can all agree that simply hasn't been the case.

One of the primary reasons is their starting pitchers simply weren't going deep into games, hence why the Blue Jays bullpen has had to pitch the most innings in the Majors at 241.1 innings.

Save for Josh Johnson's mediocre start yesterday, the starting rotation posted a 1.69 ERA and opponents were batting just .181 in seven previous starts this past week. The rotation also yielded one earned run or less in four straight starts.

I'm not quite sure how well the Chien-Ming Wang experiment is going to go on Tuesday, and one wonders how Esmil Rogers will continue to progress as a starter, but Dickey, Buehrle and Johnson are beginning to pitch as they were advertised.


Dustin McGowan Returns

Hands up if you thought Dustin McGowan would ever return to pitch for the Blue Jays again? McGowan has seemingly overcome all odds and once again has suited up for the Blue Jays for the first time since September of 2011.

Considering the number of setbacks that McGowan has endured over his career, it's nothing short of a miracle that he's pitching in the Major Leagues again. Not to get all sanctimonious here, but Dustin McGowan has proved that anything really is possible.

The Blue Jays have obviously made a commitment to McGowan, but my fear is that if he shows an inability to perform at the big league level, Alex Anthopoulos may be afraid to cut ties with him and let Dustin go if need be.

Make no mistake, Dustin McGowan's comeback is an incredible story; it's practically begging for the Stephen Brunt video essay treatment. However, the Toronto Blue Jays have to do what's best for the Toronto Blue Jays.

In the meantime, it's incredibly cool to see Dustin McGowan back with the Blue Jays once again. I just hope that he still has the stuff to stick around with the club for the remainder of the season. 


Lind Still Killin' It

Last week I touched on Adam Lind's comeback season, and who ever thought it was possible, but Lind is getting even better as the days progress. He's now hitting .340 on the season, which is by far the best on the Blue Jays roster.

It would honestly not surprise me if Adam Lind bagged AL Player of the Week honours, he's been that good as of late.

Since May 7th, Adam Lind leads the Major Leagues in AVG and ranks second in the American League in OBP and OPS. There simply has not been a more consistent hitter than Adam Lind since early May ... which is still sort of odd to wrap one's head around.

Lind's unusually high .387 BABIP seems to indicate that he's due for a regression at some point, but I'm not sure if that will in fact be the case. Adam Lind is finding a lot of holes in the infield, but he's also slapping a lot of singles to the opposite field.

At this point, I don't know if Adam Lind is inadvertently putting on an audition for another team, but that $7 million dollar option for 2014 is suddenly looking more and more enticing to not only the Blue Jays, but a prospective trade partner as well.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Flashback Friday: Roberto Alomar's "Catch the Taste" Commercial

By

It's really not all that unusual today to see a professional athlete endorse a product. But it's incredibly rare that nearly 20 years after an advertising campaign, the commercial is still as beloved now as it was back then.

For this week's Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Roberto Alomar's famous McCain punch commercial. By now, I'm sure many of you have seen this video on Youtube numerous times, but here's a refresher just in case.



Surprisingly, there's hardly any dirt on this commercial or the McCain punch campaign whatsoever. If it weren't for Retrontario posting the video, there would likely be no such records of this commercial ever taking place.

Judging by the timestamp on the video above, the commercial was released in 1994, but something tells me the Catch the Taste spot may have run prior to that. Again, this is all just me trying to remember what happened nearly 20 years ago.  

What I know for certain is we used to drink McCain punch in my household like it was water. One of my favourite things to do was to eat the frozen concentrate straight from the can with a spoon (especially the watermelon flavour).

Everyone can recite the catchy hook at the end of the commercial, but I'm curious what ever happened of the "Win a Day with Alomar and the Blue Jays" Sweepstakes. Apparently all the details are in the Jr. Jays Digest.

As far as I know, the McCain punch line is sadly no longer available in stores, and to my recollection that was the only McCain punch TV commercial featuring Roberto Alomar. Even nearly 20 years later, it's still as great as I remember. 

Fast forward to today, and you can purchase official "Catch Da Taste" t-shirts from Roberto Alomar's website at $24.99 a pop. Now you can catch the taste every day!

Images courtesy of RobertoAlomar.com

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Evolution of Adam Lind

By
Courtesy of Yahoo/AP
The old saying goes that a leopard can't change its spots. So I suppose that means a baseball player can't change their tendencies either ... or can they?

Adam Lind is proving to be the exception to that rule.

One year ago, after starting off the first two months of the season batting a paltry .186, the Blue Jays optioned Adam Lind to Triple A Las Vegas, and subsequently outrighted him off the 40-man roster just a few weeks later.

Needless to say, that was likely Adam Lind's rock bottom. But it's incredible how much things can change in one year. He's evolved from a low on base guy, to the man with the highest on base percentage on the Blue Jays 25-man roster.

Yes, the very man who has been criticized in past years for his inability to draw a walk now has a higher on base percentage than Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Just let that sink in for a moment.

So not only is Adam Lind swinging at far less pitches outside the strike zone, he's actually showing an incredible amount of patience and swinging at less pitches inside the zone as well. His total swing percentage is down to 37.5%, by far the lowest of his career.

Adam Lind Swing Percentage
200943.8%
201050.0%
201150.8%
201244.5%
201337.5%

Lind is also whiffing less on pitches, as his swinging strike percentage is down to 6.1%, a far departure from 10.7% in both his 2010 and 2011 campaigns. There are signs Adam Lind cut down on his strikes last season, but it's dropped even further in 2013.

Adam Lind Swinging Strikes
20097.2%
201010.7%
201110.7%
20126.9%
20136.1%

Adam Lind has a renewed sense of discipline at the plate in 2013, as he's averaging 4.19 pitches per plate appearance. 46 games is not a full sample size, but that's a significant increase on previous years, compared to Lind's career average of 3.84 pitches per plate appearance.

YearStrike %Strikes Looking %
200962%31%
201065%25%
201165%23%
201264%31%
201360%38%

The funny thing is Lind is actually looking at more strikes this season; 38% compared to a career average of around 28%. However, being more far more selective is leading to more pitches outside the zone, hence the huge spike in walks for Adam Lind in 2013.

Looking at more strikes is allowing Lind to work deeper into the count, thus leading to the significant increase in walks, which account for 12.9% of his plate appearances this season. Over his career, Adam Lind has averaged around 7.1% walks in his plate appearances.

At the rate he's going (one walk every 6.6 plate appearances), if Adam Lind stays healthy and continues to receive everyday at bats, he could finish the season somewhere in the neighbourhood of 90 walks. That's Jose Bautista territory, folks.

Chris Toman has a great breakdown over at GameReax about the benefits Adam Lind is receiving from the platoon advantage. While it's true John Gibbons was protecting Lind from left-handed pitching, Adam is seeing increased playing time against lefties.

Now the reason for that is predominately because the Blue Jays need Lind's glove at first and Encarnacion's at third, but Adam has certainly looked capable against lefties, batting .467 this year (albeit in 11 plate appearances).

Lind facing lefties may have just been a creature of necessity, and now with Interleague play coming to a close and Lind's platoon partner Rajai Davis activated off the DL, John Gibbons may elect to keep Adam shielded from lefties.

Obviously the million dollar question is what was it that caused Adam Lind to suddenly turn the corner and transform himself into an on base machine. I think it's really as simple as working the count.

In the past, Adam Lind was extremely aggressive at the plate, swinging early and often in his plate appearances. Perhaps that's product of the Cito Gaston and Dwayne Murphy "grip it and rip it" philosophy, but the league seemingly caught on to Lind following his breakout 2009 season.

The catalyst for this renewed approach at the plate seems to point towards hitting coach Chad Mattola. Adam Lind spent ample time with him in Las Vegas last season, and their work must have carried over into this season.

This would indicate that the seed for Adam Lind's transformation was planted at some point last year, likely during his time in Las Vegas and rehabbing his back injury.

I'll completely admit that I thought Adam Lind was a one trick pony, but I'll gladly admit that I was wrong. He is proof that hitters can in fact change; that they can evolve from a stereotypical slugger to a player with a very keen eye.

Adam Lind may not be the player he once was, but the Blue Jays don't need him to be that player again. There are plenty of other players on the roster who fit the mold of power hitter/high strikeout guys.

The Blue Jays don't need another J.P. Arencibia or Colby Rasmus, they need complete players. What they need is Adam Lind to simply be a contributing member to the starting lineup; and he's doing all that and much more.

Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference
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