Almost at Thirty And Things Are Looking Grim

The Jays have eight games to become relevant…and now Osuna is looking human…ick

Blue Jays 4, Cardinals 8

Blue Jays 4, Cardinals 6

I will admit to being a bit nervous about the Jays’ season. It’s still early, there’s still plenty of time, nobody is really out of it until at least thirty games…

…but oh my sweet maiden aunt, now Roberto Osuna is…not good.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that if the Jays could begin to routinely score four runs a game then they’d probably be entirely fine for the season, and guess what? They scored four runs in each of their games yesterday and guess what? They lost both.

In the evening game they lost because Casey Lawrence was Casey Lawrence: it was pretty easy to predict that something very much like that was going to happen. But in the afternoon game Matt Latos (again!) looked just great, and the four runs the Jays gave him should have been enough. But…ugh…Osuna blew his third save of the season making him just three for six in attempts to close out games.

That is really really not good. In a bullpen where the only other “power arm” is forty year old Jason Grilli, having Roberto Osuna become human all of a sudden is just…ugh. I, of course, have no idea what is going on with Roberto, but neither does anyone else apparently, which is truly terrifying. There’s no shortage of theories, of course: lingering/undisclosed injury, not enough work in spring training, too much work in spring training, too much work in the World Baseball Classic, or (my personal favourite) Gregg Zaun’s neverending diatribe against the very idea of Osuna throwing his two-seamer. All I know is: Osuna’s velocity is down (which is bad), he’s missing his spots (which is worse), and when things are starting to wrong for him on the mound he is obviously being effected by it (which is the worst).

It really is hard to overstate just how horrific, terrifying and just plain old bad it would be should Osuna not be able to return to something like his old form and really soon. If the Jays can’t close out close games (which is all they are capable of playing right now and possibly for the rest of the season) then there is literally no hope whatsoever of them turning things around. If Osuna simply falls apart then they will be lucky to reach .500 at any point this season.

Just…ugh.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom in the double-header, of course: Kevin Pillar continues his quest for actual greatness, José Bautista and Russell Martin both kept putting up hits to nudge their numbers a bit closer to something that might almost be OK, and there was the aforementioned very good outing by Matt Latos who is really looking like a great off season pick-up. But…

Donaldson and Tulo are still hurt, the offensive gains by Martin, Bautista and Travis are there but not dramatic…and now Osuna is looking terribly, horribly human.

I still stand by the idea that you can’t make any firm predictions about a season until at least thirty games have been played. But the Jays only have eight more games until they hit that landmark, and even if they win every single one of those they’ll still be just fourteen and sixteen for the season, which wouldn’t be terrible, but it’s still really bad. And to even get to that, they’ll have to do it without Donaldson, without Tulo, without Happ, and now without the dominant Roberto Osuna the team’s come to depend on.

Eesh.

Back when I was a reporter for a very small paper, one of the first things I learned is that when you’re filing a story you indicate that you’ve reached the end of your piece by typing “–30–” at the bottom of the last page, or just saying, “That’s a thirty” if you were dictating it over the phone (which I never did, but they told us that anyway, I think because it was just a cool thing to think about, being like those reporters from the old movies shouting their stories down the horns of those old telephones. I sometimes wonder if reporters still do that, but I doubt it, and suspect that they are now required to type, edit, upload and format their stories themselves with but passing aid of an editor. But I digress.)

At any event, I’m put in mind of this for one simple reason: that for a long time now I have associated the number thirty with endings. It may just be that for the Blue Jays this season, thirty games is just about all they’re going to have in which to even dream of making the playoffs.

The countdown, she is on…

 

The Moments That Make a Game

The Dive and the Double were amazing, but did you see Bautista’s move??

Blue Jays 6, Cardinals 5

Every baseball game is made up of a series of great moments separated by anticipation.

Some games more than others.

Here’s the most significant moments from last night’s game:

The dive

I, along with everyone else, was left speechless by what Chris Coghlan did. It was breath-taking in audacity, tenaciousness and outright desperation. It’s the kind of move that had absolutely no right succeeding. By rights, Coghlan should have collided with Molina and broken his or Yadier’s neck…or overshot the plate and been tagged out as he lay winded and broken in the dirt…or been flipped onto his head just short of the plate…or been tagged as he went overhead… Even as I was watching the replay for the three hundredth time I still thought to myself, “This can’t possibly work” and yet—somehow, gloriously—it did.

I love baseball.

The double

Just two nights after being roasted by self-righteous fossils and other Gregg Zauns for actually having fun and showing emotion when he won a game, Marcus Stroman went out and won another one, this time with his bat and thousand watt smile (which he tried to hide for all of about twenty seconds after hitting second, at which point I think he realised it was pointless).

Good for you Marcus.

The beard at third

Just seeing Russell Martin jog out to third would have made my night, in all honesty. The rest of it was just really good gravy.

Schadenfreude

Is a fancy German word that (like a lot of fancy German words) sounds like a sneeze but which means “the joy one feels at the misfortunes of another” or, as I like to translate it, “the really ugly joy felt by a Blue Jays fan when Brett Cecil blows up in April when he’s pitching for somebody else”. (I mean, he actually committed a throwing error and balked with the same motion. It’s hard to screw up twice with one gesture.)

Don’t get me wrong…love the Brett…I think he’s great (in every month other than April). If he hadn’t been hurt for the 2015 ALCS I have no doubt the Jays would have gone to the Series. I also, however, have no doubt that if I were a manager with Cecil on the roster I would sit him until at least May, and never let him into high pressure innings until June.

Osuna teeters

I also love Roberto Osuna, but I’m starting to get a bit of a chilled feeling down my spine about him. The Jays haven’t really had much opportunity to play him this season, and so maybe that’s why he’s been less than sharp so far…and I get it, the Cardinals are a good team and all…but he blew the save, again, and didn’t even look very strong while doing so. Velocity still isn’t quite what it used to be, he was out of the zone and visibly shaken and distracted when he had a man on base.

Joey Bats comes through

Little noticed amid the furor over The Dive and The Double was something of much more long-term importance to the Blue Jays’ chances of success this season: José Bautista’s RBI single in the fourth inning to tie the game. He then went to third on a throwing error, which allowed him to score the go-ahead run on Morales’ groundout to third.

This was a big moment, not just in the game but perhaps in the season. Bautista’s struggles this year are no big secret, but there have been genuine signs of late that he may be coming out of it, and these moments from the fourth are perhaps the best indicator yet that he’s going to start looking more like the RBI man the Blue Jays need. He didn’t overswing or sell out for power, he didn’t miss his pitch, he kept his head on the basepaths, and he gave the Blue Jays the lead against a very effective Michael Wacha.

In comparison to Coghlan’s impossible move and Stroman’s improbable hit what Bautista accomplished may not seem like much…but a few more moments like that in each game could make all the difference in the long run.

Hijacking Yet Another Mail-Bag: This One Filled With Silly Panicky Questions About Prospects and Rebuilds

Can everyone just repeat after me? This. Is. Not. Hockey.

I had no intention of hijacking Andrew Stoeten’s mailbag again, but, well… I had thirty minutes to kill before dinner and the questions were all so darned silly this week that I simply couldn’t resist. This may be the last time.

Again, I have not read Stoeten’s replies and I have left out the names to protect the innocent.

Can you get anything for Martin and Tulo?

I can’t get anything for them because I don’t have them under contract. But, wow, would my little league team be good if I did!

If you mean can the Blue Jays get anything for them then, sure, yeah, of course they could, but it would depend on how much of those big contracts the team is willing to eat. The more money the Jays agree to take on the better the prospects they could get in return, but even then they’re not likely to get anyone really super-duper since, as good as Martin and Tulo are, neither one of them (particularly Martin) is a real game changer at this point: they’re not going to show up on a contender and suddenly put them over the top into greatness, and they certainly aren’t going to take a terrible team (like, say, one that’s sitting dead last in the American League) and suddenly make it a winner.

The real question here is: if you were general manager of a team not called the Blue Jays, would you want either one of them? My guess is, probably not. If you’re already good, it’s hard to see how either of them helps you very much, and if you’re bad why would you trade away the future for an older player?

Like I said, if the Jays were determined to move either of them they could, but they would only be doing that, I suspect, if they were trying to make room for someone younger and better already in the organization (which they don’t have).

Who are the top prospects for the 2018 draft? Since the Jays are likely to get one. Any Bryce Harper or Machado types out there?

Don’t know, don’t care, doesn’t matter anyway. Repeat after me:

This. Is. Not. Hockey.

Players in baseball are drafted when they are still works in progress. Nobody comes to an organization ready to jump right in to the major league roster and the vast majority of first round draft picks either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t really amount to much when they do.

Mike Trout—easily the greatest player since Mickey Mantle—was picked 26th in 2009 (FYI, the Jays took Chad Jenkins as the 20th first round pick). Justin Smoak was the 11th pick in 2008 and considered “a steal” for the Rangers who were delighted that he hadn’t been snapped up earlier in the draft.

My question on the struggling Jays is this. Let’s assume the Jays do turn this thing around, are we at the point now where even a second wild card berth seems highly unlikely. Isn’t the worst thing for any team in any sports league to be is mediocre, just miss the playoffs and get a middle of the road draft pick instead of a top 5 pick. At what point do you say fuck it in June and start Pompey and Tellez every day and start trading assets for prospects. Like what does the record have to be for that to happen. At this point I’d do it even if they make it back to a couple of games below .500.

See my answer above and keep repeating after me:

This. Is. Not. Hockey.

There is absolutely no logic at all to intentionally “tanking” a season so you can have a “top five” pick. To keep with the theme of the above: in the 2010 draft Bryce Harper did indeed go first and Machado went third. The other three guys in the “Top Five”? Jameson Taillon, Christian Colón and Drew Pomeranz…all OK-ish to ho-hum players.

Oh, and you may notice that neither the Nats nor the Orioles have appeared in the World Series in the last few years.

The only way to have a successful “tanking” strategy is to do what the Chicago Cubs did and what the Phillies and the Braves are trying to do, which is to intentionally be terrible for a span of five years and slowly build up your farm system. That’s something that the Blue Jays have no need to do (since they have a lot more money than those other teams), no excuse to do (because the fans would go nuts), and no intention of doing (I hope).

We all know Goins is a better SS than Jose Reyes. My Q is: is he also better than Tulo?

No. Not even a little. Next question.

Quick question this time out of all Jays Prospects not named Rowdy Tellez who is most likely to get called up before September to play in the show?

I’m not even sure Rowdy gets called up before September (have you actually looked at Smoak’s numbers this year?) and as for the other “prospects” I suspect that…hmmm…none of them get called up before September and a lot of them not even then.

Again, the question is why would you want to do this? The question above this one posits one very bad reason: so the team can be terrible. But something I didn’t even raise there but will do so here, is: why would you want to do that to your young players? These are young athletes trying to learn their craft; why would anyone intentionally put them into a position to fail? Back in the bad old days of Wild West Anthopoulos young players were dragged into the big leagues all the time to try and patch the gaping holes AA left in the roster (Derek Norris, Drew Hutchison and Dalton Pompey are a few of the most recent and memorable examples) and usually with very bad results: Norris wasn’t ready and was sent back down; Hutchison wasn’t ready but was kept up because there weren’t any other options and who knows how much that had to do with his descent into mediocrity; Pompey wasn’t ready and was kept up just long enough to destroy his confidence (I’m not mind-reading here either, he’s admitted to as much). You really want to do that to the new group of young players in the system?

Even if they are ready for the big time I’m still not sure why you bring them up. If the team is terrible, then it hardly matters who is up there so why mess with their progress, why give them service time that you can ‘bank’ for later and why bench one of the guys you already have on contract? If the team is doing well, then where’s the need?

The only circumstance in which you bring someone up is if he helps the team, so if the Jays have a healthy, productive, ready-for-the-show player in AAA who can improve the team by replacing someone already on the roster who is not as good…then, sure, yes, bring him up.

So..maybe Dalton Pompey in August, if he’s fully recovered from his concussion, if he’s playing really well and if Carrera has completely fallen apart…

OK, when Carrera has completely fallen apart.

During spring training Jose Bautista had some teammates over and they ordered a pizza. When the pizza arrived, an argument broke out over who would go to the door to get it. Jose suggested they roll a dice to settle the argument and despite Joe Biagini’s warning that they would be creating 6 alternative timelines, they agreed.

A few weeks later we are stuck in the darkest timeline. How are we going to get out of it?

Reverse the polarity.

And take off your tinfoil hat.

Two Games, One Stupid Talking Point

It’s not a rule if it isn’t written down

Blue Jays 6, Angels 2

Blue Jays 1, Angels 2

Two games for the price of one this time. That’s what I get for missing a day.

But, to sum up: Stroman is incredible and anyone who says different is just dead wrong. Jesse Chavez, on the other hand, is terrible and anyone who says different is…well…blind. And yet the Blue Jays’ bats, so very productive on Sunday, went back to their April quiescence on Monday.

The Monday game—at which the Blue Jays were defeated by the might and power of Jesse Chavez—was so very much of a type for this season that, to be honest, I hardly know what I can possibly say about it except…well…

Nope. I got nothing. Crummy pitcher throwing garbage and the Jays make him look like a Cy Young candidate… Yep, just about sums it up.

Now, the Sunday game on the other hand, that was interesting. And not just because the Jays won (although that helps) but because of the way that they won.

First and foremost, of course, there was Devon Travis’ performance at the plate: at last…at last…he started to look like the hitter that we all know he can be, and which he is going to have to be if the Jays are going to do anything this season other than pad out other teams’ win column. Second, there was the continuing…greatness? Can we call it greatness, yet?…of Kevin Pillar. And finally, of course, there was Stroman’s pitching which was yes-we-can-absolutely-call-it-greatness. If these sorts of things can happen just a bit more often then at some point in the next little while the Jays may even hit double-digits in their own win column.

And, no, I’m not ignoring Carrera’s two for three at the plate or Goins’ home run. Neither one of those things is very likely to happen again any time soon, and the likelihood of their coming in the same game again this year (or any other) is so close to zero that it may as well be actually nil. Fluky things happen in baseball, and if you were watching that game you certainly saw the truth of that; and if you were in any doubt, then their return to their staggering normalcy yesterday should help you overcome any dreams that Ryan Goins is a perfectly fine long-term option in the painful absence of Josh Donaldson and Tulo, or that Zeke as the everyday starting left fielder is ever going to be a good idea.

(Oh, and Gibby, you know I love you, but what in the name of blazes makes you think that there is any universe in which it makes sense to have Zeke batting second?)

But back to the Sunday game, and to what made it truly interesting, and no I’m not talking about home plate umpire Ramon De Jesus’ bizarre decision to keep calling Stroman for a quick pitch when he was already halfway through (or even finished) his windup (which was kind of amusing in a painful-grimacey kind of way). No, I’m talking about the furor that erupted afterward concerning what Gregg “I’m As Old School As My Suits Are Loud” Zaun called Stroman’s “antics” and all the attendant, and sadly predictable, discussion about “the right way to play the game” according to its “unwritten rules”.

Oh, for the love of sweet little apples.

On a day when Manny Machado nearly had his head taken off by a pitch, there was actually serious, drawn-out and heated discussion about whether or not it’s acceptable that a pitcher who had won a complete game after having the umpire make two ridiculous calls on imaginary quick pitches while playing for a team that is last in the standings has a right to celebrate his accomplishment.

Now, I’ve been a baseball fan for a long, long time. I am the original definition of old school. I remember the ’75 World Series, the Big Red Machine and watching the Expos when they were great the first time. I remember Exhibition Stadium and games in the snow, and the baggies around the outfield in Minneapolis. I cheered for Reggie Jackson, and Gary Carter, and Joe Carter. I’ve been watching baseball for longer than a lot of its current superstars and superfans have been alive. And as an old time fan I just want to say this to all those who fault Stroman:

Up your nose with a rubber hose.

Of course it’s OK for the kid to celebrate. Of course it’s OK to have fun on the mound and to show your emotions on the field. The people who complain about that are usually the ones who lost and they’re using the “unwritten rules” as an excuse to carp on about how the other team was better than them that day. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with “showing proper respect” or “not showing up the other guy”. If it were even remotely about that then why wasn’t everyone…anyone…going on and on about how Pujols made a very clear, “WTF?” gesture to Mike Trout when Trout made a relatively minor baserunning error in that very same game?

Albert Pujols, by the way, was one of the carpiest of carping-on-ers about Stroman after the game. I guess he must have been upset about something…

Like losing the game?

Let’s not dignify pouty displays of frustration and hurt feelings as though they’re some kind of grand adherence to a Spirit Of The Game held together by the Unwritten Rules that only True Ballplayers can understand.

The rules are written in the rule book. The rest is just hurt egos and petulant millionaire boy-men taking themselves far too seriously.

 

 

Looking For (And Finding) The Good News

There really are things to be happy about right now…for example, Kevin Pillar and Justin Smoak

Blue Jays 4, Angels 5

It’s becoming almost as frustrating as it is familiar: the Jays losing by a run after a late inning rally. Amongst the positives that I perpetually seek amongst the tea leaves:

  • Casey Lawrence looked very OK, that grand slam not-withstanding. Statscast apparently supports the eye test on that one—it had no business getting out of the park. Chalk that one up to bad luck and a tailwind. Still hurts, though.
  • José Bautista hit that ball hard in the eighth which is so very nice to see the day after his late inning heroics. Again, some bad luck from the unlikely glove of Kole Calhoun made the difference there. Still hurts, though.
  • They scored four runs again which is, as I have pointed out before, the magic number for success this season. Maybe not last night, though. Which is why it still hurts.

Oh well.

On the up side, of course, the game gives me an excuse to highlight a couple of players I’ve wanted to write about a bit more fully for a few days: Kevin “Superman” Pillar and Justin “Not So Terrible” Smoak, who together combined (again) to provide the bulk of the Blue Jays offence.

Superman, for real?

There was a lot of buzz in the Blue Jays/Rogers friendly-press during spring training about Pillar’s “new approach” at the plate and for those weeks in March it sure looked like he was keeping away from the crap off the plate and swinging harder at good pitches. I remained unconvinced, though, since it is very rare for a crappy hitter to suddenly become good. I even (and to my eternal shame) scoffed at the venerable Tao of Steib for suggesting that Pillar would “flirt with .300 for most of the season”.

Tao…mea culpe, mea maxima culpe.

I have to admit, I’m becoming a true believer, and it wasn’t just the home run last night (although that certainly didn’t hurt). He has looked different at the plate this season and it shows no sign of going away. He’s more patient with borderline pitches, more aggressive with the good ones and only rarley makes one of his patented dives across the plate trying to smack at garbage low and away. I’m not quite yet at Gideon Turk level of adulation for Pillar, but, well, I can admit that there may be grounds for at least some of his boundless faith.

But one word on Pillar before I move on, and it may prove to be the word too far, but I’m sorry, as great a centre fielder as he may be, the greatest centre fielder in the American League is Kevin Kiermaier. I’m ready for you, so bring it if you wish…

He’s actually OK, like I’ve been telling you

Waaaaaay back in February I had the following exchange on Twitter with Jonah Jeri

Now, putting aside for the moment that I apparently forgot how to do a slash line and accidentally put in a projected OPS where SLG should go (perhaps occasioning Mr Keri’s brief reply: “LOL”), I’m feeling pretty smug about that tweet, because beside my projected (and corrected) slash of .270/.320/.430, Smoak’s current .269/.309/.558 looks positively conservative.

Now, I can practically hear Keri’s voice in my mind reminding me that it is very early for individual stats and that we really do have to wait until at least the All Star break before any conclusions can be drawn and that for some stats you can’t really be sure of a statistically useful number of at bats until virtually the end of the season. And he’s right, of course he’s right, I know that.

But, oh what the heck, nyah nyah nyahnyah nyaaaaah! Justin Smoak isn’t terrible, he isn’t! He and Pillar are doing really well, and it’s for real!

So there.

Something to Get Excited About?

One win is probably not something to get too excited about, but it’s a reason for hope?…maybe…?

Blue Jays 8, Angels 7

I’m not a night person so I knew all along I wasn’t going to be able to see much of the game: when they’re out west, I rarely do. And given how the Blue Jays have been playing of late, the moment Mike Trout made it four-two in the fifth I stopped trying and let myself go to sleep for good.

Looks like I missed a good one.

So much goodness to revel in really, and that’s what I think the team and their fans can be excused for doing today: revelling. Because while a single win only makes a terrible record a little less terrible, some real signs—maybe ‘hints’ would be the better word—of hope were everywhere last night:

Offence

They actually had some. I said a while back that to win this season the Jays just needed to be average at the plate because of their strength defensively and in the starting rotation. I argued that all they really needed to do was to score four or five runs a game and they would be fine, and lo and behold, over nine innings they scored five runs.

What I find truly hopeful isn’t so much that they got those five runs, but who provided them. Too often this season it’s been the bench players fluking their way into runs while the big bats remained silent. But last night Smoak, Martin and Tulo all got in on the act (with, I would point out, Smoak providing the bulk of the run production). Martin went three for five with a walk and just one strike out (!?), raising his average above the Mendoza line for what seems like the first time this season. Is the box score right? Did that really happen?

Joey Bats

Oh, and José Bautista hit a three run homer in the thirteenth. Wish I’d been awake for that, but the video highlight is still pretty cool.

It’s just one home run, I get it, and on the whole Bautista’s season has been horrific, and, yes, I agree that just one at bat doesn’t change that or necessarily signal any kind of turn around, and I can see that he’s still batting just .131…

But…

In addition to the dinger, Bautista had a hit, took a walk and struck out just twice. Not spectacular, nothing to write home to mom about, but still…

José Bautista had a good night at the plate. If he can start having just a few more of those, then perhaps, just maybe, this season needn’t go completely down the toilet.

Matt Latos wasn’t terrible

He wasn’t spectacular, either, but he was solid…or at least solid enough. Six hits and four runs through five innings against a team with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the lineup is perfectly OK for a sixth starter and there isn’t a team in the majors who wouldn’t be happy with that.

When Fangraphs came out with their rankings of team pitching and had the Jays in the middle of the pack, a lot of people went a bit nuts (yours truly included), but as Andrew Stoeten quite usefully explained, this ranking made sense when one takes into account, as Fangraphs goes, the pitching depth on a team beyond their starting rotation. Yes, the Jays have one of the best starting five in baseball, but after that things get a lot softer; and with Sanchez out for one start, and now Happ looking to miss two, the Jays are going to need to rely on that depth. Latos’ performance last night should provide them with some small sigh of relief, however tentative. If he’d come out and blown spectacularly up…? Eesh.

So all in all, I’d say a win is a win and they’re going to need a lot more of those before the season can start to turn around. But it was a very hopeful win.

But José really should have flipped the bat.

The Ballad of Joey Bats

The fate of this season is on Bautista’s shoulders now

Blue Jays 1, Red Sox 4

Another hard loss to put alongside all the rest. Going in against Chris Sale you’d be nuts to expect a win no matter who you are; playing like the Jays have been playing, you can’t really have anything more than a faint hope of success.

Unless you have Marco Estrada on the mound. He shouldn’t be this good, he really shouldn’t. But oh my goodness, he really is. It was thanks to him and to him alone that the Jays were even in this thing until Xander Boegarts put the Sox ahead in the ninth, at which point you would be excused for giving up all hope because Craig Kimbrel is really good (for all that he looks like a broken backed crab when he gets in his stance), but then another bit of magic in the form of yet another really big and wonderfully dramatic home run by Kendrys Morales put them right back in it.

Who’s the man? Kendrys. Kendrys is the man.

Then, well, Grilli came out and grunted his forty-year old way to a loss against a team filled with faster, younger, better hitters who (let’s face it) are far and away the better team here. Still, it would have been nice to scrape out another win…but like I said, I wasn’t really expecting one today in any event.

Speaking of older ball players…

José Bautista.

I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the fate of this team now resides almost entirely on the shoulders of Joey Bats. He, and his struggles, have become something of a theme for me in these columns, and for good reason: the Jays need fewer easy outs, more hits, and more power.

Josh Donaldson, when he returns, will address some of that, but he can’t do it on his own. Morales is the man, but he’s already giving everything he can. Russell Martin, as is now abundantly clear and has been since last season (even if it is with the benefit of hindsight) will never again be a player who can give you a lot of hits or power: I’m hoping that he can at least cut down on the number of cheap outs he gives away. Tulo is already giving the team just about the best that can be expected of him at this point of his career. Devon Travis has the potential to get a lot more hits, but he’s never really going to be a big power bat.

Carrera, Goins, Barney, Smoak, Saltalamacchia…they are what they are.

Kevin Pillar is providing offensive numbers well beyond what I had expected: the only way he has to go at this point is down, which is a truly unique situation on this team this year.

Which leaves us with Bautista. He may not be the player he once was, but he should be getting on base almost as often as Pillar (lifetime, Bautista is .367; this year, Pillar is .368) while hitting as many bombs as Morales (who averages twenty-five home runs per 162 games to Bautista’s thirty-three). He should not be striking out 35% of the time; he should not be slugging .157 with no home runs and just two doubles through fourteen games.

And yet, somehow, in this bizzarro-universe of a season, he is.

And because of this, he’s the key to it all. It’s really as simple as this: if Bautista starts hitting like he should be hitting, the Jays may actually be able to pull this out of the fire. If he doesn’t, then there could very well be a July fire sale instead.

So what’s wrong with Joey and is it fixable?

I sure wish I knew the answer to that one, but I have this sneaking, sick feeling that maybe Major League Baseball has already decided that Bautista is no longer anywhere close to the player he once was and never will be again. And that really scares me because while a lot of fans like to pretend they’re smarter than all thirty of the front offices in baseball, I’m not one of those fans.

Nobody but Bautista and his agent know all the details of the deals he may or may not have received during the off season, but it’s obvious enough that there weren’t many, and none of them were particularly attractive, otherwise he would have signed a multi-year deal somewhere other than Toronto; in point of fact, the only reason he’s back with Toronto at all would appear to be because Edward Rogers put pressure on Shapiro (and gave him the money he needed?) to bring Bautista back to try and mitigate some of the bad press they got in the wake of “losing” Edwin.

How much of this is true, I don’t really know, but it is clear that ownership intervened on Bautista’s behalf to help finish the deal…meaning, even the guys who ended up signing him didn’t necessarily believe in him; and this would be the same guys who have access to every scrap of his medical reports and more statistical analyses of his performance than anyone else on Earth.

They know everything there is to know about Bautista, and they had to be convinced—by their employers—to hire him back as their plan C after plans A (Dexter Fowler) and B (Jay Bruce) fell through.

But you know what? In spite of everything I still believe in José Bautista. I believe in his uncanny ability to tell ball from strike right out of the pitcher’s hand. I believe in his baseball IQ and in his steely determination to be great. I believe that his eye isn’t quite so sharp as it was, but it’s still sharp enough…that his hands aren’t as quick, but neither are they slow. I believe in his power, in his swing, in bat flips.

I believe in Joey Bats.