The Day The Hope Died

I want the Blue Jays to win…but I no longer think they will

I always tell my students, “Never begin an essay with a quote from the dictionary.”

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Hope: Expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation.

I’ve already waxed eloquent on the virtues of hope, yoking in no less a figure than William Shakespeare to lend credence to the idea that there was and remains hope for the Blue Jays this season. And there are many fans of the team I am sure who continue to hope–and more power to them I say!–but I, alas, am no longer among their number since, as the Good Book (also known as the Oxford English Dictionary) tells us, hope is a combination of two things: desire and expectation.

I still desire the Jays to make the post season, but I no longer expect it.

I can point to the exact moment I lost this expectation, and thus my hope. It was precisely three days ago when I read that Aaron Sanchez was being placed on the ten day disabled list for the third time this season.

It was the final straw–part rational (“another two starts by Bolsinger! Another indication that Sanchez is not going to be around much this season!”), part superstitious (“Another freaking injury?! The gods have it in for the Jays!”)–in a long series of blows to my expectations for the team. The first of these was, of course, the horrific start to the season; the second (at the end of hope lies the perspective from which one can anatomize its loss) was the abyssal plunge in the offensive output of Bautista, Travis and Martin, and the third, even as the first two resolved themselves, was the seemingly daily announcements of injuries. But it was this final announcement, that Sanchez is gone from the mound once again, that put paid to hope for me.

Hope: the combination of desire and expectation. Before this latest blow, my desires and my expectations were in accord: the Jays were going to the post season. They were too good not to. There were too many rational grounds to justify the knowledge that they could and would overcome their poor start, right the underperforming players, and survive the bout of injuries. But, as I said, these expectations are gone leaving me with nothing but the desire, and desire without hope of fulfillment is very poor company.

So what do I expect?

The Blue Jays will finish third in the AL East

Even with all the injuries the Jays are still a better team than the (Devil) Rays by a country mile and that will be evident by the All Star Break: the return of Tulo and Donaldson to the everyday lineup alone will accomplish that. The Jays are also, in the long run, going to be better than both the Orioles and the Yankees. I’ve already expanded on why this is, but briefly: the Jays have better starting pitching than either the Yankees or the Orioles and over the course of a full season that is going to become evident. They are also already a better offensive team than the Orioles, and the Yankees will, at some point this year, stop being the offensive juggernaut they have been so far and fall to something very close to–and perhaps even below–the Blue Jays’ level.

But that’s all going to happen slowly, and probably far too late for the Jays to overcome their deficit in the standings. They will catch up to and pass one of either New York or Baltimore–probably Baltimore and probably sometime in July or August–but not the other–probably the Yankees, who are going to be locked in a race for the AL East with the Red Sox right through September.

The Blue Jays will trade Estrada and/or Happ but not Donaldson

The trade rumours and click-baiting are flying already and while it really is too early for that, I guess I may as well contribute.

First, no the Jays are not going to trade Donaldson in July, either because they want to hang on to one of the greatest players in the game and have the benefit of his presence for another season and a half (which, as I’ve argued already, is probably worth far more than you could ever net in prospects gained from a deadline trade), or because they have decided to trade him but want to take their time about it and hear all offers and get the very best, which would only happen in the off season, or finally (and here’s where my hope has gone to live) because they are going to work instead toward signing him to a long term deal.

As I have also argued already (and holy heck, but could I cross link any more?) the Jays are going to trade from their strength, which is in their starting pitching. I’ve asked before and I’ll ask again: if you were a general manager hoping to make the post season, how much would you be willing to give up for Marco Never Loses In The Post Season Estrada? I’ll just answer that for you: a tonne of young talent. Remember what the Tigers got in the David Price deal? We’re talking that kind of a haul, because Estrada really is that good, and he’s about a zillion times better than Price in the playoffs. Happ is not nearly so good a pitcher, but he is good and very affordable and he comes with an extra year of control whereas Estrada is just a rental. If the Jays do deal Estrada I would hope (you see? I can still do that!) that they sign him back in the off season.

The Blue Jays are going to be a lot more fun to watch in August and September

By the time we get to the end of the season, the Jays will (with any luck) be more or less healthy, everyone will be playing up to (Bautista, Travis, Martin) or even beyond (Pillar, Smoak) their preseason expectations, and the angst, frenzy and chaos around “Rebuild! Tear it down! Trade Donaldson! Don’t trade Donaldson! Trade Tulo! etc etc etc” will be over so we can once again focus on the baseball.

And it will be good baseball. The Jays are going to win their fair share of games in June and July and probably go on a tear–or maybe even two–in August and September that will have a lot of people hoping that maybe, just maybe, they can catch up to the AL East leaders.

I, alas, shall not be one those dreamers. I still desire the Jays to win, but I expect I shall enjoy watching them play out the season.

 

 

A Shameful Night in Atlanta

Lots to be disgusted by in the Atlanta series…not least by the Atlanta team and Major League Baseball

There was a lot going on in Atlanta last night for Major League Baseball to be embarrassed about…a lot.

First and foremost, of course, was Kevin Pillar’s apparent use of what people have been rather euphemistically calling a “homophobic term” when what we should be calling it is hate speech. Now, I love Kevin Pillar and I deeply respect what he’s accomplished in his career, how far he’s come, and what he means to the Blue Jays and to their fan base. And I know that what he said on the field last night is a word used by a lot of (most?) ball players in the locker room all the freaking time. But I don’t care, he should be suspended, fined and made to publicly apologize to the queer community and to their allies; he should beg to be included in Toronto’s next Pride parade, and the Jays should donate a bucket-load of cash to organisations supporting queer kids at risk.

Then there was the pathetic display of grown men threatening to punch each other because they were upset. Anywhere else in the world and that sort of conduct is ridiculed and, with any luck at all, subject to criminal charges.

And then there was the even more pathetic display of someone getting a ball thrown at him in some kind of fuzzily Old Testament notion of eye for an eye justice that nobody anywhere else in the world thinks is even remotely sensible, useful or non-criminal.

There was also, as a capper, the usual furor raised by the opposing team when a Latino player dares celebrate a home run. Did that hurt yoo widdle feewings? Shut up and stop whining, especially if you’re Jace Nobody Peterson or Kurt Never Been Anyone Suzuki. Of course, the worst thing about the bat-flip flap was that people were even talking about it as a thing at all when we already had the truly significant issue of hate speech in a Major League game to contend with. Some of the dumber voices on Twitter even went so far to equate the two.

Lost in all this, however, was the particular atrocity that really should be front and centre every time a team faces Atlanta (or Cleveland for that matter) and that–of course–is the team’s offensive name and the even more openly racist conduct of their fans.

I can’t believe that the name wasn’t changed years ago. I can’t believe that the fans are still actually encouraged by the team to enact racist parody. Then again, this is an organisation and a city and a fan base at the very heart of Trump’s America so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at all.

But Atlanta is just one team in a larger organisation: one that has done nothing to tackle the homophobia entrenched in the game, only slightly more than nothing to address the open racism of many players and fans, and which has for decades allowed teams like Atlanta and Cleveland to keep their stupid names, mascots and antics. According to the standards apparently acceptable to Major League Baseball, I would like to suggest some names and marketing strategies for any future expansion teams:

Brooklyn Jews

Fans can be encouraged to wear brightly coloured kippahs on their heads and to brandish large foam rubber menorahs. They can sing, “Dreidl  Dreidl  Dreidl” in the seventh inning and scream “Mazel tov!” at every home run and “Oh vay!” at each strike out. They can have Half Price Shabbat Night (“Because We Like To Watch Your Shekels Too!”).

New Orleans Negroes

Fans can come in black face and sing minstrel tunes. When the opposing team is ahead they can scream out, “You watch out now, y’hear? We gunna come git you!” There can be Soul Food Night with watermelon and fried chicken.

New Jersey Ginos

The mascot can be Mario. When their pitcher strikes someone out they can scream, “Budda boom budda bing!”

If those suggestions offend you, good for you: it shows that you are a human being with a functioning brain and sense of empathy.

If those suggestions offend you, but you still support Atlanta and Cleveland keeping their names, logos and fan antics, then you really need to rethink things.

If those suggestions do not offend you then you voted for Trump, right?

 

“If”, Not “When”, Is the Jays’ Season Over?

To make the playoffs the Blue Jays will have to play as well as the Yankees and the Orioles…as it turns out, they may already be doing that

The math does not look good.

To have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, goes the current thinking, you need to win ninety games. There’s definitely some wiggle in that number: teams have made it to the post-season with fewer wins (the Giants and the Nationals both got in with eighty-seven last year while the Jays had eighty-nine) and there have been teams–even in the post second-wildcard era–who have not (the Rangers, who had ninety-one wins in 2013, and the Rays with ninety in 2012 both had to watch from the sidelines in October). But, still, ninety is a nice round number so let’s go with it.

With their record now sitting at thirteen and twenty-one, to reach ninety wins the Blue Jays would have to go seventy-seven and fifty-one for the remaining 128 games. That’s a .602 record which is…a lot to ask of a team that so far has posted just .382.

But, of course, to say that it’s going to be difficult is not the same as proclaiming it impossible. The Cubs played better than .600 ball last year, the Angels accomplished it in 2014, and in 2015 the Cubs, the Pirates and the Cardinals all bettered the .600 mark. And those were season-long records, there have been a lot of teams in the last few years who finished with an overall record just below .600 because they had a bad stretch here and there.

So, yeah, it’s possible for the Jays to pull this thing out still, but is it likely?

What it comes down to is this: are the Jays at least potentially a .600 ball club, or are they doomed to spend the rest of their season duking it out for last place in the majors with the likes of the Royals (.364), the Giants (.343) and, God help us, the Braves (.355) and the Padres (.371)?

This question will, of course, answer itself as the season unfolds and while it won’t take until September, any definitive conclusion is probably still weeks away. So all we can really do for now is to compare the Jays to the competition–in particular, to the two teams who, so far at least, have been playing better than .600 baseball in the American League East: the Yankees and the Orioles.

The Yankees

Coming into the season very few of the pundits and pressers expected the Yankees to finish above fourth in the division, but their talented core of young players and surprisingly effective starting rotation have made a lot of people around the game rethink this.

For my part, I don’t really see it continuing for the Yankees, as their success to this point has been built upon some trends that are probably not very sustainable over the long haul, first and foremost of these being the pitching of Pine Tar Pineda and Rookie Jordan Montgomery; add to that the congenital unreliability of Elder Statesman Sabathia and the fragile arm of It’s Gonna Blow Tanaka and the thought of them being able to sustain their steady run of quality starts becomes something only slightly less hazy than a pipe dream. Just about the closest thing the Yankees have to a reliable starter is Luis Severino who projects out to 3.82 ERA for the rest of the season.

As for the Yankees’ overwhelming offense through April and May: that, too, is going to have to come back down to Earth at some point since it’s been largely sustained by three guys–Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro and Aaron Judge–who are hitting like Mike Trout, but who patently are not Mike Trout. As soon as they start to cool off and/or the league figures them out, runs are going to be a lot harder to come by in Yankees land (even in that ridiculous ballpark they were allowed to build).

But, really, none of these prognostications for the fate of the Yankees is the point; the reason I wanted to look at them was to see what a .600 team in the American League East looks like, and to ask if the Jays have any chance whatsoever of being that team.

On the pitching front, the Jays continue to have the clear advantage over the Yankees so long as everyone can get and stay healthy. While the Yankees’ starting five have clearly been performing way above expectations to this point, the Blue Jays starting rotation has been horrifically under-performing thanks to some shaky starts by Stroman and Liriano and more significantly the injuries to Happ and Sanchez.

But those are the problems that have led to this mess, and we’re trying to look into the future. Happ and Sanchez will be back in the rotation at some point: if it happens soon enough and if they can stay there, then the Jays will once again have a starting rotation at least as good as and probably much better than the Yankees have enjoyed so far this season. They’ll still be backed by a bullpen that has a lot of question marks, but of late it would seem Gibby has been doing a very good job of identifying the right guy for the right role in the middle innings, and with Osuna returning to form this should become less of a concern in the coming weeks.

On the offensive front, the Jays again compare very favourably to the Yankees if everyone can get healthy and stay healthy. Hicks and Judge and Castro are good, but are they as good as a healthy Josh Donaldson or Troy Tulowitzki? No. Add to that the bats of Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar, and a turnaround for just two of the struggling José Bautista, Russell Martin and Devon Travis and you would have a lineup easily as potent as the Yankees have enjoyed to this point.

I’m not saying that any of this is goingto happen, only that it very well could: and if it does, then the Jays would be as good a team as the Yankees are now…and the Yankees are a .600 team in the AL East.

The Orioles

Again, the point of this exercise is to try and look into the Jays’ future, not dissect other teams’ pasts, but to see if the Jays can be a .600 team I’m trying to figure out what it is that makes a team play .600 ball in the American League East in the first place. In the case of the New York Yankees it’s been a combination two probably-unsustainable things: good starting pitching and an overpowering offense. The Jays have a very realistic shot at having both of these things at some point in the near(ish) future.

In the case of the Baltimore Orioles, their .600 record is largely something of a mirage, built on the vagaries of an uneven schedule.

So far this season they’ve played three games against the White Sox and the Rays, and six games against the Blue Jays: that’s twelve of their thirty-three games against sub .500 teams and they’ve made the most of that, going nine and three in those games. Against the rest of their opponents they’re just thirteen and eight–so, against the really bad teams (and yes, I account the Jays in that because so far they have been terrible–but we’re looking to the future, remember?) they’ve built up a whopping .750 win ratio to offset the far more modest .590 they’ve managed against everyone else.

As they did with the Yankees, the potential Blue Jays team of the future compares reasonably well to the so-far-this-year Orioles when it comes to starting pitching…assuming, of course and as always, that the Jays’ starting rotation can get healthy and stay healthy.

Because of their ridiculous number of off-days, the Orioles have been able to limit the use of a fifth starter, meaning almost half their starts have been by Dylan Bundy (ERA 2.17) and Wade Miley (2.45). Neither of those guys is going to be able to sustain those numbers and as the season goes on they are going to get proportionally less of the total starts, giving their opponents more quality time with the likes of Kevin Gausman (6.63), Ubaldo Jimenez (6.15) and whomever else Buck Schowalter can scrape out of his bullpen. To this point, however, the Orioles have been able to present a starting rotation as good as the Yankees’ has been, and as good as the Jays’ could be.

It’s on the offensive side of things that the Orioles and the Jays present a fascinating study in contrasts. The Orioles have scored just nineteen more runs than the Jays (149 to 130) and they’ve only hit seven more home runs (43 to 36). Most interestingly: so far this year, eight of the Oriole’s twenty-two wins have been by just one run. The Jays, on the other hand, have dropped seven of their twenty-one losses by just one run. So, one third of the Oriole’s wins have been by a single run, and one third of the Jays’ losses have been by a single run.

So, the full-strength, uninjured, well-rested Orioles offense–who, by the by, have been playing more than their fair share of bad teams–have been only slightly better than the Blue Jays’ offense. In terms of runs put on the board, at least, it would seem as though the Jays are already playing as well as .600 team in the American League East.

And the crystal ball says…?

There are no such things as crystal balls, of course, and nobody can ever really know what the future may bring, but from this comparison it would seem that it does remain at least realistically possible that the Jays could, in fact, turn themselves into a .600 team…

IF Happ and Sanchez can get back into the rotation and stay there and IF Liriano can be just a bit more dependable as their fifth man then the Blue Jays will have a starting rotation that is at least as good as, if not significantly better than, the rotations of the .600 winning-ratio Yankees and Orioles, and…

IF Donaldson, Tulowitzki and Morales can get healthy quickly enough, and IF any two of Bautista, Martin and Travis can start hitting as well as they should be, then the Blue Jays will have an offense at least as good as the .600 Yankees and far better than the .600 Orioles.

So…yeah…that’s a lot of ifs, and it might be too many to ask for. But at least we can say this: it’s not a matter of when the Jays are out of the playoffs, but if.

 

The View From Thirty (One)

In which I gain the wisdom of a child and prove with numbers that Kendrys Morales is THE MAN!

In addition to winning their second series of the season over the weekend (and in Tampa Bay no less!) the Jays passed an important, if somewhat arbitrary, milestone: game thirty. It’s an old saw that you can only really begin to start taking stock of where your team is at after thirty games have been played, and at the moment, well, the Blue Jays are kind of where they’ve been all year: between a rock and something just a little less rock-like. Eleven and twenty is…not good. It’s not as bad as it could be, but still…not good. Are the Jays doomed? Are they still in this thing? Are these questions we should even be asking?

I dunno. But here’s the transcript of a conversation I had this morning with my eleven year old son that I believe pretty much sums up the interior life of every Blue Jays fan these days:

Son: Daddy, can the Blue Jays make the playoffs this year?

Me: Well, I’m not sure. They could but it’s going to be really hard for them to–

Son: Don’t say that! They can do it.

Me: Well, I didn’t say they couldn’t, it’s too early in the season to be sure. I’m just saying that they started really badly–

Son: But they’re playing really well right now.

Me: I don’t know if they’re playing really well. Bautista’s looking very old all over again and Travis isn’t really hitting yet; the pitching is a mess–

Son: They’re all injured, though. It doesn’t count. Who’s even in the lineup right now, anyway? They’re not even really the Jays. Tulowitzki and Donaldson are going to come back and they’ll be good again.

Me: Martin’s injured too now, you know.

Son: He’s no loss, he wasn’t hitting well anyway.

Me: Actually, he was coming round and he’s always good behind the plate. They were really depending on him.

Son: Doesn’t matter. They’re winning. They can still make the playoffs and you shouldn’t say they can’t.

Me: I didn’t say they couldn’t, I just said it would be har–

Son: They can make it.

Me: Maybe, but–

Son: They can.

Me: But–

Son: They can, Daddy!

And then it kind of went on like this for a while.

And: who the man? Kendrys, Kendrys is the man.

Here’s a statistically insignificant point which I am going to claim is significant:

In games where Kendrys Morales homers the Blue Jays are three and two. In games in which he does not hit a dinger they are eight and eighteen. Put another way, when Kendrys homers the Jays have a .600 win ratio, and when he doesn’t they’re playing .444.

By way of comparison, when we look at the team’s next-best tater-hitter, Justin Smoak (with five so far this year, compared to Kendrys’ six, which added together is still less than Aaron Judge but we’re not going to talk about that right now) the Jays are two and three (.400) in games in which Smoak finds the seats.

Things get even more interesting when you look at the RBI for each, with Smoak at seventeen and Morales at twenty. So while Morales does have a slight edge in RBI, meaning we could perhaps chalk up his greater win ratio to there simply being more men on base for Morales than for Smoak, I’m not sure that’s going to fly given that the difference is just three runs.

The fact is, when Morales hits home runs, the Jays tend to win games. So this really isn’t rocket science, is it? What should Morales be trying to do in almost every single one of his at bats, particularly with men on base?

That’s right: swing, baby, swing!

 

 

 

This Team Can’t Win. But in Two Weeks This Won’t Be the Same Team.

There’s good news and bad news for the Jays…and weirdly enough it’s the same news

@ New York Yankees, May 1-3

Blue Jays 7, Yankees 1

Blue Jays 5, Yankees 11

Blue Jays 6, Yankees 8

After finally winning a series last week and taking the first game against New York, the Blue Jays and their fans were understandably optimistic about taking two of three against the Yankees as well.

Sadly, the Blue Jays’ pitchers had other plans.

But back to that first game: Marco Estrada was incredible (again) and Matt Barnes didn’t look too terrible either: didn’t look fabulous, but he got the job done, which for this series was something of a rarity for the bullpen.

Which brings me to game two:

After a horrific start by Latos, Leone was not good, Grilli was just godawful, while Loup continued his surprisingly consistent run of OK-ness for the year. I guess that two good starts from Latos is probably about as much as anyone could have hoped for, but lordy oh lordy that was not pretty. The really worrying sight was, of course, Grilli, and not just because he coughed it up all over Grandma’s new rug, but because he’s been coughing it up all over the rug, the couch, the chaise and the freshly laundered doilies all season. It’s hard to know what’s going on with him: slow start? Forty years old? Who the heck knows, but I sure as heck hope it’s something he can get over quickly (which is why if it isthe age thing, then the back end of the bullpen is in real trouble).

Aaaaaand, game three:

Whether it was just One Of Those Starts or some kind of mystery-one-game-only injury, Marcus Stroman joined Grilli in messing up Grandma’s stuff because that was not a good start. Assuming it wasn’t an injury then there’s probably not a lot to be concerned about, since Stroman’s always been prone for the Big Fall Apart every once in a while, but he usually bounces back and pitches really well the next time out.

But…if it is an injury thing (and there’s no real reason to believe that it is right now, but if it is)…

Eep.

He did at least leave the game with a lead, but the bullpen…man oh man, that bullpen. Amid all the panic over the (complete lack of) offence to begin the season everyone (including yours truly) seems to have lost sight of the fact that going into the season the one area of real concern for the Jays was that bullpen. And now, perhaps, we’re seeing why. Tepera was good until he wasn’t and then Biagini made a bit of a mess of Grandma’s increasingly filthy furniture.

Do you realise that even with the Blue Jays’ (complete lack of) offence, if the bullpen had been performing even at the league average the Jays would have twelve or thirteen wins by now instead of nine? And thirteen and fifteen is a LOOOOT different than nine and nineteen.

Now, on the (rather significant) upside the Jays have now scored four or more runs in thirteen of their last seventeen games. A couple of weeks ago I argued that so long as the Jays could be league average on offence (which means scoring four or five runs a night) then they would be just fine…but that was predicated on three points that have (temporarily, I hope) been somewhat altered: 1) the incredible strength of the starting rotation, 2) the brilliance of Osuna and, 3) the ho-hum-adequate nature of the rest of the bullpen.

And, wouldn’t you know it, just about as soon as I wrote that piece, Happ and Sanchez went on the disabled list, Osuna started to struggle and the bullpen began to implode on a more or less regular basis.

Which brings me, at last, to the good news. Which is also the bad news.

First, the bad: right now, the Blue Jays’ pitching is a mess: two starters (three? Stroman?) are down; the bullpen is absolutely not very reliable. Osuna, thank the gods, has begun to look more like his old self but until he’s thrown a few more one-two-three innings when it really matters I’m not quite ready to climb off the ledge on that one. If this keeps up then…well…I hope you like the CFL because that’s the only playoff action you can look forward to in October.

But now, the good news: the Blue Jays’ pitching is a mess, which is just another way of saying that the problem is no longer the offence. They’re getting four or five runs a game almost every night: that’s really good.

At the beginning of the season, they had the greatest starting pitching in the league but zero runs were being scored. Now, they’re scoring enough to win, but the pitching is a shambles. If they can just put it together, they could be a really good team.

And, you know what? There’s every reason to expect that they can put it all together.

They’re already scoring as many runs as they really should need to, and that’s without Josh Donaldson and Tulo. When they come back, it should only improve.

The starting rotation is a shambles because Happ and Sanchez are out with genuine but relatively un-terrifying injuries. It’s going to be a painful two weeks before they return, but they will return. Assuming Stroman is also OK, this is a problem that will fix itself, probably right around the time that Donaldson and Tulo return to the lineup.

Which leaves only the bullpen. As I said, Osuna appears to be more like his old self, but I’m going to want to wait a bit and see, but assuming he does turn things around then there’s really nothing too much to worry about in the pen either. Very soon, teams are going to start letting pitchers go or shopping them out. Creating an overpowering bullpen is hard, but putting together an average one is one of the easiest things to do on a major league roster: the Jays did it last year when they brought in Grilli in May and Joaquin Benoit in July; they can easily do so again this summer.

The team on the field right now is playing relatively good baseball. But in two weeks that team is going to be replaced with one that features Josh Donaldson (batting, I pray, in the three hole behind Bautista), Tulo at short, and the starting rotation they began the year with. Sometime very soon after that they will probably also be boasting an improved bullpen. And that, my friends, is a team that can win some ballgames.

The only question, which is the same question I’ve been asking since the Blue Jays opened the season one and nine, is will it happen soon enough to save the season? I honestly can’t think of any reason why it can’t.

But that doesn’t mean that it will.

Stay tuned.

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.

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.