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.

 

 

Another Off-Day, Another Pirated Mail Bag

In which I highjack Andrew Stoeton, call someone dumb, and play “Hooked on a Feeling” twice

Off days just seem to bring out the pirate in me. So here we go again:

I would love to see the Jays put together a great May and June, setting themselves up for a potential playoff run… If they don’t put themselves in a place where the postseason seems likely, don’t they NEED to either re-sign Donaldson or see what they could obtain in a trade for him by the July trade deadline? I would have to think his value would be higher to the team trying to obtain him if they would have him for two postseason runs. Don’t get me wrong, I would way rather they re-sign him and try to reload this offseason and try to win with him, but they can’t afford to lose him for nothing after next season…

I’ve never really bought into the idea of “losing a player for nothing”: if the Jays and Donaldson do part ways at the end of the 2018 season (and Sweet Lord In Heaven Above I hope they do not) then it won’t be for “nothing” as the Jays will have had four glorious years of Donaldson baseball. If they trade him away sometime this season (and, yeah, they could garner a bucketload of talent) then they are trading away a season and a half of Donaldson’s offence, defence and general all round badassery for prospects that, unless they’re really really good, will never come close to matching what he brings.

Yes, Josh Donaldson is that good.

The choice isn’t between something (they trade him for assets) and nothing (he plays out his contract then goes free agent)—it’s a choice between two different somethings: on the one hand, more young prospects with less Donaldson, and on the other, all the Donaldson available. If it’s me, I take all the Donaldson I can get, every time.

And remember, it’s not up to the Jays whether or not Donaldson signs an extended contract or not: yes, it’s up to them whether or not they offer one, but it’s going to be Josh who decides what he wants to do come 2018, and come on, if you were one of the three best players in the game, wouldn’t you want to go free agent and see what you could get on the open market? Can you imagine the absolutely bonkers-ridiculous contract he could sign with the Dodgers or the Giants or the Rangers or (*gulp*) the Red Sox or the Yankees? Thanks to the way things are done in the MLB he can’t even hear what other teams might be offering until after his contract with the Jays has run out, so what possible incentive could he have to pass up seeing what those offers might be?

Don’t get me wrong, I would love for the Blue Jays to blow him away with an offer so good that he signs on for the rest of his natural life, but it would take a heck of a great deal to get that done so signing him long term is probably really unlikely to happen, which brings us back to the two different somethings…and I’ll ask you: would you call as much Josh Donaldson as you can get nothing?

I sure as heck hope not!

are you happy that hooked on a feeling is no longer played?

Absolutely not. Love that song! In fact, let’s give it a listen…

 

What do you make of the Travis struggles at the plate, pitchers adjusting, the knee still an issue?

I doubt it’s the knee or any other injury, since if it were I’m sure they would have sat him down already to let it heal; I mean, it’s not like he’s been a really integral part of the lineup lately and while he’s OK on defence I’d rather have Barney’s or Goins’ glove out there. Pitchers may be coming at him differently but I’ve not seen that myself, but then again they’re really good pitchers and so they could be doing all kinds of things I just miss. I will say this: Travis has been around for two years now and everyone uses so much video and scouting I doubt they’re only just learning about him now.

From what I’ve seen, Travis seems to just, well, miss the ball. He is swinging at some off the plate pitches that he shouldn’t be swinging at, and it’s looked at times (especially early on) that he was getting a bit pull happy, but not so much lately and he’s been doing better.

What’s really telling, for me at least (and now I’m really reading the tea leaves) is that Gibby has been sitting him down from time to time. Now, if I’m right that there isn’t an injury (and honestly, there doesn’t seem to be) then the only reason for doing this is to give Travis a bit of a mental break. Gibby’s also been keeping Travis well down in the order and if you listen to his remarks to reporters he never seems to make a big deal about Travis’ night good or bad… Based on this, and predicated on Gibby’s general awesomeness as a people-manager, I suspect that whatever’s going on with Travis is going on somewhere between the ears.

But maybe it’s zee rays from Venus or something.

Will any minor league prospects get calls up to see what they have? Lourdes Gourriel have an ETA?

Like Salty, do you think anyone else might be DFA’d / replaced? Pearce?

Two questions with one theme: will the Jays suddenly be able to pull a great player out of their butts to replace some of the less than inspiring names on the roster?

Um, no? If they could, don’t you think they would have done this already?

I already dealt with all this calling up prospects silliness when I raided Stoeten’s last mail bag so I’ll skip that and go straight to the question of firing Pearce.

Huh? What in the name of little green apples is that supposed to accomplish? Zeke in left field every day? That is a really and truly terrible idea. They let Salty go because they had a better option in Maile: no, he’s not a great option, but he’s better with the glove and behind the plate than Salty and no worse with the bat. Who and where is the better option for Pearce? I mean, sure, yeah, if someone crops up on the waiver wire who is better than Pearce then I say go for it…but that is not going to happen.

Do you think Stroman will pitch well enough this year to be in the conversation for AL Cy Young? (Top 5 finish maybe?)

Yep.

Unless his “minor tightness in the armpit, nothing to worry about, it’s nothing I’m good to go” thing really is a thing, in which case…

…no, I just don’t want to think about that. So instead, cue the sitar, and:

(Bet you didn’t even know that the Blue Suede version was a cover, did you?)

When everyone comes back from the DL, do you expect the batting order to change significantly? I can’t see why Bautista has been batting third for so long without any results this season to deserve that spot unless Tulowitzki wanted to stay fifth. Even if Tulowitzki had reservations from moving around in the batting order, the hitting has been so bad this season that player objections would be down on the list of things I would consider when filling in the lineup card. This would be my everyday lineup against RHP if things project out the same from now until everyone gets healthy.

1. Pillar
2. Carrera
3. Donaldson
4. Morales
5. Tulowitzki
6. Bautista
7. Smoak
8. Martin
9. Travis

If Travis continues to be a non-factor, Goins at 2B and batting ninth could be a possibility.

I agree whole-heartedly with Pillar as leadoff and Donaldson batting third, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Zeke in the two spot? Bautista at the bottom half of the order?I’m trying to find a nice way of saying just how dumb this is, but…nope…can’t come up with anything.

OK, I get it, Joey Bats hasn’t been getting all the homeruns that gets the kiddies going, but his on base is .328 and rising while Zeke’s is .329 and going down. More significantly, Bautista’s OBP is thirty points higher than his batting average while Carrera’s is just twenty, and…José Bautista is good and Ezekiel Carrera is really not.

And where’s Pearce? I know, I know, “He’s terrible, the Jays should fire him,” except he’s not.

Here’s how it should look:

  1. Pillar
  2. Bautista
  3. Donaldson
  4. Morales
  5. Tulowitzki
  6. Smoak
  7. Martin
  8. Pearce
  9. Travis

As someone that has seen many crappy Blue Jays seasons, what advice would you give to new fans of the team that are now experiencing one for the first time?

One: it’s early.

Two: this isn’t hockey.

Three: calm the heck down.

Four: Josh Donaldson is really really good at baseball—even if the season does go in the tank (see point one, above) then you still get to watch him for the rest of the season.

Five: read this article.

Beyond that I can only say this: baseball, for me, is never really about whether or not you win the pennant or the championship or whatever (and maybe I can get away with that having been alive for 1992 and 1993, but oh well…). It’s about watching baseball, which is easily the greatest and most beautiful game ever invented in the history of anything anywhere. So long as my team is playing well (and they are, most nights) and the players I get to watch are doing incredible things (and with guys like Tulo, Donaldson, Sanchez, Stroman, Estrada and, yes, Travis and Bautista and Goins and Barney and Morales and Smoak and…Pillar?? Is he really this good now? You betcha…they absolutely are) then I am a happy man.

Not that I’d mind if they won the pennant of course.

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.