Dickey and Bunting and Numbers…Oh My!

It’s been a few weeks, but here I go again: stealing questions from Andrew Stoeten’s mail bag. Arrr!

OK, I guess this is now a thing: I highjack Andrew Stoeten’s mailbag from over on Vice.com. Call it a personal tick, an unhealthy habit, a time-wasting exercise, I don’t care, I get a kick out of doing it.

As usual, I have removed the names of the questioners (what with this being an act of theft and all) and I have not read any of Stoeten’s answers, although scrolling through the article they look long, and they even have bullet points and everything, so I suspect that he’s gone into more depth than I will, but what the heck. Here we go:

Question: what genius schedules a #bluejays off day on Victoria Day?

The same geniuses who continue to allow nepotism to dominate over competence in the hiring of umpires, who refuse to do anything to stop pitchers from throwing at hitters, who wink at the hyper-masculine queer-bashing woman-deriding culture of the clubhouse, who deify good players from the Yankees (Derek Jeter) while ignoring equally talented players from smaller markets (Craig Biggio), and who spend a year celebrating a Designated Hitter from the Red Sox because he’s cuddly (David Ortiz) while doing everything they can to erase the memory of the greatest player of all time because he’s not nice to reporters (Barry Bonds): Major League Baseball.

In case you’ve never noticed this, MLB cares about one thing, and one thing only: making money–which is “fine”, I guess, when you remember that it’s a business and that the whole point of a business is to make as much money as possible for the greedy pigs who own it. This is why all of those things I’ve listed above are not just tolerated but active policy of the owners insofar as they produce an entertaining product for the largest possible market. There’s no money to be made in holding Craig Biggio week or producing endless Barry Bonds retrospectives, nothing to be gained–monetarily–by taking on the umpires’ union over their hiring practices (and, in fact, it can be good for ratings having guys like Angel Hernandez out there every night–lots of umpshow for the mob!) or the Players’ Association over matters as paltry and minor as ethics when there’s really important stuff like revenue-sharing to work out.

And there’s literally no money to be made in New York, Boston, Florida, Southern California or the Mid-West with a Monday afternoon game in Canada. Frankly, I’m amazed that the Jays are able to manage getting their Canada Day game every year, although I suspect that’s largely because MLB is happy to get that game in Canada out of the way just in time to bring the Jays to an American city for the “real” holiday on 4 July.

Based on the trends in the first quarter of the season, which of the following events would you rate as most likely and least likely to happen by season’s end (assuming relatively good health):

Kevin Pillar > 50 walks
Justin Smoak > .850 OPS
Francisco Liriano BB/9 < 4.8
Luke Maile OPS+ > Josh Thole’s 2016 mark

Hmmm…good question: and a toughie, seeing as I left my crystal ball in my other pants. But we’ll give it a shot.

Kevin Pillar and fifty walks?

Sure, what the heck, I can see that happening. Last year he took twenty-four and the year before it was twenty-eight so it would appear to be quite a leap to ask him to double those numbers over just one season, but he’s already at fourteen after forty-six games which does project out to…*quick math*…forty-nine, so…yeah…getting all the way to fifty would be a stretch for him, even with his renewed approach at the plate. So, I dunno, maybe?

Justin Smoak and an .850 OPS?

He’s already sitting at .881 and showing no signs of slowing down. It may seem a crazy suggestion that a career .710 OPS guy could perform by 140 points above that average but, honestly, if you were asking me (and I know you weren’t, but I’m a pirate: ARR!) I’d say that, yes, Smoak is probably going to do it this year.

And believe you me, when it does happen I am totally going to troll Jonah Keri with retweet after retweet of this exchange I had with him way back in February:

He who LOLs last LOLs longest Keri!

Francisco Liriano averaging less than 4.8 walks through nine innings?

Currently at 7.3 but with a career average of 4.0, with only two years above 4.8 in his entire twelve years in the majors…I’m going to go with yes on this one too. Things may be looking ugly right now, but who knows how much of that was due to the injury he sustained in Anaheim and apparently felt through three starts. Assuming he can get healthy and stay healthy enough to pitch enough games to offset the beginning of the season I’m confident Liriano will perform to his career average and lower the current number significantly.

Luke Maile having a better than thirty OPS+ (Josh Tole’s number for 2016)?

His career average is thirty-five, but with Maile you have to use the word “career” loosely given he’s only played seventy-two games at the major league level. Still, when in doubt, trust the numbers and the numbers would suggest that on the whole he’s better than thirty so, what the heck, it’s going to happen.

Now the tough part: which of the above is the most and least likely to happen? I’d like to say that the most likely is Justin Smoak posting an .850+ OPS but that would be a lifetime number for him, just like the fifty walks would be for Pillar, whereas Liriano pitching to an average of fewer than 4.8 walks per nine innings is just a return to the norm for him, so I guess I’d have to go with that as the most likely scenario; all of which leaves Maile outdoing Thole as the least likely outcome, but honestly, they’re both terrible hitters so who cares?

Just wondering why all of a sudden the Jays think they can bunt. Well they can’t.
What’s going on?

They’ve been paying too much attention to the dummies on Twitter?

Actually, I suspect there’s a few things going on here.

The first is that certain players may be trying to put the “idea of a bunt” into the minds of the fielders, which can be a nice way of drawing them in and getting them out of the shift. A lot of the ‘bunt’ attempts this season are really just bluffs or attempted misdirections which, OK, they might not be doing much, but they are doing at least something to move the fielders around.

Second, Gibby is kind of doing the same, I think, by asking for bunts in situations where the Jays as a team have not traditionally tried for that part of the game. Again, I’m not sure it’s working in terms of generating more offense (in fact, I know it isn’t because bunts don’t work) but it seems to me at least probable that Gibby is playing the longer game here: trying to combat the perception of the Jays as a pull-happy, swing for the fences team and thus get everyone to stop playing them that way, which means getting fewer or at least not-quite-so-extreme shifts. I have no idea if it is actually accomplishing that, but I would bet you a Coke that someone in the Jays analytics department is examining that very issue…

Finally, some of them actually can bunt for a hit–Carrera, Barney, sometimes Goins–and those are just the guys who can’t reliably get on base any other way, so why not try to drop one down the line and beat out the throw? With all the injuries this season there’s been far more Carrera, Barney and Goins than is really healthy for a team, and thus more of their desperation bunts.

So, really, the bunts may actually be a bit more explainable and a bit less dumb than it would appear at first glance: with the singular, and extraordinary exception of asking Devon Travis to lay down a bunt with two men on, nobody out, and Barney, Carrera and Goins coming up behind him…oy vay, Gibby, honestly.

The Jays (horrific) stretch of games against Atlanta sorta reconnected us with Robert Allen Dickey. The Dickey for Syndegaard/d’Arnaud trade is one that you’ll often hear classified by some Jays fans in the “wish we could get that one back” category. Even given d’Arnaud’s chronic fragility and Thor’s increasingly worrisome arm issues—and certainly both are still young and talented enough that they can make the deal look more lopsided in the future—should we feel that way?

True, we didn’t get the “Cy Young” R.A. that we were hoping for. And yes, the capital of Syndergaard and d’Arnaud could have been used to pick up another player. But Dickey tallied over 800 innings for the Jays, with a decent WHIP, and all in all was a solid and durable 3-4 starter and was an above-average contributor to two pretty entertaining Jays seasons. It was a classic future vs. now kind of deal, and while we can dream of Thor hurling mighty bolts in a Jays uniform, I thought the “now” the Jays got in return makes the deal more than defensible.

Boy, are you ever wrong.

I never liked the Dickey deal: two very promising young players–one of them a pitcher who could throw that hard!–and three other prospects (that’s five young players, for those of you keeping score at home) for a one-off Cy Young Knuckleballer on the wrong side of thirty-five to pitch in the American League East?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked R.A. fine and agree with your assessment of him: a perfectly serviceable middle-to-bottom of the rotation starter and a great guy: but nowhere even close to being worth what the Jays gave up to get him. A lot of Dickey defenders point out, as you do, the “win now” logic of acquiring Dickey but…huh? Am I not remembering the 2013 season correctly? The Jays finished last that year. They didn’t actually win anything until 2015 and 2016 and it wasn’t Dickey who made the difference but David Price (2015) and Aaron Sanchez (2016) who got it done for the Jays.

Yes, Dickey helped, but there are a whooooole lot of pitchers who could have contributed just as much while costing the farm system much less.

OK, so let’s go see what Stoeten had to say…

The Catch

You can certainly feel free to say “Bullsh**!” to this, but I knew Kevin had that ball all the way.

And holy fricking heck, I was even in the park to see it. Second deck, just between home and third, with a perfect view of the whole thing. And what a thing it was.

The instant the ball was struck, I turned to Pillar and he was already on the move. Even before I’d shifted my eyes from the plate to the outfield, he was already running in a dead-straight even line to where the ball was going to come down, and as the ball dipped and the crowd sighed I was already standing and getting ready to cheer because Pillar had his eye on it, and was raising his glove and I knew he was going to get that sucker because the great outfielders, the truly extraordinary ones, just have a particular way of moving–of gliding–for those last few steps before they make the eye-popping catch and Pillar was gliding across the green like he was barely touching it.

And then he flew up, and tossed out the glove and…oh my goodness, but that is why I watch baseball and shell out the outrageous amounts of money it costs to take your kids to a ballgame. Because as Pillar came down with that ball in his glove and everyone else stood up to join me and the noise rose up all around, I got to look down at my boys and to see them looking down at the field in the same way that I was, and the way everyone else there was: eyes wide and white, smiles of awe and amazement from ear to ear, and a kind of bewildered air of the surreal surrounding everything.

“Did you see that?” my younger boy asked me. “Did you see?”

“That…was incredible,” offered the elder.

My wife tore her eyes from the field to look at me. “I can’t believe what I just saw. Did he really catch that?”

Yes. Yes, he did catch that.

And I was there to see it.

God, I love baseball.

 

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.

A Win! It’s a Start…

The boys in blue are 3 and 11 now, but let’s not get too excited quite yet

Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 0

It’s always nice getting one in the win column, especially when you need one as badly as the Jays did last night, and it was a well-played game by the boys in Blue. What’s more, it all went according to the plan drawn up during the off season: great starting pitching, some timely hits (with runners in scoring position no less!), with Biagini to Grilli to Osuna to close things out.

So you know: wahoo!

But.

One win does not a season make, nor a terrible start erase. I’m genuinely and honestly not trying to be a downer Negative Nelly here, but there are some hard truths to face even in the teeth of victory.

First and foremost is the simple fact that Pablo Sandoval and Mitch Moreland had as much to do with the win as anything the Blue Jays did. If not for their two errors in the third, none of the three runs the Jays got that inning would have scored, leaving them with zero runs through nine. In one sense, it is true that the errors are an example of how the Jays outplayed the Sox by putting up a better defence—but it’s surpassingly rare for a major league team, any major league team, to commit two errors in the same inning. You just can’t count on it happening very often.

But the Jays did “capitalize on the mistakes” with some timely hits…from Barney, Carrera and Pillar. Of those three, the only one I want to see out there on a regular basis is Pillar; Barney and Carrera are bench players and if your plan is suddenly to rely on them, then your plan stinks. What’s more pertinent here is that there were, once again, zero runs produced by Devon Travis (0-3 at the plate), José Bautista (0-4 with two strike outs), Kendrys Morales (0-3) and Russell Martin (0-4). The team combined left seventeen men on base. That’s a terrible offensive line that nine times out of ten (or eleven times out of fourteen) is going to lose you games.

But, hey, they won! Wahoo! This could be the start of the turn around, right? Sure, yeah, maybe. It’s a long season, there’s still time. They can build off this victory and start working their way back into it.

And they’ll get their chance to start doing that this afternoon against Chris Sale:

Chris. Sale.

Here’s hoping Sandoval and Moreland make a lot of mistakes. Here’s hoping Barney and Carrera are ready to bludgeon Sale. Here’s hoping Travis, Bautista and Martin had their Wheaties.

Here’s hoping.

Raiding Stoeten’s Mailbag…Again

A boring off day leads me to ripping off another man’s schtick…

It’s an off-day for the Jays and I got nothing else to do so let’s go back to the well.

Last week I highjacked Andrew Stoeten’s mailbag over on Vice.com and had such a good time that I just can’t resist doing it again. I really hope this isn’t going to become a thing, though, because I don’t want anyone to think that I have a thing for Stoeten. I mean, yeah, sure, I like the guy, but I don’t like like him.

At any event, let’s dive right in, but remember—I’m stealing these questions from someone else’s mailbag so I’ve removed the names to avoid getting into any trouble:

OK, small sample size and it’s early and all that but also what about these two theories: 1) The book is out on Jays hitters: pitch ’em away away, mostly soft stuff. And Jays don’t adjust. 2) They got old fast. What other team has so many thirty-somethings in starting lineup?

The age is, I think, a real issue but maybe not so big as some people may have you believe. These guys are in great shape, but there’s no cure for aging and in the case of Bautista and Martin I think we may be seeing that. They’ve both been behind a lot of fastballs this year (so far) which could be a result of just being a bit slower. If this is the case though they can adjust to that, so I don’t expect it to be too big an issue.

As for theory number one: yep, the league has figured out that the Jays are built around a fastball-first offence and are pitching accordingly, but I’m not sure about the “don’t adjust” part. Some have clearly been trying to get the slow garbage off the plate and missing (Bautista, Martin and Travis) and so maybe we can say “haven’t adjusted yet” with the hope that this doesn’t lead to “can’t adjust.” Smoak, of course, will never adjust and doesn’t need to if the three key guys above come around; the same is probably true of Pearce. The rest are split into three camps: those who have already shown they can play the new game (Morales, Tulo, Pillar), those who are just crappy hitters and won’t ever really do well no matter what’s happening more broadly (Goins, Barwin Darney, Zeke), and Josh Donaldson who is just very very good at baseball. 

I know it’s early, and that the Jays are much better than what we’ve seen, but at what point does this hole get too big to climb out of? Right now (assuming 89 wins is a wildcard spot) they need to play at a .578 clip the rest of the season. Over a full season that’s 93 wins, and I think that’s already pushing it for this team (not impossible, but a bit of a stretch).

Well, that sort of depends on what kind of team “this team” is. If we are referring to the team we’ve seen so far then a .400 pace is probably too much to hope for; but if “this team” means the team they should be based on the talent they have, then a .578 pace (I’ll trust your math) is entirely possible, assuming the health of the starting rotation. So, I hate to sound like I’m hedging but, well, I’m going to have to hedge. I will say this, there is no “hole” until at least 30 games have been played.

Grasping at straws to explain this horrid start, I had a thought:

With the new regime of fitness and nutrition experts on staff, could they have purposely held off on going hard in spring training, knowing the inevitable slumps that every team endures over the season? In other words, analyzing the health of each player and their history; the schedule, etc., and strategizing for the entire season?

Are the Jays doing the long con?

Not sure I even understand this: your theory is that they have purposely gone into the season unprepared so they can fool everyone into thinking they’re crappy when they’re not? Or that they figured they didn’t have much of a shot against the Orioles, Brewers and Rays so why try too hard, better to save their strength for later?

Um…no. On both.

Why hasn’t Tulo been moved been moved leadoff yet with him getting on base a lot? Also how much of the slow start do you blame on Gibbons? i say 80% on the players and 20% on Gibby?

You’ve been listening to Wilner, haven’t you?

It’s not the worst idea getting a better bat than Zeke in the lead-off spot, but Pillar has a better OBP than Tulo, as does Kendrys Morales and…holy moly!…Russell Martin, so I’m not sure that the logic in favour of Tulo is necessarily sound. I think he’s probably happy to be a middle of the order bat and he’s been doing nicely there of late, so why mess with it? Honestly, as I argued in an earlier column, unless and until Devon Travis starts hitting again, there aren’t really any good options for lead off.

And I don’t “blame” anyone who’s doing his best and having a rough time of it. I certainly don’t think the guy sitting on the bench has a very direct role in what happens on the field. So how about we say 100% of the Blue Jays are two and ten to start the season and leave it at that?

The Jays just have a touch of PTSD. They lost Eddie, almost lost Bautista. They’re pros they are used to shifting around, BUT when you almost go the WS two yrs in a row, there is a vet core kinship mentality that’s felt right down to Ryan Goins. It’s not that they don’t get it. They probably don’t even realize it. But there is a weird void, and their rhythm is off. It’s a team. A slight shift sometimes changes things for a minute. It’s all psychological. They aren’t losing by much. Gibbons will do something to shake them up, and once they succeed the bonding can happen again, the rhythm will come back. That’s my real opinion, not the jokey one from before. But then fuck, they may lose every fucking game, who knows.

The other thing that happens after just almost making it…to teams, is they try way too hard. Like darts, you got to relax. Take your time. They’re already trying to win the pennant. Over thinking.

Or maybe not, maybe they just stink, I don’t know.

You said it: you don’t know. You haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on in their heads…unless you’re a trained sports psychologist hired to work with the team, in which case you totally shouldn’t be blabbing your thoughts on the internet.

Stick to darts, and leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals.

Vladdy Jr is off to a hot start this year in the minors. When can we get really excited about this guy?

After he’s been doing just as well in the majors for four months, and not one minute sooner. #thisainthockey

The Jays NEED to make a move to salvage this season. Vlad Jr. for Joey Votto. How could either team say no to that? SOMETHING has to be done, so why not get crazy?

Not sure how one player makes all the difference here, but OK, let’s pretend the he can…

“How could either team say no”??? Well, you did say you want to get crazy… There is absolutely no way the Reds let Votto go for one A-ball player. Ever. And there is no way the Jays take on that ridiculous Votto contract. Why would either team say yes to such a hare-brained scheme? You want Votto? OK, so do I. But to get him you either take on the whole contract and throw in a couple low-A prospects, or you insist the Reds assume the bulk of the contract and you send them Sanchez or Stroman along with half of the Buffalo Bisons.

Honestly, you can’t base your view of reality on what you do while playing MLB The Show.

How and when did it go so wrong for the Blue Jays? I’m of course talking about those atrocious red abominations they’ll be wearing for all of their Sunday home games and throughout July.

I like the jerseys. Of course, I’m red-green colour blind so maybe I’m missing something.

But don’t we have more important things to worry about?

How To Stop Worrying And Love the Blue Jays 

Three reasons why the Blue Jays are going to be worth watching this season, no matter what

Blue Jays 4, Orioles 11

I’ve been a little league coach for years, and in that time I’ve had some good teams and some not so good teams; I’ve also been a baseball fan for forty years, which means that I am a true expert on one thing when it comes to baseball:

Enduring the hard times.

And just in case you are in any doubt…for the Blue Jays, this is indeed a very very hard time.

Just about Everything that could wrong for a team did go wrong for the Blue Jays yesterday: their offense continued its season-long absence (sidebar to Buck and Pat: when the Jays manage a couple of runs off of a minor league call-up, please don’t try telling me that “the bats are showing signs of life”); their starting pitcher went down with “elbow soreness” (sidebar to Blue Jays front office: you’re not fooling anyone, we know that’s code for “he’s screwed”); the bullpen imploded (sidebar to Twitter: it’s just one game, it happens, this is not proof of anything about the bullpen arms or Gibby’s management thereof); and even the usually reliable defense looked hopelessly lost at times (sidebar to Tulo: seriously, dude, have you completely forgotten how to execute a rundown?).

So what to do? Well, first, you really do need to remind yourself of a couple pertinent clichés that remain as true today as they were two weeks ago: it’s a long season, and it’s about process not results.

I sometimes think that the Blue Jays’ fan base shows its born-in-Canada-hockey-is-all roots a bit too much. Unlike the NHL, the entire baseball season is not about the playoffs. In baseball, the playoffs are really something of an afterthought, as just eight teams play for just over a month after six months of regular season action. Yes, it sure is fun having your team in those playoffs, but it probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think. What matters in baseball—and this has been true since it began, and it’s one of the reasons I love it so much—is how your team is doing right now and how that fits into the narrative of their whole season. When you look at it this way, the Blue Jays are going to have a really, really interesting summer, well worth the watching, whether or not they make the playoffs.

So, right now they’re struggling and trying to find a way out of that. Can they? Will they? What are they doing to address their problems? Who’s working hardest? Who’s given up? Who’s learning new things? These are all pressing and fascinating questions that I look forward to seeing answered throughout the season. Whether they end up in first, second or last place in the American League East will have no impact on the interest I have in seeing those questions resolved, along with the many others that will undoubtedly crop up.

At the moment, though, here’s my top three questions; the three things that I find most fascinating about the Blue Jays and that I am eager to see through, regardless of however they may finish the season:

Is This Really The End of Joey Bats?

Love him or hate him—and I love him—José Bautista is one of the most compelling players in baseball. He’s been one of the greatest hitters in the game for years now, and is one of the greatest Blue Jays of all time. But look how things stand for him right now: he’s coming off an off-season spanking in which he thought, not unreasonably, that teams would be lining up with $100 million deals only to find that nobody was willing to pay him more than the qualifying offer the Jays made. So now, somewhat stunned by this, I’m sure, he’s back where he belongs in Toronto…and demonstrating that everyone may have been right to pass on him.

He’s doing terribly at the plate. Really, really, just terrible. He’s batting .136/.264/.182 and shows no signs whatsoever of “coming around” no matter how many times Buck and Pat insist upon it. He’s behind on the fastball, misjudging the breaking ball, and just flat out missing garbage pitches out over the plate. Will this go on? If so, then it will be one of the most surprising and complete collapses of a once great athlete in all sports history. How will he handle it? How will the Jays handle it? They can’t possibly leave him batting at the top of the order all season if those are his numbers, can they? Or will he turn it around? When and by how much? Will this be a season of redemption for a proud man, or the humbling of a great talent? It’s incredibly compelling stuff, and every at bat is another page in that book.

Super Kevin?

Pillar is slowly…slowly…making a believer of me. Is this the season when he finally puts it all together and starts hitting at the big league level like he did in the minors? He’s already proved his value as an outfielder, confronting and vastly overcoming the many doubts about his abilities that had him undervalued his whole career. But now…at least, for now…he’s the second best hitter the Blue Jays have (.283/.313/.391): only Josh Donaldson is better. Is this sustainable? Can he get even better? If so, then this could be the birth of a superstar, and if that happens I want to be there watching it unfold every step of the way.

Stroman and Sanchez

I have never cared about the off-field lives of players (so long as that didn’t impact their performance on the field, or was so egregious that they are pieces of human garbage who shouldn’t even be in the game) so I don’t give a hoot about the “Strochez bromance” that so many other people seem to give a hoot about.

But the show that they have together put on over the last couple of years, the sheer drama of what they have individually and together accomplished, is some of the best baseball I’ve ever had the privilege to be part off.

2015: Stroman gets hurt in a spring training drill and everyone falls into despair, sure that the playoffs are now out of reach; Stroman vows to return by September, and then holy moly he does, and he’s incredible!

2016: Sanchez spends the winter with Stroman, remaking his body, then comes to spring training destined for the bullpen, but then pitches so well he has to be in the rotation, but he’s destined for the bullpen; but then he pitches so well that he remains in the rotation.

This is all incredible, compelling, entertaining stuff and I am delighted to have seen it all. What is even better is that Stroman and Sanchez have together evolved into one of the greatest young pitching duos in the major leagues, a so-called “one two punch” that any team would die for, and they are both going to be Blue Jays for a long time. How good can they get? What are they going to do this season to stay ahead of the scouting reports by other teams? Just how impressive can they become? I want to know the answers to these questions; I want to be part of it.

One More Cliché

If all that’s not enough to keep you interested, to give you a reason to keep following the games without getting myopic about “Are they in first place?” or “Will they make the playoffs?” then I can only assume that you’re not really suited for baseball fandom and would recommend that you resume your obsession with the NHL playoffs where every year half the teams get to play a second season and go home with their participation trophy.

Because it isn’t like that in baseball. In baseball, every day is new day, and every game is just one more step in a very long, ever evolving and never dull narrative that is the season.

And in baseball—as it is now, as it shall be and as it has even been—any team can beat any other team on any given day, so you better keep watching because you never know what’s going to happen.

But whatever it is, it’s going to be great.

 

Stuff Happened

The Jays lost again and that sucks. But it’s just been two games, so let’s ignore that and focus on the good stuff.

Blue Jays 1, Orioles 3

Well…crap. The Jays lost again and that sucks. But it’s just been two games, so let’s ignore that and focus on the good stuff.

Happ, like Estrada on Monday, is a good stuff. He looked great out there: gave up the two dingers to Jones and Davis but that’s going to happen and in the end he only gave up three runs over seven innings. I’ll take that. Tepera was also sort of a good thing: one inning, no hits and no walks: nicely done Ryan.

And here’s another good thing: Pillar’s defense and his first highlight-reel catch of the season. I always hate watching him come down hard after going to the wall, but he always pulls himself up again. I can’t shake the suspicion that he plays it up for the camera a bit (or even a lot) but, heck, he makes a great catch, gives up his body, I can stand a bit of prima donna if that helps him feel good about himself. I’m certainly not like a certain Sportsnet television personality who shall remain name(GreggZaun)less who likes to complain about TV dives cause I don’t see that in Pillar, but when he does get crunched he likes to channel his inner Italian footballer…but again, meh. Let him.

Here’s an even better thing: Tulo. Just: Tulo. Yep, he went zero for four last night with two strike outs, bringing him to a full zero for nine to start the season, but he made at least four plays that are beyond the powers of mere mortals. The fact that he made them look so easy makes it easy to miss just how good they were, but holy freaking mackerel, is he a fine sight of poetry in motion with the glove.

Other good things: Smoak got two hits and was the Jays’ only run; Travis, Donaldson, Bautista and Morales all got hits; Pillar keeps looking like a whole new hitter at the plate and they darn near managed to beat Zach Britton who looked like all relievers (who aren’t named Mariano Rivera) finally look when everyone finally remembers that relievers are just failed starters.

But, you know, crap, they lost. And that stinks. It wouldn’t stink so bad if it wasn’t the way they lost, which was kind of an exact copy of how they kept losing at the beginning of last season. If you thought that you’d fallen into a wormhole to April 2016 I wouldn’t blame you. I don’t care what Pat “He’s a big young man, a real pitcher” Tabler or Buck “man but the Auree-alls kin reelly git the mohst outta thee-ar pichers” Martinez say, but the Orioles starter Dylan Bundy was throwing garbage.

If you read the Baltimore media coverage you’ll see them fainting over Bundy’s slider, but more than half the time he threw it out of the zone from hand to plate, and yet the Jays’ hitters just had to keep swinging at it. And when he left it up in the zone they almost invariably popped it up (yeah, I’m looking at you Tulo). Which is the sort of thing they did last April and then again in September which is why their first two games this year have been kind of scary even though it’s only been two games. It was all just so darned familiar: a garbage pitcher throwing garbage pitches that seem, somehow, to keep fooling the Jays’ big bats. Maybe it was just the recalled trauma of last year being triggered by a statistically-irrelevant two game blip this year that made me feel this way…probably…I hope so. But scoring three runs and hitting zero homers in two games ain’t the kind of thing that instills confidence; nor is going one for eight with runners in scoring position (compared to the Orioles’ one for one), or leaving 14 men on base (compared to the Orioles’ five); or the 11 strike outs (compared to the Orioles’ nine).

But it’s just two games, for criminey’s sake! Two games! It’s beyond meaningless, I know that. It’s gonna happen sometimes that good hitters just miss bad pitches.

Like it did on Monday and Wednesday.

And last September.

And all of last April.