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.

 

 

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.

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?

Well, At Least They Get to Come Home

It’s not looking good, but other teams have looked as bad and still won it all

Blue Jays 2, (Devil) Rays 7

This is not looking good.

Say what you will about “early in the season” (it sure is), “too early to give up” (I agree), “it’s a long season” (hallelujah, sing it brother!), “every team goes through a rough patch” (yep)…but at the moment the Blue Jays sure don’t look like a contending team. They may very well turn it around, in fact I expect them to—in point of fact, I fully expect them to be right in the thick of things right down to the final weeks—but that doesn’t change the sheer ugly nastiness of what’s playing out in front of our eyes at the moment…

Estrada looked extremely human yesterday. He’s a fly ball pitcher and in the past he was prone to giving up too many home runs, so this is not a surprising event, and I’m not saying that he was terrible or that he’s falling apart or anything stupid, just that…well, he looked extremely human.

Tulo committed an error, which I had to check the box score after writing that just to make sure I hadn’t hallucinated it all. And then he went and did that bizarre running with the ball thing in the eighth when he seemed to forget how to finish a run down.

Oh, and by the way, you know I love you Wilner but this…

…is just wrong. Sorry. Did you see the look on Travis’s face after it was all over? He looked like my eleven year old when one of his team-mates makes an inexplicably bad play. Tulo should have tossed the ball to Travis to get the out at second. Tulo could easily have held back to stay in front of the runner. Nobody was covering first you say? Of course nobody was covering first, cause Smoak was coming over to back up the play at second base for when the rundown started, which it totally should have, but didn’t because Tulo did almost everything wrong in that play, which was never really a rundown, but a little league run back.

What else went wrong? (Because I clearly feel the need to torture myself further…) Oh yeah, the Jays managed just three hits, and Russell Martin is still looking for his first. Bautista looked confused, Travis looked over anxious, Pillar looked (worryingly) a bit like his old self… Thank goodness Donaldson’s still hitting!

And, oh yeah, now he’s hurt.

Great.

So, in a fit of desperation, I turn to the internet for solace. Here’s a couple of things to remember about last year’s World Series opponents:

  • Between June 30th and July 9th the Cubs were one and nine
  • Between August 23rd and 28th the Indians were one and five, and they went one and four twice after that

None of which, of course, makes the Jays’ one and five record look any better, but it is a salutary reminder that, well, it’s a long season, that every team goes through some bad patches, that there’s still lots of time and that it really is way too early—ridiculously too early—to be giving up on the team.

But they’re going to have to start hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, and soon. And the pitchers are going to have to limit the number of games in which they appear all too human, and Donaldson is going to have to stay healthy.

And Tulo absolutely should have thrown that flipping ball to Travis.

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.