Picking the Jays (in the A.L. East)
Call me crazy but I am picking the Toronto Blue Jays to win the A.L. East this year. Seriously! I know what you might be thinking? And I’m not one of those people who pick his favorite/hometown team to win it every year. If I recall, I had the Jays finishing dead last behind Baltimore last season. If anything, I should be repeating that prediction based on Baltimore’s improvement and Baseball Prospectus slotting the Jays dead last in their preview. I disagree, and say that last year was just a sign of better things to come from the Jays.
Here is Why?
Nobody in the Jays rotation stands out at you, but believe me, they are all solid arms. I see Kyle Drabek proving to be the prospect everyone thought he’d be, working deep into games late in the season and winning ROY. When Brandon Morrow comes back from the DL he is going to tally up big strikeout numbers and win big games. Ricky Romero also has that ‘big game’ mentality. The Jays can expect another solid season out of him. These three are the pitchers that the Jays will rely on, also getting decent contributions from the back-end guys like Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch, Jo-Jo Reyes and possibly Zach Stewart later in the year. The bullpen looks formidible with three former closers (Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco). This could be, but won’t a concern in my opinion.
The key factor in the Jays winning this season is that the pitching gets better!! I can easily see this occuring under new manager, and pitching specialist, John Farrell. We all saw how the offense caught fire last year, and this year the pitching steps up to compliment it.
Also notable, is the Jays have adding some effective speed to get on base with Rajai Davis, a full season out of Travis Snider @Lunchboxhero45 maintaining a high .OBP and Yunel Escobar having a bounceback year at the plate while helping the pitchers in spades defensively. Along with that, the Jays look better defensively in the outfield with Corey Patterson being a late-inning defensive replacement.
Then, throwing more to the fire is Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hill and J.P. Arencibia all having productive years at the plate. Encarnacion and Arencibia emerge as a legitimate homerun threats this season, while Aaron Hill gets his batting average in the .320’s
All this is a formula for success. The Jays put together a full year and take a commanding lead on the A.L. East early. We sweep the Yankees in a home series in mid-September, giving the Jays what they need to lock up the A.L. East crown.
Importantly, I buy a t-shirt to commemorate the event. Yay!!!!!!!! ha ha.
Rest of the A.L. East
If you haven’t noticed this offseason, the A.L. East has changed drastically. The Red Sox, Rays, Orioles and even the Yankees have rearranged their clubs in ways that might alter the landscape of this division. On paper, you could say that the Red Sox and Orioles improved the most over the offseason, but every year we see good teams on paper disintegrate. The Red Sox are definitely familiar with that. So, that is what I am predicting for 2011.
The Orioles revamped their offense but are relying on too many unprovens in their rotation, and everybody can see it. Their weakness is glaring. The acquistion of guys like Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy shows that they are going to be a team that can flash the lumber, although without a solid nucleus behind them. Similar to the Jays last year, their offensive numbers will be significant, but their record will not be enough for the wild card. They’ll have a better season though, I’ll give them that as a fact.
The Red Sox got some premiere players (Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford), an improved bullpen (Bobby Jenks) and a promising rotation (a thinner, healthier John Lackey). They seem like the sexy pick to win the World Series right now, so they have that working against them. Expectations will be high and they will fail to meet them this season. Watch Papelbon gets yanked as closer, Scutaro and Saltamacchia not cut it defensively and their acquisitions take time to get aclimated to the change of scenery. Jose Bautista ends up owning the Green Monster in Fenway. So much so, they contemplate taking it down the following year. Okay, I’ve started to dream a bit.
Yankees *Wild Card Pick*
You could say the same old things about the Yankees. Tired responses like they have an aging roster, and they will fold under the pressure of playing in New York. But I won’t say them again, as I’ve been burned by these statements in the past. I have the Yankees winning the Wild Card for the second year in a row. Their back end rotation won’t have to be amazing to guide them through the year. If they aren’t good, I like the depth they have in the minors with guys like David Phelps, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman for the 2011 season. The Yanks bullpen also got a lot stronger with Rafeal Soriano. It is going to scare clubs to get into late innings with that team. They’ll take the Wild Card, but the Jays will be a handful for them all year.
Hard to see the Rays finishing the season low in the standings after winning the division last year, isn’t it? They will have a good club, no doubt. However, I know how important it is to have a good bullpen in the A.L. East, and they don’t have one for 2011. They still have a good season, but blow too many late leads on the road to the Yankees, Jays and Red Sox. Bautista walk-offs bombs will be their demise.
Baseball Does Not Revolve Around the A.L. East (I forgot)
There are actually other divisions, with some other good teams. Believe it or not?
Tigers win this division on the backs of Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. Both these players have a long history of wraking the baseball. Prospect Jacob Turner makes an impact in the rotation as a mid-season call-up and the rotation survives as the offense is a juggernaut in 2011. The only PED Miguel Cabrera needs is scotch.
The Angels show MLB that defense in the outfield is as important as any aspect in the game. Balls are gobbled up all year by Bourjos, Hunter and Wells, and
the best rotation in the West quells the Rangers bats all year. The Angels win their matchups with the A’s starters on a consistant basis. They are a fast, well managed and better team at producing offense. The Angels are my ‘ultimate dark horse’ this year.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, need I say anymore names? The Phillies rotation will get them loads of wins and Ryan Howard will wrake once again in 2011. Hard to pick against them, I dare anybody to do it. They are the class of this division.
Marlins *Wild Card Pick*
You’d think that the Braves would be the logical team to pick here. Many predict them to improve upon last season. They also scooped up Uggla from the Marlins. However, the N.L. East, apart from the Phillies, has been a very competitive division and the fish look on the verge of making some noise. The Marlins come into 2011 with a more experienced pitching staff, adding Vasquez and looking for prime years from Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson. The lineup features a very good young outfield on the brink of providing Hanley Ramirez with some needed protection. Marlins suprise everyone this season except me.
The Reds were so impressive last season that I’m riding them to the World Series this year. With a taste of the playoffs last year, I see a hungry team looking for more. No doubt, the Cardinals and Brewers will give them enough competition this year. But I believe that will only help fuel this team. They showed a tremendous consistancy as a team last year, and a great will and desire to win every game. The central is slowing becoming a very tough division, and Joey Votto is looking like a “big red machine” at the top of it. I see Cueto and Volquez solidifying themselves as frontline starters and Aroldis Chapman starting mid-season to boost the Reds even further.
It’s the Giants. Dominant pitching characterized this team last year, and the scary thing is that they are all young players that are getting better. They might have a shaky beginning this year, but the Giants will end it in first. Their pitching is that much better than any other team in their division. Big years from Madison Bumgartner and Buster Posey make them even better in 2011.
Angels vs. Reds
Winner: Angels in 7 games
Don’t anybody call me unoriginal! Dan Haren and Jared Weaver provide a great playoff stretch for the Angels and they win it just as the Giants won it last year; with pitching and defense (not including Scott Kazmir in that equation).
The Fist Pump
Some years in sports just stick with you, I’m sure many would agree? For me, the 1989 A.L. East pennant race between the Blue Jays and Orioles was one of those years. The image from that year that will always stick with me (and many Blue Jays fans) is the Tom Henke fist-pump as he strikes out Orioles’ Larry Sheets on the next-to-last game of the ’89 season, clinching the A.L. East for the Jays.
It the greatest fist pump in the history of fist pumps, in my opinion. Tiger Woods has nothing on that fist pump. Seriously! Henke was a very tall player, so that added to the drama as he raised his arm all the way in the air and virtually down to ground in the emphatic fashion only a fist-pump can provide. It was like he was putting a nail in coffin of the Orioles (sorry O’s fans). Being very young at the time, I needed that fist pump to help me acknowledge what the Jays had accomplished. It was a long, gruelling race and the Jays had sealed it.
I recently tweeted on my page @talkinhomer about the moment to @MLB, with trend tag #MLBmoments. I even recieved some bitter responses from Oriole fans (unfortunately for them) remembering being on the losing side of the same race. In one instance, the fist-pump even evoked some
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regurgitating out of one Oriole fans mouth. Believe me, it was that good of a fist-pump!
*(my apologies as my internet research skills did not acquire a link to a clip of the ‘Fist Pump,” but believe me it was a beautiful fist-pump in terms of fist-pumps) *
At the age of 7, it was probably the first year that I actually followed a baseball season (and somewhat realized what was going on). The Jays of ’89 were a very competitive team having been to ALCS four years earlier and on the verge of starting something extremely special in the four years that were to come. I was feverishly collecting baseball cards at this time (as were many kids+plus adults), I watched the Buffalo Bills fall apart in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants (the first Super Bowl that I ever watched, creating no chance for me ever to become a Bills fan) and my favorite Jay player the time was easily the Crimedog, Fred McGriff. Unfortunately, the Jays would run into a bunch of drug crazy Athletics in the ALCS that year, beginning a brief rivalry between the two teams in the late 80s to early 90s.
My Favorite Player Back Then
In 1989, McGriff hit 36 homeruns, had a .399 OBP, won the Silver Slugger Award and came 6th in MVP voting. ’89 was also the first year that the Jays played in the Rogers Centre (Skydome) and on June 5th McGriff would hit the stadium’s first homerun. McGriff would consistantly bank balls of the Windows restaurant in center field for some of my fondest, early memories of baseball.
For baseball fans in Canada this is a time where we look see the bittersweet dichotomy of two worlds. The newspapers show the 2011 Blue Jay faces basking in the sun and gearing up to play ball, while fans sit and look onto the cold Canadian months of February and March (not discounting the odd April week). Florida, and its beautiful Grapefruit League, allows my mind to drift unto delight and bliss as I am met with -18 degree Celsius temperatures (factoring in the wind chill). Such a warm thought that I forget to feel cold. We are so close to baseball, only a little more than a month away from the season, yet so, so far away here in the north.
To think that they are actually playing baseball somewhere is a magical and mysterious presumtion. Spring training baseball is like a fairy tale. It makes me smiles whenever I hear tales of games being played down there. Making it even more surreal, is the difficulty for me to find it on cable television. Kristen over at This is a Very Simple Game … in the comment section of this blog articulated the fairy tale of Spring Training in a way that could not, so I will end with her words, tap my shoes together and hope that the dream comes true.
Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues (are) rather like
children reading a fairy tale: The hitters wielded their mighty bats.
The pitchers tamed the wild change-ups and bent them to their will. The
outfielders set off in search of the golden gloves. The whole team
drank in the magic sunshine all day so they would remain strong and
healthy. And all of the fans lived happily, ever after: play ball!
Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder/third baseman, Jose Bautista, signed a multi-year contract extention with the Blue Jays for 65 million guarenteed over five years. The club will also have a 14 million dollar option for a sixth year if they choose.
Bautista had a breakout year last season leading MLB in homeruns and becoming one of the most feared hitters in the game. He showed outstanding improvements in pitch recognition and bat speed, in my opinion. He’d always shown a good ability to turn on a fastball, now he is great in that respect. Currently, there are no indications that another 50 homerun season for Bautista is out of the question, but that is a debateable point. I, for one, am very impressed with his approach at the plate, however, I do realize that 54 homeruns is difficult thing to replicate in MLB.
I can see how offering this contract to Bautista was an especially tough decision. Its hard to evaluate a player after only one year. Regardless, the Jays locked him up and now it is time for celebration. I cracked a Brahma for Bautista, which is a great Brazilian beer, but I’ve been told that the beer of choice in the Dominican is called Presidente.
Anyway, Cheers! Salute! More ballgames beers and Bautista bombs are in my future. Me happy.
A stamp celebrating Canada’s ‘one and only’ Hall of Fame baseball player, Fergie Jenkins, were recently released. Upon seeing the stamps, my eyes lit up at the post office and I said, “Fergie!” The girl behind the cash knew at that moment she had a sale. It’s probably most exciting time that I’ve ever had at the post office. Man, am I a sucker for baseball collectibles under ten bucks? This is what they look like:
The stamps celebrate black history month and commemorate Fergie receiving the Order of Canada in 2007 for outstanding merit making a difference in the lives of Canadians.
Fergie has been a great supporter of baseball in Canada and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. I had the opportunity to meet Fergie at a baseball tournament near my hometown last year. Being the Blue Jays fan that I am, I asked him what he thought about the Jay rotation. He liked Ricky Romero, as I vaguely recall? Anyway, Fergie was at the tournament selling signed bobbleheads, gloves etc.. all supporting his foundation, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation. Obviously, I bought a bobblehead for those who know me. I’m appreciative that Fergie took some time to talk baseball with me, being just some average fan.
Fergie was a hidden Canadian baseball treasure, coming from a very small farm town outside Chatham, Ontario to become a 3-time All-Star and Cy Young award winner. He is very deserving of being invested to the Order of Canada and now a stylish member of Canadian postage history.
Taking the bull and putting him in his place! Or bulling the man and taking him with horns of fury?! Or taking horns and throwing bulls all over the place. However that expression goes? Alex Anthopolous is doing it with the Blue Jays right now.
Presented with the monumental tasks of dealing Vernon Wells‘ long and expensive contract, acquiring some team speed, revamping the Blue Jays minor-league prospects and solidifing a team manger, Anthopolous has taken the challenge head-on.
Alex Anthopolous (or the Silent Assassin as many call him) dealt Wells to the Angels in return for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli (who was later traded to the Texas Rangers for former closer Frank Francisco). In process he has freed up the Jays from a large financial obligation that was not paying off. Rivera and Francisco are decent players that will help the Jays in the 2011, and some will argue that Rivera could provide similar offensive production, even if we see him in a plattoon role. The Jays will undoubtably be able to a lot of things financially in the near future, so many Jay fan are excited at those possibilties even if they did come at the expense of losing a good player.
The Need for Speed
I did a prior post on this subject and I believe that it cannot be overstated. The Jays are going to be a more athletic team. The recent acquisitions of Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar (to lesser extent) and Corey Patterson has given the Jays a new dimension defensively and on the basepaths. AA said that he was going to pursue more athletic players to give the team another threat. He was true to his word. I believe that this is an element of the game that the Jays have lacked in the past. In my opinion speed isn’t vital to the success of a club, but it is important.
A New Coach
A Jays team without both Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells will seem unusual coming into the 2011 season. Things will be different, but hopefully they will get better with changes on the managing front. AA brought in a well-respected pitching coach from the Boston Red Sox, John Farrell. A core of very good young pitchers consisting of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will have Farrell’s hands full. Not to mention the young pitchers that are liking coming up in the near future Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart. Farrell will likely be able to provide some valuable mentoring for these players along the way.
The task of winning in what is usually the toughest (or among the toughest) divisions in baseball every year, is extremely challenging. Blue Jay fans have experienced it. Right now, I see AA developing a well-thoughtout strategy to make the Jays successful. Notably, the Jays are improving their minor-league system and player development, they are focusing on the draft, improving scouting and they acquiring players with high-ceiling and loads of athletic ability. Or in other words:
AA has branded a Blue Jay bull with the Blue Jay logo, and he is going to eat a succulent medium-well cooked New York (Yankee) strip steak with it!
Make sense? ha ha. So, the Blue Jay bull is a Yankee?
I can’t think of a pitcher that irritated me, as a Blue Jay fan, more than Andy Pettitte. He seemed to always silence the Jays in ‘big games’ late in the season. And some of the stats support my assessment here:
Pettitte was notoriously his best in the months of the August and September. He posted 50 wins, 19 losses, 3.43 ERA, 1.25 WHIP for his career in August (a month that is argued by many to be the most crucial) and 36 wins, 19 losses, 3.98 ERA, 1.32 WHIP for his career in September. Any other month pales in comparison for Pettitte. I thought that it was supposed to be the hitters that caught up late in the season? Not Pettitte. We’d be talking about Pettitte as one of the best pitchers in the game, if the MLB season was only played in August and September.
We can therefore conclude that a good portion of those September and August performances would have come at the hands of the Blue Jays the way that the MLB schedule is usually set up. Weighting most divisional games towards the end of the season.
Although, Pettitte’s career ERA and his WHIP aren’t spectacular against the Blue Jays (4.16 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). Pettitte struckout more Blue Jays than he did against any other team (206 career) and he won the second most amount of games (21W) in his career against the Jays (the Orioles (27W) being the first).
Not to mention, Pettitte’s 15W-5L record in the Rogers Centre/Skydome. Countless times Pettitte would silence the Jays late season push, from my observation. Him and his steroid buddy, former Jay defector/cancer Roger Clemens can stay far away from baseball. Good riddance to you Pettitte! I’m going to erase your face! I hope that you are actually retiring this time, if not, I’ll put your face back.
(I know that Pettitte is older and probably not the pitcher he once was, but I have gotten very tired of him dropping that slide/cutter, low-and-inside on ‘every single freakin pitch,’ it seemed.)