Tagged: Jesse Litsch

MLB Season Preview: With a Blue Jay/A.L. East Bias

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?
 
Jays

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.
 

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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. 

Orioles

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.     

Red Sox

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. 

Rays    

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?

A.L. Central 

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.

A.L. West

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.  

National League

N.L. East

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. 

N.L. Central

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. 

N.L. West  

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.  

World Series    

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).   

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Keys to the Season: What they are saying? What I am saying?

The Blue Jays enter 2010 depleted of some depth.  We traded our only front-end starter (Roy Halladay), let our best defense outfielder walk away (Alex Rios) and also traded our best defensive infielder (Scott Rolen). 
The analysts don’t see the Jays getting any better any time soon.  That
said, it is hard to get worse than the 75-87 record that saw the Jays
finish, once again, 4th place in the highly competitive A.L. East. 

The only thing that could be worse is the Jays finishing behind the Baltimore Orioles
for dead last in the A.L. East.  This is where most believe
the Jays are headed, as Baltimore seems to be going upward in the
standings with an array of emeging young players.  Some even go further
to say that the Jays are going to be the worst team in the American
League.  Hello Kansas City Royals!  I’m not about to go nearly that far, but I do believe the Jays 2010 success is contingent on some key factors. 

Every year I look forward to reading the Baseball Prospectus write-up that forcasts the Blue Jays future.  Similar many other baseball fans, I use the intelligence and effort put into Baseball Prospectus
to supplant my own personal lack of baseball intelligence. 
They do amazing work!  More to their credit, they were dead on with
pin-pointing the downfall of J.P. Ricciardi in previous years. 
Primarily, they critiqued Ricciardi’s string of questionable signings that
started with Cory Koskie and his low-risk, low-reward college draft
picks that produced a few good talents, but ended up depleting our farm
system as a whole.

For this season, Baseball Prospectus has pretty much agreed with
other publications saying that 2010 has been “clearly surrendered to
rebuilding’ with the signing of ‘stopgap’ players like John Buck and Alex Gonzolez.” 
They also state the obvious by very briefly saying “trading the Doc
hurts, and the Jays will be in a tough battle to be ahead of the
Orioles all year.”  What they are enthused about is the prospects of Hill, Lind,
Snider and the Walrus (Brett Wallace) all playing together at some point
this year, calling them the ‘Fab Four.’ 

I’m liking this ‘Fab Four’ analogy … a lot!   So, I’m going with it as my number 1 ‘key to the season’ for the Blue Jays:

Keys to the Season

1. The Fab Four  

It would be very nice to bank on repeat seasons from Adam Lind and Aaron Hill.  If it doesn’t happen, then Baseball Prospectus
has entertained the notion of trading Aaron Hill at peak value to
further establish the Jay’s committment to rebuilding.  Anthopolous
doesn’t seem headed that wa -, but it might be an idea? 
Hill and Lind anchored our lineup last year. The Jays would not have won 70
games without them.  For 2010 we need to count on their bats have to be back in full
effect.  They are both a key component to our team now.  They now have to show that the team can rely on them.  

It will key to get help from guys like Brett Wallace/Lyle Overbay and Travis Snider providing more support near the back of the order.  Going back to Baseball Prospectus, our home park (the Rogers Centre) statistically favors left-handed power hitters.  Last year Jays radio analyst and former player, Alan Ashby,
stated that what really contributed to the Jays 1st place dominance in
April and May was one man – Travis Snider.  Snider started the season giving the
Jays a great power element before totally tapering off in May.  He was a
nice surprise for a team that could use ‘nice surprises.’  This season the Jays could
potentially get another surprise in Brett Wallace.  Anthopolous acquired his
coveted left-handed power bat as a part of the Roy Halladay trade.  The Jays hope that Wallace will be the future, as Lyle Overbay
enters the last year of his contract.  Overbay suffered a
knee contusion last week in Spring Training, so the prospects of
Wallace in 2010 look more possible.  If Snider and Wallace can somehow
find their way into the lineup and produce at expected levels for the
kinds of prospects that they are?  The Jays will have a pair of surprise
‘left-handed’ power bats to compliment Lind and our home ballpark.  Brett
Wallace didn’t have a very good spring, so the Jays will look to
rejuvenate Lyle Overbay for their left-handed production in 2010.  Granted that Overbay’s knee contusion doesn’t become
serious.  These guys all have to produce for the Jays to compete with the potent lineups of New York, Boston, Tampa and now Baltimore.  

2.  Leading the Way on the Mound

The absence of Halladay in the Jays rotation leaves the question:  What starting pitching
talent(s) will emerge?  It would be nice to see multiple guys have
success.  For the Jays to have hope of doing anything this season, they
need some pitchers step up and make a name for themselves.  The likely
candidates are Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero.  Romero is
coming off a fine rookie year going 13-9.  At one point in the season,
some Yankees writers compared Romero’s stuff, notably his changeup, to Mets ace Johan Santana
That may be a bit strong as Romero struggled at times – compiling an ugly
WHIP of 1.52.  He will need to do better than that to lead the Jays
pitching staff, but he is still learning.

I was really looking forward to watching Shaun Marcum in the Jays
rotation last season.  He came off an impressive 2008 only to be sidelined in 2009.  At times, the way Marcum changed speeds and commanded
the strikezone makes, he was unhittable against weaker hitting clubs.  He seems
to have a great pitching IQ.  I like that Marcum always looks
like he is in control on the mound – something that he probably
learned from Roy Halladay.  Having Marcum back will be an asset that
the Jays didn’t have last season.  Although, coming off an injury, that
will hard count on.  The Jays making the Marcum the #1 opening day
starter is good sign that he will be one ‘key’ to watch in 2010!

As for the rest of our staff, the Jays look to be going with three of Brian Tallet, Marc Rzyepcynski, Brandon Morrow or Dana Eveland.

Eveland had a very strong spring that propelled him into the mix.  It is hard to tell how he will fair with the Jays, but he has certainly opened some eyes this spring.  He might be the most unlikely candidate to lead the staff, but these kind of players sometimes emerge.  Look at Ben Zobrist last year?  

The Jays gave up an intriguing young pitching prospect, Yohermyn Chavez and hard-throwing reliever Brandon League to get Brandon Morrow.  Baseball Prospectus
called Morrow “an odd decision” since the Jays don’t look to be
contending anytime soon.  I don’t agree with this because at age 25, Morrow is still young – making him a possible factor in the Jays rebuilding project.  He is the kind of
player where the Jays are expecting the worse, and hoping for the
best.  I’d say Morrow is ‘big key’ to this season because he could be
due for a breakout year capitalizing on his chance to start full-time.  If Anthopolous hit a homerun with this trade, 2010 could be very promising! 

Brian Tallet pitched very well for the Jays filling in rotation spots last year.  He
has the most experience of the bunch and is a solid option.  However, I don’t
expect him to ‘breakout’ year in 2010.  I’d catergorize Marc Rzyepcynski
the same way.  Zippy (as I call him) is very advanced for his age.  He has four good pitches that he can command, but they don’t overwhelm batters.  Both these guys are solid optionsm, but without a very high-ceiling.

If the Jays want to do something this year then having Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil
emerge is key!  Cecil overstepped his bounds getting some early
‘big-league’ experience when he should have been in the minors.  Cecil
brings a great arm and a somewhat deceptive left-handed delivery. 
Cecil’s development is not quite there, but in my opinion he has the makings of a front-line
starter.  He will start this year in AAA and look to bounce back into
the rotation at some point this year.  Kyle Drabek has had a very
impressive Spring Training.  Drabek is now being considered for the
rotation earlier than we expected.  Not having actually seen him pitch, I
hear he has a very effective, well-controled curveball that is featured
along with some other great pitching tools.  Jays fans can barely hold
their excitement on him.  I know better than the rely on a rookie though.     

With the rebuilding project underway there is no reason to rush both
Cecil and Drabek.  However, their contributions this season could be
‘key’ to the Jays 2010 season, although it is a bit of stretch to count
on rookies emerging in dramatic fashion.

It is also a bit of a stretch to count on players coming off the injuries to emerge.  Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch
are both wildcards at this point.  We may see them not pitch at all
this year?  McGowan had a serious injury, and it is a terrible shame because of
his talent level.  Litsch doesn’t have the stuff to be a top 3 starter in my
opinion, but I hope he proves me wrong.  I’m counting more on the
contributions of Drabek and Cecil as possible ‘keys to the season’ … and the future for that matter!

3.  Team Defense

The Jays lost Scott Rolen at third base, we picked up a decent
defensive shortstop Alex Gonzolez, stayed similar defensively at
catcher acquiring John Buck to replace Rod Barajas and got a little weaker in the outfield losing Alex Rios.  The Jays outfield will now have Jose Bautista
Bautista intrigues me because I want to see how much ground he can cover in the outfield.  Bautista’s arm is also well above-average.  I look
for him to step-up and be a key contributor to the team defense.  With Adam Lind and Travis Snider possibly occuping the other corner
outfield spot, it could get ugly.  Also Edwin Encarncion at third base is a very risky option.  The Jays will need to play good ‘team defense,’ as they look to be deteriorating in that respect.

Conclusion

If all these things fall into place, the Jays will have a very good
year.  If they don’t?  And you will notice that I don’t expect all them
to actually happen.  The Jays will – as every baseball preview predicts
– submit this season to rebuilding and likely end up in the ‘cellar’ of
the A.L. East.  Notice how I used the word ‘cellar.’  Cellar are often opened by keys … ha ha.  Yep, I’m a cornball.

Even though this year looks bleak Blue Jay fans, it will be entertaining to look out for my:

Keys to the Season”   

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Looking Forward to the AL East in 2009 … Let’s be Positive Blue Jays Fans

The quartet in the A.L. East has just gotten a lot more powerful.  The expression, ‘beasts from the east,’ has never been more true than it is right now.  The Rays, Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays look to improve on strong years that saw each of them support very respectable final records.   

So, what do these teams have to look forward to in 2009?  Well, at least these are the guys I will be looking forward to seeing in 2009. 

The Red Sox have these guys.

RedSox.jpg

 

Probably one of the best left-handers in the game, Jon Lester, is only getting better.  Last year he showed what he is capable of.  A ‘big’ 2009 may be in the works for him.  If you were wondering who the guy tucked on the right is?  It is Lars Anderson, Red Sox first base prospect.  Anderson was only drafted in 2006, however, he has been killing the minors and should probably get a look at ‘the show’ this season.  Anderson’s future prospects were definately one of the reasons why the Red Sox did not pursue Mark Teixeria as aggressively as many might have hoped.  Last year’s American League MVP and all-around scrappy ‘little-big man,’ Dustin Pedroia, will be interesting to watch in 2009.  First of all, the guy is always getting dirty, putting his heart on the field and awkwardly swinging to stardom.  I love Pedroia’s game.  If watching the AL MVP follow-up on his amazing season is not enough, then watching him making diving plays at second, steal bases and try to ‘leg out’ a double on every ball he banks off the monster is.  He’s a small guy, but he plays very big and right now he ‘big in Boston.’   

 As if the Rays needed any more players young players.  They have David Price.

 
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The number-one-pick overall in 2007, and it is easy to see why.  He has wicked stuff.  The Rays had enough confidence in him to close out games in the World Series.  This year, he will likely be featured in an already steller pitching rotation that includes Scott Kazmir, Jamie Shields, Andy Sonnanstine and Matt Garza.  Five legitimate starters going into 2009.  Most teams would take any of these guys as their #2, if not at least #3 starter.  The strength of the Tampa’s rotation will be tested against a division that just got a lot stronger in the pitching department.  I’m really looking forward to seeing their young pitchers next year, especially Price (that god for MLBTV and MLB Extra Innings).

Now lets state the obvious shall we. 

Everybody, me among them, is going to want to see what these lunkers will do.

 

fishes copy.jpg 

Yes, the Yankees landed the ‘big fish’ in the free agent market.  Their team does look devastating on paper; however, as the old cliche goes: ‘games aren’t won on paper.’  These guys will compliment Arod, Jeter and Rivera in what the Yankees are hoping is money well spent.  I think everyone is going to be interested watching these three, after the contracts they just signed.  To be fair, the Yankees did have a lot of money coming off the books to facilitate this.

Now for the Blue Jays.  With all this looming above us (just scroll up), it is obvious the Jays will have a big challenge in 2009.  We are no longer big players in the free agent market, with financial constraints the Jays cannot even afford a top 10 free agent without seriously having to budget.  The Canadian dollar dwindling has hurt the club, there have been job losses in the organization (so much for me getting a job there) and we lost two of our top pitchers last season, Shaun Marcum (injury) and A.J. Burnett (free agency).  Most prognosticators will predict the Jays to finish 4th in the division – just like last year no doubt.  Some might even throw the Jays behind the lowly Orioles in the A.L. East.  A team that I didn’t even consider for this entry because I’m not really looking forward to seeing anyone on that team (hmm… maybe Adam Jones).

So, lets be positive, because none in the organization seem to be (i.e. Vernon Wells, Cito Gaston).  The Jays are going to get a very good look at some young and possibly emerging players this year.  Notably Travis Snider, Adam Lind, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey and possibly even Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, J.P. Arencibia and Scott Campbell.  Travis Snider might be a ‘stud’ in the making, and if only Vernon Wells and Alex Rios could remain healthy, that would give the Jays a very strong outfield.  McGowan staying healthy might actually lessen the burden of losing Burnett, Aaron Hill looks like he may be healthy and ready to get back to form, Jose Bautista and Rod Barajas are wildcards that may do well and we all hope that Scott Rolen has had enough time to rest his shoulder for a great 2009 campaign.  This all being said, it will probably take all these things for the Jays to be anywhere near competitive in the A.L. East.

                

      

He Made it There

A.J. Burnett has just about made it anywhere, and importantly, he has always done it his

Thumbnail image for Burnett copy.jpgway.  Swish!  Two Sinatra references in one sentence.  So here I am spreading the news because he is leaving today.

It is difficult not to love Burnett, because of the type of pitcher he is:  fearsome attitude on the mound, cocky, throws heavy duty heat and is just flat out never scared on the mound.  He knows he has the stuff, and knows he can back it up.  The machismo, the hook, the heat, racking up the K’s and taking no prisoners, Burnett was awesome and he definately was one of my favourites on the team over last few years.

However, for all these admirable qualities, there were a number of glaring inconsistancies with A.J.  The Yankees will need to have a better have a catcher than the aging Jorge Posada now with Burnett on the mound.  Burnett was always terrible out of the stretch windup.  His ERA inflatates out of the stretch, opponent’s batting average goes up and he is generally just very slow to the plate.  It is not often he gives up two hits in an inning, but when does, not being able to hold baserunners is a problem and it drove me crazy when I watched him pitch.  With the Yankees now battling Tampa for the division, I can see this being a problem down the road.       

An obvious inconsistancy, is the injuries he has withstood in the past.  In 2008, he spent limited time on the DL for the Blue Jays.  Having him here in Toronto last season, pitching very well, almost made the last two years worth it.  Burnett was limited by injury in those years posting 10-8 records in both seasons.  Those are some mediocre numbers for a guy oozing that much machismo.  Actually, when you look at Burnett’s whole career, with the exception of last season, he has never had more than an average pitching record.  Maybe a bit better than average some years. 

A number of general inconsistancies.  That is what Yankee fans will probably find with A.J. Burnett.  He can be absolutely amazing one day, then another day, runners will reach base, they will steal and manufacture runs, and Burnett will be rattled.  Struggling as he pitches out of the stretch all day.

Some believe the Jays are now heading in a new direction.  Saving the high free agent contracts to mid-level players, and only keeping the money for a few ‘big-time’ stars (i.e. Roy Halladay worth every penny!, Alex Rios worth it, and Vernon Wells??? not worth the injuries that is for sure).  I don’t know if I see that for the future?  J.P. still has to dump fairly high contracts to B.J. Ryan, Lyle Overbay, and Scott Rolen for that to happen.  Cost cutting, and restructuring could be good for the Jays.  Only time will tell, but now more than ever, we will see if the farm system that J.P. has been compiling can achieve the great things that some people foresee.  Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Travis Snider, David Purcey, Jesse Litsch, Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Scott Richmond, Brad Mills and Dustin McGowan in particular.  Boys, it is your time to shine. 

A.J. Burnett meet Frank Sinatra.  I know you are more in to heavy metal and alternative music.  Maybe, you’ll grow a taste for hearing Frank at the end of the game?  Its up to you Burnett, Burrrrrnett!  Dun, dunna, dunna, dun, dun, dunna, dunna, Dun!