If the Yankees had won yesterday, the Jays would be only two games over .500 and we'd all be holding our breath today at the Escobar-on-short-rest experiment. Thanks to those terrific two-out at-bats by Clark, Woodward, Stewart and Catalanotto in the seventh, four games over looks very different. The six-run explosion in the eighth was a collective sigh of relief turning into a celebration, and the Toronto hitters can continue the party this afternoon against Jeff Weaver, a winner just once in his last eight starts. Carlos Delgado has ripped the chronic underachiever to the tune of 480/649/840 and Eric Hinske (438/471/938) is also looking forward to more batting practice. This season, the Jays beat Weaver at the Dome in May, though Jeff shut them out (3 hits in 7.2 IP) in the Bronx during their April funk.
Super Kelvim got the W on the road against the Yankees May 23 in just his second start, lasting five innings. They will see a stronger, more confident version today. Escobar is overdue for a little luck; he has a loss and two no-decisions to show for his last three starts, which were all pretty good. "Luck" includes a little help from the 'pen for a change, but they shouldn't use Acevedo today; Juan had a lot on his mind
Saturday, which had an obvious negative affect on his performance. The only lineup shuffle for the Jays has Hudson returning to 2B, giving Tosca a .400-hitting lefty stick off the bench.
Well, here we are. At the All-Star Break, the Blue Jays are 49-46, 3 games above .500, 9 games out of first place in the AL East, and 7 games out of the Wild Card spot (behind Boston, Anaheim and Oakland). The consensus is that they’re out of contention for a playoff spot, and that the selling of free-agency-eligible veterans is about to begin. The most important thing to keep in mind at this juncture, I submit, is that the Jays are pretty much right where they ought to be. If they stay at this current pace, they’ll finish with 83.5 wins, which seems to be par for the expected course.
I'll be brief this morning, and I'll start with something that has been bugging me for a couple of weeks now. While the D-Backs were in the middle of their 12-game winning streak, I heard the same comment being uttered by myriad broadcast outlets: "Just think how they would be doing if they had Schilling and Johnson!" This is akin to saying, "Just think if Roy Halladay didn't give up all those home runs during his ten-start winning streak!"
The American League will need some of its other pitchers to step up in Chicago on Tuesday, because two of its very best will be tired. Mike Mussina, who was scintillating against Pedro Martinez in a huge win last time out (8 IP, 2 hits, 1 BB, 9 K, no decision) takes on Roy Halladay, returning a day early after a brilliant nine-inning, one-run effort against the Red Sox last Tuesday.
Doc was excellent the only other time he's pitched on three days' rest this year, allowing just two unearned runs against the Expos. However, he's 1-2, 4.66 against the Yankees in 2003 (few of us can forget the disappointment of opening day) and there's reason to be concerned -- Posada, Williams and Giambi have hit him quite well over the years. The Moose is 2-1, 3.60 this season vs. the Jays, who he's always handled well. Only Frank Catalanotto (452/485/806 in 31 AB) has had any real success against him; he's completely baffled Hinske, and while Carlos Delgado does have 3 HR, he is hitting .200 in 70 career AB against Mussina. Greg Myers (thumb) is back in the lineup, and after two games at his best position, Shannon Stewart returns to left field. Conspicuous by his absence is Orlando Hudson; Howie Clark starts at 2B.
Saturday and Sunday are typically slower days here in Da Box, and for good reason: the hard-working members of the ZLC are enjoying their brief Canadian summer, to say nothing of their days off, and have better places to be. But we here in the United States are a similarly industrious lot, so here I am, providing weekend material for one and all to enjoy when they choose, if they choose. It is true that I am not your typical hard-working American -- indeed, I am not even working -- but we'll ignore the fact that my weekends range from Monday-Sunday and head to the baseball stuff.
OK, I don't like the Red Sox. Not even a little bit. But I'm still hoping against hope that the Jays' homestand proves to be a tremendous success for the Beantowners, as that would require Toronto racking up some W's against the Yankees this weekend in front of what should be some large (if Lackawanna-infused) crowds. The Yankees have been winning despite several key injuries. Of course, their ability to pick up costly veterans whenever somebody goes down with a day-to-day injury helps.
Not many soft touches on this lineup, and although the bullpen has been suspect, the Jays have been making suspect 'pens look fantastic lately. It'll be interesting to see if Toronto fans have Raul Mondesi to kick around this weekend, since the moody veteran has been benched. The even-more-moody Boomer Wells isn't even making the trip.
It's never easy against the Bombers, except possibly when Jeff Weaver starts. Is this last call for the playoff bandwagon?
On to the Advance Scout!
Since we're on the subject of prospects lately, here's the latest news from the Next Jay-neration in the minor leagues. The boys were swinging a lot of lumber down on the farm last night....
John Wasdin makes his Toronto debut in a tough spot, facing the mighty Yankees while his new mates are in a collective funk, losing 10 of their last 12. The only win by a Jays starter in the last 16 games went to that Halladay fellow, so let's not expect miracles. Wasdin says he's a better, more mature pitcher than when a Red Sox broadcaster hung the unfortunate nickname "Way Back" on him for the spectacular long balls he allowed. We'll see. It was a win-win trade, or at least no-lose: the Pirates got a speedy, NL-style center fielder who had absolutely no future in the Toronto system, while the Jays got another veteran arm to audition as a rotation stopgap. There's no questioning Wasdin's success in the PCL this year, but these are the Yankees, not Tacoma or Fresno.
Andy Pettitte's on the hill, off a brilliant start against Boston, so Carlos Tosca is tilting his lineup to the right. Frank Catalanotto gets the night off, which means a rare Jayson Werth sighting. Despite the lefty-lefty matchup, Carlos Delgado has been very successful (.405 lifetime) against Pettitte, including five homers, two already this season. At least Shannon Stewart won't give away any more runs, because he's the DH again. Does anyone think J.P. was watching the same game as me the other night? Stewart usually pouts when he is asked to DH (or bat anywhere but leadoff) and he's 1-for-14 in his last three games, but he's owned Pettitte in the past -- 5-for-8 this year and .447 career. I have no idea what to expect from Shannon, or anyone else in a Toronto uniform. I do know that after effectively sweeping the Jays out of the playoff race, the Red Sox are suddenly their biggest fans.
Now that the all-star break is nearly upon us, we can look forward to endless Peter Gammons trade rumours, approximately 1/2 of 1/4 percent of which come true. Though I can see why some fans enjoy rumour season, I confess that I loathe this time of year.
What better time than the midpoint between series with Boston and New York to take a BB poll on the Jays' opponents we've always loved to hate?
Reggie Jackson once said, "Fans don't boo nobodies." So all of these players have added value to their clubs against the Jays in some way. But I'm not looking for the players that generated respect and fear (Eddie Murray, George Brett, Lenny Dykstra in the '93 Series) with their awesome performances against the Jays. Instead, I'm going for the guys that annoyed Jays fans to a point of inspiring a near-irrational hatred of them. What follows is my personal lineup, in the style of Rob Neyer's book. Please feel free to add your own.
Good column by Richard Griffin in the Star
today about the turnover
in the Blue Jays bullpen the last couple of days. For those without a scorecard, Jeff Tam has finally been put down, and the Doug Davis Experiment can now go back to its proper title as a jazz ensemble. Tam was a disaster for Oakland the first part of last year before recovering himself somewhat in the second half; he might have done the same here, but JP evidently didn't feel like waiting, and I don't blame him. A disappointing stay in Toronto for Tam. As for Davis, he gave what was expected of him: journeyman performances. But let's not forget his first two starts against Anaheim, when he ate up the World Series Champions. He'll probably compete with Bruce Chen for fifth-starter spots across baseball for the next few years. It's a living.
The sooner the worst left fielder in baseball is traded, the better. This little rant would have been completely unprintable last night, as my seatmates at the game will attest. I don't care what his OBP is, or what a "pure hitter" he is -- the man is absolutely incompetent in the outfield. Even the most scientific of analysts admits there are no precise defensive metrics, but guys like me and Yogi really can observe a lot by watching, so trust me -- to make up for the catchable balls he allows to drop for singles and his other boneheaded blunders, Stewart would have to hit like Barry Bonds to have any value.
In the first inning, men on first and third, he stupidly threw to third after a routine sac fly, handing the Red Sox an extra base. That runner, of course, came home to score the second run. In the critical eighth, with Mueller up and two men on, coach John Gibbons was frantically waving Shannon (who didn't bother to look) way over into the left-centre gap. Gibby finally had to get up on the top step of the dugout, at which point Stewart reluctantly shuffled a few steps to his left, then almost immediately, like he was tethered to "his" spot, shifted himself back. The increasingly frustrated coach persisted, getting more animated. Again, Stewart edged over, but it looked like he was drawn back involuntarily to his familiar, worn-out patch of turf. Fortunately, he remained close enough to make the catch when Mueller hit the ball precisely where Gibbons had been trying to position him.
When Stewart, who should have had the decisive Ramirez drive with no trouble, compounded his late jump and erratic route by getting in the way of Wells (like a superhero, Vernon had sprinted about 40 yards to save the day) I was livid. They didn't show a replay at the Dome, but it looked to me as if Wells, who would have easily made the catch, had to pull up to avoid a collision, and the ball actually hit Stewart, who had ducked, which is why it rolled along the warning track instead of bouncing. It was E-7 all the way; the original E-8 scoring was as incredible as the so-called left fielder's folly.
John Neary suggested this on another thread, so here it is. With the Jays most probably headed for another loss, the Boxers might enjoy a diversion.
Every player under contract to Toronto with fewer than 15 innings pitched or 50 plate appearances in the majors is eligible.
My top 10:
Mark Hendrickson is going to make two or three starts (at least) in Syracuse. Jeff Tam is also headed to AAA, and Doug Davis has been "designated for assignment," but it's doubtful there will be much interest in him from other teams. Josh Phelps is on the 15-day DL with back spasms. Jayson Werth returns to the Toronto bench as the seldom-used 25th man, until Mike Bordick rejoins the team, but three pitchers have been called up, and they all have a decent chance to stick.
I think they're going to give John Wasdin, one of the best starters in the PCL so far this year, an audition in the rotation beginning tomorrow, while Corey Thurman and Dan Reichert will work out of the bullpen. One of them (or Scott Service) will give way when Pete Walker is reactivated. The Jays will need effective relief tonight, as it's unlikely that Cory Lidle, in his present form, will pitch a complete game. In fact, six decent innings would be a very pleasant surprise.
Ramiro Mendoza isn't going to pitch a shutout, either. He was a shocking winner over his former team in his first start, but still has a 6.02 ERA and questionable stamina. With the roof closed, this one could be a shootout. The Sox are relaxed and confident, with nothing to lose as they go for a huge road sweep. After two heartbreaking losses, we'll see how the Jays bounce back. One minor lineup change -- Tom Wilson's behind the plate; I'm sure Greg Myers was shaken up by last night's collision.
John Sickels of ESPN.com takes a look into the future in his latest column
, and sees a couple of Blue Jays among the best in the game five years from now. He names Russ Adams as the best AL second-base prospect, and ranks Gabe Gross second among outfielders:Adams is an on-base machine, a sparkplug at the top of the order who draws walks, steals bases, and hits for average. If he can develop a bit of power, he will be an all-around player.
...Gross has rebounded from a poor 2002 season to play well in '03. Like (Laynce) Nix, he has tools and skills, though he doesn't quite have Nix's raw power.
Of the nine AL starting pitchers mentioned, three are Blue Jays' prospects: Jason Arnold, Dustin McGowan and Brandon League. Since Wells, Hinske and Phelps will all be 29 or 30 in '08, and Halladay a grizzled 31-year-old, there could be a strong Toronto representation on the All-Star roster, trying to earn themselves home field advantage in that year's World Series.