As you can see, I am filling in for Mike D this weekend. While I can't be expected to be as comprehensive and entertaining as Mike, I will do my best. And isn't that the best any of us can do? Our very best? I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Mr. Denysyzn is surrounded by other denizens: he's spending the weekend in Las Vegas. May his return to New York be accompanied with extra currency, treasured memories, and a minimum number of new brides.
Now, to the upcoming series. With the Blue Jays pitching staff going through a Feng Shui of sorts, another good-hitting team, the Anaheim Angels, comes to Toronto. Those pesky Angels, the anti-poster boys for sabermetrics, nonetheless work the count effectively, put the ball in play, occasionally juice one over the wall or, if they don't, run the bases hard. In short, they make you play. This is not a good sign for the Jays, who appear as vulnerable to teams keeping the ball in the park as they are to teams hitting it over the fence. The good news is that Carlos Tosca won't be around to tinker with the bullpen, at least for the first two games. The skipper will miss Friday and Saturday's adventures to attend his daughter's graduation from the University of Florida; first-base coach John Gibbons will take over as manager. Here's hoping Tosca doesn't bring a cell phone with him.
This series will mark the debut of Doug Davis in a Blue Jay uniform, as well as the semi-return of Kelvim Escobar to the rotation. In what seems like a move more appropriate in Dunedin in March, the Jays plan to start Davis Saturday then bring in Escobar to relieve him. One can only hope the Jays are well ahead, because Escobar is allowing base runners at a rate that makes Roy Halladay, circa 2000, look like a Hall-of-Famer. New closer Cliff Politte (I love the sound of that, and not just because I have him in my keeper AL-only fantasy league) has worked two days in a row; if he's needed tonight, it will be interesting to see who gets the call Saturday if there is a save situation.
In the meantime, Anaheim is missing some ingredients of last year's World Series run: Kevin Appier, Aaron Sele, and Darin Erstad are on the DL, and, while game seven winner John Lackey is healthy, it is hard to tell if he has actually been pitching or if opposing teams are merely whacking balls off a tee while Lackey eats some sushi or takes a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean at nearby Disneyland. Nonetheless, and whether or not they were a fluke last year, the Angels are an exciting team to watch.
On to the advance scout!
* Anaheim's record through 27 games last year was 13-14, the same as this year ... They were 5.5 games out of first in 2002, as opposed to the 3.5 this year ...
* Like the Rangers and Jays, the Angels have endured a tough schedule to start the season, opening with Seattle, New York, Oakland, Texas, and Boston, before getting the struggling Indians earlier this week ...
* Here's what the Worldwide Leader had to say about the schedule, courtesy of the Angels' page on ESPN: "Anaheim began a 30-game stretch against mostly miserable teams April 29 against the Indians." ... I gather they are including the Blue Jays in there, but "mostly miserable"? Apparently the folks at ESPN haven't seen the Jays bullpen this year; it's just "miserable," thank you. No qualifications necessary ...
* The Angels are fifth in runs scored and sixth in OPS ... They have also struck out the second-fewest times in the AL, the same formula that propelled them last year ...
* Don't blame the mediocre start on Anaheim's bullpen, which has been just as dominant as last year. The relief corps has a 2.49 E.R.A., second only to Minnesota, and so far the 'pen has 76 whiffs in 83 innings. For comparison, Anaheim's starters have fanned just 80 in 154 frames ... The starters are also giving up an .848 OPS, and they've surrendered 28 long balls, second most amongst AL starters ... The bullpen is allowing a league-best .604 OPS ...
* Former independent league steal Brendan Donnelly has yet to allow a run in 17 innings, allowing only 12 base runners in the process ... Donnelly's philosophy: "The closer the game is, the more fun it is as a player. You want the game on the line when you are out there because it adds to what we do -- it adds to the intensity. It's the fun part of baseball." ... Hmmm. Maybe Escobar isn't as flighty as we think. Well ... yes he is ...
* Fellow cast-off/vagabond Ben Weber has been nearly as good, allowing a home run on opening day to Juan Gonzalez but not a single run since ... Meanwhile, playoff hero Francisco Rodriguez, who has been a little inconsistent this year, re-joined the team after missing a few days to attend his grandmother's funeral ...
* You want ugly? Here are Lackey's numbers (children, avert your eyes): 7.76 E.R.A., 1.029 OPS, 2.04 WHIP, 7 HRs allowed in 31 innings ... But there is bad news for Josh Phelps: Lackey has been effective against the #5 hitter on opposing teams, yielding just one hit in 17 at-bats. There really is too much information available on the Web ...
* Tim Salmon carries a career-high 18-game hitting streak into Toronto. A notorious slow starter, Salmon already has six homers and sports a .943 OPS ...
* Jays fans no doubt remember Anaheim's DH Brad Fullmer, but perhaps not this one: he has a .917 OPS in an admittedly small sample of 17 at-bats against LH pitching. For the season Fullmer is raking at a 1.082 OPS clip, though on Wednesday he did end a 15-game homer drought with a long-ball against Indians southpaw Brian Anderson ...
* Darin Erstad's replacements, Eric Owens and Jeff DaVanon, are not Erstad's equals at the dish or in the field, but they'll play hard ... They don't bring Erstad's "football mentality," however -- which is a plus. Erstad was a PUNTER, not a fullback like fellow Nebraska alum Tom Rathman ... DaVanon has a higher BA than OBP, thanks to zero walks and one sacrifice ...
* Garret Anderson is doing what he does best: hitting doubles (14), clearing the fences occasionally (3), knocking in runs (22), and rarely walking (6). Anderson is a poor-man's Alfonso Soriano ... After a slow start, David Eckstein has eight multi-hit games in his last 13. If you've never seen Eckstein play, yes, his arm really is that weak; he can barely make the throw from second, let alone from deep in hole from short ...
* Saturday's starter Scot Shields was sharp in his first start of the season this past Sunday, holding the Red Sox to just one run in 5 1/3 while fanning five and walking none. He throws a fastball in the low 90s, a tight slider, and a change-up which he rarely shows. Like most pitchers, he must keep the ball down to be effective ...
* Third-basemen Troy Glaus missed a few games due to a sore hammy, but he's back. Oddly, so far Glaus has no homers in 29 at-bats vs. lefties, but has four in 54 trips against righties ... Despite his size, Glaus is also a gifted fielder -- take some lessons, Mr. Hinske ...
* Hopefully, the Rally Monkey will not be accompanying the team to Toronto ...
* The Angels have tried something called the stolen base -- I swear it exists -- 35 times, or more than three times than the Blue Jays ... They've succeeded on 21, a 60 percent success rate. That's not good, you say? At least they're trying ...
Friday: Lackey (R) vs. Lidle
Saturday: Shields (R) vs. Davis/Escobar
Sunday: Ortiz (R) vs. Hendrickson
Probable Batting Orders
vs. Davis, Hendrickson
2 B. Molina
2 B. Molina
Long: Calloway (R)
Short: Weber (R), F. Rodriguez (R)
LOOGYS/Stiffs: R. Rodriguez, Schoeneweiss
Set-up: Donnelly (R)
Closer: Percival (R)