The Jays really throttled the Mariners last night, exploding for three home runs off beleaguered Mariner starter Ryan Franklin (5.2 IP, 8 R, 5 SO, 0 BB). But that's not what everybody cares about. We want to know whether the Jays will sweep Seattle, whether the Jays will make any moves before the waiver deadline, whether the Jays have a chance at the post-season this go-round, and whether Eric Hinske really has it figured out, magically turning back into the beautiful carriage we all thought we were getting in to in 2002.
Well, I've consulted my Magic 8 ball, and I'm afraid the answer to all those questions is the same: Outlook not so good.
My questions began in the top of the 9th. Gaudin was given the bottom of the 8th to slide precipitously close to the bulldozer sending him back to Syracuse, then push himself all the way back up to "probably won't be sent down" territory. Then, with a 5-run lead, Gibbons went to Speier, his most untrusted yet recently excellent reliever. Yeah, those 5-run leads are really tenuous.
Of course, up 5 runs even after giving a recent call-up an inning to work out his stuff seems like an opportune time to use somebody who might not have seen much use recently. So when, exactly, are the Jays planning on using Brandon League? For someone rated as their #1 prospect by several different organizations (and #3 by Batter's Box' own Jordan), League sure does seem to rot at the end of the bench a lot. Speier has pitched in the past 5 games, too, while League hasn't seen action since the 9th of June in Texas.
Luckily, it seems that there is a method to the Blue Jays' madness. Arnsberg's been tinkering with League's delivery — something he did before Brandon was sent to Syracuse to get some innings — and he's been given a lot of out-of-game work to get it all together. Spencer Fordin's article, linked previously, goes into more detail, but I have to say that I'm relieved to learn the Jays really seem to know what they're doing with League — or, at least, what they're doing makes sense. He's not going to get the sort of instruction he needs at the minor-league level, and, as one of the organization's prize arms, he needs good instruction. The Jays know how to rebuild an arm (well, Mel Queen certain does) — hopefully, his delivery's all that needs rebuilding.
I can understand that people would be able to make cases for other players — Shea Hillenbrand, Doc... well, that's about it — but in my mind there's no more valuable player to the team than Gregg Zaun. He handles the pitchers well, and, although he'll never be one of the league leaders in CS% (currently .239), he puts his body on the line for the team whenever it's needed, and blocks the plate as well as anybody I've seen.
Zaun is the perfect example of what drinking (and, more to the point, not drinking) can do to you. Once he's done playing — probably not for a few years yet, as he only seems to be getting better as he ages — I expect he'll make the inspirational speaker circuit, telling kids and adults just how much he'd ravaged his body and soul with the drug, and how much better he became once he got off it. Just like Roy Halladay's reinvention in 2000, Zaun has become a new man, and his previous achievements can't really be compared to his current ones. If he keeps his level of performance up for a year or two more, he may start to be seen as one of the best catchers in the game league-wide. For reference, his current OPS of .824 ranks him second to Jason Varitek in MLB catchers with a minimum of 200 plate appearances. His GPA (.283) is second to Varitek, too. His OBP (.388) is first. (All MLB-wide, remember.)
He might not be able to keep it up, especially over a long season (and over a few more years), but Zaun definitely ranks as one of J.P. Ricciardi's all-time best finds. For a player from the scrap heap to succeed so dramatically — what a great story!
For somebody who everyone seemed to think was below-average defensively at both 3B and 1B, Shea sure seems to have made a lot of great plays. At 3B, his fielding percentage (.952) isn't great, and neither is his zone rating (.732) and range factor (2.41) — all would put him near the bottom in the league. At first, though, his fielding percent (.996), range factor (10.85) and zone rating (.842) all put him near the top. I've been impressed, especially for someone known basically as a butcher. Before having looked at the statistics, I would not hesitate to throw him out there at third or first every day; after looking at them, I'd still put him at first every day, being only slightly more hesitant at third. I can't remember him ever really botching a play at either corner, and for that I'm grateful.