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The Toronto Blue Jays are driving me crazy.

As I write this, the Jays are not truly in the pennant race, but they're not out of it. This month, they've been following a consistent pattern. They win a couple of games and draw closer to the Sox and Yanks, which kindles that annoying faint hope. Then, they lose a couple of games, slip back, and extinguish that hope.

At this point, I want to see them win a whole bunch of games in a row or lose a whole bunch of games in a row. Preferably the former, but at least we'll know one way or another for sure.

Because the Jays are sorta almost kinda maybe in the race, they can't trade any of their soon-to-be free agents for players who could help them down the road, as they can't afford to give up on this year. (For one thing, they'd lose money in fall ticket sales.) But, since their chance of winning is, realistically, fairly slim, they can't really risk mortgaging their future to try to go over the top right now.

The problem is that there are two formidable roadblocks between them and the wild card. The Minnesota Twins have suddenly become a great team, thanks partially to the unexpected development of Francisco Liriano. (Aside: if Chris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar had developed sooner, Michael Lewis would have written his book about the Jays, not the A's, and would have called it Gordoball.) And the New York Yankees have George Steinbrenner's unstoppable chequebook: they are apparently about to trade for all of the best players on the Philadelphia roster. Sigh.

A few notes, while I'm here:
  • A player who has made successful adjustments often enjoys a tremendous run of success in the short term because the opposition haven't yet adjusted their pitching patterns. They're still trying to get him out the old way, and it's not working. Alex Rios enjoyed a tremendous run in the spring because pitchers were trying to challenge him with fastballs, which was a mistake.

    Lately, I've noticed that most of Reed Johnson's hits are singles that land in between the outfield and the infield, usually to shallow left. (Edit: apparently, he has 13 doubles this month too. I must have been watching only the games in which he has hit singles.) Eventually, pitchers will notice that he's changed his stroke, and will pitch him differently. But, for now, let's all enjoy the show: it couldn't happen to a more deserving player.
  • Sparky preparing to dump another ball into shallow left field.

  • You have to feel sorry for Frank Catalanotto. He's got a .417 on-base percentage, and he can't find regular work as an outfielder. My guess is that Rios may have a rocky road ahead of him as he tries to recover his mojo, so Cat may take some of Alex's at-bats.

  • Big ups to Eric Hinske for outlasting Shea Hillenbrand and proving that he can still help a major league team.

  • I don't really grasp the idea of using Bengie Molina as a DH. His OBP is .316. If he isn't catching, he isn't of much use.

  • What happens next to Aaron Hill? He's found his true defensive calling (second base) and he's raised his average to .300. He's young enough to improve still further, but where does he go from here? Does he become a batting title contender? Will his power improve? What is his destiny? (Cue Doris Day singing "Que Sera Sera".)
  • Aaron Hill defying the law of gravity.

  • It's becoming more and more apparent that the key to success is starting pitching depth. And, to me, it seems clear that the major factor in building a rotation is plain old luck. Raw dollars can't always do it: the Yankees only have two starters with an ERA under 4. Ditto the Red Sox. The White Sox had good pitching last year, but they've mostly taken a step back this year. If these teams can't find reliable pitching, who can?

  • It'll be interesting to see whether any teams make salary dump trades this weekend. In the past, there were always half a dozen teams looking to shrink payroll at this time of the year, which allowed the Yankees and other teams to scoop up the talent they needed for their stretch run. Now, it seems to me, most teams have their fiscal house in order, and only want to trade good players if they can get equal value in return. (The Phillies may wind up being a conspicuous exception: one rumour has them trading Abreu and Lieber and Lidle to the Yanks.) Baseball will be more enjoyable when rich teams can't just buy a pennant contender in July.

  • Any week in which the Jays beat Esteban Loaiza can't be all bad.
Death By Ten Thousand Paper Cuts | 35 comments | Create New Account
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CaramonLS - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 10:59 AM EDT (#151799) #
13 doubles, 2 HR out of 33 hits and you think he is just trying to dump the ball into LF for singles?

I think hes more or less aiming for the gaps in the OF, and doing a good job of it.

Dave Till - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 11:11 AM EDT (#151800) #
Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa: I saw his batting average go up, noticed that he didn't have a lot of HR's on the season, and leaped to a not exceptionally correct conclusion.

Part of my theory still holds water, though: Johnson has made an adjustment, and the league hasn't adjusted back. That'll change, but hopefully not for a bit.

Dave Till - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 11:14 AM EDT (#151801) #
And I've updated the article to mention the 13 doubles - thanks for the correction.
Mike Green - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 11:24 AM EDT (#151804) #
Sparky's improvement has been multi-faceted.  Fewer strikeouts, more power, and more efficient base-stealing. He's not realistically likely to continue hitting .360 or anything like that, but he has made himself into a good and well-rounded player through dedication and hard work.  I expect him to be able to sustain that level of play for a number of years. 
Chuck - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 12:11 PM EDT (#151809) #
I don't really grasp the idea of using Bengie Molina as a DH. His OBP is .316. If he isn't catching, he isn't of much use.

Dave, I agree with most everything you've said, but  it is worth noting that Molina, for the past two seasons, has been two very different players against LHP and RHP. He has hit LHP very well and against RHP, well, he's basically Russ Adams. He deserves to always be in the lineup against LHP, Against RHP, he doesn't deserve to be in the lioneup as a catcher, let alone a DH.

So, against a LHP, catching Phillips the odd day and DHing Molina is fine with me. But man, once a RH reliever comes in, you gotta flip him for Hinske or Catalanotto or Zaun, something Gibbons did not do yesterday when Molina represented the tying run in a close game.
Mike Green - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 02:57 PM EDT (#151841) #
With the increase in isolated power, it is normal that there be some increase in BABIP.  There are relatively few bloop doubles.

Johnson's career line is now .289/.350/.429.  In light of this year's leap forward, .295/.360/.440 may not be such an unreasonable expectation for him; that's a fine line for a leadoff hitter.
Jim - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 05:47 PM EDT (#151874) #
And, to me, it seems clear that the major factor in building a rotation is plain old luck

Come on.  While there is some luck involved with the health of your pitchers, teams like the Twins don't end up with pitchers like Liriano because of luck.  Scouting is the key.  The Blue Jays blew a top 10 selection on Ricky Romero while the Twins were picking at the bottom of the round came up with Matt Garza who Gardenhire wants called up to Minnesota already.    If Garza comes up and pitches well in big games in August and September is that luck? 

Mike Green - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 06:12 PM EDT (#151877) #
Actually, the Twins' drafting in the last few years has been OK, but not great.  They've had many first round picks over the last 5 years, and their success rate is not particularly high. Choosing Mauer over Prior has however, in hindsight, worked out pretty well.  Their two best pitchers, Santana and Liriano, were acquired through the Rule 5 draft and trade respectively. 

But, you are right.  Building a good pitching staff has some luck involved, but scouting, astute management, and player development ability are probably more important. 

Chuck - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 07:15 PM EDT (#151878) #
Death By Ten Thousand Paper Cuts

Ugh. Ten thousand and one. Comeback, a new game from Milton Bradley.
CeeBee - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 07:41 PM EDT (#151880) #

Arrrrrrrrgh.... Now B.J. has caught the disease. Maybe it's the water on the west coast.

Magpie - Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 08:08 PM EDT (#151887) #
Whatever the Milton Bradley Game was... that was no Paper Cut.

That was a Stomach Punch, a Kick in the Nuts, a Dagger to the Eye.

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