Death By Ten Thousand Paper Cuts
Sunday, July 30 2006 @ 10:30 AM EDT
Contributed by: Dave Till
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.