Off Day Blues Vol. 7
Thursday, September 02 2021 @ 07:36 AM EDT
Contributed by: Eephus
As your bad day disappears
No longer wound up like a string
Before you had too much
Come back in focus again
These 2021 Blue Jays haven't exactly been a jigsaw falling into place, have they. All season long there have been those teasing moments where they seem to be finally putting it all together, usually followed by a few deflating losses that seem almost charming in their inventiveness.
Wait, I meant the opposite of charming.
Yet as it currently stands, this team is still somehow dawdling on the fringes of the wildcard race... though a serious surge forward (like winning 9 of the next 11) probably doesn't even guarantee much. Several remaining games against both the Orioles and Twins gives some pause for hope, but six more games against the infuriating Rays do not. The way I sees it, see... the upcoming A's series is the big one. Gotta at minimum win the series and gain a game, a sweep being ideal and perhaps a little greedy but hey who around here would complain. Besides, time is not on their side (sorry Mick Jagger).
Anyhow, on to my usual random observations...
Top of the Seventh
Up Off The Matz
It's been a wild season for Matz the former Metz pitcher (sorry couldn't resist) and I think the results have been probably better than most of us expected. Despite some mid-season struggles (and basically only pitching twice for a month because of COVID and then the All-Star break) Matz has been a reliable mid/back of the rotation starter. His biggest problems (beyond the dangerous virus of course) have been the Red Sox (1-1, 6.00 in 3 starts, 15 innings), the Astros (1-1, 6.75 in 2 starts, 9.1 innings with 16 hits!) and a disastrous start against the Nationals back in April. His steady August has been well documented, though it is strange how effective he's been while his strikeouts have greatly disappeared in July and August (just 6.5/9, compared to over one per inning every other month). I don't really have any conclusions, and a lot of the lack of August whiffs has to do with only 3 in 12 innings against the Tigers (against whom he was very good... baseball is a funny game).
It'll be interesting to see what his market is like come wintertime. Aside from a bad 2017 and his horrifyingly dreadful 2020, the season he's giving the Blue Jays is pretty close to what he usually is. I sort of figure the team will bring back one of their free agent lefties (ideally Captain Tightpants of course).
I think we were all a little concerned after Romano's first few outings of the season (I recall somebody commenting "is it possible we've misjudged this guy a late inning reliever on 14 innings in 2020?"). 3.2 innings with 4 hits and 5 walks surrendered... ain't great.
Since losing that game in Tampa Bay (his only loss of the season), he's walked 15 in 46.1. That's more reasonable. While July was a bit rough on him, in August he was masterful despite seemingly abandoning his slider for the most part (insert spin-rate, sticky stuff comment here). Now it seems Romano is up there just blasting the fastball by everybody, which seems to be working since nobody hits him hard anyway (32.5 hard hit percentage, versus the MLB average of 39.2 %). He still needs to throw the slider occasionally, at least to show batters it exists of course, and he is completely awful/indifferent at holding baserunners... but the Blue Jays may really have something here. Not an upper tier relief type like a Josh Hader, Liam Hendriks or whoever the heck the Yankees are using as a setup man (Loaisiga? Chad Green? Ughhhh damn Yankees)... but I think one positive development this season has been Romano proving he can be "that guy" in the biggest spots.
Plus he's so darn quirky to watch. He seems simultaneously half-awake and super intense... all the weird twisting of his torso he does, the ditched knee bend (which Vlad Jr. famously imitated)... and especially when he had the huge beard and would mutter to himself on the mound as he often does... he seemed less like a baseball player and more like a vagrant who wandered into the wrong building. As close to an automatic 9th inning guy the Blue Jays have had since Ken Giles before the elbow problems (I think he did the bending thing too!) Anyway...
The bat hasn't been great lately (you could say that about anybody on this team not named Gurriel or Kirk) but as the season has gone on I do think Bichette has improved defensively. I previously said it was more of a mental thing than a physical tools thing, and he seems to have gotten better at not dropping routine balls or trying to force plays that are not there. It does drive me a bit nuts though that he still loves rushing throws when he actually has an extra split second to at least set or better balance himself... and I'm sure Vlad's increased adeptness at scooping throws has saved Bichette at least half a dozen errors. Regardless, I'm more convinced now than I was in April that he can stay at shortstop at least a while longer, especially if he continues to improve with experience. Is Marcus Semien better over there? Very much so, but I don't think overall it's been enough of a difference to really matter in this particular weird, frustrating season.
Seventh Inning Stretch
Just something completely fun and pointless I've thought about. Since the team has used so many players (especially pitchers) this season, surely there might be some overlap in jersey numbers right? And since I am rather obsessive over that stuff (in my hardball league I scare/astonish people by remembering what numbers they used to wear a decade ago) lets check out those overlaps, and perhaps some other notable notes worthy of notation.
14 -- Tanner Roark, Corey Dickerson
To be honest, I'd completely forgotten Roark even pitched for this team. He wasn't as bad as you think, but after last year and his terrible one starting appearance we were all ready for anybody better. Ah... those truly were more innocent days...
28 -- Jared Hoying, Joakim Soria
Hoying is another guy you would've missed had you blinked for a weekend. Can't even remember why he was around at all (Springer must've still been hurt... was this when Hernandez had COVID also?). Anyway, Hoying is kind of a fun story considering he was playing rec softball like a month earlier or something. I recall his swing being appropriately loopy.
44 -- Rowdy Tellez, Connor Overton
Tellez has cooled in Milwaukee somewhat, but still seems to be getting semi-regular at bats. Between him and Daniel Vogelbach (just off the IL) I dunno about the Brewers first base situation but I'm sure they'd dominate a tag team wrestling match.
52 -- Tayler Saucedo, Brad Hand
I'll write more about Hand later.
54 -- Joel Payamps, Tayler Saucedo
Saucedo is the only guy on the 2021 Blue Jays not just to wear two different numbers, but also share those two numbers with now departed players! Also for some reason, saying Saucedo reminds me of that Phil Collins song (yep, you're welcome for that).
60 -- Ty Tice, Kirby Snead
The really short righty pitcher and the not so short(?) lefty pitcher with serious 70s southern rock hair.
66 -- Patrick Murphy, Kevin Smith
Speaking of pairs, this duo must have the most common names to play for the team (among English names of course). I've met many people named Patrick or with a last name Murphy, and there's already a way more famous Kevin Smith in the world (frankly I'm surprised there haven't been more jokes about that, and I really only like a few of those movies).
As far as notable numbers not worn this season... until Jarrod Dyson came along nobody had borrowed Tony Fernandez's #1 (which... I'd argue maybe should be/should have been retired. This isn't the Leafs pre-2010s and I'm not super huge on "honouring" numbers for great players). #19 remains vacant (I think Alen Hanson was the last to wear it, literary for just a game and people freaked out) as does #20 among players (Luis Rivera wears it, surrendering his old #4 to George Springer). Montoyo wears #25 (Ah Carlos' old number... it does seem fitting Charlie has that one). Nobody has worn #45 or #46 (maybe Baker gets it?) or #53 or #55 (unless it's a coach I'm forgetting about). Even though the team has used 16(!) numbers higher than #55 this season, I'm stopping here. This could genuinely be it's own article if I keep going, and it's time to get back to the show.
Bottom of the Seventh
The Adventures of Teo (And Friends)
Overall, Teoscar Hernandez has had an encouraging year and his development at the plate seems very real. His glove is what it is but the horrific miscues have been less frequent than before.
What is baffling me though are some of his decisions on the basepaths, even just last night on Grichuk's go ahead sac fly. That was way too shallow to advance to third, and just drawing the throw while trying is so risky in case the run doesn't score in time. He must lead the team in rundowns gotten into... he is insane sometimes out there. Now sure, Jose Bautista also ran the bases like he was an Nintendo commando trying to speed run Contra or Super C... but Jose was also an extremely intelligent runner. His hyper-aggressiveness would get the better of him on occasion (and we'd likewise groan), but I'm very confident Bautista was far more of a positive than a negative in that aspect.
Granted, none of the young guys particularly impress me with their baserunning smarts anyway. Gurriel Jr. has some crafty slides but is way slower than you'd expect a guy as lanky as him would be (and I think he tends to overestimate himself). Bichette has gotten better, and Guerrero Jr. usually has the right idea but not really those particular tools to excel at it. Gotta start learning from these mistakes eventually though, especially when by far the best baserunner on the team keeps hurting his ankles, quads and knees.
The Bullpen That Almost Was But Then Wasn't
I'll go one by one here and quickly because... I've got a lot of "swell farewell" to spread.
Brad Hand -- I wish Riley Adams the best of course. Geez though, that did not go well. The rough first appearance, the 4 pitch walkoff walk in Seattle (I honestly in the moment didn't predict he'd do that... I thought Kelenic would poke a blooper the other way. Ah... this season), or basically repaying that money he owed his old Nationals teammates. Someone will throw a minor league deal at Hand I'm sure, lefties always wander the league long past expiry and chances are fruitful... but he'll have to rediscover something (anything!) that actually works.
Rafael Dolis -- I never disliked Dolis as much as many others did (and he was genuinely good last year) but I get how infuriating and not fun he was to watch. I once went to the store around the corner when he started an inning, came back and he'd just gotten his first strike on the second batter (after walking the first, of course). Seems like a guy with stuff moving too much and he had no clue how to throw it for strikes.
Julian Merryweather -- Like everyone, I was seriously impressed for about three minutes. No, I don't think you can rely on him either.
David Phelps -- See Merryweather, except it was more like nine minutes.
Trent Thornton -- Try him again as a starter in AAA? Get cooler glasses? Don't throw so many straight crappy fastballs? Everyone seems to really hate him these days so like many of us, he needs a place to hide for a while.
Tyler Chatwood -- The Giants were much smarter than us and ditched him after two awful games. A reason they're definitely going to the playoffs.
Jacob Barnes -- Well... he's probably glad to not be a Met anymore. I know I'm glad he's not a Blue Jay anymore.
Patrick Murphy -- Kinda wished he'd been better, I liked watching him pitch until he released the ball from his hand.
T.J. Zeuch -- I don't even believe he struck out eight guys this season. Feels like six too many. Future Orioles or Pirates opening day starter T.J. Zeuch.
All right, I've been mean enough. Actually wait, one more target...
The Charlie Problem
Likeable guy? Sure. Seems to have his players play hard for him, even after all the deflating losses and crazy moving around different home stadiums this season? Sure again (and that adversity might just save his job for the winter at least). Does he put his team in the best position to win every night? Yeeeeeeahhh about that.
I'm not going to list off every baffling in-game decision he's made, aside from the Valera for Kirk bunting thing which breaks the spectrum of stupid. Lets agree, he makes some consistently terrible decisions, many that don't make any sense what-so-freaking-ever. Every manager has "his guys" where for whatever reason they play way more than they should, but Valera as an example hasn't really done anything to earn that type of faith at all. He's not a young piece, his switch hitting isn't useful because he can't hit from either side, oh and also he ISN'T A GOOD BUNTER EITHER SO STOP FREAKING ASKING HIM TO DO IT.
I don't want to rant forever, so what frustrates me most is Montoyo repeats the same mistakes over and over again, and frankly oftentimes so does his team. It's hard to conclude whether their success is because of him or in spite of him, we'll never know really (at least for 2021). I know I've seen enough to at least speculate a conclusion though.
Around The League
Playoff races! Excitement! Oh... basically every division is pretty much settled except the NL West, the AL West if you're generous (I'm not) or the awful NL East (the spiraling Mets aren't even completely out of it yet). But wildcards! Okay that's somewhat better.
We've been following/obsessing/lamenting the Blue Jays fading chances fairly constantly, as it seems the two AL Wildcard spots are going to fall to one duo of the threesome A's, Red Sox or Yankees. Gross. The Mariners are still in there too, somehow (ughhhhh), are still ahead of Toronto (double ughhhhhh) and at the very least are positioned to be serious spoilers for someone (they play the A's seven more times, the Red Sox three). They also play the 45-90 Arizona Diamondbacks six times, because everything is great!
The Diamondbacks beat the Padres earlier today, which is good news for my Cincinnati Reds who are tangoing with San Diego for that second NL Wildcard (the first will almost certainly go to whichever of the Dodgers or Giants lose the division). The Reds have hit their stride since a 1-5 run out of the All-Star break which left them at 49-47. They went 22-12 for the next 32 games (much helped by Joey Votto's super cool run of eight home runs in six games) and their offense ranks among the best in most NL categories. As for the Padres, they've lost 14 of their last 19 and while they employ several good everyday players (the electric Tatis Jr, Machado, Cronenworth, outfielder Trent Grisham), some middling offensive performance from supporting pieces like Ha-Seong Kim, catcher Victor Caratini (playing for the often injured Austin Nola) and deadline pickup Adam Frazier (who has been completely terrible) have brought the Padres overall offensive production closer to middle of the pack than top of the shop.
San Diego has the far superior bullpen (the Reds pen has been arguably worse than the Blue Jays... they'd pillage for a Jordan Romano, hell even a Trent Thornton) but the Padres rotation is fairly thin behind Joe Musgrove (he's been real good), Yu Darvish and an improving Blake Snell. The Reds have sorted out Luis Castillo, still have Sonny Gray, Wade Miley's ERA is miraculously still hovering near 3, Tyler Mahle might be the best NL Central starter you know nothing about and mid-season callup Vladimir Gutierrez has given Cincinnati almost 100 very effective innings.
The two teams don't play each other again, although the Cardinals are sneaking back into the picture just 2.5 back as well (they always find a way...) and both the Reds and Padres have one more series with them apiece. All this just for a chance to play one game and get stomped by the Dodgers!
Perhaps... but it could also be the Giants and they're way more beatable right? Not positive about that one... they're an excellent team in their own right, with all these veteran players continuing to combine harmoniously for career years in their early-mid 30s. San Francisco has a bunch of position players that Gabe Kapler can mix and switch around, while Kevin Gausman or Logan Webb have been stellar enough that even your elite offense or explosive young stars might not have a fun time in a one game take all.
It's exciting stuff, a fun part of the year and just as long as the dumb St. Louis Cardinals don't do their Cardinals thing and sneak past both the Reds and fun Padres... should be quite a race. See ya all next time soon, hopefully some big wins put the Bluebirds within similar conversations.