Before I begin this week’s gripe-fest I’d just like to thank you for all of your kind words after the passing of one of my four-legged baseball watching buddies. I’ve always felt this picture (Hey Maury! Look, a JPEG!) captures him best.
A personal anecdote about this ol’ renegade: When we used to go for our walks, he’d literally play a practical joke on my other dog. Every so often he’d mess with Shadow’s (AKA: the other dog) head. We’d be walking along and Sandy would raise his hackles, growl, and start barking literally at nothing at all. This would get Shadow’s attention, and he’d take off after whatever he thought Sandy was barking at. The moment Shadow was off and running, he’d stop the histrionics, and—I swear to God—he looked like he was laughing.
Maybe it was a “you had to be there” type thing, but it never got old.
But I digress.
So the Blue Jays are done. A 6-4 homestand after the All-Star break, coupled with a 2-8 road trip, followed up with another 3-3 stint back home, and well …
It makes me wonder what Sox fans (both colors) are complaining about. They’re both within three games of a playoff spot, whereas only the Washington Nationals (and barely at that) are further away from a postseason berth than the Jays among the denizens of the NL East.
Memo to Chicago and Boston: Come to Toronto and we’ll show you what a real skid looks like.
Anyway I’ve come not to bury the Jays (they did that themselves), but to praise them. Shoot, if my eulogy is premature and the Jays storm all the way back into the playoff picture, making me look like an idiot again (I do that myself), I’ll just have to find a way to live with with the embarrassment of watching pennant race baseball.
I’m sure I’ll cope somehow.
Cy Doc Run
Roy Halladay is currently first in innings pitched (despite losing some time early in the season), tied for same in wins, third in ERA, fourth in WHIP, and a few light-years out of first in strikeouts—although it should be noted that Halladay has stated repeatedly that he’s not going for strikeouts to conserve his arm.
There’s some stiff competition to be sure, but like Halladay, they have some challenges ahead of them:
- Francisco Liriano (12-3, 2.19 ERA, 119 IP, 32 BB, 142 K, 1.01 WHIP) :Exciting kid, fun to watch. However he’s having some problems with his magical left arm, and he’s way behind Halladay in innings pitched. Can he log enough quality innings to stay in the hunt?
- Johan Santana (13-5, 3.24 ERA, 169.1 IP, 37 BB, 178 K, 1.06 WHIP): The favorite for the award in my caffeine-addled mind at this point. It should be noted, however, that although he’s a jaw-dropping 9-1 over his last 10 starts, his ERA over that stretch is 3.88, causing it to rise from 2.75 to its current 3.24. Something to watch, at any rate.
- Justin Verlander (14-4, 2.79 ERA, 135.1 IP, 38 BB, 92 K, 1.16 WHIP): Dang, there’re some nice young pitchers popping up this year, eh? His innings pitched total is quite a bit south of Halladay’s, and like Doc [this year], he doesn’t strike out a lot, and Comerica Park is probably goosing his totals a bit, but stil;—definitely a contender.
- Curt Schilling (14-4, 3.78 ERA 159.1 IP 20 BB 142 K 1.14 WHIP): Don’t laugh. That BB/K, BB/G ratio is sick. Plus, it has been observed on many occasions (LaMarr Hoyt, Jack McDowell, Bob Welch, Bartolo Colon, etc.) that win totals will sway the Baseball Writers Association of America over other considerations. Furthermore, Schilling has been a Cydesmaid three times, and if he leads the loop in wins, it might be enough to give him the nod.
Right now Halladay has as good a shot as anym and pretty much controls his destiny insofar as the Cy Young Award goes.
Reedalanotto is currently the second best left fielder (using OPS) in the American League—factor in defense and it becomes a lot closer. Frank Catalanotto is a free agent this year and certainly should be offered arbitration. After a solid 2005 and excellent 2006, he might feel he should play full time. There’s a lot of noise that Vernon Wells isn’t making a lot of long term plans in Canada, so it might be good insurance for the Jays to hang on to him. With Wells in the midst of a superb campaign (.325/.385/.601; 27 HR, 83 RBI) his trade value this off season will never be higher. Bear in mind that up to this year, Wells’ OPS+ indicates he’s only been slightly above average in three of the last five seasons (2006 included). If Wells must be dealt …
Chief of Staph
Not surprisingly Alex Rios has been struggling since his return from the DL. His .234/.280/.255 line with one extra-base hit (a double) might be OK to bat leadoff for Dusty Baker, but not OK for a right fielder on a contending club. Until he rounds back into form, I’m going to hold my breath. I’d be inclined to keep Eric Hinske (.270/.355/.529; 12 HR) around as insurance (and motivation). I don’t doubt Rios’ natural talent—however I really don’t doubt Murphy’s Law.
Let me preface this by saying this: Over the last couple of years, Greg Zaun has rapidly risen in my pantheon of all time favorite Jays. I love what he brings to the ballclub: his bat, his defense, his attitude … everything. Having said that, I think the current setup is ideal for Zaun’s talents. Not a backup, but not a full time receiver either. He’ll be 36 years old next year, and one of the reasons he’s so productive at 35 is that he doesn’t play full time. He gets a chance to rest his body and stay fresh. I don’t think we’d be seeing a .267/.370/.440 line from him had he been behind the dish more than 90 times this year. If Benji Molina doesn’t like the current setup then find someone who will for 2007. I’d like to see Zaun catch 90-95 games in 2007, and if he continues to be productive offensively, give him some pinch hitting/designated hitting duties. J.P. Ricciardi should be looking for someone willing to catch 60-70 games next season.
Believe it or not, I’m not terribly worried about the ‘pen. Yes, I’ve thought my share of naughty words this year. Regardless, the arms are there. They’ve given up fewer hits than innings pitched and they’re third in the AL in strikeouts per inning. The trouble is inexperience and command; they walk too many (second in the AL), fall behind too many batters, and when they do finally come in, hitters are sitting on the fastball and crushing it (third in AL in home runs surrendered). Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Francisco Rosario, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and Jeremy Accordo (yes, I realize some are slated for the rotation) all have terrific raw stuff. With experience, coaching and an appreciation of the value of strike one, the Jays should have little problem getting the ball to B.J. Ryan in 2007.
Help! I Need Somebody
I realize that pitching wins have as much to do with the offense as it does the guy on the mound. For example, Gustavo Chacin averaged a smidge over five innings a start, had an ERA of 5.61, gave up more hits than innings pitched, walked over four batters per 9 innings, coughed up 13 home runs in 51.1 frames, yet was 6-2 before he got hurt. However, it’s impressive that Roy Halladay is 11 games over .500 on a club that’s 60-54. Other than Chacin, only one other starter is .500 or better, and that’s Shaun Marcum, at 1-1. I think it’s pretty obvious who the Jays’ MVP this year to date is—absent the Doc, the Jays are likely battling the Orioles for fourth place.
Still, I think the Jays rotation needs one more arm from outside the organization for 2007. If A.J. Burnett is healthy (granted, a big if), the Jays have a fine 1-2 punch in him and Halladay. Between Chacin, McGowan, Rosario, Casey Janssen, Marcum and who knows—even Josh Towers (4 BB/44 K in 67.1 IP at Syracuse), they should be able to cobble together a decent fourth and fifth starter. What Ricciardi needs to do is find a guy to slip in between the front and back of the rotation. Even an older pitcher with only a year or two left in the tank wouldn’t be a bad idea until one of the kids is ready for the role.
I don’t think the Jays are that far away, and 2007 should be fun. So … as of August 11, 2006 I will officially ask the following question:
When do pitchers and catchers report?
Go Jays go.