Blue Jays mail bag
Many readers believe that we in the media are always looking and hoping for the Jays to lose. That is absolutely not true. The reasons may seem selfish, but it’s much easier to work with players and coaches in a winning environment. The answers seem better, the smiles seem longer and more genuine, the banter is lighter and the stories more diverse. How many times can you write fire the manager, the emperor/GM has no clothes, the hitters choked, the bullpen gave it up? I guess Yankee writers are fining that out. In any case, it’s nice to have another mailbag with a range of questions that are mostly positive and upbeat. I’ve come to the conclusion the readers are like a barometer of the Jays’ fortunes on the field. Here we go.
Q: It’s not quite as bad as Roy Halladay pitching four complete games and winning only one, but you've got to wonder about A.J. Burnett's luck sometimes. The man throws eight innings of 3-hit ball, is in a position to win, turns the ball over to the normally solid B.J. Ryan, the win all but guaranteed and...nothing. A great effort, and that’s it. But is that enough? I feel like the '08 Burnett is pitching better than the '06 and '07 one. I know his lifetime record is .500, but sometimes luck factors in (i.e. the game-saving catch Rios made in Doc's last game. Doc probably would have lost without that play). Any word on how Burnett is mentally holding up one-third through the season? Some of us Jays fans actually wish him well.
Francesco Paonessa, Richmond Hill
A: That is one of the great things about baseball. Because each game is a series of vignettes, 70-80 one-on-one duels adding up to a final outcome, anyone can dissect any game any way and have legitimate reasons why a game was won or lost, or why one pitcher is pitching in bad luck over another.
Yes, A.J. Burnett handed over a 3-2 lead to B.J. Ryan and yes the save was blown. Burnett had maybe his best curveball of the year going on Sunday, by his own estimation. His stuff was virtually un-hittable. But earlier in the game, to set up the Ryan blown save, just as A.J. was handed a 3-0 lead by his mates, he served up a juicy pitch to rookie Sean Rodriguez that he slammed into the bullpen for a two-run homer, the first of his career.
The '08 Burnett is indeed pitching better than the previous two seasons. He is healthier, other than the Range Rovered loss of a fingernail that he spent the spring trying to overcome. Burnett is also a kinder, gentler A.J. with everyone this year. Cynics might suggest that the improved consistency and the change in personality might have something to do with the fact that he has an opt-out opportunity after this season and needs to lay all his cards on the table for potential suitors as he did successfully in his other free-agent season, 2005. That year, with the Marlins, he set career highs in wins (12), starts (32) and innings pitched (209) and parlayed that into a five-year $55 million contract. Yikes! What would Doc be worth on the open market?
Q: Hello Richard:
This is one of those obnoxious “embarrassment of riches” sort of questions, but I think it needs to be asked: what are we going to do with (Casey) Janssen when he comes off the DL and is healthy enough to resume full-time duties? He is, despite his first (terrible) year, a bona fide starter, but with this top five, I can't imagine anybody being taken out. Do we stick him in long-relief until a starter gets injured, or is there anything else we can do?
Thane BenAngelo, St. Catharines, Ont.
A: In baseball there is no such thing as an embarrassment of riches. Year to year there is always something that changes the best-laid plans of mice and GMs.
As for Janssen’s future, think about this. If he had remained healthy, Jesse Litsch would be at Triple-A right now. The truth is that Janssen's best role is as a setup man for the closer, the same role he filled so well in 2007. This is the opinion of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, even before Janssen’s unfortunate injury at spring training. By the time Janssen is back next year, who knows about A.J. and whether he will be gone. Then there's Halladay's contract that runs through 2010 and the other guys are tied up even beyond that. In addition, there is a crop of starters that may be ready to join the mix by '09. Then there are always injuries.
Things always work themselves out. Sit back and enjoy the current five. The good news for Janssen fans is that when we talked to him in Anaheim, when he came out to the yard and tried to stay out of everyone's way, he seemed mature and accepting of his present, looking forward to his future. He watches a lot of major-league games on TV and is always looking for things that other pitchers do that he could incorporate. Smart kid.
Q: Hello Richard,
When will sports writers such as yourself realize that dumping Frank Thomas resulted in the turnaround by the Jays? Without Thomas, the Jays are no longer a power hitting team. They now feature, pitching, defence and “small ball”. The Jays are playing winning baseball without Thomas. Signing him was a mistake, but dumping him seems to have salvaged the season.
Paul Martin, Brampton
A: Dude, you’re like someone who reads Tolstoy's epic War and Peace and just reads the parts about the "peace". You’ve got to read the whole body of work to appreciate it. Writers wrote exactly that about Thomas at the time he was released. Even though I liked Thomas as a man, the signing from Day 1 was a misguided mistake by a GM fascinated with being able to obtain one of the great on-base percentage leaders of all time.
Q: Richard - Love the mailbag, but that hurt when you picked (Josh) Beckett as your “best pitcher”. And perhaps that relates to your response to my question. Is it too early to talk all-star reps yet? Assuming the Jays only get one representative (unless we perhaps threw Ryan into the mix; certainly none of their noodle-like batsmen are going) is it Halladay or (Jesse) Litsch? Never thought we'd bring up Jesse’s name just yet, did you? But the kid threw a shutout again today (May 28th) and has an ERA comparable to Halladay. I think Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball and certainly eats more innings, but at this point, does Litsch deserve the nod over the good Doctor?
Andy Kaczynski, Waterloo, Ont.
A: The Litsch vs. Halladay all-star question is like pondering whether Jonah Hill should win an Oscar for Superbad over Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood, just because Hill’s movie made more money at the box office. As for this year’s All-Star Game, don’t forget Scott Rolen. The players get to cast a vote for a couple of players. That’s how Troy Glaus got in a couple of years ago and how Alex Rios got in last year. If A-Rod is voted in by the fans, that leaves a spot for another third-baseman. Mike Lowell of Boston and Adrian Beltre of Seattle are Rolen’s main competition. Even though the Jays' staff is full of guys that have an argument to be all-stars, history dictates a healthy Halladay is it.
Q: Hi Richard,
Am I the only person who thinks Adam Lind got a raw deal as a call-up earlier this season. It usually takes time for any player to get his timing back after injury, but for a minor league player to have to do it at the Major League level seems like poor planning on the Jays part. While he didn't perform in the limited time (20 AB) he was given, he seems to be excelling in the minors, leading the team in RBIs while hitting .328 and .463 with RISP. Would he not be an upgrade over Wilkerson in RF who is currently barely staying over the Mendoza line? While the Jays continue to win with Wilkerson in the line-up I don't expect any changes, but I wonder how long they can go with a .200 hitter, and when Lind will get another shot at showing his potential. What's your take and do you have any inside info on J.P. Riccardi’s plan for him?
Chris Dunlop, Toronto
A: You must be the guy who only read the “War” part of War and Peace. Are you the only guy? Hmm! Check out my column of May 6, "Jays aren’t looking at the Big Picture." It’s great to see Lind re-finding his groove in the minors.
This guy was given a raw deal via poor planning. The Jays brought him up as an everyday left fielder, with the plan being that Shannon Stewart and Matt Stairs would platoon at DH. A lot of pressure and some resentment from guys already on the scene was all that created for Lind. He's a quiet small-town kid from Indiana with a (for now) fragile psyche. Why not give Stairs the full-time DH job and have Lind platoon in left with Stewart. Neither one is a great defender, but at least he could have eased into the full-time role by earning it. But J.P. is a genius so who are we to question him?
As for Wilkerson, that’s another guy that Ricciardi has tried to get over the years and finally was successful – as a released player from the Mariners. Wilkerson knows how to play the game already which earns him the respect of manager John Gibbons. You’re right. Since the rest of the team has started to hit, it's less noticeable when your right fielder, who averages 180 strikeouts every 600 at-bats and hasn’t hit over .250 since 2005, is hitting .221 with a .600 OPS. But, as Gibbons keeps repeating: "He knows how to play the game."
As for J.P.’s plans for Adam Lind, I think the plans are for Travis Snider and Lind gets the scraps.
Q: I admired your recent and rather frank assessment of Dave Stieb. I'm wondering if you could rank the top-5 Jays pitchers “of all time” perhaps excluding or asterisking you-know-who because of you-know-what and those who did not play a whole season, adding your frank assessments if you wish. Perhaps if you have time to reminisce, you could do the same for the Expos (one could weep).
Frederick Duquette, Edmonton
A: I love questions like this. Yes, Stieb is one of those for whom the famous line "He never learned to say hello until it was time to say goodbye" may have been written. But on to the rankings.
The Top Five Jays pitchers of all time, based on impact and not on record, because the ERAs change the criteria: 1. Stieb; 2. Roy Halladay; 3. Mindy’s Main Man; 4. Pat Hentgen; T5. Jim Clancy, Jimmy Key. The relievers Tom Henke and Duane Ward would head a separate list of top bullpen performers. As for the Expos, that is a question near and dear to my heart. Using the same criteria, in terms of impact over stats: 1. Steve Rogers; 2. Dennis Martinez; 3. Pedro Martinez; 4. Bill Stoneman; T5. Bryn Smith, Charlie Lea.
Am I the only one to observe that when Aaron Hill struck out against Huston Street the other night while representing the tying run, it left me with a case of the Hill-Street blues?
Rob Wilkins, Scarborough
A: That is a great line and I wish I had thought of it – and in fact, somewhere down the line, I’m sure I will. I’m also quite positive that as Hill approached the plate in Oakland with the outcome of the game on the line, he hoped he was going to U2’s special place “Where the Streets Have No Game.”
Q: I'll be heading down to Pittsburgh in June to catch the Jays play at PNC Park and I was wondering if you had any knowledge of the area/park that a visiting fan should know? (Other than bowing to Roberto Clemente as the All Knowing, All Powerful, Maker and Creator).
Andrew Stewart, Oshawa
A: I love Pittsburgh. Not the Pittsburgh of the late ‘70s when I first started going there where every time you went for a walk you were covered in soot and had to take a shower when you came back to your room. But the modern Pittsburgh where steel has gone the way of iron; where rust never sleeps; where you find the confluence of the three rivers, the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio; where rusty orange bridges span the waterways as far as the eye can see; where the women strolling the streets still see Mary Tyler Moore and Marlo Thomas as their icons of style; where the favourite names for twin girls have long been Polly and Ester; where Terry Bradshaw could win at Jeopardy.
The new ballpark is a great area to go early and stay late after games. Three Rivers Stadium was one of those ’70s multi-sport cookie-cutter parks that you went to just for the ballgame. There was nothing to do on that side of the river. Now with PNC Park, one of the greatest of the new buildings to watch a game in, it’s a hub of night clubs and restaurants that stay lively well after the game. I would stay at a downtown hotel like the Courtyard by Marriott or the Westin at the Convention Centre and just walk to games. As you come down off the bridge is the statue of Roberto Clemente. It must be touched with reverence. Post-game there are many choices to have a drink, but there is one just down the side street across from the Clemente statue that you must go for at least one libation. It’s a hole in the wall where I took my daughter and her friend after the All-Star Game a few years ago. There’s room for about 25 patrons. The owner tends bar and when he found out we were Canadian we had to sing the anthem to the assembled throng (of 10). He’s a big hockey fan and talked of having to throw Sidney Crosby out for being underage even though Sid didn’t even want to order alcohol. He was just hanging with teammates.
Tough town. Nice town. Also must-dos are the Museum of Natural History (who says I have no culture) and Station Square during the day for shopping and lunch.
Q: Hi Richard,
Now that the Blue Jays have found their offensive stride and are playing winning baseball I think it’s an opportune time to explore the lighter side of baseball. I ask that you pick your all-time Expos squad compare it with your all-time Blue Jays squad and pick which team you’d think would win in a seven-game Canadian (albeit fantasy) World Series.
Fred Vance, Calgary
A: Like I said above, I love questions like this. In this case, unlike the question above, we’re looking for short-term talent that could win a seven-game series. That would leave out the likes of Jim Clancy for the Jays and Bill Stoneman for the Expos. Here we go:
|Catcher||Ernie Whitt||Gary Carter||Expos|
|First Base||Carlos Delgado||Andres Galarraga||Jays|
|Second base||Roberto Alomar||Jose Vidro||Jays|
|Third Base||Kelly Gruber||Tim Wallach||Expos|
|Shortstop||Tony Fernandez||Orlando Cabrera||Jays|
|Left Field||George Bell||Tim Raines||Expos|
|Centre Field||Lloyd Moseby||Andre Dawson||Expos|
|Right Field||Jesse Barfield||Vlad Guerrero||Expos|
|4-Starters||Dave Stieb||Steve Rogers||Expos|
|McNamee’s bum-boy||Dennis Martinez||Jays|
|Pat Hentgen||Pedro Martinez||Expos|
|Jimmy Key||Charlie Lea||Jays|
|2-Relievers||Tom Henke||John Wetteland||Expos|
|Duane Ward||Mike Marshall||Jays|
|Manager||Cito Gaston||Dick Williams||Jays|
RESULT: Expos win a seven game series, four games to three.
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