Amazing. In the space of one road trip, skittish Jays fans have gone from puffing out their chests with pride and planning an October parade route down Yonge Street, to demanding a dismantling of the roster, looking over their shoulders with fear and trepidation at the Orioles. The fact is, in the world of MLB nothing is ever that good and nothing is ever that bad. Baseball, of all the major North American pro sports, has the most parity of them all. Consider that as of Monday morning, only the Dodgers boasted a win-percentage above .600 and only the Nationals had sunk below .400. What that means mathematically is that 28 of 30 major-league teams win between 4 to 6 times out of every 10 games that they play. Oh, and one more thing. Gaston will eventually change his batting order.On to the mail bag.
Q: Some venting for you Richard. What has been absolutely killing me in watching this losing streak is to see the enormous number of men this team continues to leave on base. I can't even begin to comprehend the lack of hitting with men on base in key situations. I mean it's everyone. Every single player kills rallies, to the point where they can't even get a runner home from third with less than two outs. As a fan, this is actually worrying because this is becoming reminiscent of teams over the last few years - teams that just did not have a killer instinct. As a fan, am I to worry, or is this just a short-term dilemma?
Zaki Ameen, Mississauga
A: Even Cito Gaston has pointed at this lack of clutch as his main bugaboo over the length of the losing streak. The Jays can get 8-13 hits per game and still only seem to manufacture 1-2 runs.
Certainly good pitchers approach hitters differently when nobody is on base and your team has a lead. Challenge the hitters with strikes and make them earn their way one base and earn their way back into the game. Since the Jays always seem to be trailing during the losing streak, the hitters are seeing more hittable pitches – that is until Jays runners reach scoring position. At that point, the savvy opposing pitchers begin to work the hitters and that’s when the Jays struggle.
The problem compounds itself when every hitter tries to carry the load himself. The extra stress and pressure adds extra tension through the hands, wrists and forearms, leading to twitchy swings and dragging the bat through the zone, leading to runners left in scoring position leading to the next guy feeling added pressure, etc. The opposite of this situation is also true. That was called April.
As for short-term or long-term, that all depends on when the first time they can put two games in a row of solid clutch-hitting together will be. It can be bloopers dropping in, or grounder sneaking through. But it just has to be hits on the score-sheet and runs on the scoreboard. That’s when it will change.
Q: Saw Vernon Wells squinting after his strikeout in the seventh vs. Baltimore (Tuesday night). I did the same when my long distance vision was deteriorating. Could his eyesight be the problem?
Andy & Gloria Schwabe, Pickering
A: I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I sense my posterior starting to tighten up, I begin to squint. I don’t think it’s Vernon’s eyesight, because every year on the first day of training camp in Dunedin, players have a full physical, including peeing in a bottle for MLB drug-testers, and an eye test. Coincidentally, I got my hands on a copy of Vernon’s results of this spring’s eye exam. Vision at home 20-30; Vision with nobody on base .300-.300; Vision close and late with RISP .180-.180. No, I think the squinting after the strikeout was part of a full facial grimace or disgust.
Q: Hi Richard,
I was wondering, as the Jays finally returned to their nest and stopped trying to play with the bigger birds, what happened to Tim Johnson? His lying about being in the military was wrong I admit, but he did have the team finish (I think) 14 games over .500. Any reason why he hasn't resurfaced at the Major League level or has that lie just sort of buried him? Considering what he did with that team imagine what he could do with a good team? Is it that managers unlike players never get a second chance to prove themselves after they lie?
Ian Murray, Maple, Ont.
A: First of all, Tim Johnson did not lie about being in the military. He was a Marine Corps mortar instructor at Camp Pendleton, in southern California, training young recruits who were then shipped to Vietnam in the early ‘70s. Johnson was doing his military duty like every other eligible major-league player at the time. Only Johnson was doing more than most of them, who just did reserve National Guard duty on one weekend each month. His lie was that he actually did a tour of duty in Vietnam.
But, knowing Johnson well on a personal basis, visiting him at his home in Montana and spending much time with him as a coach with the Expos, I know he was profoundly affected by the fact that many of the kids he trained and got to know were sent to ‘Nam and never returned, or returned in a wheelchair. There is an actual medical syndrome that accounts for his feelings, like some others in similar situations, who needed to tell people that they actually served over there, themselves to assuage feelings of guilt.
Johnson was actually hired by the Brewers as an advance scout by owner Wendy Selig in the winter of ’99-00 but he resigned the position because of the pressure of ridicule from his still fresh firing by the Jays and the Vietnam lie. He went back to Mexico to manage, where he is a legend. Then, for most of the past decade, he managed in the independent Northern League. What amazes me is that Roger Clemens and Jose Canseco were big parts of that ’98 team and Johnson is the one some consider the biggest disgrace.
Q: Life and love has moved me from the chill of Edmonton to the urban sprawl of SoCal. To the west of La Mirada lay the Dodgers, to the southeast, the Angels. Confronted with such an embarrassment of baseball riches, where should an ex-pat Jays fan find a new home? I like that the Dodger stadium has been renovated to its original 1962 colours, though the loss of Manny, like the overpriced Dodger Dog, makes me Think Blue.
On the other hand, the Angels and their stadium has definitely more of the Orange County vibe, more like Disney than Dodgers with amusements, rides and Vlad the Impaler (though he's only batting .250). The mortality rate is the same at each, murders at both stadiums on opening day. I’m tending towards the Dodgers, but without Manny they lack the glitz that the amusement rides make up for at Angel Stadium.
Frederick Duquette, La Mirada, CA
A: Let’s do a Tale of the Tape to help you make a decision:
|Stadium|| Dodger Stadium|| Angels Stadium||Dodgers|
|Broadcaster|| Vin Scully|| Rex Hudler|| Rex the Wonder Dog|
|Manager|| Joe Torre|| Mike Scioscia||Dodgers|
|Mascot|| Tommy Lasorda|| Rally Monkey||Angels|
|Negative|| Over San Andreas Fault|| Next to Disneyland||Dodgers|
WINNER: Go with the Dodgers…except when the Jays are visiting Anaheim
Q: I am so fed up with Jesse Carlson as our new setup man. I think it is quite evident now that new pitchers with mediocre stuff will eventually be figured out by major league hitters, as evidenced by guys like Robert Ray, Scott Richmond, and now Carlson. Looking at the stats after the Atlanta loss, in Carlson's last 10 games, he has 2 losses, 2 blown saves, 7 earned runs and 1 hold in 9.1 innings. Are you telling me we don't have anyone better than this one trick pony (his unorthodox windup)? This guy is quickly becoming the new Josh Towers. Meanwhile, our highest paid reliever (B.J. Ryan) is being relegated to mop-up duty these days. Has Riccardi forgotten that we had a serviceable setup man/closer combo of Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo just a few years ago? Obviously he has because Janssen is now starting when history clearly shows he is better as a reliever, while Accardo toils in the minors after being passed over by scrubs like Brian Wolfe. Simply put, our bullpen is not even close to being reliable, with one good pitcher (Scott Downs), one lucky one (Jason Frasor), and a bunch of fringe major leaguers.
Wayne L., Richmond Hill
A: Just two years ago, 2007, in relief, Janssen was 2-3, with a 2.35 ERA and six saves in 70 appearances. At the same time, Accardo was 4-4, with a 2.14 ERA and 30 saves in 64 appearances. In 2006, was 6-10 with a 5.07 ERA as a starter. So how does getting Casey back in the rotation in 2009 qualify him as an “answer” to the rotation issues? It would make more sense if Janssen was coming back to the majors as a setup man. The biggest problem with moving Downs into the closer’s role was replacing Downs as the setup man. Carlson and Frasor in a perfect world should be the seventh inning guys. Janssen and Ryan (once he finds his 88 m.p.h. groove) should be given a chance to set up in the eighth. In 2008, the organization was very much down on Accardo during his injury-stricken season. Perhaps it was work ethic, but whatever, the negative organization impression has carried over in to 2009. Maybe he needs a new start somewhere else.
Q: Adam Lind has been struggling at the plate since he started playing left field. Is playing the field causing him to lose his focus at the plate?
Jason Sinnarajah, Sydney, Australia
A: It could be the fact of having to focus on defence, or it could be the fact of losing his best friend on the team to Triple-A Las Vegas. Earlier in the season, both Lind and Travis Snider spoke of the joy of having another player of their own age to share major-league experiences, music, conversation and doubts with. When Snider was shipped to Nevada after the Red Sox series, it must have been jarring to Lind. Most young players would rather play a position than DH. After all, since they were 6-years-old, baseball has always been about hitting AND playing the field.
Q: The Jays recent slide notwithstanding, their success this season and failures in the past poses a question: is it better to have strong hitting and weak (chaotic?) pitching or strong pitching and weak hitting?
Frederick Duquette, La Mirada, CA
A: Neither combination is “better”. But if you substitute “young, still-developing” for “weak” then we can discuss the question. Of the two choices, I would rather have strong pitching and “young, still-developing” hitting. You can always manufacture runs with young hitters, by bunting, stealing, hit-and-run, starting runners, taking an extra base, but you can’t manufacture outs as a pitcher. On the other hand, I think fans in the stands like strong hitting and “young, still-developing” pitching – that is until the strong hitters all go into a slump together. Then you get something like today’s mailbag.
Q: Richard, really appreciate your take on the game. I was able to watch the Jays and Red Sox on TSN2. It was tough to have to listen to, but even Dennis Eckersley and Don Orsillo seemed to think that the umpiring was going against the Jays. I was always taught to not blame the umps but I would like to hear your take on their calling of the games. We throw three lightweights up against the mighty Red Sox and they didn't need the help.
Also, I looked a little ways ahead and it seems that we will have the same three guys pitching the next time we face the Red Sox. Do you think that Cito should give Halladay a day off and let him and Richmond pitch against the Red Sox rather than Baltimore? I know that it is early in the year and this has all been a great treat, but my best friend grew up in Boston and he has been a real pain in the neck this week. Thanks.
Pat Monette, Penticton B.C.
A: You were taught well. Don’t blame the umps. No matter the era or the umps, when you have a starry veteran hitter up against a young pitcher, most of the close calls are going to the hitter. It’s human nature. As for the three lightweights up against the Sox, Tallet is emerging as more than a lightweight and once he lost Game 1, it became an easy call that a sweep was in order. The biggest game of the disastrous trip was the Halladay start in Atlanta. He pitched seven shutout innings with no decision. If the Jays score a couple and win that game, the whole trip takes on a different feel. That’s why Halladay is the MIP (Most Important Player) on the Jays.
Q: Albert Einstein defined "insanity" as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". I admire Cito's wanting to not change his lineup, but doesn't batting Rios and Wells 3 & 4 constitute insanity? I see two problems with his thinking. The first being that they are not legit 3 & 4 batters in the first place; Rios seems to be in his position due to his potential only and Wells' skills have deteriorated significantly over the last three years. The second is there are hitters better suited for the 3 & 4 spots within his current lineup. I would rather see Aaron Hill bat third and Lind 2nd and Barajas clean up (to do so he would need to DH every other game). I foresee a basic batting order of Scutaro, Lind, Hill, Barajas, Wells, Overbay, Rolen, Rios plus another depending on who catches and the opposing pitcher.
Mike Swain, Calgary
A: Clearly “insanity” is contagious.
Q: Without his velocity Ryan just doesn't have what it takes to be a major league pitcher. He has to be absolutely perfect with the location of every fastball he throws and the slider will only be effective if he gets hitters to chase. With that said what can the Blue Jays do with B.J. Ryan, can he be released, bought out, or sent down to the minors again?
Kevin Godshalk, Rochester, NY
A: I disagree. Ryan does have what it takes to be a major-league pitcher. He simply needs to adjust to life with an 87-89 m.p.h. fastball. Ryan may need a little more time to finally come to terms with reality, but once he figures it out, he will have a role in middle relief or as a setup man in the majors, with occasional save opportunities. Frank Tanana is a perfect example of a guy that used to be a fireballing left-handed starter for the Angels, serving as Robin to Nolan Ryan’s Batman in the late ’70s. After a shoulder injury in 1979, Tanana changed his game completely, mastering a variety of off-speed pitches to re-establish himself as a winner. There are plenty of guys that have success with less velocity than Ryan. B.J.’s a smart man. He will figure it out.
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