The Texas Rangers are coming to town on Monday and the three-game series against the AL champs is well worth the price of admission. The powerful Rangers have been to the World Series two years in a row and seem even stronger this season.
How good are they? Consider that the Rangers rank first in the AL in runs scored, batting average and slugging and boast a team OPS of .847. And, oh yes, Yu Darvish is pitching the first game vs. the Jays on Monday, bringing a large entourage of Japanese media with him.
The Jays will continue on after hosting Seattle and Texas to tangle with the remaining AL West teams, the Angels and A's on the coast. Fans should have a good idea at the end of the coast trip as they head to Minneapolis, how the Jays stack up this season.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery from the latest physical setback to the tenacious Dustin McGowan and on to the mailbag.
Been following you on twitter lately. Thanks for the replies and the RTs. My question for you is what's the deal with Bautista? And NO I'm NOT talking about his stats! Rather, from my perspective, he seems more cocky this year when dealing with umpires (e.g. will make faces when borderline pitches go against him, talks back to umps, etc).
I have a three-part question for you about this:
1: Is this actually happening or am I just noticing it this year because he's off to a slow start (e.g. this is a non-issue when you're hitting HRs)?
2: Assuming it isn't just in my head, does behaving this way hurt get you a bad rep among umps? In other words, is this going to come back and haunt Bautista?
3: Assuming it earns Jose a bad rep, whose job is it to talk to Jose about it (e.g. Farrell, AA, teammates)?
Francis P., Ithaca, NY
A-I think cocky is a poor choice of words. Yes, Bautista has changed his demeanour this year unintentionally, but as you suggest, a lot of the facial expressions and anger come from frustration. I do believe the whiny reaction is hurting him with umpires and maybe even hurting his teammates by association, with the same umpires.
The Jays don't want to be known as a whiny team, although the Yankees are the worst at it and it doesn't seem to affect them too much. Since Jose is the clubhouse leader it's up to him to regulate himself. Trust me, he knows it's happening and he talks freely about the frustration and the close calls that don't go the Jays way. When he starts hitting it will ease.
Two comments that maybe you can elaborate on.
John Farrell's use of his bullpen has not improved over last year and may in fact be worse.
Thames stat line for April will be worse than Snider's from last spring yet all we hear is that he will have a long leash, while Snider leads the world in every major offensive stat at AAA.
Matt Meisner, St. Catharines
A-In answer to your bullpen comment, I honestly believe that this year's Jays' pen is much easier to figure out than was the relief corps in 2011. Farrell has already been better this year after a season of experience.
At the start of last season, recall the Jays' closer role was up in the air. Frankie Francisco was supposed to be it, but he had always been a notoriously slow starter and was injured at training camp to boot. Jon Rauch became the closer by default, while Octavio Dotel was the equivalent of a right-handed specialist, with little ability to retire lefty hitters.
Of course Dotel now has a World Series ring and looked great down the stretch with the Cardinals. He said he had been misused in Toronto. Marc Rzepczynski was a poor man's Scott Downs, whom he was replacing, and Jason Frasor was, well, Jason Frasor. Casey Janssen had not yet come into his own at the start of last season and Carlos Villanueva it seemed was the complement every five days to Jo-Jo Reyes, until taking over as a starter himself. Then came the trade with the Cardinals for Rasmus that decimated Farrell's bullpen.
This year is easier. I could manage this pen. Santos is the closer with Francisco Cordero as the setup man in the eighth. Janssen, Frasor and Darren Oliver are the seventh inning combo, while Luis Perez has come on like gangbusters passing everyone on the depth chart. Villanueva can be a solid long guy but hasn't had many opportunities. How do you screw that up as a manager. Farrell can't do anything about births or injuries that have cost Santos games, so to say he has not handled the relievers as well as lat year is somewhat a case of perception over reality. The 16 innings of relief in the first two games in Cleveland certainly did not get the pen off on a regular path and rhythm.
As for the Thames/Snider debate, this seems to be one of the hot topics of the season thus far. Snider has done this before in the minors, ripping it up then coming back to the majors and levelling off, falling off and returning to the minors again. Both Thames and Snider are Jays' assets. They are both young and they are both valuable either here or elsewhere without the thought of kicking either one to the curb. The situation will play itself out.
Do you think Eric Thames will last in left field for the Jays? Looks like he's an average defender, with average speed, and average batting, with not much power. It also appears he doesn't have a plan when he's at the plate and has taken some awful swings. At this point I think Davis is a better option for the Jays. Your thoughts?
Paul Rudan, Campbell River, B.C.
A-Thames is an average to below average defender. He has average speed. It's tough at this early stage of his career to rate his batting average and his power. He has started to gain more plate discipline where he does not as often get himself into pitchers' counts by swinging at off-speed pitches down and out of the zone, but he's not all the way there. That perception of how a player looks on any swing should be minimized. That's why the rules give you three strikes, so you can have some awful swings on pitches that you guessed wrong on and then in the same at-bat, bounce back and get a big hit.
As for Davis, I love the reserve role that was outlined for him with the Jays this spring. A disrupting weapon in late innings off the bench and an occasional starter in the outfield against certain left-handers depending on matchups. He is not an everyday player, but he can be a significant contributor.
I know the Jays made a committment to Thames to start the season, but when does that change? Snider has a hit in every game this year in Las Vegas and either a 2B or HR in 8/10. How much longer do we have to wait to see the true future left-fielder take his place? Thanks,
Adam G., Brooklyn, NY
A-These things have a way of taking care of themselves. If Vegas manager Marty Brown and 51's hitting coach Chad Mottola were adamant that Snider needed to play in Toronto and had nothing else to learn at Triple-A then I believe the move would already be made.
GM Alex Anthopoulos is not about winning games in Las Vegas or New Hampshire. He is about winning games in Toronto. I like Snider as much as anyone and to me, it was a coin flip at spring training, but their feeling was that it was Thames' job to lose and he didn't lose it. If Snider is gaining confidence with his great start, that's good for him.
Q-I like Eric Thames and his game but I am sad Travis Snider wasn't able to crack the lineup or live up to his lofty promise after such a strong start to his career. I am hopeful there is a place for him on the club at some point in the future if he can earn it as he just looks like he can be such a force if he can ever put it all together. My question is, should the Jays remain injury-free in the outfield and should Snider somehow NOT get traded this year do you think he would be a lock next year as the 4th outfielder considering how he would be out of options and the Jays seem to hate seeing players lost to another club for nothing? All the best and keep the bag coming...the best Q&A blog out there!
Aaron Hickey, Sydney, Australia
A-I remember being stunned in Minneapolis at the old Metrodome watching from the press box when Snider crushed two home run balls off the upper-deck facade in right field in the same game at the start of the '09 season. With his humble attitude and respect for his old coaches, his father and the game of baseball, it looked like the sky was the limit. Less than a month later he was gone back to the minors -- and that was not the last time he has been yo-yo'd to the farm. His defence improved last spring under the tutelage of coach Torey Lovullo, but he still has trouble with consistency at the plate. He's a year younger than Thames and they are both still not to their prime baseball years. Sometimes we are all too impatient.
As for next season, yes Snider will have no options left, but that is not a reason to keep him as a fourth outfielder. Between the end of this current year and the start of next year, it says here that the Jays will entertain offers for one of the two outfielders and that one of them will be traded.
Q-I haven't heard any talk of the Jays hosting the all-star game again. How long before that happens? It's been 20 years. With this up and coming team it would've been a perfect opportunity to put the Jays on the map again with the all-star festivities within the next few years.
Kam H., Richmond Hill
A-The Jays hosted the All-Star Game in 1991, the second full season that the SkyDome was open. It was the traditional carrot on a stick for the city of Toronto handed to them for building a new stadium. It's been 21 years since T-O hosted the midsummer classic and there are 30 franchises. Do the math. Besides, all-star games have become most times a bribe, a reward to municipal or state governments that are willing to bend over for baseball and take one for the team, usually by building a new stadium using some public money, then in a glitzy announcement they are awarded the big game from Bud Selig so they can present a questionable study that shows that hosting the game brings in a jazillion dollars in tourist money. If baseball is fair, then the Jays would get the next game in 2022.
Q-”Prince has been to the post-season one time and, in fact, Jose Bautista has as many WS rings." could possibly be the dumbest response to a very legitimate question I've ever heard in my life. For me, you lost all credibility with that answer. To insinuate that Prince's lack of rings at the relatively young age of 27 in a very team oriented sport such as baseball somehow justifies AA's non pursuit is at best moronic and at worst a frightening sign of your limited baseball knowledge.
Nolan Michael, Toronto
A-You are certainly pulling out just a small part of the response and opinion that was given in that mailbag and presenting it as me saying it is the only reason for not pursuing Prince Fielder. Why is it that stats aficionados universally seem to have absolutely no sense of humour or sense of the absurd or the ability to see the game as a game. They are like the Christian right. Everything must be black or white, right or wrong and if your opinion does not agree with my opinion then you are wrong...and an idiot to boot. The great thing about opinions in baseball is that everyone can have one and since it's an opinion it can't be right or wrong. That's what makes the game so arguably great. God bless you Nolan.
Q-As far as your comeback player of the year assessment goes, your criteria doesn't seem to hold for past winners like Aaron Hill and Cliff Lee - granted both came back from injuries (so maybe this is additional criteria)? Hill, for instance, never has a pre (nor even post) award OPS close to Rasmus' 2010 total. Similarly, Lee only had one decent year prior to his win and it was at 2.3 WAR versus Rasmus' 3.2 of 2010 (WAR being perhaps the best measure across these diverse positions).
Yes, Hill's previous .291 batting average and Lee's 18-win season stand out, but the value of Rasmus' OBP, defence, baserunning, and more shouldn't be underrated even if the focus on traditional stats tends to do that. You may be right about how many Comeback Player voters feel, but it doesn't negate the fact that Rasmus' 2010 was superior to the pasts of other winners and a monster 2010 could (and perhaps should) facilitate his being honoured thusly.
Derek Maisonville, Montreal
A-The comeback-player is not even an official award, so it's hard to say who the voters are, but one thing I do know is that if you are coming back from serious injury, you have a far better chance of winning it than, say, a Colby Rasmus who surely had a great OPS as a 23-year-old then slumped for a couple of years, maybe because of factors like “manager-angst” and “urban sprawl”. If you're young and healthy and coming back to some good numbers like Rasmus, that shouldn't and doesn't mean squat. I never doubted those readers that said Rasmus 2010 numbers were very good. But does that suddenly mean every hot rookie who encountered the sophomore jinx should be a comeback-player-of-the-year candidate. I just know and undersand how the comeback award is voted for and a guy like Rasmus has no chance. Besides, he's not coming back to defence, because defence, like rust, never sleeps.
Q-I think they should do something about the hitting coach, like replace him. What do you think ???
John Finch, Burlington
A-Many times, a major-league hitting coach is the one to take the fall for a team's failure to hit. Admittedly, it was a tough transition for Dwayne Murphy from Cito Gaston's philosophy where a 10-pitch at-bat, as Adam Lind put it this spring, would draw Gaston's response of “What took you so long,” to the John Farrell response of high-fives all around for wearing a starting pitcher down, even if you end up making an out.
Farrell believes that the weakest point of any team is its middle relief and if you can get to that early then you have a better chance of winning. Murphy had to convince some of his same pupils, the ones he had earlier convinced to be uber-aggressive under Cito to change their philosophy again. It's not easy and Murphy probably has the easiest target on his back if the offence continues to founder. But who knows, by the next mailbag they may all have turned it around and the Jays offence could be on a significant roll.
Still anticipating your infamous mailbag. I know it's early but how much longer can the Jays wait for Lind to come around? I've had enough. I believe more in Thames' hitting ability than Lind. The Jays offence is a big question mark thanks to the lacklustre production of Joey Bats (whom I think will end up with a .265/30/95) and non-leadoff hitter Escobar. I really would like to see Davis playing almost every day. His career avg. is around .275. The lineup would be more productive with Davis leading off followed by, Johnson, Lawrie to start off and I'd put Colby to bat ahead of Lind. Any thoughts? April's a soft schedule and they should take the most advantage from it. Any thoughts? or am I off in your opinion?
Kam H., Richmond Hill
A-The Jays' offensive success all comes down to the success of Jose Bautista. That's just the Jays' bottom line to winning and he knows it, his teammates know it, the fans know it and opponents know it. Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion hit better when Bautista is on a roll. If it was up to me and there was a clean slate for the Jays' lineup, I might at this point go: Johnson, Lawrie, Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind, Escobar, Rasmus, Arencibia, Thames. But that's just me.
As I discussed earlier in the mailbag, I prefer Davis in the role he fills right now. In the 8th or 9th inning, if Rajai is starting you will never be sure when he is going to be coming up or if he ever does come up in those key innings, you can't be sure whether he is going to reach base. Meanwhile, if you have him on the bench through seven innings you can control when he reaches base as a key weapon in late innings in a close game.
April may be a soft schedule and they needed more wins, but the thing about this year's Jays is that they are going to be better in August than they are in April, especially when it comes to the young startng pitching, which has been better than expected already. So that improvement should offset any issues about the schedule.
Q-I commend the work of AA in the last couple years and I believe that the Jays are two players away from truly contending for the next few years and that the dynamite lefty arm of Aroldis Chapman would be a great addition as the #3 starter. What would it take to pry Chapman loose from the Reds and do you think that the addition of a top-3 lefty is needed? I don't want to wait for the kids in the minors! GO JAYS & GO SPOS 4EVER
Dave Loney, Ottawa
A-I'm with you about commending the work of AA, but from there on out with the rest of your letter I need to comment. When the Jays are finally contending, they don't want it to be for simply the next two years as you suggest. They want sustainability in contending and that means tapping into their own minor leagues for future bargaining chips in trade in areas of need and tapping into the farm system for solid major-league talent to replace other solid major-league talent. The Jays are two years away from opening that long-term door to future opportunity, especially with regard to outfielders, catchers and young starting pitchers. The cupboard is full.
As for your pitching suggestion, the Jays had their chance already at signing Aroldis Chapman when AA decided not to enter the Reds' stratosphere of over $30 million for four years for the Cuban free-agent. They will not go there, but they do have some minor-league talent that can be similar-type impact guys at a great financial savings. The Jays are being patient in that regard, understanding that help is on the way, but, for the record, they were foiled in their bid to get Chapman's teammate Mat Latos from the Padres.
Q-Did you see the latest SI power rankings based on team WAR?
The Royals are ranked #7 while the Jays are down at #20. The article says that the Royals are due for a turnaround based on their team WAR. My question is what do you think will happen in the likely scenario that the Royals finish near the bottom of the league? Will FanGraphs admit that WAR is just plain wrong?
Eric E., Toronto
A-”WAR, huh, yeah, what is it good for ? Absolutely nothing, uh-huh. WAR, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing . Say it again, y'all.” Edwin Starr.
Well I've been impressed and excited by the start so far, and I'm not greatly worried about AA's 'failed attempt' to get a #2 or #3 starter in the offseason. I just look at all the home-grown possibilites and wonder which one is going to be this year's Juan Guzman. Although with a longer career trajectory, of course. Who do you think has the best chance of that?
Bryan Willis, Vancouver
A-The failure to get a #2-3 starter like Latos or Yu Darvish is what will cost the Jays a chance to contend this year. I agree that there will likely be a Juan Guzman-type surprise performer pop up either later this year or early next season, but the Jays needed someone solid all year in 2012 if they were going to seriously contend for a wild card. What it would take now is a huge season from Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, plus someone else stepping up in the second half. I have a hard time seeing Henderson Alvarez as that guy because, despite his solid repertoire, he's won just once in 14 starts and despite the low regard in which Ws are looked upon, that is how they rank teams in the official standings.
Why do the Jays have so many call-ups from Double-A? You would think they would come from Triple-A Las Vegas. Also, why do they say the Triple-A Pacific Coast league is so 'hitter-friendly'? Thanks!
Terry Fallat, Espanola
A-Basically. Double-A can be seen as a league for talented young players on the way up. Meanwhile Triple-A is a balance, a mixture of players on the way up and players on the way down. It is a holding tank for potential major-leaguers to fill in with the big club due to disablements.
In the Jays' case, they purposely don't send many of their best young pitchers, kids on the way up, to Las Vegas because it is such a hell-hole for pitching. Organizations know that before a player can establish himself as a major-leaguer, he needs to experience failure. Ask Ricky Romero. Ask Travis Snider. Ask Kyle Drabek. Most top draft choices never failed as kids. They never did in high school and they never failed in college. But it's a given they are going to fail as pros.
So, for your young pitchers, do you want their first failure to be at Triple-A? Not really. Pitching in Vegas and in the PCL is nasty. Most parks are at altitude where the ball carries. The air is light, the winds blow and the infields are rock hard and uneven because of the weather, usually hot and dry.
Meanwhile at Double-A, in the Eastern League and Manchester, New Hampshire, it's more sublime for the Jays' young stars – New England clam chowder, Sam Adams, warm summer nights and young baseball players just like you. Plus, in the Jays' situation, the kids are confidently aware from precedence that they might be just one step away from the majors. Trust me, the Jays would love to have their AAA affiliate somewhere like Buffalo.
I have a quick question on scoring in baseball. When the Jays use their funky defensive set up where the third baseman is lined up behind first base like against Tampa's Luke Scott. When he grounded to Lawrie is it still scored as ground ball to third and put out at first even though it was a ground ball to right field. How would it make sense in the box score later?
Brian Runciman, Oakville
A-That's one thing I have never agreed with. Yes, you're right, the play to Lawrie was scored a 5-3, so if you were looking at your official scorebook a year from now you would believe the pull-hitting Scott had gone the other way, unless you also chart direction. It basically is just a bookkeeping notation so that when the official scorer is adding up putouts and assists after the game for the league records, he has the right players involved and doesn't have players changing position for a batter at a time.
Recall that in the Cleveland series in extra innings, Farrell brought in a five-man infield with Omar Vizquel emerging from the dugout to replace Eric Thames, standing next to second base and giving the Jays three men on the left side of the infield and two on the right. Well, even though Vizquel never left the dirt of the infield, he was listed as the left fielder because he replaced Thames. It's now the only time he has played the outfield and is silly because he didn't really play the outfield. There has to be a better way because it does not re-create the game with accuracy and isn't that what scoring a game is all about?
What is up with Joey Bats? I have seen him take more "ugly" swings this year more than ever. He was always patient to me, but now seems to be reaching at balls out of the strike zone. Is this cause for concern? Another point, Brett Lawrie is also struggling. Is he up too soon? I love my Jays, but this series with Baltimore is giving me fits.
Anton Forde, Freeport, Bahamas
A-Bautista has taken a lot of ugly swings, especially at balls up in the strike zone. He seems to be popping a lot of balls up and is not hitting as many balls on the screws as he has the past two seasons. It's cause for concern only if it continues indefinitely. Bautista is an intelligent player, an intelligent hitter. Once he gets back to only attacking balls in the strike zone, the numbers will all rise.
Lawrie is not up in the majors too soon. He is a free swinger that makes contact. He is a major-league player and will continue to get better.
Q-I was wondering if you believe there would be any benefit in signing someone like Vlad Guerrero as a threat off of the bench. Is he too expensive to have around as a pinch hitter and sometime DH? He's past his prime, no doubt, but he would also represent much more of a game changer than Ben Francisco, I think.
Mark Twain, Charlottetown, PEI
A-The Jays have worked hard since the Frank Thomas debacle to not hire aging one-dimensional hitters that can only DH. Vlad has reached the point where he is just such a player. Like Johnny Damon, Guerrero would not be an expensive sign at this stage of his career, so that's not the reason. But a player like Edwin Encarnacion is exactly what the Jays seek in a DH so that he can play a position in the nine inter-eague games in NL ballparks each year. Besides, Vlad has led an active life in baseball and may be done as a player. Your comment on Ben Francisco is a good one. If they don't have a defined role for Francisco, since he now doesn't even go in for defence ahead of Rajai Davis, then he has little use as a fifth outfielder.