Blue Jays mailbag: Guess who'd be in the playoffs if the season ended today?
The baseball season is less than one-third complete, but at this point the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and their unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final should serve as inspiration to MLB teams that may barely aspire to make it onto the October dance floor.
To paraphrase the late Al Davis and his iconic Raiders' slogan...with slight adjustment: “Just win, baby...or at least just win enough to earn the second wild-card.”
Consider that for all of their slumps, woes, flashes of anger, blown saves and other disappointments, if the regular season ended today, the Jays would be dancing with the big boys.
According to the AL standings, as of Friday morning, the Jays would fly to Tampa Bay for a one-game wild-card playoff. If they beat the Rays, the Jays would return to the Rogers Centre for Games 1-2 of the ALDS to face the Orioles, with the best record in the league.
The rule was changed so that you can now play the ALDS within your division. The rule was changed to ensure more certainty in scheduling and travel. The other way never made sense. The other series would feature the Indians at the Rangers.
Over in the NL, the wild-card sudden-death game would see the Cardinals at the Braves, with the winner hosting the first two NLDS games against the Dodgers. That series would return to Dodger Stadium for the final three games. The other NL series would feature the Reds at the Nationals.
O's, Jays, Tribe and Nats in the post-season. Who'd a thunk it. Of course, it is early.
On to the mailbag.
Enjoyed your baseball acumen and 'mailbag' very much. I wish that is more frequently published. Regarding the first Brett Lawrie incident which 'earned' him a four-game suspension, I was more dismayed by the umpire's action, especially calling the last strike (which was clearly a ball) in order to teach him 'a lesson'. This call might have a bearing on the Jays' record, and affect the Jays' standing and chances of earning a wild card at the end of the season. Why does MLB allow the umpires such behaviour? Is it because of the MLB/Umpire labour agreement? I am also surprised that almost no one in the media questioned the umpire's 'right' to 'teach' Brett a lesson. Please help to explain this situation. Thank you.
Nicholas Wong, Markham
A-First of all, there is no guarantee that even if Lawrie had drawn his base-on-balls against Fernando Rodney with one out in the ninth, trailing by a run that the Jays would have come back to win on May 15 vs. the Rays.
As for home plate umpire Bill Miller's mindset and whether he was proving a point, it is impossible for media to “report” something that the umpire himself refuses to acknowledge. Bu it is a well known wink-and-nudge advice to players that if they show an umpire up by starting to run to first base on a called strike two, as Lawrie did, then they had sure as hell better be ready to swing at any pitch anywhere close to the strike zone on the next pitch. That observation does not come from interviews with umpires because they won't ever admit it. It comes from years of watching games.
As for why MLB allows such behaviour, the men in blue are in charge of the game, not the central office and by and large do an excellent job. There are about 300 pitches to be called in most major-league games, with 100 decisions on the bases. With the advent of slo-mo and super slo-mo replays, with the little strike box seen on many telecasts, the ability to second-guess umpires decisions constantly and instantly is easy. MLB does review video and does fine offending umpires. Fines are not announced. Suspensions are. The union protects their members from being publicly sanctioned. The big events, like all-star games and World Series are also used to reward excellence among umps.
But in defence of baseball's umpires, why are NBA referees not subject to as much criticism? It seems to me there are far more sketchy calls in basketball that directly impact far more outcomes of games than in baseball. First-step travelling or driving through the lane for a dunk and taking steps, that is not called, ticky-tack fouls, no-calls in big situations, wrong calls on loose balls out of bounds, Many are obvious, but broadcasters in basketball waste little energy in criticizing officials. Baseball umpires have it the worst of all the major sports in terms of under the microscope.
Thanks for the mailbag. For all the talent and potential of this year's team I'm seriously questioning the emotional state of the clubhouse. From Bautista to Escobar to Lawrie (although those strike calls were disgraceful), it seems like the outbursts and negative energy is snowballing. Obviously the arguing will only lead to more calls going against them (begetting yet more frustration) but I also have a hard time believing that they can ever reach their potential in such a weak/negative mental state. This team is in serious need of some zen. What does management need to do, if anything? Do the Jays have a sports psychiatrist on staff? Maybe Phil Jackson is ready to try his hand at baseball (sort of kidding)? Is the front office concerned?
Adam Murl, Toronto
A-The Jays front office has to be concerned, though they say they support all their players and admire the passion. Phil Jackson unfortunately is into triangles not diamonds. I just wrote a column about the anger issue in Friday's paper. In isolation, there is nothing wrong with being emotional through the course of a game. It's preferable to being emotionless. There's nothing worse for fans than when they think that they may care more about the outcome than players they see smiling and laughing in the dugout while being trounced. Bautista explains that outward passion may be in the DNA of Latin ballplayers like himself and Yunel Escobar. Lawrie should be considered a guest Latino.
In the case of Bill Miller and the helmet bounce, what struck me the most is Lawrie's seeming lack of recognition at the time that his helmet had even ricocheted off the umpire. I say that because most people would have been snapped back into an area of contrition by unintentionally hitting a game official. “Sorry, dude. Are you alright?”
In actual fact, the big-picture issue I have is the affect it has on the way all umpires will perceive the Jays. Umpires are only human, but sometimes they may suffer from the “man in uniform syndrome” which can be irritating to players and fans. They feel they must show they are in charge and players must defer to their decisions. The Jays are battling a real perception issue with umpires. It's a tight knit fraternity. What's a good whine to serve with STRIKE 3.
Is it just me or has the quality of home-plate umpiring taken a serious downturn this year? And I'm not just thinking of the Brett Lawrie incident. Strike zones within and between games seem to me to be a constantly moving target. I don't remember pitchers in previous years having to "figure out" the strike zone in the early innings as much as they seem to have to do now. Meanwhile, the players are taking the heat for getting frustrated or chasing junk they'd otherwise leave.
Matthew McKean, Ottawa
A-It is believed that Roger Clemens paid more attention to umpires than he did to opponents. The Rocket had a list of MLB umpires with handwritten notes to himself in a book reminding him of their individual strike zones. He was said to be in possession of the upcoming umpires' travel schedule, which crew was going to be working each of his starts. By paying attention to boxscores leading up to his start, he could anticipate accurately who would be behind the plate when he strode to the mound. That tells you that even players know and accept that strike zones are a very individual thing.
Again, many TV directors seem to feel it is important to replay in slo-mo every close pitch that is in the least bit questionable. The thing to remember is that the centrefield camera is never exactly dead centre because it would be in the batter's lone of vision, so every replay of a pitch is not quite what it seems. Plus the plate in real life has depth while the TV picture is one-dimensional. Thus, as the technology of television improves, the quality of umpiring seems to get worse. Hmmm! I'll bet Hall-of-Fame umpire Jocko Conlan was pretty horrible on balls and strikes, but who would know.
I don't get how this Tampa team wins. No Longoria no Jennings, no Niemann and their defence is not nearly as good as last year. Granted their pitching is solid but their hitters and fielders with no names somehow manage to win. To me it seems they're fielding a team of independent league ball players... Will Rhymes, Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriquez. Lot of average players. The Jays have talent, young, veterans, semi-vets and good pitching yet they can't beat this team. It's a head scratcher for me. Any thoughts or assumptions Mr. Griffin?
Kam H., Richmond Hill
A-That is what struck me in the last two series against the Rays is the drop-off in their defensive abilities. It is difficult when the shortstop-second base combo is so fluid with players dropping in and out. Elliot Johnson? You have to be kidding. The Rays made more horrible defensive plays in one series vs. the Jays than they have made in many season-series in the past. Yet they won two of three. Joe Maddon is a very good manager. He has a very good coaching staff. But their starting pitching must be tremendous to overcome the current defensive shortcomings. By the way, it is.
Q-In your write-up about the Lind demotion, you said "Lind, in 34 games with the Jays, has three homers and 11 RBIs, with a .186 average, a .586 OPS and has had visible struggles on the field and in the clubhouse." What were his issues in the clubhouse? I'd always heard he was a model teammate?
Neil P., Toronto
A-Perhaps that comment was unfair to Lind, making it perhaps seem like he was a bad teammate. That was not the intent or the case. The “visible struggles” in the clubhouse were actually his lost demeanour and his confusion when answering questions about his on-field struggles. He was caught between being aggressive early in counts and seeing more pitches. He needed time away from the major-league spotlight to work things out. That is the translation of the original comment regarding Lind's issues.
I have a cross-sport question for you. When Brett Lawrie was suspended for four games, I didn't see any mention of a change that the Jays made to fill his spot on the 25-man roster. The way I see it, there are three possible explanations. One is that I just missed it, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. The second is that it's not worth the trouble or the use of an option to bring someone up for four days, and the third is that there something in the rules that says they have to keep him on the active roster but not play him for the duration of the suspension If it's the last of these, I'd like to see the NHL take the same approach with suspensions. I think it would go a long way to cleaning up a lot of the head shots we're seeing in hockey lately. Your thoughts?
Kevin D, Toronto
A-No, the Jays were forced to go with a 24-man roster. In fact, that's a pretty good suggestion you have about making the NHL suspension rule have some teeth, with repercussions for the team in terms of losing a player. The issue there may be that hockey has a rule about the number of skaters each game, but the names of those players can change any time with guys being benched even minutes before games. NHL coaches and GMs would sure pay more attention to their tough guys, their careless stick guys, their high elbow guys, their hit-from-behind guys, if it meant losing a skater for a period of time.
I am not convinced that Vlad will prove to be the answer for what the Blue Jays need. If I am right, what are the chances of AA pulling off a midseason trade? One name that occurs to me is Mark Trumbo of the Angels. He fits the AA ideal of controllable players with a high upside as a first baseman but, with the signing of Pujols by LA for the long term, he has no real position to play there.
Bill Reynolds, Toronto
A-Throwing out an opinion like that is jarring. What is it that the Jays need that Guerrero does not provide? Vlad since he turned 30 has hit anywhere between .290 and .329, has a minimum .733 OPS and is healthier right now than he was even a year ago. If he is brought up after the inter-league games in NL parks are completed he will bring a strong right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup and a veteran presence that opposing pitchers must respect. At a total cost of under $1 million, he will be an upgrade over whoever's roster spot he takes without using up any minor-league inventory in trade.
I agree that Trumbo would be a good addition for any team that makes that deal. If the Angels feel they have a chance to make the post-season in July they would likely be willing to deal Trumbo for some immediate help in other areas. The Jays don't want to give up immediate major-league players. The best time for a Jays deal for Trumbo would be this winter, because the Angels would be more likely to take futures, something the Jays will have available in abundance. The Halos attitude on Trumbo will not change between now and then because Pujols is there for the next 10 years. Trumbo's worst position is third base. He may be able to play a little outfield or DH, but first base is where he should be.
Just when I thought I had this 'option' thing figured out, thanks mostly to your explanations, along comes Adam Lind. He played parts of the '06, '07, & '08 seasons with the Jays, presumably burning up an option each time he was sent back down. How does he get a fourth option now? What am I missing? Love your explanations of M.L.B.'s inner workings!
Bruce Spurrier, Courtenay
A-The part of the '06 schedule that Lind played with the Jays does not count as an option because he was called up, in effect graduated to the Jays at the end of the year and never was sent back to Triple-A that same season. Lind would have had to be added to the 40-man roster for the first time at the end of the '06 season so they merely took advantage of the expanded September roster and brought him up to get his feet wet. This time was only his third option when he was sent out.
I haven’t run out to get a Brazilian yet (I'm more into trimming) and am very aware that Yan Gomes is at best a replacement level player at the MLB level. That being said does he not provide more value for the Jays than a pinch bunting bench coach (much respect to Omar but seriously) or a light hitting 5th outfielder? (Benny and his jets.) He can play 2, 3, 5 and I reckon he could fist together a few games in left too which would provide more late-game versatility and some stability in terms of short DL (suspension) trips. I'm ready for your barrage of abuse but in a non SABR approach he's got a way higher ceiling than Ben at this point and even hitting 250/8/30 in limited abs provides a spit ton more production than Omar. Keep it greasy,
Cam Picyk, Victoria
A-It was third time lucky for the Jays tapping into the Brazilian market for major-leaguers. They first signed pitcher Jose Pett, then tried with Jo Matumoto, finally hitting pay dirt with Gomes. All three were born in Sao Paulo. As for your roster suggestions, I agree with you about the superfluous presence of fifth outfielder Ben Francisco, but if Omar is sent packing, who would play shortstop or second base in an emergency. Usually the reserve middle infielder is a veteran with iffy offensive skills and a good glove. That describes the 45-year-old Vizquel. But I agree, there should be room for Gomes in the majors for a long time as an Eric Hinske type bench player that also has the ability to catch.
Q-Did Brett still take batting practice etc. or did he totally stay away from the Rogers centre? thankyou
Norma Moore, Misissauga
A-When Lawrie was serving his suspension, he was able to participate in all the pre-game stuff, but watched the game from the Jays' private box on the 300 level. One guesses he did not sit still.
The fact that Drabek and Hutchinson have pitched so well at the back end of the rotation has made us forget about Brett Cecil. What has happened to him in AA? Has he regained the velocity and command that once made him a 15-game winner? At this point, are the Blue Jays content to keep him buried in the minors until he regains a semblance of his former self? Do you feel he is likely done as a Blue Jay and requires a change of scenery to re-establish himself as a major league player?
Ivan Koh, Mississauga
A-Brett Cecil has made two starts at New Hampshire since returning from the disabled list with a groin strain. In the last outing he went the first 5-2/3 innings in a combined no-hitter, throwing 86 pitches. Cecil is a long shot to make it back to the Jays any time soon. His velocity is still down and he makes too many mistakes up high in the strike zone.
You can get away with those mistakes at 93 mph, but not at 87. You can get away with those mistakes at Double-A but not in the majors. It only takes a half-dozen mislocated pitches to do you in in the majors. Cecil is that type of pitcher. What the Jays need to see is him working at the bottom of the strike zone consistently. However, the best idea for Cecil might be a trade to another team after this season, a change of scenery moving forward.
Q-(I can't take full credit for this question, posed by Kevin Glew last week, BUT:) Why haven't we seen Ryota Igarashi get a call-up yet? Considering the performance of the Jays bullpen thus far, combined with Igarashi's Triple-A numbers in the hitter-friendly PCL, shouldn't he be given a shot?
Josh Maher, Halifax, NS
A-There seems to be a strong fascination towards Jays' Triple-A right-hander Ryota Igarashi. The former Yakult Swallow and New York Met turns 33-years-old on Monday, so he's not a kid. In 19 games in relief he has four saves, a 1.29 ERA, 3 walks and 28 Ks in 21 innings. That's pretty good. Those numbers are very similar to his Triple-A numbers with the Mets in '11, but when he was called up to New York he was not as effective, walking 28 batters in 38-2/3 innings, with a 1.836 WHIP. The Jays may be looking at those numbers leading to hesitation, but if a need arises in middle relief, I would not be surprised if he gets a look. They didn't land Yu Darvish. Instead, quiet Ryota.
I watched the Expos from the beginning to their sad ending. Now I watch the Blue Jays faithfully, with a little left over for the Orioles. Like many, I saw Lawrie get upset with the ump, maybe a little, maybe a smidge too much, but it was good to see some emotion from a player. He does deserve what he gets, no doubt. It was also good to see Farrell argue vehemently and get thrown also, in my opinion he doesn't argue enough. The 'Earl of Baltimore' was my favourite. Do the umpires ever get disciplined for making obvious bad calls, one maybe, but two to show up a player?
Bob Andrews, Brandon, Man.
A-A smidge too much? “Other than that, how'd you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” And, yes, personally, I enjoy unbridled emotion from my players as much as the next guy. Let Stoics play chess or Texas Hold 'Em. Ask anyone that has ever managed against me in OBA baseball. Emotion is good when under control. In addition, emotion should be confined to your own performance, to encouraging your teammates and within your dugout. That's the kind of emotion that channels positive energy for your baseball team. But when you direct your emotion to an opponent or to game officials it is counter-productive and distracting. I love Lawrie's dugout celebrations after doing something good. I love his hustle, his reckless base running, his frothing demeanour – when it is kept on the Jays' side of the field. If the other dugout notices the positive energy or antics and is annoyed, so be it. It changes their focus. That is more effective for the Jays and their fans than getting in anyone's face.
Q-As a Jays fan in Australia I was excited to learn the two-game series against the Rays was on ESPN here. As we don't get too many Jays games this was something to look forward to. Alas it was possibly the most inept performance from the Blue Jays I've seen in some time. Hot and cold pitching, a Home Run King sadly out of touch, questionable ability at first and shortstop & mediocre outfielders makes m think this will be yet another .500 season for the Jays. A fourth-place or last-place finish seems inevitable. What do you say Richard?
Ian Maurice, Brisbane, Australia
A-Boy, the view from Down Under must be slightly different than it is from here. Actually, if you were forming an opinion over just those two televised games, that is unfortunate. When you see these Jays play on an every day basis, there are more reasons for optimism than the other way. The Jays thus far have given away many more games than they have stolen, yet they continue to remain above .500.
If your view is that this team will improve as the season goes on, then 81 to 86 wins would seem to be a reasonable target. That will not be a last-place finish and if the result is at the top end of that number, they will be in the conversation for a second wild-card spot well into September. The goal at spring training as expressed by manager Farrell was to get length in the batting order with above-average production from top to bottom. There have been too many holes so far. Vlad may help that length.
Q-Heh Richard -
Just finished reading the mailbag for May 15. A lot of questions about hitters and their approach at the plate. My question is related - do all the hitters follow a "team approach", based on Murphy's coaching, or Farrell's wishes, or is it individualized for each player, or even just some players? It seems to me that if it was more individualized, players would be more successful. We often hear commentators say hitters should "keep it simple", "get back to what he does best", "just put the bat on the ball" and so on. But if that isn't what he's being told to do, it might not be so simple!! I do see how this could create conflict for an overall team philosophy, but a bunch of players hitting successfully is better than a bunch of players struggling. Thanks, as always!
Jon Empringham, Woodstock, ON
A-The Jays have a team batting approach that preaches getting into the opponent's bullpen as early as possible. There are two ways of doing that, of course – work his pitch count or pound the starter early. Cito Gaston was of the pound him early philosophy while Farrell is more into working pitch count. Very rarely when a batting philosophy changes, does the hitting coach remain the same. Dwayne Murphy has bridged the last two managers and has had to adjust his message to the same students. It's like a teacher that was teaching Creationism then all of a sudden changes to evolution. It's a tough change of direction. Adam Lind is proof of that. “Adam and Eve or Homo Erectus. Discuss.”
Q-Could you give me an answer to why J.P. Arencibia is always trying to throw runners out from his knees? At first I thought it because he wasn't ready to be on his feet to throw the runner out but this seems to be a regular thing for him. I don't know if I have seen any MLB catcher attempt to throw runners out on their knees and I was just wondering if there was any reason behind Arencibia's choice to do this on a consistent basis.
Chris Ross, Vancouver
A-On opening day in Cleveland, Arencibia threw to second base from his knees in the sixth inning, nailing Shin Soo Choo. The throw made Jason Frasor duck, so you know it was low. Over the next week he mixed his throws between feet and knees. The advantage for Arencibia may be that his arm is stronger than his footwork is good.
The logic for guys that throw from their knees or guys like the late Thurman Munson who just unloaded the ball to second from all angles is that if you get the ball to a teammate early enough, he will have time to catch the ball and find the runner for the tag. Benito Santiago when he came up as a rookie with the Padres is the first catcher I remember making a habit of throwing from his knees. Benny was awesome. I remember on August 16, 1988 there was a note in the Expos game package that Otis Nixon had a streak of 16 straight steals without being thrown out by a catcher. That day Santiago gunned Nixon out at second base from his knees. The next day's game notes were amended to “has a streak of 16 straight steals without being thrown out by a catcher standing up.”