The Bullpen: MLB surprises and disappointments
Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, right, celebrates with A.J. Burnett after they defeated the Chicago Cubs 6-2 in a baseball game in Chicago, Friday, July 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The all-star break, the unofficial halfway mark of the MLB season, will be upon us at the end of the coming week. The four-day rest is a time for teams to relax, regroup and for GMs and managers to try to figure out what went right or, in many other cases, what went wrong in the first half.
The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is also coming up at the end of July and rule-changes also mean a change for how GMs deal with trading for expiring contracts and potential free agents.
As such, with team executives looking around to gauge who are the contenders and pretenders, here’s list of three MLB teams that have surprised with their production in the first half and three that have been disappointing, given much-hyped off-season moves and pre-season predictions.
1. PIRATES: On the field during batting practice at spring training, an observer offered up a very weak joke about being a Pirate at an exhibition game in Dunedin. Pirates coach Dave Jauss interrupted and quietly insisted, “You will be surprised.” Jauss was right. We are surprised.
Naysayers will point out that manager Clint Hurdle’s Pirates have done this before, entering the break with a winning record the past two years, but fading badly in the second half to continue their streak of not finishing at or above .500 since 1992. But this year has a very different feel.
There is the experienced, winning catcher in Canadian Russell Martin and a solid bullpen led by Team Italy’s WBC closer Jason Grilli. There is a rotation featuring A.J. Burnett, Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke and there is the talented duo of Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in the outfield.
2. RED SOX: It was easy to believe that the Red Sox would suffer, taking at least a year or two to regroup after the debacle that was Bobby Valentine. New manager John Farrell had shown no sign in his two years in Toronto that he could manage in a contending situation and Boston’s off-season signings seemed a mish-mash of spare parts and secondary free agents from other teams.
But thus far they have had a healthy Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz and a resurgence from a healthy Jon Lester and John Lackey. Newcomers like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes have all made their mark, while infielder Jose Iglesias looks like a future star.
3. INDIANS: How much of a difference has it made bringing in men with a history of winning? Just ask the Indians, who are now being led by manager Terry Francona. (He won it all his first Red Sox season.) They imported the ebullient Nick Swisher from the Yankees to play first base and also lead.
The Tribe has received solid work from starting pitchers Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez and have benefitted from the rapid development of second baseman Jason Kipnis and left fielder Michael Brantley. The bullpen has been deep and solid.
1. BLUE JAYS: The issues of this Jays team have been well documented and anyone that claims they weren’t optimistic, even excited, by the off-season manipulations and roster-building of the general manager is not telling the truth or, in the words of Roger Clemens, mis-remembering.
The Jays’ list of underachievers is led by Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, J.P. Arencibia, Emilio Bonifacio and Brett Lawrie. They got back to .500 for a week and re-entered the conversation briefly, but the clock is ticking and they need to make another move via another win streak.
2. DODGERS: Like the Jays, this year’s Dodgers looked like they had assembled a winner, the best team that money can buy, but unlike the Jays, this is a scenario that Dodgers fans have seen all too often. It’s hard to argue with a team that has the best starting pitcher in the game, Clayton Kershaw, and what was considered one of the best position players, Matt Kemp. They still can’t win.
Like the Jays, the Dodgers believe they still have time to turn it around, with the addition of the dynamic rookie Yasiel Puig. Unlike the Jays, the Dodgers are playing in a division that may allow them to do just that. But something always seems to get in the way of best-laid plans for the Dodgers.
3. NATIONALS: After consecutive years of introducing the game’s next big thing, in Stephen Strasburg and then Bryce Harper, the Nats were expected to dominate the NL East. But it hasn’t happened and they have been a major disappointment, even though they have fought back to above the .500 mark and are stalking the Braves in second place.
Starters Gio Gonzalez, Strasburg and Dan Haren have all been disappointments, while injuries have hamstrung the contributions of the fabulous Harper and the veteran Jayson Werth. The Nats have won four in a row and are 12-6 in the last 18 games.
In all cases, the all-star break will be welcomed by all 30 major-league teams in a sport that is truly a six-month marathon.
Fans taking shots at player’s family are out of bounds
It’s been a difficult week for Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia.
The mercurial Miami native has become a lightning rod of fan discontent. But on Friday night a couple of idiot fans went beyond the bounds of having fun and of common decency, tweeting from the ballpark, apparently watching the game from a few rows behind J.P.’s mother.
The catcher’s anger towards the two fans came not from the actual words of the tweets, but from the tone of their messages as it related to his mom and as was delivered to Arencibia via Twitter.
Social media can be fun, but it also provides an anonymous platform that makes people far braver than they could ever be face-to-face. What some people may think is witty banter quickly becomes obnoxious, offensive blather when a naturally dull wit is combined with too much alcohol. Arencibia had every right to lash out when his family was brought into the Twitter equation.
But there was some good from this weekend for the beleaguered catcher. Sunday’s game at the Rogers Centre proved how popular and how sympathetic Arencibia still can be.
The young veteran had his own bobblehead day and the full house, many of them young and enthusiastic fans, cheered loudly at every mention of his name on his day.
Arencibia demonstrated before Sunday’s game, how human he truly is. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by 13-year-old cancer survivor Jessica Dunn, a young girl who had sent Arencibia a note while she was going through treatment for bone cancer. Arencibia took the time to visit her in hospital and they became friends. When Jessica threw out the first pitch on his bobblehead day, he was her catcher, even though that role usually goes to a player not in the game. The game was about to start.
Jessica threw a brave strike and Arencibia trotted to the front of the mound and gave her the ball and a long and heartfelt hug. He singled in three at-bats with a rare walk, crushing two line drives to warning tracks in right and centre field. Even for the outs, the crowd gave him warm ovations.
Fans can be idiots. Media can also be way off base. But the fact is that when a professional athlete is the target, they learn that that is part of the game. But fans need to understand that shots at a player’s family are always out of bounds. At that point the rules of engagement change.
To those two idiot fans and to any others that might be tempted to stray from strictly baseball while trying to make their point, however stupid and mindless it is, just don’t do it. On the flip side, Arencibia should remember the feeling of Sunday when the silent majority of Jays’ fans showed how they feel about him — warts and all. He’s sometimes overly sensitive, but not in this case.
BLUE JAYS CORNER
THE WEEK THAT WAS (0-3 vs. Tigers; 2-1 vs. Twins)
The Jays seemed reenergized after winning the opening game of the Tigers series in front of a packed house on Canada Day at the Rogers Centre. But the momentum did not last. They dropped the next three games of the Tigers series, although the pitching matchups were daunting, with Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander facing Chien-Ming Wang, Josh Johnson and Esmil Rogers.
Rebounding to take two of three from the Twins on the weekend, the Jays then were 2-4 for the work week, dropping two games below .500. On Saturday, the Jays got the good news that Brett Cecil, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will all be on the AL All-Star team in New York. A fourth Jay, Steve Delabar is one of five candidates on the final player, online fan ballot.
Jays highlights vs. Tigers:
On Tuesday, the Jays took a quick 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, but Wang quickly gave up a six spot in the second inning. It was his second straight start of 1 2/3 innings and after the game the native of Taiwan was designated for assignment. He is now in Buffalo.
Colby Rasmus tied the game with a two-run homer off Fister in the fourth, but the Tigers won it in the seventh, when Torii Hunter banked a single off Neil Wagner to shortstop, scoring Omar Infante from third base. The Jays could not rally vs. Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit.
On Wednesday, the storylines were Scherzer and his 13th straight win since the start of the year and Rasmus and his takeout slide on a double play ball as he slid late, crossing straight over the bag at second base and wiping out second baseman Infante. Infante was forced from the game with shin contusions. Tigers won 6-2. Scherzer called the slide dirty. The Jays were never ever in this game.
On Thursday, the Jays were never in it, losing 11-1 as Verlander cruised to seven shutout innings. Meanwhile, Rogers, who had been solid in the Jays’ rotation, allowed seven runs in five innings. The Jays scored their only run in the ninth vs. Darin Downs.
Highlights of the Twins series:
On Friday, in a 4-0 win Mark Buehrle tossed seven innings vs. the Twins, running his shutout streak against Minnesota to 35 2/3 innings. Buehrle is now 28-19 against the Twins, a high for any opposing pitcher. Bautista opened the scoring with a homer in the third and Jose Reyes drove in a pair with a double in the fourth.
On Saturday, the Twins returned the shutout favour, 6-0, with Mike Pelfrey tossing seven scoreless innings against R.A. Dickey, who had won three straight games. The key at-bat vs. Dickey was an 11-pitch battle in the third inning won by Jamey Carroll with a run-scoring double. That was followed by another RBI hit. Prior to that, Dickey needed just 32 pitches against the first 10 hitters.
In the series finale, the Jays took control in the fifth inning for emergency starter Todd Redmond, The righthander worked five innings with a two-run homer by Trevor Plouffe being the only blemish. The fifth inning four-run Jays’ outburst was keyed by homers from Jose Reyes and Rajai Davis. Rasmus had opened the scoring with a two-run blast off Guelph’s Scott Diamond in the fourth.
Over the past 10 home dates, from the start of the O’s series through the Twins series, the Jays have drawn 367,739 fans, going 6-4 in those contests.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Including the major-league Blue Jays, the entire Toronto organization is a combined six games under .500. The best team winning percentage is A-Bluefield at 10-6. The worst is A-Lansing at 34-52.
Marcus Stroman improved his record at Double-A New Hampshire to 5-2. Kyle Drabek and Sergio Santos handled the first three innings of the A-Dunedin win on Sunday. Chien-Ming Wang went the distance in a doubleheader win over Syracuse for Triple-A Buffalo.
The Jays under GM Alex Anthopoulos have clearly been seeking swing-and-miss arms for the major-league club. Following are the Top 3 strikeout pitchers at every level.
Triple-A Buffalo (45-45)
RH Justin Germano60 (94 1/3 IP)
RH Dave Bush65 (85 2/3 IP)
RH Mickey Storey 54 (42 IP)
RH Buddy Carlyle54 (43 IP)
RH Claudio Vargas54 (78 1/3 IP)
Double-A New Hampshire (42-46)
RH Deck McGuire90 (94.2 IP)
RH Ryan Tepera75 (78.0 IP)
RH Marcus Stroman58 (49.2 IP)
RH Scott Copeland 66 (104 1/3 IP)
RH A. Bibens-Dirkx65 (59 1/3 IP)
RH Jesse Hernandez57 (79 1/3 IP)
RH Javier Avendano 62 (82 2/3 IP)
RH Wil Browning 60 (39 1/3 IP)
RH Taylor Cole 60 (84 2/3 IP)
RH Eric Brown 21 (28 2/3 IP)
RH Chuck Ghysels 18 (10 2/3 IP)
LH Kyle Anderson 17 (26 2/3 IP)
LH Shane Dawson 20 (16 2/3 IP)
RH Chase DeJong 16 (15 2/3 IP)
LH Jairo Labourt 13 (12 IP)
Rookie-Gulf Coast Jays (6-5)
RH Jesus Tinoco 12 (10 2/3 IP)
RH Phillip Kish 11 (6 2/3 IP)
LH Daniel Lietz 10 (7 2/3 IP)
Dominican Summer League Jays (16-12)
RH Miguel Castro 29 (25 IP)
RH Francisco Rios 24 (27 IP)
RH Alberto Guzman 22 (20 2/3 IP)
Jays’ slugging right fielder Jose Bautista was voted in as a starter to this year’s All-Star Game on July 16 in New York. For Bautista it will be his third straight start. Following is a list of all of the Blue Jays’ all-star starters through the years.
1983 RHP Dave Stieb
1984 RHP Dave Stieb
1987 OF George Bell
1991 2B Roberto Alomar
1992 2B Roberto Alomar, OF Joe Carter
1993 2B Roberto Alomar, OF Joe Carter,
1B John Olerud
1994 2B Roberto Alomar, OF Joe Carter
2000 LHP David Wells
2003 1B Carlos Delgado
2006 OF Vernon Wells
2009 RHP Roy Halladay
2B Aaron Hill
2011 OF Jose Bautista
2012 OF Jose Bautista
2013 OF Jose Bautista
Manny surfaces at Round Rock: After retiring from Taiwan’s pro baseball league, Manny Ramirez has resurfaced signing a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers. In his first game at Triple-A Round Rock on Sunday, Manny was 1-for-3 and signed every autograph that was asked of him.
Mariano proves he’s only human: On Sunday at Yankee Stadium, the 43-year-old future Hall-of-Famer, the greatest closer in the history of major-league baseball, was victimized by a game-winning two-run homer by fellow all-star Adam Jones, as the O’s salvaged the finale in a series, all games decided by a run.
Rivera was looking for his 30th save in 31 opportunities. It would have been his 15th season of 30+ saves, breaking a tie with Trevor Hoffman. Mariano had not blown a save at Yankee Stadium since Sept. 26, 2010 vs. Boston, a streak of 41 straight home saves.
Votto more than just another pretty bat: There is no doubt that Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter would not have happened on Tuesday unless Etobicke native and Reds first-baseman Joey Votto had not made this heads-up defensive play. Votto fielded a groundball at first base, but Bailery was late leaving the mound and Bister Posey was well on his way to beating hom to the bag. However Votto spotted Gregor Blanco sprinting off of second base and halfway to third, firing across the diamind to save a hit.
Marcum experiencing numbness: Former Jays starter Shaun Marcum is in St. Louis on Monday to be examined by specialists for numbness and tingling in his right hand. Marcum was traded to the Brewers for third baseman Brett Lawrie. The 31-year-old righthander is 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 14 games.
THIS DATE IN BASEBALL HISTORY:
July 8: 1949 – In a game against the Dodgers, Giants pinch-hitter Monte Irvin faces Don Newcombe marking the first time in MLB history an African-American hitter has faced an African-American pitcher. In that 4-3 loss to the Dodgers, Irvin and 2B Hank Thompson became the first black players in Giants history ... 1941 – at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Ted Williams homers with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to win the All-Star Game 7-5. Yes, all-stars played complete games in those days.
July 9: 1991 – The All-Star Game at the SkyDome ends with a 4-2 AL victory as Cal Ripken slams a 3-run homer off Montreal’s Dennis Martinez. Ripken is named MVP after having won the Home Run Derby the days before ... 1976 – In the middle of a dismal 57-win season, the Expos are no-hit 6-0 by Larry Dierker of the Astros ... 1968 – Led by a quartet of Hall-of-Famers, Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver, the NL beats the AL 1-0.
July 10: 1934 - The Giants’ screwballer Carl Hubbell, in the second annual All-Star Game strikes out five straight future Hall-of-Famers – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in the first, followed by Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in the second ... 1932 – A’s Hall-of-Fame manager Connie Mack, also apparently hall-of-fame cheap, decided to pay train fare for just two pitchers for a one-game make-up date in Cleveland. Unfortunately Lew Krausse lasted just one inning, meaning Eddie Rommel was forced to finish the game – that went 18 innings. Rommel’s line: 17 IP; 29H; 14R; 13ER; 9BB; 7SO)
July 11: 1987 – The 22-year-old 2B Billy Ripken joins brother Cal in the O’s starting lineup. Cal Ripken, Sr. Becomes the first person to manage two sons in a major-league game ... 1961 – In a famous All-Star Game moment at Candlestick Park, RHP Stu Miller is blown off the mound during his delivery resulting in a balk that allowed the AL to tie the game 3-3, before the NL won 5-4 in 10 innings.
July 12: 1979 – In an ill-conceived but brilliant promotion, thousands of fans in the home of Rock ‘n Roll storm the field in Cleveland during Disco Demolition Night, causing a forefeit of Game 2 of the doubleheader ... 1949 – Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe become the first African-Americans to play in an All-Star Game. The game is at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
July 13: 1982 – Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is the site of the first All-Star Game outside the U.S. as the NL wins 4-1, with SS Dave Concepcion as the game’s MVP. There were five Expos in the starting lineup thanks to a late-fan ballot stuffing. Steve Rogers was the starting pitcher ... 1971 – Reggie Jackson’s famous All-Star Game home run at Tiger Stadium rattles around in the light tower high above the right field wall. There were six homers in the game.
July14: 1970 – In another iconic All-Star Game moment, Pete Rose charges home in the 12th inning on a single by Jim Hickman lowering his shoulder into Indians catcher Ray Fosse and injuring him in a violent collision. Fosse was never the same after that injury.
MLB POWER RANKINGS (as of July 7)
(Last Week-Start of Spring)
1. Boston Red Sox 1-16
2. Pittsburgh Pirates 2-28
3. St. Louis Cardinals 3-13
4. Oakland A’s 7-8
5. Texas Rangers 4-6
6. Atlanta Braves 5-2
7. Tampa Bay Rays 9-10
8. Baltimore Orioles 6-11
9. Cincinnati Reds 8-9
10. Detroit Tigers 10-7
11. New York Yankees 15-14
12. Cleveland Indians 11-20
13. Washington Nationals 14-4
14. Arizona Diamondbacks 12-17
15. Los Angeles Angels 16-12
16. Toronto Blue Jays 13-3
17. Kansas City Royals 17-18
18. Los Angeles Dodgers 18-5
19. Philadelphia Phillies 21-15
20. Colorado Rockies 19-25
21. San Francisco Giants 20-1
22. San Diego Padres 22-23
23. New York Mets 24-27
24. Seattle Mariners 26-21
25. Chicago Cubs 27-24
26. Minnesota Twins 23-26
27. Chicago White Sox 25-19
28. Milwaukee Brewers 28-22
29. Miami Marlins 29-29
30. Houston Astros 30-30