Everything Blue Jays

For Toronto Blue Jays fans

Are We Over Thinking It or Thinking It Over?

With less than 5% of the Major League Baseball season complete, there are all sorts of people second-guessing moves by the coaches, pitchers and staff of the Toronto Blue Jays. Hey, it is the fun part of baseball where we take in a few statistics and make a gut-felt assumption and find more stats until they point to what we thought all along. It is akin to booing at a game. We pay to watch and we are permitted to show our displeasure and voice our discontent at any member of the team.

Even I was wondering why the Jays trotted out the lineup they did Sunday for the finale against the Boston Red Sox. I can see resting one player due to injury or providing another a chance to play in a certain game but to appear to throw in the towel against Boston, a division rival,  and a chance to go up 2-1 in a three-game series? I have to admit, I had my doubts. The score vindicated my thoughts.

However, you have to know the Toronto Blue Jays bats and pitching will recover from this blip in the schedule. There will be those 10-game slumps and those other 10-game streaks that will all even out over the course of a 162-game schedule. It is the true indication of a team that they never let something like a 2-5 start upset the club house.

It is my opinion; everyone went out on the town for a few beverages to get to know one another Saturday night. That, my fellow Jays fans, can mean more in July than a 7-game win streak. Getting to know your teammates is as important as the next RBI. Whether a person “fits in” the team chemistry depends upon the players’ makeup and their acceptance of one another. While each of them shares a bond and team logo, it is up to the entire staff to play as a team.

No one will care about what we write about (I am certain even fewer care what gets written here), few will remember what analysts say about certain individuals and only an embarrassed lot remembers a struggling Edwin Encarnacion and what we thought of his production on a mediocre baseball team two years ago. The coaches never gave up on the player who is now indispensable on the Jays team.

No, the club is not experimenting right now, nor is it platooning individuals in key roles. The organization is trying to win games but it is also keeping an eye on the bigger picture: establishing itself as a winner this season and the next and perhaps even a third year in a row that experiences post season play.

It is only a matter of time before the shuffling stops and all the pieces fall into place. R.A. Dickey will find his groove. I am certain the roof being open will have a dramatic effect on his pitches. Also watch how many games he pitches out of doors. I have seen how the team works to the strengths of its staff.

Last season, just before the all-star game, the Jays club shook up its pitching rotation to permit its strongest starters to oppose division rivals. While the club faced an eventual collapse at that point in the season, the team showed it was looking ahead and reassured fans of the club’s commitment to winning by just tweaking the rotation enough to get an edge. It was such a radical move, radio announcers disagreed that the Jays would even try such a maneuver.

No, no one will be moving Jose Reyes from short stop or taking Jose Bautista out of right field until Brett Lawrie comes back and I think Encarnacion has seen the last of third base until he rounds that bag to head home. No, it is time to see this team for what it is and what it will remain – set.

Get ready to see the real Toronto Blue Jays next time they come to Toronto. Who knows, we might even see Lawrie back at his usual position before they come back from their next road trip.

The “Unusual Suspects” Secure Blue Jays Win

A Toronto Blue Jays shutout win over the Boston Red Sox felt great didn’t it?

While I never feel comfortable with Dustin Pedroia coming to bat for the Beantowners any time in a game but with the Jays in a comfortable 5-0 lead, I was able to breathe easier in the ninth inning than usual.

Speaking of “usual”, there are some things we can count on: the media riding the abilities of Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia. This makes the trio “unusual suspects” in the grander scheme of a Blue Jays win.

Granted, Rasmus struck out in his first two plate appearances in Game 2 but he made up for it with a three-run blast that would still be sailing through the city if the Rogers Centre was not an enclosed facility. Wow!

So quickly now…think, who leads the team in stolen bases? Fine, so Jose Reyes is leading in almost every category but who is second? The answer is Adam Lind. He and Mark DeRosa shook up the Red Sox with half a hit and run. DeRosa failed to hit the ball but Lind still ran and pulled off a stolen base – his first since 2011.  It seemed to shake up the Red Sox enough to walk Derosa and serve up the insurance runs the team needed in the ninth inning.

Rasmus also did something pitchers have wanted to do for the last few years: take the bat out of the hands of Jose Bautista. Before Rasmus went to bat, Bautista was in the dugout obviously warming up to step in as a pinch hitter. After the three-run homer, one can only surmise that manager John Gibbons told his tender-footed slugger, “Never mind.” Mind you, it could have been a ploy to make the Red Sox believe Bautista was ready to come in and hit. Check that, Bautista has just one walk in 6 plate appearances vs. reliever Alfredo Aceves. Gibbons wouldn’t be playing head games with his own staff would he? Naw! (BTW – It would be a fitting gesture to indicate the location where the Rasmus homer hit on the facing of the third level – for the second time this season!)

Well, for whatever the reason this victory was one of the more unusual ones we have witnessed. However, nothing was more exciting than to watch Reyes perform his impression of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson in Game 1 against the Red Sox.

There are many videos of how Robinson used to torment pitchers into throwing wild pitches to the plate or to fellow fielders just to keep Robinson close to the bag. In Game 1, Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks collected a sharply hit ball but he was distracted by Reyes who threatened to go home on the throw. Middlebrooks looked toward Reyes who just stood between third and home waiting for a commitment. Middlebrooks took a couple of steps toward first but that was when Reyes broke towards home. Middlebrooks stopped his attempt toward first and turned toward Reyes and third base in an attempt to tag the baserunner. Middlebrooks failed to tag Reyes and all hands were safe on the play.

If this is the kind of excitement Jays fans are in for this season, even the losses will be easier to take. 

Getting on base is Everything Blue Jays

“Welcome to the home of Everything Blue Jays!”

I had to write that slogan. Thank you Rogers Communications. What a boost for this website.

Down two games in the series, you knew it would only be a matter of time before the Toronto Blue Jays players started driving the baseballs into the stands.

Game 2 against Cleveland was a close affair that could have gone either way. The Indians took full advantage of the Jays’ defensive lapses. Good teams do that. Better teams don’t commit those kinds of errors.

The tables turned a complete “one eighty” in Game 3 when the Jays took advantage of two mental lapses by the Indians’ defenders. Sure, credit the “GO-GO” attitude of both Emilio Bonifacio and Jose Reyes who never stopped running on two different plays.

Bonifacio is making everyone realize what a complete player/competitor he is for the Jays. On a hit to centrefield, the Jays’ utility player ran out of the batter’s box and sprinted to second base. To his credit he never slowed down. Cleveland outfielder Michael Bourn made the routine throw on a play that turned out to be anything but routine as Bonifacio slid into second with an “all-out” hustle for a double.

Reyes also showed off his running prowess on a ball put into play by Jose Bautista. The .750 slugger drove a shot to the Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera who collected the ball and fired it to first to get the sure out. However, what he did not see was that Reyes had quickly rounded third and was headed home. By the time the out was recorded, the Jays’ base runner had run through the base coach’s stop sign and was about to score easily. Bautista’s “routine” out provided him with his fourth RBI of the season and Reyes’ hustle added to his teammate’s hitting statistics.

We have to appreciate all this offence and the position Bautista holds in the lineup. Last season, everyone talked about how much better the Jays would be with him batting in the third position but also how the lack of depth would not provide management with enough options for putting him in that role. This game proved the rationale for the Jays’ thoughts last season and this season’s moves. Bonifacio (.273 OBP) and Reyes (.357 OBP) seemed to be on base every time Bautista came to bat. Given that first base is not usually open and that slugger Edwin Encarnacion is protecting the power-hitting Bautista, the Jays can count on getting even more production from the heart of the order. The Toronto opposition has to pitch to the top batters. That means more strikes for Melky Cabrera (.286 OBP) to see and a greater opportunity for him to get on base.

All three games against Cleveland provided some insight to what Jays fans can look forward to this season. Pitching, fielding and of course hitting will give the Toronto fans the kind of excitement they have come to expect from this franchise.

Fast start key to Jays’ 2013 playoff drive

This is the most anticipated Major League Baseball season in the franchise of the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball history. 

Jays’ General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has provided Jays fans with answers to every position problem in 2012. In just three years at the post, he poured funding into the scouting staff (where he first started with the franchise in 2003 – happy 10th anniversary by the way A.A.), then he started putting key pieces into place and built an exciting club that shows more potential than their routine fourth-place finish will attest.

Many fans will be snapping up programs to be able to identify some of the new faces on the team, but this provides them with the information they will want to learn about this powerful team.

Not only does the club boast some of the best players at every position but the organization still has some of its future just a couple of hours away down the Queen Elizabeth Way in Buffalo, New York, just itching to show they belong. How do we know? We saw many of them last season. Other prospects are now on teams playing for other organizations after Anthopoulos showcased their talents at the major league level through the 2012 season.

Some of you may be nodding in agreement but others may be wondering who were these players and why were they traded away if they were so good?

Adeiny Hechavarria, the phenomenal short stop who may still want to ply his trade as a New York Yankee one day, was chased (not just scouted) by Anthopoulos and his staff in order to bring him into the fold. The young infielder did an admirable job of filling in when teammates were sidelined. He is among the top prospects within the Miami Marlins organization. Should his hitting rise above .250 in the organization’s lower levels, the Jays may be playing against him one day soon.

The shortstop is just one of many players who helped provide the MLB club with the players (through trades) who can compete today. This is how many baseball franchises build championships. It is how the Jays were able to get the players they needed to win in 1992 and 1993. The only difference is that Anthopoulos is getting it done sooner than most GMs.

The organization may be among the best in the majors but what prompted the meteoric rise? How could a club that continues to finish out of the Wild Card hunt by August still keep fans interested through June or July? Certainly there is more to this club than just the marketing behind Jose Bautista’s home runs or Canadian Brett Lawrie’s wry humour and national heritage.

The answers may just lie in the club’s bad luck through 2012. Whether it is coincidence or just protecting their players in a lost cause, the Toronto Blue Jays lost more players due to injury than they had in franchise history.

Every position player suffered due to a season-ending injury or a prolonged ailment that caused the club to rethink how it was going to fill the voids. The club needed to address the closer role after it acquired Sergio Santos and came up with the idea of using former starter Casey Janssen. Bautista, Lawrie, Encarnacion, the entire pitching staff all suffered injuries at one point in the season and needed time off or surgery.

Every night, fans tuned into the sports highlights to see which Blue Jays player was injured this time. What made the situation worse was the midseason news that the Boston Red Sox were tired of how that club was performing that thought that the Jays’ manager might fill the void better than any other.

John Farrell’s aloofness and off-hand remarks about being “still under contract with the Toronto Blue Jays” were accurate but did not dissuade the Red Sox from getting their man in an off-season deal. Alex Anthopoulos was forced to make the move and that left him with just a few options for the 2013 season. 

Anthopoulos is a first-class individual but when the Jays open up some big leads this season in Toronto against Boston, he can be pardoned for a smile when the fans start chanting “Dream Job.”

There is an old saying that throwing money at a problem does not make the problem go away but in baseball, it can certainly provide the basis of a solution.

Back to building the club: someone in the front office must have taken pity on the baseball team because when Anthopoulos went to his bosses for money to secure players in a trade with the Miami Marlins, the team approved immediately.

With the trades, Toronto management and staff addressed the holes in the infield including second base, short stop and first base. The trade provided an answer to the DH role, starting pitching and the outfield which already seemed set to compete.

As if to say, “But I’m not done!” Anthopoulos picked up the most coveted pitcher available in Robert Allen Dickey. All before Christmas. Thanks Alex. Everyone was asking what we got you.

While many may say Anthopoulos was just doing his job, he certainly took advantage of making a bad situation good and providing the club with a very real opportunity to win. The Jays are going to need it because with a terrible Houston Astros franchise now in the American League West, there is a very good possibility that the wild card teams will be coming from that division.

The Jays are going to need a strong start, the kind where they win two out of three games or sweep some series because they play all of their division rivals twice over the next two months. Here is hoping the club is on top by the end of May and we will be talking about everything Blue Jays.

THERE IS NO WAY TO SUGAR COAT THIS:

There is no way to sugar-coat this: the first place Tampa Bay Rays is a better baseball team than the fourth place (just three games out) Toronto Blue Jays team – right now.

Despite what many fans believe the Jays management has done its job but needs more time to assemble all the pieces it needs to defeat the better ball clubs and consistently challenge the lesser ones. Have you seen some of the Twitter comments? Brutal! Don’t break an ankle jumping off the bandwagon),

The Rays have so many weapons. Even when the injured starter walked off the mound yesterday; you knew the Rays were never really in trouble.

Toronto can aspire to become like the Rays but until the local team can take the majority of games from any baseball team for two to three consecutive months, the Jays fans will have to be content to witnessing the building of a contender.

This rebuilding program is not without its excitement though. Bautista may not be hitting home runs like he has in the last two seasons but he is still among the top 10 in the American League and Edwin Encarnacion is still fourth with 11.

However, I cannot ignore acknowledging that Adam Lind is having issues at the plate but he is the league leader with a range factor of 10.94 (range factor is calculated by adding putouts and assists and then dividing that total by defensive innings played).

And who says Brett Lawrie makes too many errors? The kid can flat-out play the game and enjoy it with the best of them. He is second in the majors (not just AL) with a range factor of 3.19 among third basemen. His play at the plate running in from beyond third base is among ESPN’s current “gems”.

No, the Jays are not giant killers yet, but the club is building a contender right before our eyes. Enjoy it while you can still get seats at the ballpark.

AFTER THE FIRST MONTH

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the Jays’ 2012 season so far. I hear it is easier to be upset about the losses and failures but that is beside the point.

What seems to be lost this early in the season is why the youth of the Jays pitching staff is taking a major role in the club’s success. Former Jays catcher Gregg Zaun indicated that he would not bring in the young pitchers at this point in their careers. It might hurt a valuable “commodity.” Normally I would tend to think he is right. However, these Jays youngsters seem to have the maturity to handle any opposition or mistakes.

Zaun’s fellow Sportsnet television commentator Pat Tabler let us know exactly what is going on out there. He suggests that because all of these pitchers: Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek and the latest acquisition Drew Hutchison are keeping the baseball low in the strike zone (“pounding ‘em low”) they are getting the opportunity to move up to this level of competition and stay up with the big club.

The Jays management seems to be saying: Those who cannot show that they can keep the ball low will not be able to play in Toronto.

Why?

Because at the Rogers Centre the balls that creep up on the strike zone keep landing on the wrong side of the fence. This is one comment short of calling the Jays’ home field a batter’s park – that is exactly the situation. This is no secret. The Jays are hitting more home runs at home than on the road but then again so is the opposition. The slammers like David Ortiz love hitting here. He feasts on Jays pitching more than in any other ball park.

We need to tip our collective hats to Manager John Farrell who is pulling all of his pitchers when they need to stop. The pitchers are not out being left out there too long. The last two games saw the Jays starters fire about 90 to 100 pitches. That is enough at this time of year.

I enjoy seeing the pitchers not want to come off the field. Those are the guys I want out there.

What we need to acknowledge is that after 23 games your Toronto Blue Jays are 12-11. No, this is not the kind of start many Jays fans envisioned but with the kind of opposition that they are facing; it is a wonder that they have a winning record. The Jays are among the leaders in home runs, only Texas, New York and the first-place (gulp) Orioles have more homers than Toronto as of May 1.

No, Jose Bautista is not leading the team in that category but it is early in the season and he seems to be getting the timing down. It is funny how everyone has a reason for Bautista’s lack of power lately but only Sportsnet’s Gregg Zaun and the television staff have isolated the difference between what the Jays hitter is doing and what he was doing last year. Great work. However, finding the cause and correcting it are two different matters. Last season, the critics were wrongfully suspecting steroid use and this season they are wondering why Bautista hasn’t hit more home runs.

There is no pleasing some people. Folks, hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports and hitting home runs is just another level of challenge only the gifted and hardworking can accomplish. It still astonishes me that Bautista’s tear in the last three seasons is among the all-time leaders in baseball – Ruthian to be sure, in the truest sense of the compliment.

Gee, do you think he should be asked to participate in the home run hitting contest this season? What does the man need to do to gain the respect?

Picking up the home run slack is designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. He is showing that he will not be waiting until the all-star game to wake up. He is making such an impact on the league right now, even some of the best pitchers such as Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish feels he needs to throw differently to the Jays slugger.

Speaking of sluggers, who would have thought that second baseman Kelly Johnson would be second on the team with five home runs. His defence is solid but if he adds to that a propensity to drive in runs and grab some extra base hits and you have a double threat.

I enjoy that Manager John Farrell is providing each player some down time throughout the season. I always thought Roberto Alomar’s role with the team as Special Assistant should be broadened to include some coaching but the next best thing is to bring in an all-star infielder who used to play with Alomar. Omar Vizquel is a fine acquisition for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The biggest surprise for the Jays besides Encarnacion’s hitting is the catching and hitting of Jeff Mathis. His offence and defence means that J.P. Arencibia can take time off to nurse some of those unspoken injuries that catchers endure throughout the season. In the first game against Texas, I counted at least three pitches that beat up the young defender behind the plate. Add to that the times he is hit by a pitch while at bat and you see why more people do not take up the sport.

Eric Thames, Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind and Canadian Brett Lawrie all deserve to stay with the club since they each add an element this team needs to succeed. Their only downside is actually an upside to the team – they are so young! Sure Lind is a veteran to most of us but he is only 28 with less than 700 at-bats. His ailing back might be more of a hindrance than the organization is letting on but he can take time out with the kind of bench Toronto provides.

As you can tell by the theme of this post and of course the title of this blog, I believe the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball organization is certainly a team to watch. I still believe that the club’s real impact will come in 2013 when it contends for the American League flag and then the World Series. It in no way diminishes my enjoyment of the team’s performance or the possibility that I may be incorrect. I secretly hope so.

Go Jays!

SHOWING OFF TEXAS STYLE

The maintenance staff at the Rogers Centre are probably still chasing primates as some of the Toronto Blue Jays got a few monkeys off their backs.

Toronto Blue Jays fans can be excused for being cautious about the Jays’ chances of winning against the top team in the American League but no one can call this club a quitting crew.

Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie hit important home runs in this game but it was Kelly Johnson’s first pitch homer in the third inning and his follow-up single in the seventh that proved to be what the Jays needed to extend their rally – good for four RBI in the game.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why baseball fans are so down on first-pitch hit attempts. I remember Tony Fernandez taking the first pitch every at-bat and putting himself at a zero-and-one disadvantage too often.

Rangers’ starter Yu Darvish showed us the importance of getting ahead with his fastball. He pitched a gem of a baseball game. It is funny how he knew not to try that strategy with Edwin Encarnacion.

Earlier in the day, Jays Manager John Farrell said Bautista has earned the Number 3 spot in the lineup as though many of us thought he should be moved. Hah! Everyone could see he was swinging the bat better in the last few games.

Bautista is not your average baseball player but when he entered the game batting .181 some fans were all over the Jays’ home run threat. I remember a couple of Aprils ago when Boston’s Big Papi David Ortiz went through the same kind of month with worse results. The Red Sox never gave up on its star talent and notice how he is performing this past month. Jays fans need to show Joey Bats more respect.

Oh well, it is a free country and after a long hockey season, I can understand some of the bitterness overflowing onto the baseball field. Finding something wrong with high profile athletes seems to be a Toronto sport in itself. Poor Sportsnet radio man Mike Wilner must be going through the Q-tips pulling that kind of stuff out of his ears after every radio show. Mike, it won’t go away even after the winning becomes even more of a habit. Some of these folks find it easier to find fault than paying attention to the statistics. Hey, I guess it all makes good radio.

Folks, this is not the Maple Leafs. This team is exciting and fun to watch. No one is saying this club will win the World Series – yet. There are still a couple of pieces missing and some of the better clubs are showing us this almost every series. However, no one can argue that this is not a fun baseball club to watch game in and game out.

I still cannot believe fans don’t come out and see the Jays play one of the best teams in the American League! Just 18,774 came out for this one. I look forward to seeing the television ratings for this series. The Jays may not be better than Texas right now, but the club is making some of the best defensive plays I have seen since Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar vacuumed up everything from first base line to the other side of second. The Jays also have some impressive offensive stats where they are making an impact against the opposition.

Sure the bullpen is struggling right now but with players like Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Rajai Davis, Johnson and Colby Rasmus hitting in the clutch lately, this club is proving that there is more excitement to come.

Go Jays!

Let’s Play Two

“Mister Cub” Ernie Banks was quoted, “It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!” Although yesterday’s game was just two innings short of a double header, it had all the elements of two games.

O.K., so the weather wasn’t so great but it was a great result!

The Toronto Blue Jays coaching staff used the bullpen effectively and road a J.P. Arencibia three-run home run to win the Opening Day game 7-4 in a Major League Baseball record16 innings in Cleveland.

The Jays’ victory provided a no-decision for Indians starter Justin Masterson who pitched a masterful 8 innings while striking out 10 against a Toronto side that could only muster two hits.

Both benches were taxed and some players logged more than 5 hours in this marathon match played in 6C weather. Seven relief pitchers provided Jays manager John Farrell all the options he needed to stop the Indians from adding to what started out to be a rough outing for the Toronto ace.

Jays starter Ricky Romero ran his pitch count to 96 (55 strikes) over five innings and suffered a tough 43-pitch inning in the bottom of the second. The crushing blow came when he surrendered a three-run home run off the bat of Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan and the Indians took a 4-1 lead. To his credit, Romero did not let the four-run second inning get to him. He went back to the bench, collected himself, cursed into a towel and proceeded to help the Jays shut down the Cleveland offence the rest of the way.

The Jays’ heroics came in the bottom of the ninth inning off Chris Perez. The Indians’ closer could not get it done. His performance showed that he did not get enough workouts during the spring training season due to an injury and was probably not at his best. Until the ninth, Jose Bautista had supplied all of the offence with two hits including his first home run of the season in the fourth. Bautista added another run when he scored Yunel Escobar from third with a sac fly. However, it was Edwin Encarnacion who powered what appeared to everyone as a home run but went off the wall in left to score two runners on the double and tie the game at 4-4.

This was punctuated with Jays closer Sergio Santos’ effort after facing three batters. Santos might have had the save had game-winning reliever Luis Perez not rushed out of the dugout and stalled for him in the bottom of the 16th inning. Under the new rules, if a pitcher comes out to warm up, he must pitch to at least one batter. It appears that the Jays were stalling since Santos was seen walking in from the bullpen shortly before the inning was to start. Santos received a signal and returned to the bullpen and L. Perez was forced to pitch once more. L. Perez earned the victory after pitching four shutout innings.

L. Perez started his day with a four-pitch walk to Michael Brantley in the 12th. That set the stage for more Blue Jays dramatics. Farrell called in Eric Thames and replaced him with veteran infielder Omar Vizquel. The newest Jays left fielder (who had never played left field in his professional career) was brought in to help the infield squash a one-out bases loaded threat in the 12th inning. Part of Vizquel’s support included a pep talk to Perez. The talk did some good as the beefed-up infield turned an inning-ending double play started by Yunel Escobar to Kelly Johnson and Bautista.

Vizquel, who played 10 seasons with the Indians, once played next to former Blue Jays great Roberto Alomar from 1998 through 2001. Vizquel received two ovations from the Indians fans – once while being introduced at the start of the game and the other when he took his first at-bat. Anyone who is a fan of Robbie Alomar might understand how the Cleveland fans feel about Vizquel.

Mr. Opening Day J.P. Arencibia has hit a home run in each of his three opening days. This one was special since it turned out to be the game-winning blast with two men on in the 16th inning and sent the bench into a giddy frenzy.

It was great to see the Jays win but what happened to Rajai Davis on that play with two on and none out? His brain freeze at the plate could have cost the Jays the game. After attempting a bunt, Davis thought he was an out when Indians third baseman Hannahan let it drop and played the ball off the infield grass and out-gunned Jose Bautista. The ensuing relay doubled off Davis who only seconds later realized the ball was in play but it was too late to leg it out.

Among the uninspiring statistics is the Jays 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position. It was matched by the Indians 1 for 9. And in case you lost track, the Indians have not scored in their last 14 innings of play. Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow might be in the way of an angry Indians lineup that will be seeking revenge for a home opener loss.

John Farrell is used to this kind of weather. As a former Indian starter, he pitched in the snow.

The game broke the previous mark of a 15 innings played on April 19, 1960 between the Indians and the Detroit Tigers.

While the 16 innings over 5 hours 14 minutes does not make up for the long layoff between Major League Baseball games, this victory comes close.

Welcome back baseball.

Not much has ch…

Not much has changed since this blog’s last post in December and yet many Toronto Blue Jays fans are pleased with the off-season results.

And why shouldn’t they be happy?

With two exceptions, everyone seems to be ready to pick up where they left off last season. The exceptions are pitcher Brett Cecil who seems to have lost some velocity on his pitches. The other exception is outfielder Travis Snider. No one is really saying much about either of these baseball players but it is safe to say that since they will not be making the trip north here with the rest of the club, they need to work out something to the approval of Manger John Farrell.

You have to give the manager credit; he provides strong indicators when a player is not performing to the standards set by the organization.

The rest of the team appears ready to contend. While Adam Lind continues to nurse a sore back at times, his performance at the plate and on defence was fantastic. Second baseman Kelly Johnson may not make everyone forget infielder John MacDonald’s superb defence; he showed he belongs with the club. Yunel Escobar is criticized for not running hard enough to first on hits into the infield but his overall production at the plate and in the field makes him a genuine threat to turn the game around.

What more can anyone say of Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie? They provide so much entertainment value that no one wants to miss their at-bats. Colby Rasmus is still drawing some scrutiny but Eric Thames has worked hard to earn his starting role and appears ready to contribute to victories on offence and defence.

It is hard to believe that catcher J.P. Arencibia was a rookie last year. He seems to have embraced the role as the starting catcher and become one of the stalwarts of this club. His numbers may not impress everyone but he is as much a leader and a part of the club’s organization as anyone.

It may be premature but I am going to dust off a word that will be applied to the Toronto Blue Jays – premium. Blue Jays fans are looking at a core of what marketing people love to term a premium baseball team. We are all familiar with weekend games where ticket prices rise whenever New York or Boston come to town. Toronto is building toward that designation with the kind of talent up and down the lineup.

We have all seen how many American League teams have improved over the off season. Toronto is no different. The club boasts a proven closer in Sergio Santos, a setup man in Francisco Cordero and countless relief men to take over if something doesn’t go right for starters Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek. Joel Carreno will be the fifth starter for now.

Considering the kind of relief the team can count on through the season, the organization can get away with a four-man rotation with the opposition facing a righty/lefty rotation and a relief corps ready to close it out. This would keep the pitchers loose and still allow them to close out their share of complete games. Pitch counts aside, the starters will only grow stronger by logging five to seven strong innings give way to the rest closers – especially early in the season.

Congratulations to the Blue Jays for acknowledging all the work by starting pitcher Dustin McGowan, who starts the season on the disabled list. He was recently rewarded with a new contract and should prove valuable as the team’s number three man in the rotation.

The pitcher who impressed the most last season was reliever Carlos Villanueva who started 13 games for the Jays last year and did everything the club asked of him. His hand has bothered him recently but should that prove to be something he can manage, he will be a fine reliever for the Jays again this season.

Right now, the team is saying that many of the minor league players are ready to take the step up to the bigs should any of the relievers or starters fail to perform. However, the way Jason Frasor and Casey Janssen pitched last year, it will be tough to ignore their experience in tight situations.

Not all the experts are picking this year’s edition of the Toronto Blue Jays to earn a playoff spot. However, what this team provides is a legitimate opportunity to contend. The whole team including batting coach Dwayne Murphy, pitching coach Bruce Walton and bench coach Don Wakamatsu all provide the expertise the Jays need to make it to the next level of achievement.

This Roster Looks Solid Now!

The Toronto Blue Jays are facing a tough season ahead. They must improve on their perennial third or fourth place finish. To do that, they need to build from their own system and rely on their home-grown talent.

What happens when that doesn’t go as quickly as you would like? Alex Anthopoulos has shown he is not averse to trading today’s talent and gamble with the tomorrow’s prospect. That is why he pulled the trigger on today’s deal: RHP Sergio Santos, 28, from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for 22-year-old RHP Nestor Molina.

This is a good move for the Jays. Everyone noticed the number of games the relief staff could not convert after the 8th or 9th innings. Had Toronto held on to half of those losses the Jays would have put the team into a playoff position or at least a chance to challenge. Instead, the Jays were out of contention before August.

Anthopoulos seems to like this day to trade. Do you remember who the Jays got last year on this day? Here is a hint:  they traded away their number one starter for him.

Canadian Baseball Talent

Ironically enough it was for Canadian (then-second baseman) Brett Lawrie. That was last year, and yet there is still a need this year to fill the void at second AND starting pitching.

With Lawrie at third, and Adam Lind at first the only thing that Alex Anthopoulos really needs in the infield is a second baseman. This might seem too early to some but Yunel Escobar could move to second base and bring in Adeiny Hechavarria to play shortstop. No one is expecting the Blue Jays to contend this season and so why not move him into the role now instead of August?

I know – he isn’t ready. So the Jays will have to be content with newly acquired Luis Valbuena, Kelly Johnson or Mike McCoy playing second. Anyone see a trade coming here?

The outfield looks great with Jose Bautista in right and Colby Rasmus patrolling centre. Should the Jays acquire a new man at first base (this seems unlikely), Lind could move to left. Left field seems to be an open spot for anyone who wants in. Last year, Travis Snider seemed to have an edge on everyone but his plate appearances lacked the maturity the managers and office staff expect. However, if Lawrie embodied the “heart” of the Jays, Eric Thames embodied the “hustle”. If he doesn’t start in left field he is certainly the one to move in as the fourth outfielder.

DH Edwin Encarnacion gets the most improved player award for his performance in the second half of the 2011 season. He will likely fill in at third and first bases throughout the season.

It is a shame that Frank Francisco will probably not be returning this year. The Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees have expressed an interest in the reliever.

The Jays starters are almost a lock with Ricky Romero, Henderson Alvarez, and Brandon Morrow securing three of the five positions. Kyle Drabek will have to show something in Spring Training or it could be another long season for the young pitcher. Brett Cecil had better stay away from blenders or he could get mixed up in the bullpen. The starter (slash) reliever cut a finger on his pitching hand working with a kitchen device during the season. He needs to be careful with his career or else people are going to question his heart. John Farrell addressed the young man in the dugout one game and the young pitcher responded with some quality innings after that.

The rest of the relievers seem to exist during a trial by fire. If Jays manager Farrell likes what he sees from a player, they are in. However, now that Farrell has seen most everyone pitch this past season, he will have a role for each of them.

Casey Janssen is a fan favorite and deserves another shot at relief and maybe even a start. Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan were equally brilliant throughout the 2011 season. It will be interesting to see if there are any younger Jays who can crack this roster. Canadian Scott Richmond has impressed. Carlos Villanueva also responded when called and it will be interesting to see if Toronto could use him in the setup role ahead of the newly acquired Santos.

This list may be premature and some of the names may disappear by March 2012 but the season looks as entertaining as it was in 2011.

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