Archive for October 16, 2015

ALDC: Jays Stay True to Form

1131 for publication October 16, 2015

Ross Brewitt

“… another magical diving catch by Kevin Pillar. Had that ball made it past him it was headed for the centre field fence.”

Since the Toronto Blue Jays broke training camp in April, we’ve heard glowing superlatives upgraded after each trade or acquisition. Yet it’s still been a rough road to the American League Division Championship.

But laying out an evaluation of the team by position a couple of weeks back, I ended that column with “… It always comes down to pitching and hitting. A betting man has to like the Jays chances.”

Yet true to form the Jays made it hard on themselves to play “small-ball,” the kind of game that makes chicken soup out of chicken droppings.

After a pair of two-run losses at the Rogers Centre, they left their home field advantage in shambles and headed to Texas. There, for lack of a better word, they “clawed” their way to even with a solid two game set in Dallas, and returned home for the real “home game” advantage in Game 5.

That the Jays were lucky to a certain extent is not in question. The old adage says, “you have to be lucky to be good.” Still the remarkable part is they managed to prevail, primarily using their bats. As for being fortunate in game five, the examples are many.

Before any examples of “breaks” are made, turns of luck and good fortune are the result of applying abilities, planning, execution, and follow through. The people in baseball like to call it “percentages,” like righthand batters facing lefthand pitching, or the exaggerated infield shift.

Marcus Stroman wasn’t sharp in the early going, a speed-wobble beginning and fortunate to get out of the first inning down by one with the leadoff Texas batter, Delino DeShields, hitting a double. He persevered through an overall hot-cold performance giving up 6 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned in six innings and shifting from being in trouble to being in control.

Aaron Sanchez in 1.1 innings gave up 2 hits, 1 run. Closer Roberta Osuna in 1.2 innings gave up nothing, striking out four of the five batters he faced including the final out. The  pitchers combined ages in order of appearance? 24-23-20 = 67 and those young arms bodes well for the future.

Speaking of arms, also in that earlier column I had noted that Ben Revere’s thrower was suspect. “… Revere’s arm is a drawback on the throw from the leftfield fence or corner to second base, and on-line to home plate or the cut-off man.” On DeShields rocket double, it sailed over Revere’s head, hit the wall and bounced directly back to him as he turned and airmailed a looping throw to ten feet off the pitcher’s mound. That kind of suspect.

But there were other signs of good fortune:

-twice in game five, Texas runners held up at second base rather than challenge Bautista’s arm from right field. Considering the runner has a safer sprint traveling further away from the right fielder with every stride, perhaps it had something to do with those two throws he made to third and home plate against the Yankees in the final days of the regular schedule. Scouting reports don’t lie.

-Russell Martin throwing out Andrus at third made possible by Donaldson’s lightning slap-tag on the foot that stood up to video review.

-Donaldson’s bloop single that barely made the outfield grass, to keep a Jays inning going.

-Encarnacion’s statement homerun.

-Goins performing a picture-perfect backhand short-hop play to strangle a Ranger rally in the 5th.

-another magical diving catch by Kevin Pillar. Had that ball made it past him it was headed for the centre field fence.

-three consecutive disastrous errors in the Texas train wreck that was the 7th inning. Andrus made two, Moreland made the other throwing to Andrus. It loaded the bases with nobody out.

-while Bautista’s dramatic three-run homer in the seventh wasn’t sheer luck, the result was fortunate, and it was about time. The Jays slugger was in a foul-ball, pop-up slump and the power-driven no-doubter was timely.

-not being a fan of post-series splash-parties I did admire the players taking their celebration back out to the field with the fans.

So, today’s the day to keep ‘er goin’ boys. The Mojo is already running.

 

MLB Playoffs: The Blue Jays Way

1129 for publication October 6, 2015

Ross Brewitt

It was almost a week ago, Thursday, twiddling thumbs through an afternoon rain delay in Baltimore, when I got the feeling the days and nights of waiting for the Jays to nail down a playoff spot were over. Now, they’re in, after an incredible race to the East championship.

Once there, the only meaningful thing remaining was to tidy up in the final three game series starting in Tampa Bay Friday, and hold off Kansas City and win the American League pennant, gaining the lucrative home advantage it means throughout their post-season run, however long it lasts.

But what transpired was a comedy of errors, a closing streak of two losses including the final sayonara of a 12-3 blowout by the Rays. After 162 games it left a list of questions.

Nevertheless, here’s my read and role assignment on the position players in the regular Jays lineup for the playoff start against the Texas Rangers.

Catching; Russell Martin and Dioner Navarro are interchangeable, both call excellent games, have outstanding arms, and take charge of their position.

1st base: Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello. Smoak is the smoother fielder, plus a switch hitter giving him an edge. But Colabello is a better pure hitter and has made great progress at playing the position.

2nd base: Ryan Goins has become outstanding on both sides of the ball, and Cliff Pennington is an experienced, tested backup.

Shortstop: Tulowitzki is the man, with Goins his mirror back up.

3rd base: is the sole property of Josh Donaldson, anyone else is merely filling-in.

Left field: Ben Revere’s speed covers ground, yet his arm is a drawback on the throw from the leftfield fence and corner to second base, and on-line to home plate/cut-off man. His lead-off hitting is what makes him an everyday player.

Centre field: belongs to Kevin Pillar, who also has occasional trouble with the long throw, and getting it directly to the right cut-off man. But his ability to time and track-down or climb onto well hit balls makes up for everything in question, and his improved hitting is also peaking at the right time.

Right field: finally, after a few months of throwing sidearm while nursing a bad shoulder, Jose Bautista uncorked two throws in one game against the Yankees, one to third base, the other to home plate, that had me jumping out of my chair, both times, and I don’t jump lightly. Highlight reel material. You can bank on every other playoff opponent taking notice.

No need to mention their batting stats, or power except to say from June to now, the Jays had seventeen games they won by ten runs or more. They can blast, and boast frightening firepower. But against that is a disproportionate hard time in tight, close games. The kind of mound battles common in the playoffs, where the pitching is upgraded and stingy at all times, and therein lies the Jays glaring liability. It’s their seeming inability to play small-ball tactics, steals, hit-and-runs, and bunts. It’s a real concern, because you don’t ask your proven sluggers to suddenly choke up on the bat and settle for singles, runners on base, and making use of their base path speed.

Pitching? Right now, in a short series a team with two quality starters, David Price, Marcus Stroman, each contributing six solid innings, and a 7-8-9 closing crew delivering nine outs on-call, could be enough to win a series with the Jays batting pyrotechnics. Marco Estrada throwing third isn’t a bad bet either. But it will come down to Gibbons managing the “short leash.” That and go into his playoff bullpen quicker than his norm.

The Jays have the tools. Now they’ll have to apply their skills, and avoid miscues and mental errors. That means bringing you’re physical and mental A-game to the field. Baseball being a game of increments, the goal is clear, making it a game of fine-line patience.

It always comes down to pitching and hitting. A betting man has to the Jays chances.