Archive for April 30, 2016

A Lesson to be Learned

1159 for publication April 29, 2016

Ross Brewitt

The Jays standard two-word motto, “It’s Early,” is beginning to flake and peel.

Sales of Blue Jays hats fell below those generated by Tilley toppers as they sent the White Sox away with a 21-6 victory, a three-game run-total that saw the Jays chalk up embarrassing strike-out stats. 13 K’s coming in that Wednesday night 4-0 shutout.

That’s double-digit whiffs for the 11th time this season. Sounds OK, but a couple of concrete head-butts and you’ll realize it’s the first month of the regular season, with two more games to complete before May begins. This stinks. On ice.

The Jays came out of spring training with a great record, abounding in qualified pitchers, and an experienced opening-day batting lineup making other teams envious.

That was then, this is now, and they managed only 4 hits, no runs, and by the end of the game Wednesday were also missing their manager. Yes, I know, there are some saying he’s been missing since October, but let’s remember he doesn’t hit, field, or pitch.

Speaking of pitchers, the Jays relievers lead all baseball in losses, Brett Cecil their left-handed reliever has already four attached to his stat line. Worse, the bullpen has allowed 17 of 28 inherited runners to score.

The Jays sit, actually they squat, in fourth place in the East, ahead of only the Yankees, but behind Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa Bay. In baseball lingo that’s 3.5 games behind the O’s, and even at this early stage, miles behind where they should be.

Their problems are the same as it was early last season, which had a successful conclusion by any standard. A year ago they were also slow out of the gate, without an identity except for being unpredictable, a frightening penchant for being unable to “manufacture” runs, or steal bases, and no-one capable of bunting with any expectation of success.

They had reasons for expecting better with the addition of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin over the off-season. They had pop with Bautista and Encarnacion. Then, in one incredible end-of-July weekend, GM Alex Anthopoulos acquired Troy Tulowitzski and David Price. They took them to the American League Championship series.

Therein lay the legitimate high expectations for this 2016 season. But right now it’s “who were those guys?” In my opinion they haven’t sorted themselves out as yet, and within the Chicago series came a troubling sign of selfish conduct they need to jettison.

Specifically, in the first game Marcus Stroman and the Jays were sailing, a 5-1 lead with the Sox coming to bat in the seventh. Suddenly Stroman was struggling, with two runners on, one out, and Gibbons came out of the dugout, to bring in reliever Brett Cecil. Stroman was angry, did little to alleviate that fact, storming away to the bench. Although Cecil has been shaky this move was no surprise, simply the Jays regular relief format going back to last season.

Cecil gave-up two hits and a walk, the Sox put three runs on the scoreboard, all belonging to Stroman, and added another two off reliever Gavin Floyd.

Meanwhile, the wild-eyed Stroman fumed, and as the runs were scoring, he lost it, looking up and down the dugout, getting more agitated with each run, while flailing and pounding the padded bench on either side. Finally he stood, fired a glare down to where Gibbons usually resides then stormed off, down the hallway steps to the dressing room. The only thing missing was a slammed door behind him like a recalcitrant kid sent to his room.

Sure, we realize he was angry. So were the others in the dugout along with the players on the field. Nobody intended for it to go this way, not Cecil, not Floyd, certainly not John Gibbons.

Stroman’s conduct was unprofessional, and saying after the fact that he was angry at himself doesn’t cut it. The optics were bad and there’s no excuse. Stroman can’t assume the crowd read his anger and conduct as directed at himself.

Learn the lesson Marcus. Because, regardless of your hurt, it came across as something a professional can’t do. Show up his team.

 

The Cost of Mistakes

1158 for publication April 22, 2016

Ross Brewitt

Suddenly the Stanley Cup playoffs get extra interesting.

At the time of this writing round one is awaiting the outcome of Thursday night games, the ones having critical implications. Five of the eight series are already sitting on 3-1 leads, and two more in the running could also be 3-1, closed out in five and resting for round two.

That makes it seven of eight series in “stranglehold” positions. In fact by the time this column appears two of those matchups, Detroit-Tampa Bay and Chicago-St. Louis could be over, with the Lightning and Blues moving into the second round.

Also of importance is the Blackhawks will be without suspended Andrew Shaw in what could be the season-ending game five. He was a valuable, playoff-tested member of two Chicago Stanley Cups in ’13 and ’15.

I say interesting because Shaw went into “meltdown” mode over a called interference penalty.  Allow me to stop the details right there, because in the big picture it won’t matter.

The facts are Shaw, in his over-the-top histrionics following the lame infraction, was assessed not one but two minor penalties, effectively putting his struggling team on life-support. If that wasn’t enough, he added two-handed ridiculous and rude “flippin’ the bird” gestures for everyone to see. In addition he verbally abused the referee with homophobic slurs. The kind anyone with eyes could make translate.

By Wednesday the bad news arrived. A suspension for game five, plus a five-thousand dollar fine, and mandatory enrolment in a “sensitivity program.” By NHL standards it was quick, costly, deserved and justified. On Shaw’s own admission, he was very aware he had screwed up, even as he was getting dressed after the game.

Watching his response on several media outlets, I have rarely seen a young player (age 24) atone for his sins as fervently and believable as Shaw. Enough to have me deem him as honestly contrite, a player who regrets his conduct, accepts the judgment, and will be better for this bump in the road. The other thing I liked, he also appeared genuinely embarrassed by his actions.

So many aren’t.

It brings to mind a question I have raised several times in the 22 years this column has been running. It’s a concern about how often obscenities arise, blurted out in whining complaints,  interviews, and media sessions. In the past two seasons, even following Stanley Cup wins and celebrations, salty language is commonplace.

When is the NHL going to step into the matter and make it plain and simple to players, coaches, even the occasional GM, that anyone connected to the League using obscene language or vile descriptions will be censured.

This was the case facing Andrew Shaw, much to his chagrin. But as usual, there are extenuating circumstances.

For as far back as I can recall, League control has gradually eroded. For every step lost , another was taken. As a result of that League-wide neglect, hockey players continue to routinely make their way off the ice, foul-mouthing easily lip-read obscenities until well after they crank the penalty box door shut. That same kind conduct in other sports directed against an official or his performance gets the player a red card, a jerk of the thumb, or a “technical.”

Not in hockey, it’s considered routine.

A required approach to the problem must be practical, logical, upstanding and sensible, or “PLUS.” As a wonderful English teacher of mine once PLUS-ed me in an earnest discussion she felt necessary to set me  straight.

If well paid players, with more advantages than almost everyone else find it necessary to curse and swear in making points, they must assume the fault. Foul language underlines zero respect for the game, reveals a limited vocabulary, and considerable lack of intelligence.

Those were the “life choices” facing Shaw. To his credit he stepped up and shouldered the blame. But the pain of that mistake will linger.

You can ask what’s the NHL have to do moving forward? The question doesn’t have a quick fix. But, in my opinion, the League choices are the same as Shaw’s. Take the responsibility and get serious about regaining control of their game. On many fronts.

And, it has to start from the top, Gary. Because it won’t start at the bottom.