Thursday, 10 September 2015

Jays vs. Yankees The Biggest Series In Over Twenty Years

      The last time there was a series this important to the Toronto Blue Jays, there was no internet. There were no mobile phones and no DVD players. Infamously, that series ended with Joe Carter prancing around the bases throwing his arms in the air as the Jays secured their second world series title in as many years. It's been a long time coming to say the least.

     The Jays enter this series with a record of 79-60 with a 1.5 game lead on their division rival, the New York Yankees. While these two teams have been jockeying for the division lead for the better part of the last month and a half, the Jays find themselves atop the division for quite the long time considering they were barely squeaking past .500 before the additions of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. The next 4 games for both these clubs will be a major impact to the post-season picture. If one team runs away with this series, we could see our definitive leader in the division heading into the post-season. And without a doubt, both teams will be firing on all cylinders in the Bronx.

     The first game of the series has been rained out, they have rescheduled Thursday night's contest to Saturday, which will be the second of a double-header that will begin at 1:05pm local time. Friday night's game is still penciled in at the original time, with David Price set to take the hill against Yankees rookie Luis Severino. It is crucial that the Jays come out of the gates strong and get the momentum rolling early in this series after they were taken care of easily at the hands of the basement-dwelling Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park this week. If the Jays can't turn a new leaf and move on from the Boston series, the Jays could be orchestrating their own demise. The Jays are 5.5 games up on the wild card spot if that's where they're headed, and these two teams do meet again in two weeks time for a three-game set, but the time is now for the Jays to put their best foot forward against the Yankees. This series comes at a particularly bad time for the Jays due to their lack of success as of late, but that being said it could also be a huge confidence booster for the club.

     In the eyes of the Blue Birds, a split of the series is not an option. To keep the Yankees that close with a series to go will come back to bite you. Luckily, the final series between the Yankees and Jays is in Toronto, but you don't want to take any chances with a team like the Bronx Bombers. If the Jays can take 3 of 4 in New York, that would put them 4.5 up on the Yankees with just 20 games remaining. If the Jays drop 3 of 4, they find themselves with a big obstacle to overcome down the final stretch: keeping up with the Yankees when they aren't playing eachother and then pretty much sweeping the Yankees in their final three game series. This is a must-win scenario for the Jays if they want to win the AL East.

     The stage is set for one exciting series with plenty on the line, especially when one team hasn't played post-season baseball in over twenty years. This Yankees/Jays series is without a doubt the most important series for the Blue Birds since they took on the Phillies in the 1993 World Series. Make sure you're watching, as this Blue Jays' squad looks to make history.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Jays Pitching The Lone Cause For Concern Down The Stretch

     Even with the acquisition of David Price back in late July, pitching remains the Blue Jays' achilles heel as we are now into the final month of regular season play. The Blue Jays are (without a doubt) the best team in baseball since the all-star break, and their pitching has been rock solid for them the past month. For the most part. Amidst the star-studded batting order and flashy defence, pitching will be the one area of this Blue Jays team that will have you pulling your hair out as we head down the final stretch of the season.

     Let's get this out of the way now, there shouldn't be any doubt in the ability of the Blue Jays rotation, especially with David Price. When Price takes the mount, you're almost guaranteed a quality start. That's assured. It's the rest of the rotation that scares me a bit. It helps that the other four pitchers are on a roll right now (minus Drew Hutchison) and the team is giving them major run support, but down the stretch, if the Jays' bats can't provide 7-8 runs a game, there is some fear of the Jays' pitching not being able to hold down the fort against the best in the majors. It should also be noted that Marco Estrada has done a tremendous job for the Blue Jays this season and aside from the MVP season from Josh Donaldson you could argue his rise has been the biggest factor to the Jays having the success they've had this season. Without Marco Estrada, you aren't near .500 when you're entering the all-star break / trade deadline. It's not like the Jays' pitching has been atrocious this season, far from that, but it's still an area of concern for the blue birds.

     If there's a single starter who reflects the Jays' pitching staff this season, it's Drew Hutchison. Hutch has a great record of 13-3. If you don't look past that, you'd think Hutchison is having a great season. However, that's not exactly the case. Hutchison sports a 5.07 ERA with a 1.42 WHIP. If you didn't look at his record and saw those stats, you'd think his record would be terrible. Luckily, Hutchison has gotten the best run support in the league and has been able to shut the door when he's needed to to allow the Jays to win ball games. It's not a bad thing, but down the stretch against world series contenders, you can't have pitchers giving up a baserunner or two every inning, it will come back to bite you. His last start doesn't help Jays' fans sleep easily either, as he went 5 innings, allowing 9 hits and giving up 6 earned runs to the Baltimore Orioles on home turf. Not what you want to see from your 4-5 starter heading down the stretch.

     While R.A. Dickey's tenure as a Blue Jay has been a bumpy one to say the least, he's done his part since the all-star break. Minus a rough outing or two his knuckleball has been fooling the opposition since late July, which is what we need to see from him here in September when wins are more important than ever. The only cause for concern with Dickey is the unpredictability. On any given day his knuckleball just might not have the movement needed and could get knocked around. That being said, that theory swings both ways, but unpredictability isn't something you want heading down the stretch. If Dickey can continue to throw quality starts as we approach the post-season, he'll be much more reliable on the hill for the Jays when they need it in October.

     Mark Buehrle is the grizzled veteran of the group, and all season he's been captain consistent. He doesn't throw anything extremely hard or eye-opening but he's a technician on the mound. He hits his spots and keeps the ball in the park and in play for his teammates. He's had a couple bumps in the road in his last few starts which is unsettling, but Jays fans shouldn't have to worry much about the performance of the Bulldog in the last portion of the season.

     The Blue Jays bullpen has been an area of concern the entire season. With Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup both having disapointing seasons and the downfall of Steve Delabar, the Jays bullpen needed new life to step in and help stop the bleeding. Luckily for the blue birds, 20-year-old Roberto Osuna did just that. Osuna now has 16 saves out of the bullpen and has looked composed as can be on the mound in very stressful and pressure-cooker situations. The most impressive stat for Osuna is his WHIP, which currently sits at 0.86. Not only is he baffling the opposing hitters with incredible velocity and movement, he's also keeping runners off base in the late innings. Not to mention, Bo Schultz has done a terrific job as well this season as he's answered the call and then some. The addition of LaTroy Hawkins to the bullpen has also helped the young Jays relievers immensely, as the 20-year veteran has imposed a much more veteran-feel to the pen. It also helps that Hawkins has been lights out since coming over from the Rockies. With Marcus Stroman looking like he'll be coming out of the bullpen in the near future, it'll only fortify the Jays' resurgence out of the pen.

     Again, I'm not saying the Jays' pitching is terrible by any means, but if there's an achilles heel to this juggernaut squad, it's on the hill. Here's to hoping the Blue Jays' pitching continues to shut the door and allows their bats to distance them from the opponent, as they approach the final chunk of the season with a small lead and a chance to break a 22-year post-season drought.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Why Josh Donaldson Will Be The 2015 American League MVP

Just a few days ago, Blue Jays Central's Gregg Zaun made quite the surprising statement, saying that Josh Donaldson had zero chance of winning the 2015 AL MVP, picking Mike Trout to win the honour with six weeks left in the regular season. Now this isn't a major issue by any means in regards to the Blue Jays as a team, but it shocks me that Zaun didn't even consider the Blue Jays all-star third baseman as a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award. While there's still six weeks left in the Blue Jays' season, not only do I think Donaldson is in the running for the AL MVP, I think he will win the MVP award.

To this point, Josh Donaldson is batting .296 with 33 home runs and an MLB-leading 91 RBI's. Into the more advanced statistics, Donaldson has a .365 on-base percentage and a .940 OPS percentage, ranking 7th in the majors in that stat category. It's without question that Donaldson has been the backbone of the Blue Jays' season to this date, as on both sides of the ball he has been front and center since coming to Toronto in the offseason. Mike Trout is no stranger to being front and center in his young career. Trout is the face of baseball, I get that, but the MVP award isn't a popularity contest. In almost every aspect, Donaldson has had a better season than Mike Trout, with both men leading the way for their respective ball clubs. In comparison, Trout is batting .294 with 33 home runs and 71 RBI's. In the advanced statistics, Trout has a slight advantage over Donaldson with a .391 on-base percentage and a .977 OPS percentage. Trout's speed also gives him a small advantage on the basepaths, as he has stolen 10 bases this season over Donaldson's 4, but that won't be the difference in an MVP race like this one. Donaldson also leads the majors with 63 extra base hits, while Trout sits tied for 5th with 57. It's no doubt a tight race between the two all-stars, but in my opinion, the advantage at the plate goes to Josh Donaldson.

I don't think there's any question in the defensive abilities of Mike Trout in center field. While his raw talent puts him first in putouts from center, and also with the help of advanced statistics, it's clear cut that Trout is the best defensive outfielder in the majors. Josh Donaldson doesn't have the consistency defensively like Trout does, but he's still exceled over at third base for the Jays this season. He's made a handful of unreal grabs and plays from the hot corner, as he also holds onto the most putouts by a third basemen in the majors. While it's clear cut that Trout is the better defensive player of the two, Donaldson has still had a terrific season at third base for the Jays this season.

The deciding factor between the two comes down to the turnaround by the Jays this season, and how much Donaldson has contributed to this team. Trout and the Angels have been postseason contenders for a few years now, with Trout leading the way each and every season. Donaldson came into a brand-new clubhouse this season and from April onwards he lead the way, something that hasn't been highlighted enough in the midst of the Blue Jays' success. If the Blue Jays make the postseason, it'll be the first time the Jays enter the playoffs since they won the World Series back in 1993, that's a 22 year drought, the longest in the majors. It's something statistics can't judge, Josh Donaldson has led the way for the Blue Jays from the beginning of the season and has been the biggest factor in the Jays turning the ship around this year.

While both Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson are all-star caliber players both in the hunt for the AL MVP title, to write off Donaldson with so much time left in the season is ridiculous. I have firm belief that Donaldson can continue at the pace he is hitting right now and win the AL Most Valuable Player award when all is said and done.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Kyle Schwarber On His Way to Major League Stardom

     We all know about how bright the future of baseball is. From Mike Trout, to Bryce Harper to Kris Bryant, we are now seeing the talent that will dominate major league baseball for the next decade. However, there is one player often overlooked that isn't getting nearly enough credit for what he has done in such a short period of time. Enter Kyle Schwarber, a 22-year-old catcher who was drafted 4th overall by the Chicago Cubs in the 2014 MLB Draft. Nicknamed "Hulk" (but Schwarbsy has to be brought up one day) the 6'0 235 pounder from Middletown, Ohio is quickly taking the NL by storm. Schwarber is just one of the many Cubs young guns who are quickly making a name for themselves around the league, and while the names like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler are tremendous young talents, it's Schwarber who stands out the most for me, simply because of his ability behind the plate. We've seen a barrage of young outfielders come up through the ranks the past few years, but it hasn't been since the arrival of Buster Posey that we've seen a young talent who primarily plays behind the plate and also possesses incredible power and precision at the plate.

     The numbers Schwarber has been putting up in just two months in the big leagues are insane. Schwarber is currently hitting .330 with 8 home runs and 25 runs driven in. I must reiterate that all of this has been in the span of just 31 games since being called up from AAA Iowa. The scary thing is he's getting much more comfortable after every game. In the past 15 games, Schwarber's average has taken a hit, but he has still hit 5 homers alongside 14 RBI's. In his past 7 games, he's hitting .296 with 3 homers and 10 RBI, with two of those bombs coming just the other night against the Milwaukee Brewers. For a little bit of prospective, if Schwarber began the season with the Cubs and played like he has been all season, he'd finish with a projected 32 home runs and 101 runs driven in, in his rookie season. Again, extremely rare to find in a young backstopper.

     While it is still too early to tell where Schwarber's career will take him, as of right now he looks to be the final piece to the puzzle for the youthful Cubs who are looking to end the longest World Series drought in baseball, with their last world series win coming 105 years ago in 1908. With a studded young roster, the Cubs are currently find themselves amidst the toughest division in baseball in the NL Central where despite their impressive record of 65-48 they find themselves in third behind the league-best St. Louis Cardinals (73-41) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (66-46). Luckily, the Cubs do have a 4.5 game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the final Wild Card playoff spot where they would take on the Pirates if they can hold onto the spot. Cubs fans should rest assured if they don't manage to make a good run this season however, as they have the best young talent in the league by far. If the Cubbies don't make it back to the World Series this year, they have even better odds the next year. If the Cubs play their cards right, they can be contenders in the NL Central for years to come with guys like Schwarber and company. Much like we're now seeing with the Houston Astros, the league's former bottom-dwellers are finally turning a corner, and the rest of the league better watch out.

     It's only been two months since Schwarber joined the league, and while he's set the NL on fire since getting called up by the Cubs, there's still a lot of work for the 22-year-old to achieve star status around the league. However, you can't deny he's off to one hell of a start.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Revamped Blue Jays Attempting To Make History

     If you would've told me three weeks ago that the Toronto Blue Jays would go out and acquire all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and ace pitcher David Price within 72 hours, I would've called you crazy. However, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos pulled off just that leading up to the 2015 MLB Trade Deadline, and now has the Blue Jays positioned in the second wild card playoff spot with 53 games remaining in the regular season, with 13 games remaining against the AL East leading New York Yankees. For Blue Jays fans, there hasn't been this much hype around the ball club since the glory days back in the late 80's and early 90's. This season can go one of two ways down the stretch: either the Jays end the MLB-leading 22 year post-season drought with one of the most dangerous teams in the league or they wind up falling just short for another season. Either way, the Blue Jays are geared up for one roller coaster of a finish.

     Let's go back two months, June 3rd. The Jays sit 4th in the AL East with a record of 25-30 and have just a 14% chance of making the postseason. Thanks to a great month of June that saw them bump from 5 games below .500 to 5 games above .500. A mediocre July put the Jays at a crossroads heading into the trade deadline. The team was sitting at 50-51, 7 games behind of the division-leading Yankees on July 28th when they acquired 5-time all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies for Jose Reyes, Miguel Castro and two minor leaguers. While most of the baseball world was shocked at the sight of this deal, most pointed out that the deal didn't address the Jays biggest need, pitching. LaTroy Hawkins is a great veteran out of the bullpen but him alone couldn't resurface the Jays in both the Wild Card and Division playoff hunt. Just under 72 hours later, the Jays acquire another 5-time all-star, David Price from the Detroit Tigers. This trade solidified the Jays rotation by adding something they hadn't had since the departure of Roy Halladay, a bonafide ace that can not only eat up innings but also has the ability to strike out batters with overwhelming power. At the time of the Troy Tulowitzki deal, the Jays had just a 37% chance of making the postseason. Fast forward just a week since the deal and the Blue Jays now sit 4 games above .500 and not only hold onto the second wild card spot but are just 4.5 games back of the Yankees in the division. The addition of Ben Revere also gives the Jays much needed speed at the top of the line-up and a good glove in left field, a piece of the puzzle that should definitely not be overlooked. It's astounding what a couple acquisitions can do to boost a ball club in such little time.

     So here we are, 53 games to go with a grasp on the second wild card spot and a very realistic shot at chasing down the Yankees for the AL East Division title. Alex Anthopoulos was on the hot seat heading into this year's trade deadline, and he delivered to say the least. Even with the offseason acquisitions of Josh Donaldson (who is an AL MVP candidate right now) and Russell Martin, AA was forced to turn good results this season or his tenure as GM of the Jays was likely over. If the Jays don't make the playoffs after the acquisitions, at least it wasn't because of Anthopoulos sitting back and not taking action like last year, and it makes it hard for the Blue Jays management to give him the boot after the work he's done to improve the team this season. However, with a new team president on the way, it'll be interesting to see what happens with Anthopoulos at the end of the year.

      While there's still a long ways to go in the regular season, the Blue Jays have positioned themselves to make history, ending the longest post-season drought in the league thanks to help both on and off the field. With 53 games to go and 13 against the Yankees, one thing is for sure, it's going to be an exciting finish.

*Sorry I haven't posted in so long, I'll try and be less lazy :)*

Monday, 8 September 2014

Injuries Kill The Blue Jays Once Again

     Another season, another injury-filled campaign for the Toronto Blue Jays. More importantly, another season with no playoff berth. The injuries to the likes of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera and company were too much for the club to handle over the majority of a 162-game season. As the Blue Jays hope to finish the season strong, the only thing Blue Jays' fans can look forward to is next year. For Blue Jays fans, this season has been a splitting image of the team over the course of the last half-decade.

     The Jays didn't even start the season hot, it seemed to be yet another season of underachieving and below-.500 play from the MLB's lone Canadian franchise. However, the month of May brought the team to new highs that the franchise hadn't experienced since it's glory days in the early 90's. Encarnacion stacked up a team-record sixteen home runs in the month of May and the Blue Jays seemed unstoppable. Toronto jumped into the driver's seat of the AL East, with only Baltimore even remotely in the rear view mirror. Despite an average June, the Jays still held onto the top spot in the division by a good margin. However, July and August killed the team entirely. Brett Lawrie tweaked his back just one at-bat after returning from his hand injury which would eventually sideline him for the remainder of the season, topped off with losing Encarnacion for the majority of the next two months and GM Alex Anthopoulous making zero moves to improve the team at the Trade Deadline sent the team into a downward spiral.

     Loss after loss, and eventually the Blue Jays came to a cross-road with the Seattle Mariners in mid-August. Both teams had identical records and were both in the hunt to claim the second wild card spot. The Blue Jays got spanked in all three games by the M's, and the Jays lost all hope of getting a playoff spot after that crushing blow. The Mariners would go on to win ball games and keep themselves in close contention for the AL Wild Card while the Blue Jays continued to slide deeper into the basement.

     Now heading into the last few weeks of the season, the Blue Jays are basically out of the playoff hunt for good. All the fans have to look forward to now is the future that Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez hold for the organization. This is the second year that the new core group of the Blue Jays have failed to meet their goal of a post-season berth, meaning it will be a pivotal offseason for Alex Anthopolous, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera to decide if they belong on the Jays in the future.

     It's been another season of disapointment for the Toronto Blue Jays, and if Kansas City makes the postseason this year, it means that Toronto will hold the longest playoff draught in the majors. It's time for change; whether it's the manager, pitching staff, people up in the offices or batters, the atmosphere of Blue Jay baseball needs to change. It's time the Blue Jays finally reward it's fanbase for their support.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Upcoming Blue Jays / Mariners Series Could Seal Jays' Fate

     With a pivotal series loss to the Baltimore Orioles earlier this month, the Toronto Blue Jays have dug a substantial hole for themselves in terms of playoff contention. Losing three of four games against the underwhelming Houston Astros didn't help the Jays' cause, but dropping two of three to their division rival in the Baltimore Orioles dropped Toronto well out of contention for 1st in the AL East, at least for the time being. However, some late rallies over the Detroit Tigers have put them back in a position to regain a wild card spot by the middle of the week if they can take the majority of a three-game set against another team fighting for that second wild card spot, the Seattle Mariners.

     Both the M's and the Jays are 1.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals for the 2nd wild card spot, but the Mariners have 2 games in hand over Toronto, making their series this week that much more
important for the Blue Jays. A 19-inning marathon prior to the series opener doesn't give Toronto the best jump out of the gates, but the Jays' starting pitching staff has been outstanding as of late, something the boys in blue and white haven't had the luxury of having for the majority of the 2014 campaign. After Toronto failed to capitalize on a quality outing from J.A. Happ earlier in the week, it took some late-game rallies in order for the Jays to reward their starters with a win. The Blue Jays can't depend on strong pitching night in and night out, so the bats are going to have to get going if the Jays want to contend for a playoff spot down the stretch.

     The Jays aren't going to have an easy task on their hand, as the Seattle Mariners are coming into this series red hot. The M's have won five of their last six games, and the addition of leadoff man Austin Jackson has really boosted Seattle's offence all-around. Not to mention, the Jays have to face the 1-2-3 starters in Felix Hernandez, Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma. Let's face it, Felix Hernandez vs. Drew Hutchison is a little lopsided, but if the Jays bats can solve "The King" in the series opener, it will only boost their morale heading into the latter two games of the series. Nonetheless, the Mariners will be fielding their A-game, as this series means as much to them as it does for Toronto.

     If the Jays can manage to take at least two of the three games against the Mariners, that would put Toronto at a record of 65-57, meaning although the KC Royals have three games in hand on the Jays, it
means Kansas City needs to win two of the four game set against arguably the AL's best in the Oakland Athletics. Not to mention, the Jays are neck-and-neck with the Mariners for the 2nd spot in the wild card, meaning a win against Seattle is a game ahead of the competitors fighting to dethrone the Royals. Don't forget, the New York Yankees, are also breathing down the neck of Toronto, so this series not only seperates the Jays from the M's, but it also sets them apart from the Yanks. Not to mention, Toronto also has two more three-game sets against the Baltimore Orioles down the stretch, which could turn the tables on the AL East standings.

     Although the odds are piled up against the Toronto Blue Jays, this series against a wild card rival in the Seattle Mariners could just open the window for Toronto to make a push for the 2nd wild card spot. Even though there's still over 40 games remaining in the season, there's only so many banana peels you can slip on down the stretch. With the roster their fielding and the star power Toronto is missing, the room for error is becoming more and more narrow as the days pass. Any way you look at it, if you're either a Blue Jays fan or a Mariners fan, this three-game set in Seattle is a pivotal series for both ball clubs, and the victor of the series has a leg up on the opposing squad heading into the final stretch of the season.