Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Up and Downs and Some Pitch Talkin'

I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him...

Tonight's game was 1000 times more entertaining than last night's. “It was bad,” Hutchison said after Monday’s ignominious failure. “It was probably more than bad. But there’s nothing you can do when you have a performance like this other than come back and show what you’re made of.”

I watched Drew Hutchison start a tire fire last night, and then Brad Mills poured gasoline on it. I made this face:


And took the dog for a walk. I love that vintage v-neck Cubs shirt Jack White is wearing. I want one. I wonder if he knows "Seven Nation Army" is played at sports stadiums everywhere, that it's become like "Rock N' Roll" or "Thunderstruck".

Tonight was much more fun. You can tell by Jose Reyes' face. His face is a litmus test.


J.A. Happ annoys me. I don't really know why. But I suspect he knows he annoys me and he feeds off that annoyance, pitching well and making my annoyance that much more illogical. He was fantastic tonight and used his curveball like a boss. Gibbons thought that was the key.

“That might have been [Happ's] best outing of the year, simply because he had a good curveball going that he established and used quite a bit,” Gibbons said. “He primarily relies on his fastball. He’s got a good one, but he had a good curveball tonight that he was throwing over the plate, and a good changeup. That was a big part of the reason he held them in check.”

I was in Toronto late last week, post All Star break. On Thursday, I participated in a really great event called Pitch Talks. I sat on a stage with Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet, and answered questions about baseball. And then Drew Fairservice talked, followed by Melissa Couto and Bob Elliot.

We talked with our hands. (John Lott took these pictures.)



I was not particularly satisfied with my own performance. I didn't feel like I sunk my teeth into it the way I wanted to, despite that picture looking like I'm about to eat your soul. I very much enjoyed meeting Bob Elliot, John Lott and Drew Fairservice, though. The event in general was great. I also got to meet and talk to other female baseball writers (ones with actual press passes) Melissa Couto and Alexis Brudnicki. I gained a new appreciation for Bob Elliot for the way he supports those two young writers. He also called me "kiddo." And he indulged me in my warnings about the dangers of Diet Coke.

Post event, I saw Drunk Jays Fans get actually drunk. I can't recommend these events enough. It's baseball and beer. Why haven't they been happening for years? Next one is on August 21. Follow @pitchtalks for more info. And just go.

Now for a Mark Buehrle moment of wisdom:

“I say every spring that the big thing is health with any team, I say that every year,” Buehrle said. “Not too many teams could have the depth to handle the injuries we have had this season. Is the first half a success or a disappointment? Both. We rode the wave for a while then lost some guys, but we’re not 10 games out, we’re four out."

Bless you, Mark Buehrle.

The Colby vs Colby "controversy" over the weekend was fantastic. Here is everything Lewis had to say:

"I told [Rasmus] I didn't appreciate it," Lewis said, according to MLB.com. "You're up by two runs with two outs and you lay down a bunt. I don't think that's the way the game should be played."

"I felt like you have a situation where there is two outs, you're up two runs, you have gotten a hit earlier in the game off me, we are playing the shift, and he laid down a bunt basically simply for average," Lewis said.

On top of the bunt, Lewis said the fact that Rasmus didn't try to steal second base further proved he was just concerned about upping his average.

"[Rasmus] didn't steal within the first two pitches to put himself in scoring position," Lewis said. "That tells me he is solely looking out for himself, and looking out for batting average. And I didn't appreciate it."

I can just imagine a group of reporters huddled around with their recorders, worried one of them is going to do something that makes him stop talking. I wonder if Lewis sat at home and thought about how ridiculous he sounded. When something Colby related happens, naturally I converse with Rasmus Pater.


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

No Light

I don't really know what's going on with this team, other than this being the nature of baseball.

It's terrible to watch, of course, and I was sitting around last night thinking about why. And I think I know. One is the clear toll it's taking on the boys to be playing like this. We saw beautiful, happy faces in May and now those same faces are faces of doom. There is nothing worse than the appearance of effort, of pressing. And when that pressing leads to failure, it's pretty excruciating.

The other aspect of this that turns my stomach are those braying idiots who go on and on about how this team sucks (have sucked, might suck now, will suck any day now, sucks and blows) like they get some enjoyment out of it. Tweeting Wilner and Stoeten when they were playing well, saying "this is an illusion!!!" and now that they are struggling, these idiots get to say "I knew it. This team isn't a first place team." I'm sorry, but if a team is in sole possession of first place for 42 straight days, it's a first place team. The first place team is a first place team.

I'll give you a moment because I just blew your mind. First place team is first place team.

Like I was saying, I don't know what is going on except injuries to Lind, Bautista, Encarnacion and Lawrie derailed this thing, and everyone is pressing. The earlier success wasn't a fluke. The guys that were playing well had all done similar things in their careers before (save maybe Francisco. But he probably has always had stupid power.) The key was everyone was doing it at the same time.

The American press fawning over Mark Buehrle has died down, but I honestly don't think he's pitching terribly. He's pitching like himself. Yes, he is giving up homers but when this team is clicking, homers (particularly solo ones) get erased pretty quickly.

Dickey has been a little frustrating, but I've written about this before. It's a trick pitch. He's been a fine #3. Dickey's rough edges would be a lot less rough with a bit of offense. Thole is not the anchor everyone seems to think he is (he is more useful than Mirabelli was catching Wakefield- who won two World Series with Boston. It's possible, people.) Mostly what annoys me about Dickey pitching is the pointless chatter about how AA screwed it all up. Dickey gives up a run and people want to shoot themselves.

Hutchison has shown flashes of brilliance and Stroman makes my heart sing. Happ....well, he's there, too.

I don't know the solution to this, other than to ride it out. And try not to cry. You'll get dehydrated and alarm your pets.

Daniel Norris, my favourite Jesus lovin' hippie surfing pitcher kid, has been named by Baseball America as the 25th best prospect.  I want to keep this one, Alex. He lives in his VW bus and doesn't want money to "change" him. He also lives in a Terrence Malick film.



I've finally gotten around to reading Dirk Hayhurst's latest book about his time with the Blue Jays. His struggles with mental illness and he reluctance to take anti-depressants (while nightly chasing oxycodone with beer) says a lot about the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness. The bits about Jays clubhouse were interesting, and rather irritating. These guys were a lot more like 13 year old girls than I imagined.

I just started a new job and part of my training was this anti- workplace bullying workshop. It was basically a workshop on how not to be an asshole. Many people in this book (and in life) need this workshop.

I was reading the Paris Review and there was a blog post about this series of early 20th century books about a baseball player named Joe. The series, Baseball Joe, followed the adventures of pretty much the greatest baseball player ever to play. Ever. His baseball skills are so overwhelmingly awesome, he saves lives with them. And thrashes his enemies. And single-handedly wins pennants. My favourite description was of one of the later books Baseball Joe, Champion of the League, or, The Record That Was Worth While.

Joe Matson sets out to lead the league in home runs, batting average, stolen bases, pitcher's strikeouts, and ERA, while leading the Giants to records for consecutive victories and games won in one season.

In this installment's subplot, shameless confidence men try to get Joe to throw the pennant, arguing that Pittsburgh or Chicago deserves a flag once in a while. When Joe turns them down, the con men commission a mad scientist to invent a ray gun that will drain the power from Joe's pitching arm. Fortunately, Joe begins the novel by saving the scientist's wife from a burning building, and once it's made clear that our hero was her deliverer, the scientist repents. The con men are foiled, and thrashed for their pains. Joe goes back to pitching no-hitters, starting triple plays, and scoring from first on singles to win the pennant.
Awesome. 

Finally, I'm participating on Pitch Talks #5 with other baseball types, including Bob Elliot, who is in the Hall of Fame. Which is ok, I guess. If he doesn't lead the league in home runs, batting average, stolen bases, pitcher's strikeouts and ERA, it's just not as impressive.

So come on out on July 17th and see me try to be informative and witty about baseball. Use the code "HumandChuck" and get $5 off.  


The $5 can be exchanged for beer.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

It Was 8-0


The second inning of this Reds game felt awful. Ominous, ugly, sickening. I went for a walk in the fifth or sixth inning, which is my usual response to the Jays playing like garbage and (even more maddening) the response of people on Twitter to it. Please, people, stop tweeting nonsense that the Jays were playing "above their heads" in May and this rough patch is "who they really are." The players responsible for the winning had all proven before that they were capable of performing like that and have demonstrated that in past seasons- either with the Jays or elsewhere. Encarnacion has figured something out with his hitting and has demonstrated he is capable of having many months like his 2014 May. If he keeps playing like this and the Jays go on a serious run, he's the 2014 AL MVP. Book it.

The only difference about that streak of great baseball a few weeks ago is that the players were having their time of great play simultaneously, and the momentum caught on. That is what the difference was, not that they were "playing above their heads."

Stretches of great play and stretches of terrible play is what makes up a season of baseball. For every team. Every team in the history of the league. The really successful teams have longer stretches of great play to cushion the terrible play, make it less damaging. Baseball is a game of failure and I can't really believe that anyone who watches it with any kind of regularity hasn't noticed that. I'm sorry the Toronto Maple Leafs have ruined your lives and driven you insane, but don't take it out on the reasonable of the world.

“That kind of thing happens,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “But I can’t remember one like this — not at this level.”

"One like this" meaning being down 8-0 and winning 14-9, the second biggest comeback in team history.

I'm not going to pretend that I predicted this unbelievable comeback in last night's game. I just had a sense that something crazy was going to happen. This offense has the potential to put up a lot of runs- certainly more than eight- especially when the crooked number is put up in the second inning. Chipping away at that lead and then pounding the door shut, combined with some great relief pitching was the prescription. Statement game, character building game, whatever you want to call it, it was great to watch. Encarnacion, in the house that created the E5 nickname that followed him around for so long, hit two 3-run homers- making Reds fans hilariously question the Rolen trade of 2009.

(P.S. I still love Scott Rolen.)

I also want to credit John Gibbons for an excellently managed baseball game. Many argue that the only way a manager can actually have influence on winning is in game personnel management, and Gibby was masterful last night.  I hope he didn't pack up his office after so many fired him in the second inning.

After that awful series in New York, the Jays needed to swing out whatever bad feelings that lingered. Feelings of futility, terrible umpiring and being generally outplayed in Yankee Stadium, which has turned in house of horrors of late.

I think that whole series was best illustrated bizarre call on the Navarro pop up. I still don't buy interference, and since Texeira made the play on Navarro (indicating that maybe it wasn't really interference). It should be Encarnacion safe and Navarro out. And no double play called ever.  

For those keeping track at home, Bautista remains the best. As John Lott of the National Post puts it,

He is enjoying another banner season: .309 batting average (52 points above his career mark), 15 homers, 48 RBIs, 55 walks, .433 on-base percentage, .536 slugging and .968 OPS. And so far he has 15 opposite-field hits. For the full season last year, he had 11.
Is Bautista focusing less on power?
“Maybe in some of those situations, yes, [if] I’ve already got two strikes or behind in the count, with a big hole over there,” he said. “You just weigh your pros and cons in those situations. That’s what Seitzer has really helped me do. I think in those situations, it’s easier for me to succeed doing this than trying to hit a home run."
Bautista is just really smart. Congrats on 1000 hits, Joseph Bats.

Big up to @BlueMetropolis for the above screen grab.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

That Happened



That strike zone completely pissed me off last night. Tanaka is great. He doesn't need to help to become a legend- he's great and he's a Yankee, so he's already pretty much there. I would tip my hat to him, but it disgusted me because it’s all so unnecessary. And then Bettances and Robertson also got random outside calls left and right. It’s a cliché at this point to have the strike zone piss a fan off, but it was galling. Brooks Baseball didn't help. At all.

I like that José Bautista is famous and does famous people things, but showing up at the Fan Cave when this team can't seem to win in Yankee Stadium taps slightly on my nerves. It was his day off and I’m not going to tweet it at him or protest, but there you go.

This was his face when he sat next to a hat signed by 50 Cent.



Stroman battled last night, in front of every single person he’s ever met (allegedly. It was kind of a . But the Yankees just wore him down. “That’s kind of what they do,” Stroman said. “They foul a bunch of pitches off and get you pretty deep in the count. I was pretty deep in a lot of counts all day.”

Colby Rasmus has been activated from DL, which thrills me like nothing else.

Tony Gwynn, first ballot Hall of Famer and one hell of a hitter (eight time NL batting champ), died a few days ago of mouth cancer.

Deadspin has done a lot of great work on Gwynn. How Gwynn became a legend.  Keith Olbermann cried. And the Padres' former bat boy

Have you noticed that the tributes to Gwynn all seem to mention his laugh? The man's laughter illuminated the room. "Best sound I've ever heard in my life," ESPN's Chris Berman said in the locker room one day, after I'd sheepishly hauled out my Chris Berman baseball card and asked for his autograph. Somebody—my memory says it was Bruce Hurst—said, "I know that's your rookie card, Chris, 'cause you've got hair in that photo." Tony laughed for the next five minutes straight, literally holding his sides he was laughing so hard. The joke was lame, but who cares? If the payoff is hearing Tony Gwynn laugh for five minutes, I'll sit through anything.

Sigh.

Mouth cancer, of course, is usually linked with chewing tobacco, still considerably popular among baseball players and in various subsections of North America. My mom still talks about the coach at a college in the South interested in my brother playing baseball for them that had a spittoon under his desk. And my dad talks about a dude who played on his ball team when he was a teenager that chewed a combo of dip and black licorice, which created an unholy black tar that used to drip out of his mouth.

As per David Ortiz "I use it as a stimulator when I go to hit,"  Ortiz told the Boston Globe. "But the minute I finish my at-bat, I spit it out. It keeps me smooth and puts me in a good mood. I don't do it in the offseason. I don't really like it that much, to be honest with you."

The idea that Ortiz needs to be “put in” to a good mood is an interesting concept. I assumed that he is always in a good mood, unless David Price is doing something.

I mean, have you heard his laugh?

Please hit for Mark Buehrle tonight. Thank you. 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

This and Then That



A bit of housekeeping. I started a new job and as a result, my blogging activities have taken a backseat. I'm trying to work in some time to dedicate to this little corner, but it's proven a bit tricky. I do live tweet most of the games, however. Some people enjoy it and some don't.

I've come back because the Jays are on some sort of a roll and I needed to pay tribute. I'm just going to throw out random thoughts as they come, haphazardly.

Brett Lawrie at 2b is pretty much the only way to be if Francisco is going to continue to be a thing. Lawrie made comments about being a 3rd baseman, but he's backed away and is now "doing it for the boys."  He still gets to play third sometimes and does this:


which is just bananas. 

What did SOSH have to say about our little boy wonder? 

Fuck I wish Brett Lawrie was dead

They also posted a bunch of pictures of dead and decaying blue jays. I guess we respond with pictures of pantyhose full of runs. Or with FOUR EDWIN BOMBS.

Lord that hit the top of the Budweiser billboard across Landsdowne Street..

Gibby's tip to Francisco?

I'm afraid all those players have retired and... passed on. In fact, your right fielder has been dead for 130 years. 
-Waylon Smithers

SOSH also wished Tommy John on Felix Dubront, demonstrating the good will and charity this fan base has developed after three World Series in 10 years. 

Also, just for fun:

Anyone think Farrell's lost this team?

I smell fried chicken!!!

Remember when John Farrell was going to come in and straighten out all the pitchers who were having issues?  

If this continues as it does, I'll be interested to see how the fan base and the media deal with the Farrell saviour narratives they established last year. 

I didn't blog about it, but Drew Hutchison pitching tonight reminded me of his last start....aka THE GREATEST GAME EVER.

 

 Missing in this video were the two bunt singles by Erik "Giant Mennonite" Kratz and Anthony "The Flash" Gose.

Buehrle goes Thursday against Jon Lester. Everyone know Buehrle days are my favourite, and it should be a good battle with Jon Lester, who has traditionally made the Jays his bitch.

Fangraphs talks about Buehrle's new little trick that's so far been a runaway success. He's got a little two strike sinker.  Shhhhh.

Finally, from Ian the Blue Jay Hunter, the greatest Gibby Gif of all time.



Notice also the Pete Walker wince. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Be More Buehrle



We are rolling into the last stretch of the first stretch of the season and a few things are becoming clear:

1- The bats are still a little cold, save Melky "It's not a tumah!" Cabrera. Thankfully, the rest of the AL East also features icy bats so the division is drum tight. The Jays are on top, but it really could be any of these teams at this point.

2- Hell is a bullpen that can't throw strikes. That second of the double header in Minnesota on April 17th was horrific. There were so many ways to get out of it with a double play, but the Twins didn't even have to swing at anything. It was bad to the point of being farcical. Walk, walk, sac bunt, walk, wild pitch, walk and wild pitch, stolen base, walk and wild pitch, stolen base, walk, walk, single, walk, strikeout, groundout.

It was amazing. And I never want to see it again.

I've thought a little bit about what the hell happened and I've come to the conclusion that two things contributed. It was frigid for those games. Why the Twins decided to build an open air stadium when the temperature is what it is in the spring and fall is quite mysterious.

Bullpen pitchers are creatures of habit. They have a set number of pitches as a part of their warm up. And when it's 20 C, the number is probably enough but when it could snow it's probably not. The balance between warming up and getting tired before actually being called into the game is a fine one. Also, everyone in Canada knows what it feels like when you forget your gloves and your fingers get that painful, tingling feeling. Touch is vital in pitching. As for why the Twins' pitchers didn't seem to be as affected, it may be that they are just more used to it. Or I'm totally wrong and the Jays bullpen was due to suck.

One of the reasons that it was due to suck is extreme overuse. As John Lott reports in the National Post today, the Jays`starters collectively rank 24 of 30 in innings pitched and the bullpen ranks second in innings pitched. They'd likely be first in innings pitched if it weren't for the stupendous start of Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle, who usually starts Aprils rather slowly, is 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA and averages 7 innings per start. Watching him pitch has become one of my favourite things so far about the 2014 season. It's like he toys with hitters. On his hot start, Buehrle has this to say, “I haven’t changed anything in 10 or 11 years,” he said. “I’m not going to keep asking questions. I’m going to go out there and run with it and see what happens.”

Watching the last two starts from Morrow and Hutchison, the problem with relying heavily on the strikeout becomes apparent. Striking out nine, as Hutchison did in his last start, is great but not when you are done for the day early and your already taxed bullpen is expected to pitch three or four innings consistently. The normally reliable Aaron Loup blew the game vs Cleveland on Sunday, continuing the suddenly crappy bullpen trend. 

Buehrle works quickly, throws a lot of strikes so he doesn't walk anyone and he isn't afraid to put the ball in play. One of the reasons I think he does that is because he likes to see Brett Lawrie do something interesting and a little crazy. A bit of in game entertainment. 

Cleveland manager Terry Francona summed Buehrle up perfectly:

“It’s not just today, it’s been his first four starts and probably for the majority of his career,” Francona said. “He gets a lead and he kind of puts you in a rocking chair. Little fastball, cuts it in to keep you honest, expands the plate, takes something off of it, throws a lot of changeups. We’ll get a guy on, he’ll get you to roll over, he’s really good at that.”

Morrow and Hutchison (and also likely McGowan) have better stuff than Buehrle and Dickey throws a trickier trick pitch than Buehrle's got in his repertoire, but Buehrle is pitching a lot smarter and getting better results.

The staff in general needs to take a page out of Buehrle's Book of Awesome.

Be More Buehrle.

Friday, 11 April 2014

When Things get Freaky: Toronto Fails to Sweep Houston Away.



So I hurt myself rolling my eyes at something from Richard Griffin over at the Toronto Star. Some watching the Jays were a little huffy about RA Dickey being switched with Dustin McGowan, though I'm not exactly sure why. Many are saying it was Dickey's request (demand?) to pitch inside at the Rogers Centre (which he believes is better for his knuckleball) rather than outdoors at Camden Yards vs The Orioles. 

Griffin argues that it's Dickey putting his own results over the results for his team, as if a pitcher pitching well doesn't have a direct impact on the game and greatly improves the chances of a team win. 

"He throws a knuckleball, has a personal catcher, only emerged as a frontline guy at the age of 37, believes in his heart he is affected by wind, heat and humidity and takes all that into consideration when planning his schedule. Finally, he has no elbow ligament."

I can't quite get worked up over this. People get on Dickey about wanting "a personal catcher" in Josh Thole, but it isn't about some sort of mystical chemistry between them. It's about the fact that Thole can catch the damn thing. And by the way, the wind, heat and humidity stuff are not Dickey's "feelings", it's SCIENCE. Here is a New York Times article from 1987 on the science of the knuckleball. And frankly, all pitching is science. Physics, to be precise. 

Griffin argues that McGowan could've gain confidence facing the "punchless" Astros. Or McGowan could've struggled again, left in the third and Gibby taxes the bullpen before a big series with division rival Baltimore Orioles. 

The Jays signed a freak pitcher. It would be odd to complain when things get a little freaky. 

All of this got more heated after Dickey left the game, behind 5-1. Tim and Sid on Sportsnet were moaning about it this afternoon. "He got everything he wanted. What happened?" 

Here's what happened. Brace yourselves, because it's shocking. 

Dickey got tired. 

It's not like the guy gave up 5 runs in the first. He did throw 108 pitches and pitched into the 7th. He got tired and the knuckle stopped dancing. The offense didn't quite get anything going against lefty Dallas Kuechel, but the game was basically tied into the 7th inning. Dickey wasn't perfect or anything (not even close), but he did keep his team in it until he got tired. It's why I recommend Gibby go get Dickey, even if he feels he's got a few more in him. Even if he makes his mad face. Every pitcher worth his salt is going to say "Yeah, skip, I got this." Even if he doesn't. Even if his arm is detached in a bloody mess on the mound. It's up to the manager to make the decision, even in when faced with mad faces.

Fifth starters get moved around a lot. It's not exactly unusual. And it's not like McGowan blew the doors off in his first start. Had he done that, I might feel a little more passionate about this decision. But I just don't. If you want to feel pissed off about it, I guess you can. 

All that being said, the Jays needed to win last night and need to play more consistently overall. No more bunting when you feeling like it. Fewer vigorous but lost little lamb looks from Lawrie. Better pitching (yes, including Dickey, despite everything I wrote up top.) More consistent, boys.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

159 More: Buehrle and Bautista



So, 159 more games like the one Wednesday night, am I right?

Mark Buehrle struck out 11 Rays last night, his highest total since April 16, 2005 when he pitched for the White Sox. He has only gotten to double digit strikeouts three times in his very long career. He dominated in a way that I don't think he's ever dominated as a Jay. And it was glorious. As a commentor on DJF put it, "Buehrle for Jesus."

As the game went on, and as the number of guys was striking out looking rose, I began to wonder what exactly the Rays were looking at. But likely, as is the case with baseball in general, it looks a lot easier than it is. Slow pitches combined with quick pace delivering them must contribute to the magic.

Or the pitches were just so awesome, they were struck dumb with the awesomeness and were powerless against it.

Buehrle traditionally has started a little rusty in past seasons and his April ERAs are usually a little bloated as a result. It is only one game, but I'm interested to see if this game means he's bucked the trend.

Buehrle and Navarro worked well together, and illustrated the kind of back and forth chemistry that can happen in a game.

“When Navarro set up away, I hit the glove away,” Buehrle said. “We went in, [and] I hit the glove in with good movement. Just keeping them off-balance, getting ahead in the strike zone. Obviously, the defence was amazing. If they don’t make some of those plays, I’m not out there probably past the sixth inning.”

DEFENCE. It's amazing what a bit of defence will do for a pitcher like Buehrle. Yes, the pitching sucked last year, but I also think it's important not to forget the suckiness of the defence in 2013, and how it compounded the suckiness of the pitching. Suckiness².

Also, Navarro looks like a very large toddler.

Bautista, the other hero of the night, noticed the chemistry and the defence, too.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “You feel like you’re on defence for a short period of time and on offence for a long period of time. It puts pressure on the other team to execute not only on defence but on offence, and play the game in a complete aspect with the pressure of executing the small details. And I just go up to the plate and start teeing off on balls.”

Yes, teeing off on balls. Bautista hit his first jack of the season, and then decided he might as well get the
second one out of the way, too. He looks healthy, locked in and strong. Encarnacion hit a bomb that was just foul, so I suspect he'll follow suit very soon.

After the disheartening first game, the Jays have pulled themselves together for the second two. It is only three games, but to seem them guarantee at least a series tie in the house of nightmares that is The Trop is a pretty great way to start the season.

What's that, Jose Bautista?

“I don’t see any problem with talking about goals even if they are in the short term, and challenging yourself and challenging ourselves as a team,” he said. “Not being able to win a series here for a long time can certainly be taken as a challenge coming into the series, and even more now that we've put ourselves in a position to win it. Tomorrow’s game to me is going to be extremely important.”

I really like Mark Buehrle's style of work. He works quickly, he throws strikes and gets it done. I even loved how even when Gibby came out to get him in the 9th, denying him the complete game, Buehrle just sort of shrugged it off. I think I need this girl's shirt:



And finally, for @captainlatte. May one day your dream come true.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Faites La Vague Comme Jamais!: Baseball back to Montreal


































The baseball weekend in Montreal was magic. Flat out, pure magic. The come from behind victory on Friday night, the late inning homer on Saturday. Bautista hit a homer. Lawrie made a kickass play in the field. Encarnacion tied the game. Lifelong minor leaguer Ricardo hit a walk off single. Melky finally hit a homer, after raking without a homer all spring. The bullpen was solid, capped with Aaron Sanchez making us weak in the knees with two solid innings out of the ‘pen. Larry Walker high fived Youppi while taking a selfie.

Perfect.

I don’t know if Montreal can actually support a major league team. I think some of the success of the weekend is the result of the effort of the past few years to make Blue Jay fandom a country-wide phenomenon. What I think might be a good idea is to move the Mets’ AAA affiliate from Las Vegas (which reportedly is hated by all) to Montreal. It's a 90 minute flight. Do it. 

Stoeten was there.

An Excerpt from Jonah Keri's Up, Up and Away.  Keri had basically the best weekend ever, btw.

Montreal Baseball Project.

Pedro Martinez was sadly absent from the Montreal, which bummed me out considerably as I love Pedro Martinez, particularly now that my team no longer has to face him on a regular basis. He didn't give an official reason, but he did release this message through the Montreal Baseball Project. Here it is in French:

J’aurais sincèrement voulu être parmi vous pour voir le baseball majeur revenir dans l’une des plus grandes villes dans le monde, avec mes amis et mes anciens coéquipiers. Je suis retourné à Montréal de nombreuses fois, mais malheureusement, je ne pourrai assister à cet événement marquant. 
20 ans, ça semble déjà si loin, mais les souvenirs seront toujours aussi présents. Montréal et ses partisans sont uniques en leur genre et je n’oublierai jamais ces beaux moments passés en tant que membre des Expos. 
Je veux lever mon verre à ce 20e anniversaire, et à tous ceux qui travaillent d’arrache-pied pour ramener le baseball à Montréal.

Beautiful.






Sunday, 30 March 2014

Pitching and Bitching (Part 2)


The second half of the rotation shades  younger than the first half, and contains considerably more question marks.

Brandon Morrow spent most of 2013 on the disabled list. And I assume he spent much of that off time in the weight room, because the dude looks huge. He reportedly packed on 20 lbs of muscle since last season. Whether or not the muscle keeps Morrow off the DL this year is still up in the air. His upside is huge, and he has shown the ability to be a number one over the past few seasons. I not only want him to succeed for baseball reasons, but also for this:
I’ll get behind anyone who tweets about Jeopardy.

“From the first day he came into camp, he told me he was going to be in this rotation,” said Pete Walker, the Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach. “He told me probably half a dozen times that first day. So I kept patting him on the shoulder and said, ‘OK, show us.’”

Drew Hutchison, the baby of the staff, backed up his talk. He sat out last season after Tommy John surgery and returned to pitch his face off this spring. He has a 1.80 ERA in the spring and his fastball velocity is at 93-96 mph. It might be nice to not have to count on Hutchison, but here we are. And I’m ready to see what he’s got.

Dustin McGowan rounds out the rotation. Drew Fairservice argues that McGowan was never really that great. And while that might be true, I honestly just think it's time to just throw it out there. Say what, Pete Walker?
He’s a bright guy and he knows how well he responded last year and he pitched well out of the bullpen and can certainly have a nice career doing what he was doing. But I know his aspirations have always been higher. I think he feels like he’s close to that again and I certainly can’t blame him for wanting to do it. I think he always saw himself as a top-notch, front-line starter in the major leagues so to kind of put yourself in the bullpen and accept that, the way he’s feeling I can understand why he wants to do it. I certainly hope that’s the case and he turns into that front-line starter.” 

I have no expectations. Seemingly every pundit picked the Jays to finish last, which is entirely possible, but the same ones picked the Jays to finish first and we all know how that turned out.

Relax and let it ride. We'll always have Adam Lind's spring training beard.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Pitching (and Bitching) Part 1


>Real life encroached on blog life, explaining why I haven’t written in an age. I've returned to talk about the most joyful topic, the starting pitching for the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays.

The press surrounding the pitching situation has been sort of depressing. The pitching is a problem, yes, but the constant hand wringing is a bit tiresome. The team was over hyped
coming out of spring training in '13 and now the hype has gone in the other direction. Maybe we should just all let them play and see what happens. 

>Guys really know that this is a big year for us, collectively," R.A. Dickey said. "We're kind of getting a mulligan this year. Last year, a lot of things went wrong. This year, we're pretty much all healthy, we're here, we've been here all spring, we've been able to do relationship with one another and now we're in a much different place than we were last year, and it's a much more comfortable place."
The Ervin Santana saga was disappointing, but I'm not sure what else AA was supposed to do. The Jays made their offer, thought they had a verbal agreement, but apparently not as Santana signed with Atlanta two days later. Given that Santana signed with the Braves for only 100 grand more than the Jays offered and also spurned the Orioles, who offered even more money plus  incentives, it pretty much seems that Santana wasn't going to sign with an AL East team. The trick with free agents is that they are free….to do what they want. 

Ricky Romero had a couple of decent starts, getting people talking, and then had a bad one, getting people talking again, but louder and with more garment rending. Romero, along with Marcus Stroman, has been sent to the minor league camp.
>When asked whether the horrible start factored into the decision to have Romero start in Buffalo, Gibbons had this to say: “It didn't help But we just feel they both need more work. As far as Ricky moving in the right direction, we really like what he did in this camp. Just go down there [Triple-A Buffalo] and polish it up.” Romero is what he is. A few good starts in the spring weren't going to make him a serious contender for the rotation, just as a terrible start shouldn't officially write him off until the end of time. If he continues to do the positive work he demonstrated in Florida, Romero can still help the team out. It's a long season.
And then yesterday, five were finally named to the starting rotation:

>R.A. Dickey
>Drew Hutchison
Brandon Morrow
Dustin McGowan


Dickey went 14-13 last year after winning the N.L. Cy Young in 2012. The inconsistency was mostly due to soreness in the first half and also pitching in the Homer Dome. Dickey's spring has been a little rough. He was hit hard against the Yankees on March 26th, a game the Jays ended up winning despite it.

Today was not a day about results," Dickey said. "What was paramount for me was to exercise my arm in a way where I felt good. I was able to use a large range of velocities and I mixed in pitches that I would never throw during the regular season. They put in their heads it's another weapon that I might use on them later. So, I did exactly what I wanted to do."
Dickey's memoir Wherever I Wind Up has been optioned by TriStar Pictures and Buzz Bissinger, who wrote Friday Night Lights , about high school football in Texas, which was made into a movie and a tv show and Three Nights in August , about an August 2003 series between the Cubs and the Cardinals, is writing the script. That's pretty neat.



Mark Buehrle is the definition of a chucker. He is consistent and steady, and is all about pitching smartly. He’s not flashy, but he gets it done. Tightening up the defense, thus limiting the amount of pitches Buerhle needs to throw in an inning, should help his numbers over last year.  His last start, which happened on his 35th birthday, was pretty fantastic.



“I had a good rhythm, used a lot of fastballs early and was hitting my spot,” Buehrle said. “It seemed like everything was working.”



The past two starts had been vs minor league teams, and Buehrle appreciated facing big league hitters.



“The last two starts in the minor leagues you can roll over innings,” he said. “Here you can’t, something clicks about it. I can’t just get my ass handed to me in the first couple of batters and they’re not going to roll the inning over so you got to get out of it. Something clicks and you just figure it out.”


Buehrle pitches next in Montreal against the Mets. 


Pesky real life has prevented me from attending, but I hope those who are making the trip have a great time and those in Montreal who miss having big league baseball in their gorgeous city soak it up. 



Players  from the Expos ‘94 team, including Felipe Alou, Moises Alou, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez(!!!!!), Rondell White, Cliff Floyd, Marquis Grissom, Sean Berry, Wil Cordero, John Wetteland, Darrin Fletcher, Lou Frazier, Gil Heredia, Ken Hill and Denis Boucher will be attending. 





Montreal was a very different experience for major-league baseball, wasn't it?
It had a certain something. I’m not going to lie, some of it was because of the strip clubs, maybe, or the great food. But much of it was the unique culture. You know, when you heard the public-address announcer say “le voltigeur de centre, the centre fielder, Andre Dawson” – that’s special. And they had to figure out a lot of these terms on the fly. Jacques Doucet, the play-by-play man, goes on the air and says, “We need a term for picking someone off first base.” This is a very complex idea to express and a professor came up with “prendre quelqu’un à contre-pied” – catch someone on their wrong foot.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

11 Days: Notes from the Last Bit of Offseason


I just realized, even though I am up to my armpits in wet snow, that pitchers and catchers report in under two weeks. That means the long and dark time without baseball is nearing its end.

A lot of things are happening after a long period of inactivity. Actually, not a lot of things are happening, there is just more talk so it seems more things are happening.

It's been a very quiet off season for the Jays. It's been a quiet off season for most teams, save the Yankees. The Yankees are once again trying to prove how evil they are by spending all the money. Piles and piles of money. Their haul now includes Masahiro Tanaka, the much sought after pitcher from Japan. It's a seven year deal (with a year four opt-out) worth 155 million dollars. And, for whatever reason, I just can't get worked up over it. They still lost Cano.

The only thing I am going to worked up over is that the Jays lost every series in the Bronx last season. Every single game. The Yankees had close to the same record as the Jays versus everyone else, but killed them in the season series. That needs to not happen. It's imperative. I'd argue that the season depends on it.

Jack Morris has gone back to Minnesota, even though they hate him and told Jays fans how much he sucked, thus lowering our expectations and making us cry even more about the loss of Alan Ashby. But Morris turned out to be awesome. I'm not going to begrudge a man going home (Morris is a native of St. Paul, one of the twin cities the team is named for) but I'm going to miss him. I liked his no nonsense approach and his storytelling, which complimented Jerry Howarth's folksiness quite nicely. Above all, I'll always appreciate Morris for this:

“I went up to Salty and I told him,” Morris said. “He said, ‘It’s dry in Boston, and I’ve seen him put water all over his pants.’ I said, ‘Salty this isn’t my first [expletive] rodeo.’ He didn’t know what to say to that, so we ended the conversation right there.”


And thus, a legend was born. Also, it's dry up in Boston? I've spent some time re-reading a bunch of things written at the time and it was all pretty fun. And then the Sox went and won the World Series. That was less fun.

Also jumping off the Rogers Broadcasting Merry-Go-'Round is Dirk Hayhurst. One of the things I found interesting about Hayhurst is he seemed to take on the tone of who ever he was working with. He'd get folksy with Jerry Howarth, which drove me bananas, but he would take on the crustiness of Jeff Blair on Baseball Central, which I found much more enjoyable. I've enjoyed his books and I guess I'll miss him. I do remember disagreeing with Hayhurst about something (maybe keeping Anthony Gose and jettisoning Colby Rasmus) and I discussed it with my dad. And my dad gave me this:
"Just because he wrote an interesting book doesn't mean he knows what the f*ck he's talking about."
Yeah.

As to who will replace Hayhurst and Morris, it's pretty open. Some have suggested this guy. I'm going to consider that an audition reel.


The State of the Franchise event was sort of bland, as events with pre-screened questions tend to be. It was mostly a rehash of "Five year contracts" and "The pitching. My god, the pitching!!!" and a ridiculous question about signing Michael Young. That questioner, who likely has had season tickets since 1977, had his dreams dashed when Michael Young announced his retirement a day later. The event would be so much more exciting if they didn't pre-screen the questions and let the people drink beforehand.

The vast expanses of grey concrete visible with the turf pulled up warmed the cockles, didn't it?

Pitching remains a big concern. Anthopoulos has mentioned several times he wants to see how the market shapes up before making any offers to pitchers, notably Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. Emerging as a bit of a wild card option is AJ Burnett. The idea of bringing him back is pretty crazy, but it's the kind of crazy I'm interested in. It's a long shot, as I think the only AL East team with a shot is the Orioles as Burnett lives in Maryland and has a wife who hates to fly, but as Ben Nicholson-Smith argues Burnett just might be the best option:
Burnett would be a major upgrade for most teams, including the Blue Jays, if he sustains his recent production. In fact, it’s easy to make the case that Burnett has out-pitched the other top free agents. In 2013, he led Jimenez, Santana and Arroyo in categories such as wins above replacement (4.0), strikeout rate (9.9 K/9), ground ball rate (56.5%) and — even at age 36 — average fastball velocity (92.5 m.p.h.). Over the course of the last three seasons, Burnett leads the group in wins above replacement, strikeout rate, ground ball rate and home run rate.
Plus, he's just so darn flaky. He's a gift to bloggers everywhere.

But for several reasons, mostly because I never get what I want, I'm not getting my hopes up. As Richard Griffin puts it:
"It's hard to go back in time. Remember, Burnett left the Jays to sign with the Yankees to be closer to his Maryland home. He still wants to pitch with the same familial proximity and he will be asking for more 2014 money in a one-year deal than the Jays will have to pay annually for either Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana. Or in fact for several other of the remaining free agents on the starting pitcher list still available. A.J. won't happen."

The "Ian Kinsler trade to Toronto veto" story has had some legs. Shi Davidi reported that Kinsler vetoed a trade to Toronto before the trade to Detroit for Prince Fielder happened. The deal would've included Encarnacion, and for that price, I don't want to do it anyway. I want to add a pitcher and a second baseman, not subtract necessary power. 

People pearl clutched about the idea that Toronto was rejected while Detroit was accepted, but Ken Rosenthal reported that Kinsler wasn't even approached about a deal to Toronto.  

So relax, Toronto. No one called your baby ugly.

And this:


Justin Verlander snuggles up with Kate Upton, proving, once again, it pays to be a King of Earth. But I have so many concerns. The satiny, magenta pants? The shirt open to the third, "douche" button? Nice teeth, though. Justin, your grin is approaching "shit eating."

And finally, RIP PSH




















Addiction is the worst. Looking over his body of work, it's clear that Hoffman was a crucial part of some of the best movies of the last 20 years. That's him as Art Howe in Moneyball and watching that movie, the guy has the physicality of a big league manager down. It's more than just the body, it was how he carried himself. It's on Netflix if you have somehow never seen it. Brad Pitt eats a lot in it.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Three Hums and Chucks for a New Year.

I haven't written anything in just over a month, which is pretty terrible, so I thought I would finally do a little something.

"From now on, we're only talking to Roy!" 

















I was in the car going to visit my parents when I heard that Roy Halladay had announced his retirement and that he had signed a one day contract with Toronto so he could retire a Blue Jay. I audibly gasped and put a hand to my chest. It was all very dramatic.


My favourite Halladay game was when he one hit the Yankees on September 4th, 2009. It was a strange game. I randomly sat across from my dad and his friend. I knew he was going to be there, but I walked up to buy my ticket and coincidentally bought a seat across the aisle. I sat in front of a guy who was Canadian in a Mickey Mantle jersey who lived in Los Angeles. He told me about the different experiences to be had at Dodgers Stadium vs Angels Stadium. It felt like Halladay was possessed. It was an awesome performance. 

Halladay's Brandy told the Toronto Star at the retirement press conference that they will always love Toronto.

“Somebody asked me once, ‘Do you think you’ll ever come back?’” Brandy said as Roy descended from the stage. “I kind of chuckled and I thought, ‘Well, why wouldn’t we ever go back? We didn’t leave because we didn’t like it. It always was home and that’s where we spent so much of our life. Braden was born there. He’s 13 now. It’s always been home for us.”

I have this "enemy" on Twitter who periodically reappears to remind me that he doesn't like me or my blog, which is fine, but I think I first got on his list when I suggested he reconsider calling Halladay a "traitor" after getting traded to Philadelphia. It's a sentiment that came up again on Twitter from a few different places, and it really has just become a litmus test for me to see if you are an ok person. The man signed two below contract deals when he was the best pitcher in the league to stay with Toronto, because he wanted to win with Toronto. When it no longer seemed like the player and the team were going in the same direction, he quietly requested a trade. Which he got. I mean, jeez. It's also something that came up when Jacoby Ellsbury left the Red Sox to sign with the Yankees. Sox fans called him a "trader" (sic) on Twitter and Boston media called him a mercenary. As far as I'm concerned, they are all mercenaries.We should all realize this.


I like the little hand wave Halladay does in this when the bank robbers ask if it's him.

I watched hockey. 



I actually don't mind hockey all that much, I just resent it a little because it is discussed in our media to the point that there is no space to discuss any other sport and because dumb people wonder why things like baseball can't be more like hockey. But I watched the 2014 Winter Classic and actually cheered for the Maple Leafs. I liked the old school uniforms, the brown goalie pads and Bernier's toque. I admired Bernier's performance even more than the toque and was happy the Leafs won in the shootout, if only because I thought Bernier deserved it. The Leafs have this way of winning even when they get outplayed. That's a skill. The game was messy and a bit ridiculous, but I think that's why I found it pretty awesome. The pictures were also great.



The game was also notable because 105,491 was the announced attendance, and it broke the Guiness World Record. The crowd seemed pretty split between Leafs and Red Wings fans, so each goal was thunderously celebrated.

“For a single game, as far as the atmosphere and everything, this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of,” Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “Probably [ever] will be a part of. Over 100,000 people, in a setting like this, with the fans really into it — a great experience.”

Colby Rasmus to Skip Winter Tour; Goes Duck Hunting

Colby Rasmus was a hot topic on Twitter today after the announcement that he wasn't attending this year's Winter Tour. He went last year. He curled and stood on a tank in the snow.


It was glorious. People asked Colby's dad via Twitter was his son wasn't participating. Tony Rasmus (@FlorenceFalcon0) tweeted that he would call his boy if his boy weren't out duck hunting in a swamp in Arkansas.


That would be somewhat concerning as I don't want Rasmus traded and I also think he's found a place in Toronto that's accepted him. But he hasn't had his contract extended yet, and I would think just about everyone is on the trade block. It's the nature of the business. See what I said above about mercenaries.



Monday, 2 December 2013

All But Gone


































Several years ago now, the artist formally known as "Archi" Zuber (now of the Score) and I went to Cito Gaston's final game as Blue Jays manager. We sat along the first base line and cracked wise with each other and those around us. It was all very friendly with a guy who was sitting in front of us, until the subject of Cito's decision to start John Buck over JP Arencibia came up. 

Both Zuber and I agreed with Cito. My thought was that Buck was the veteran, going into free agency. Cito was always known to favour the veterans and likely Cito was giving Buck the opportunity to pad his numbers a bit, rounding off a very solid offensive campaign. Arencibia had been a call-up, and was seen as the catcher of the future and would get the starting catcher job in the following season. He would have plenty of time to live up to whatever his potential was.

Well, making this argument to the guy in front of us was apparently equivalent to saying you drop kick kittens for fun. He stopped interacting with us. He wouldn't even look at us. It was so abrupt and obvious that Zuber and I have referred to it as the defining incident of that whole game and have brought it up in the years since because it was just so damn weird. The dude could just not handle that this was our opinion. He thought it was just so wrong. He was offended.

I was reminded of this incident now that it seems the Arencibia Experiment is over in Toronto. The Jays have signed Dioner Navarro for $8 million over 2 years and Shi Davidi (as well as a few other people) now report that if the Jays can't find a trading partner for Arencibia, they will non-tender him by midnight, making him a free agent.

One can't really argue that it was hard to see this coming. Arencibia had a terrible 2013. Various people have argued that he's just living up to his pre-ordained terribleness, but I think it also had something to do with the fact that he played with bursitis in his knee for most of the season. It didn't really explain why the guy refuses to take a walk, but it might explain why some of his numbers that were at least approaching average fell off a cliff in 2013. 

But it wasn't just that Arencibia was having a terrible year, it's that he wasn't handling it very well. JPA got into that public feud with Hayhurst and Zaun and took to Twitter to vent about various things. I didn't agree with a lot of the things in that whole situation. But if you are a public figure, it's just not a good idea to do that because it just sours people on you. And fair or not, Arencibia did become the poster boy for the terrible season. This is a move that needed to happen. If you are anti-JP, you can see this Navarro signing as an needed improvement behind the plate. If you are pro-JP (and yes, those people do exist), see it as a chance for the dude to move on.




A bunch of other people wrote and talked about this move.

Here is just one of the things Stoeten over at DJF had to say about the situation.  Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs made very reasoned arguments . Wilner and Ben Ennis podcasted about it.

Shi Davidi wrote more about it, illustrating just how ugly it's gotten.

"What’s clear is that the team believes Arencibia’s personal collapse this past season created too much baggage on both ends for them to continue together, and that his potential was unlikely to be realized in Toronto."

Yikes


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Goodbye 2013: Boston and a Book.


Well, the worst thing imaginable for a 2013 Jays fan happened. The Boston Red Sox, in the year after John Farrell left the Jays for his "dream job", won the World Series.

It's fair, as they played the best, both in the AL and in the World Series. They had some very solid pitching by Jon Lester, especially, and an Ortiz hitting performance for the ages. Dustin Pedroia is amazing at baseball and I will shout it from the rooftops if I have to.  But I wrote my one "hey Boston, you're alright" post this year and that's my quota. Drew Fairservice wrote a nice, balanced piece over on Getting Blanked. The Red Sox were serviced fairly, if you will. 

So they can have their parade and tug on each other's beards all winter for all I care. I do think the parade route going over the Boston Marathon finish line site was rather offensive, but if members of the Red Sox brass use one of their four intact limbs to cut cheques to the victims, I'll get over it. Don't forget them, Boston. 

Hey, Red Sox (and Sports Illustrated) about this picture:


You know who has got a really nice beard? The guy who had a .688 batting average and .760 on-base percentage, the second-highest numbers in World Series history. He reached base 19 times in 25 plate appearances sporting a nice beard. Without his herculean effort, you'd just have your beards.  But you know, keep broin', bros. And don't worry about the stereotypes that hang around your ballclub and fanbase. 

I discovered Boston writer Luke O'Neill over the last month or so, he wrote this  and has written about his issues with the #BostonStrong phenomenon. He wrote this after the Sox won. 

I'm still not going to give that much credit to Farrell. He and Mike Matheny seemed to be in some sort of contest to see who could make the most boneheaded managerial moves and have their team overcome them. This is still the "Brandon Workman hit in the ninth inning of a tie game in the World Series" World Series. I'm not entirely sure pitchers make good managers. I think catchers make the best managers. But Matheny was a catcher, so maybe it's all a wash. I really do appreciate this guy calling in to WEEI to complain about Farrell the morning after they won the Series. That's dedicated misery. And amazing.

I've made peace with it all. St. Louis, while blessed with rather amazing pitching and some pretty, pretty ponies, also has some comically terrible fans.

Chicago Cub Adrian Cardenas wrote a beautiful piece for the New Yorker about why he quite Major League Baseball, sounding every inch the philosophy/creative writing student he has become. I mean that in the nicest way possible.

The New Yorker also bid farewell to Tim McCarver, in an article that makes me wonder if the writer has never heard of Vin Scully. Because " intense, intelligent, deeply informed, excitable, verbose, folksy, intellectual, opinionated, and morally fervid participation in the events on the field inexorably takes hold of you, the listener, and pushes you into the adjoining seat" is Vin Scully.

I'm really going to miss watching playoff games with my dad and hearing him mutter, "No, Tim. That's wrong. Stop being so wrong, Tim." It's the end of an era.

McCarver's argument that the "obstruction rule" should be changed to include the umpire's consideration of intent was another classic. Because allowing the umpires the opportunity for more subjective judgement calls are really going to enhance everyone's enjoyment. I'll argue that the "irregardless of intent" part of the rule is the best part and makes me love it a little. Especially when Joe Torre puts on his sweater vest and glasses and reads it to me from the official rulebook.



Before I close the book completely on 2013, I want to say a few things about Great Expectations: The Lost Toronto Blue Jays Season. John Lott, who co-wrote it with Shi Davidi, reads this blog and I frequently steal player quotes from his National Post work to illustrate whatever point I happen to be making. I enjoy his writing in the Post and it's on good display here, as is Davidi's always strong coverage.

If you are looking for a prescription for baseball success in 2014 or a simple answer about what went wrong in 2013, this isn't that book. I'm not sure that book could exist.

What it is, however, is a very complete portrait of the men that worked for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013. There are a lot of stories, things that weren't always discussed within the season or extra tidbits that give a more complete picture of memorable instances. I'm sure it's true of many teams, but this 2013 version of the Blue Jays is full of stories. Stories about men that come from different places, to a city they aren't from and try to put on a show and win more games than any other team of men trying to put on a show.

The book's strength lies in the stories and the characters that emerge. Mark DeRosa is, in some ways, the star of the book. I've come to the conclusion, through this book and the interview he did with Mike Wilner during the World Series, that the Jays need to find a way to make DeRosa a long term part of the organization. He's smart, both in the baseball and life senses of the word, and the work he did with Brett Lawrie is worth every penny of that $750,000 he earned.

Casey Janssen has an amazing work ethic and understands fundamentally what his role is. He and Darren Oliver (who, naturally, has a couple of great quotes of his own) lead the reclamation project bag of toys that was the bullpen, one of the genuinely success stories of 2013. While Jose Bautista came from a middle class existence that many of us in Canada can probably relate to, fellow Domincan Jose Reyes used to ride a donkey to baseball practice and he used a milk carton as a glove. The Mets signed a 16 year old Reyes for $13,500, which sounds like a pittance but was enough to change the lives of his family forever. He built them a new house with that money. 

The image I associate with  the 2013 season was Reyes crying on the field after he sprained his ankle. Joyful man with all the talent, crumpled and sad on the field.





This book is full of stories from beyond just 2013. Frank Catalanotto drove a distraught Ted Lilly home after his infamous encounter with John Gibbons on the field in 2006. Lilly felt awful for the way he had behaved. John Gibbons' blow up at Shea Hillenbrand over the "This ship is sinking" incident earlier that season shook a lot of the players up because they had never seen him that angry. Hillenbrand has found Jesus in the years since he left baseball, and talks briefly about the angry man he used to be. 

John Farrell advocated releasing Edwin Encarnacion, during his early 2011 struggles. I think that means, by all rights, Encarnacion should tee off in Fenway and use and abuse the Green Monster until it bleeds.

R.A. Dickey is a poet who happens to pitch. Mark Buehrle cried when Kawasaki was sent down to Buffalo. Well, his eyes were described as "wet", so I'm sure it was very masculine.

There is much debate about what team chemistry means and how it contributes (or doesn't) to team winning. If team chemistry is made up of how much a team pulls for one another, I don't think that was a problem for this team. Everyone cared about winning and about each other. They pulled for each other. There were a hell of lot of team meetings.

I don't have a solid grasp about what exactly happened in 2013 but I think it's some combination of this: due to pressure or expectations or the World Baseball Classic, the team didn't gel immediately and got off to a bad/slow start. Injuries (which were varied and plentiful) prevented them from overcoming that slow start in any sustainable way. Looking over a season of baseball, it becomes clear that a lot of things have to go right, some sort of formula needs to fall into place. And there has to be pitching. Lots and lots of pitching.  

The book can be a tough read, not because it's hard to follow, but because reliving the hope of the offseason followed by the crush of the season unfolding was hard. But if all we have left of this season are great stories, this is a book full of them and  is thus a worthy addition to any baseball fan's shelf. 

Although the book did refer to "the ballad of R.A. Dickey" to describe his pitching season, I'm not pursuing legal action.