September 2006

Down to Two

Toronto’s Magic Number, that is. OK, it’s not one of those Magic Number’s that has a playoff berth at the end of the rainbow, but it comes with a nice consolation prize instead.

Here are the American League East standings as of Thursday:

NEW YORK     96-63      –
TORONTO      85-74      11
BOSTON        84-75      12
BALTIMORE    69-90      27
TAMPA BAY    61-98      35

It’s been quite a while since Jays fans have seeen Toronto that high in the standings this late in the year. With three games to go, the Blue Jays control their own second-place destiny. Don’t think the Jays aren’t taking the matter lightly, either. The club’s 16-9 mark this month should say enough.

"I would just like to look up at the end of the season, and when I’m checking out the standings, see Toronto underneath New York," Jays catcher Gregg Zaun said on Thursday. "For quite a while now it’s been New York and Boston."

Normally, you’d think Toronto might have an advantage, heading into the Bronx to face a team that already wrapped up the division title. But the Yankees still are playing for home-field advantage, so they aren’t going to go down easy. Toronto also will be sending Gustavo Chacin, Shaun Marcum, and Dustin McGowan to the mound — not its best trio.

NOTES and THOUGHTS:

–Toronto moved 11 games over .500 for the first time since July 28. That was one day before the club’s seven-game losing streak started. So it took this long for Toronto cancel out the effect of that skid.

–The Jays will undoubtedly offer Ted Lilly salary arbitration, but the pitcher will also undoubtedly decline. If I had to put a number on it, his 15-win season could get him a contract offer to the tune of three-years for $18-25 million, or somewhere around there. Lilly was making $4 million this year. If that price doubles, the Jays might be more on the fringe than in the running to re-sign him.

–I’m sure you all are curious about which of the players with uncertain contract situations for next season are more or less likely to be back with the Blue Jays. I’ll give my opinion here. I’ll go from a scale of 1-10 (1 being "not likely to be back in ’06" and 10 being "very likely to be back in ’06"). Keep in mind, this is solely based on my opinion, given the payroll, roster alternatives, available free agents, etc;

Vernon Wells — signing an extention with Toronto: 8
Ted Lilly — re-signing with Toronto: 5
Gregg Zaun — re-signing with Toronto: 6
Bengie Molina — re-signing with Toronto: 2
Justin Speier — re-signing with Toronto: 6
Frank Catalanotto — re-signing with Toronto: 5

That’s all I’ve got for now. It’s 1:45 p.m. right now and in about 45 minutes I’ll be heading to the 4 train to catch a ride to Yankee Stadium. Stay tuned for more…

Go Figure…

Yeah, go figure that on the last home game of the season, I’d get so sick at work that I had to go home. I hammered out the Jays notes as quickly as I could after eating dinner — which only made me feel worse — and then I spent some time hugging the toilet in a bathroom in the Rogers Centre. That was a first. So if any of you loyal readers were wondering why I didn’t write the game story for the final home contest, well, I hope that explains it.

Anyway, after paying respect to the Ivory Gods, I started to feel a little better. I caught a 6:30 am flight out of Toronto and I’m currently in Motown. Being in Detroit isn’t always great, but in my case, it allows me to see some old college friends and people who help cover the Tigers that I know from my days at Michigan State. So I’m looking forward to the next three days — especially because I was able to hold down my lunch today!

ABOUT THEM BLUE JAYS:

Second place! Second place! Can you feel the excitement ripping through Blue Jays Nation? OK, in all seriousness, second place is a good achievement. Just keep in mind that if Toronto does finish second, it has a LOT to do with Boston’s free fall than a huge surge by the Jays. Either way, it’d be good for Toronto to shake up the status quo for once. The Jays haven’t finished in second since 1990, I believe. They haven’t finished higher than third since 1993, when they won the World Series. So even though second does come with a Wild Card this season, it is an improvement.

It had to be good for you Jays fans to hear Vernon Wells say he hopes he stays in Toronto for years to come. Wells had been taking the "We’ll just have to wait and see" approach on the contract subject for most of the season. Lately, he’s been making it sound like he really does want to stay with the Jays. He didn’t deny that negotiations had already begun. When he was asked that on Monday, Wells smiled and said something to the effect of "I let my representatives handle all of that."

I’ve got to believe that inking him to an extension is the No. 1 priority this winter. Beyond that, Toronto needs to add one or two starters — Ted Lilly might be one of the solutions, but we’ll see. The Jays also plan on addressing the middle infield issue. Next year it’ll be Aaron Hill and…and…that’s what needs to be figured out. Russ Adams isn’t projected to be a starter in 2007 — not unless he shows Toronto some huge leap in performance in the spring.

Dustin McGowan starts tonight at Comerica Park against Tigers’ Jeremy Bonderman. This series doesn’t mean much for the Jays, but Toronto might play a role in whether Detroit wins the Central or the Wild Card. I, for one, have this gut feeling that the Twins will win the division.

Crushed

I’m taking one post off from blogging about baseball — today I’m still in shock from after what happened last night in East Lansing, Mich. Well I’m not in shock, considering Michigan State has let me down multiple times over the years, but that was a horrible defeat to Notre Dame. For those of you who haven’t read my profile, I went to Michigan State.

Anyway, I don’t have much to say today. On the Blue Jays front, it looks like Dustin McGowan will be starting on Tuesday in Detroit. Jays manager John Gibbons also said the pitcher might take part in the Arizona Fall League. It’s still up in the air what role he might fill next season — starter or reliever. If he doesn’t make the club out of Spring Training, he’d have to clear waivers to go to Triple-A. I personally think another club wouldn’t mind picking him up. That being said, the Jays need to determine how he best fits in with the team.

Saw That Coming

It wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist (why is that the profession we always pick out for this type of point?) to figure out that Roy Halladay had thrown his last pitch of the season on Wednesday. With only two starts left for the Good Doctor, it wouldn’t have made any sense to rest him for one start and risk reinjuring his arm in the last series of the season.

Even so, Toronto wouldn’t say officially that Halladay was indeed done for the year on Wednesday. On Thursday, Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi was quoted in some reports saying Halladay was done, and on Friday, we heard it again from manager John Gibbons and from Halladay himself. So see you next season Doc. It’s just unfortunate he finishes the year without a win in his last six starts.

Halladay said he pitched through some discomfort in his right forearm at various points this season. He added that it was too much to take only twice. That was on Wednesday, and in April, when he missed a start because of the injury. The first time around, Halladay said working excessively on his cut fastball in the spring put extra strain on his forearm coming into the year. That was part of the problem this time, too, but he said it was more "wear and tear" than anything else. At least he was smart enough to pull the plug when he did.

OTHER NOTES:

–Technically, the Blue Jays have only released their home schedule for next season. Since there have been published reports — in the L.A. Times, Toronto Sun, among others — about some of the road dates, I don’t mind keying you all in on some minor schedule notes.

The Jays Interleague schedule includes trips to L.A. to play the Dodgers and to San Francisco to play the Giants. During rivalry week, Toronto will head to Philly to square off against its 1993 World Series foe. After the All-Star break, Toronto has an eight straight games on the road — four against the Red Sox and four against the Yankees. Ouch.

Also, for those of you weekend attendees at the Rogers Centre, don’t get excited about seeing those Jays-Red Sox or Jays-Yankees games. Toronto doesn’t host either Boston or New York in any weekend sets. Both clubs make three visits to Toronto, but they are all during weekdays. Weekend series’ include: Rangers, Devil Rays, Mariners, Orioles, Tigers, White Sox, Nationals, Indians and Rockies.

– Gibbons hasn’t announced who will fill in for Halladay, yet. Shaun Marcum will start on Monday, but Tuesday remains up in the air. Remember when Brian Tallet started a game and a whole bunch of relievers followed? You might see something like that. Or, Gibbons said Josh Towers, Dustin McGowan, or Davis Romero could be a candidate to start, too.

Wait 'Til Next Year

Everyone knew the day was coming. Toronto was only officially eliminated from the American League East race last night. In reality — all algebra aside — the Jays were eliminated quite some time ago.

For me, it was when Milton Bradley hit the walk-off home run against B.J. Ryan on July 30. That was the moment when all the hope seemed to be snuffed out. That was the second lost in a seven-game skid and was on the second leg of the three-city, 2-8 road trip Toronto was on. I’m sure the rest of you have other games that stick out in the same regard.

These last 11 games needs to be taken seriously for Toronto, though. At the very least, they are games in which the Blue Jays can get as close to feeling what a playoff atmosphere is like by assuming the role of the spoiler. That starts tonight, when Toronto can try to stop the Yankees’ division-clinching party from taking place at the Rogers Centre. Of course, the Jays also need the Red Sox to lose to stave off the champagne.

Then comes Boston. Toronto can use those games to try and leapfrog the Red Sox in the standings. Sure, second place doesn’t mean as much this year, seeing that the Wild Card is coming out of the Central. And it’s not like Toronto stormed UP the standings to catch the Red Sox. It was more that Boston slipped horribly in August and stumbled DOWN to the Blue Jays. Even so, Toronto hasn’t been higher than third since ’93. The Jays would take it.

Toronto then heads to Detroit for a three-game set that could make or break the Tigers’ chances at winning the AL East, winning the Wild Card, or falling out of it if the White Sox can make a last-minute push. Personally, I think the Twins will win the Central and the Tigers will get in the playoffs with the Wild Card.

The last three games against the Yankees won’t have much meaning, unless that bid for second place is still on the line for the Jays. New York will have the East wrapped up and probably won’t strut out it’s complete All-Star lineup. Of course, after New York swept Toronto in Yankee Stadium the last time the Jays made the trip to the Bronx, I’m sure the Jays would like to take the final series.

First things first, though, the Blue Jays need to try to send the Yankees packing with unopened bottles of champagne tonight. Oh, and helping Roy Halladay get another win wouldn’t be bad, either.

Dr. Cy?

You can’t deny what Johan Santana is doing for the Twins right now and anyone who says he isn’t the frontrunner for the American League Cy Young Award right now would be kidding themselves. That being said, Roy Halladay will still get some serious votes for his season with Toronto.

Consider the comparison:

Santana: 18-5, 2.77 ERA, 32 GS, 1 CG, 220.2 IP, 44 BB, 237 K
Halladay: 16-5, 3.20 ERA, 31 GS, 4 CG, 216.2, 33 BB, 131 K

One thing to consider, too, is the production since the All-Star break. Santana has gone 9-0 with a 2.51 ERA in 13 starts since the break, where as Halladay has gone 4-3 with a 3.61 ERA in 13 starts during that same span. Granted, Halladay’s run support hasn’t  been nearly the same as it was during his 12-2 first-half showing, but Santana has helped carry the Twins right back into the middle of the playoff hunt.

Halladay will still get heavy consideration, though. One thing people point to is the fact that Santana leads the "Triple Crown" categories of wins, ERA, and strikeouts. You have to keep in mind that Halladay is less of a strikeout pitcher now, though.

His philosophy has shifted to getting quick outs and only using the strikeout as a weapon in necessary situations. You can see this in his statistics, too. Halladay leads all American League starters in fewest pitches per inning (13.86) and his 347 groundouts rank second only to Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang. Those are figures that HAVE to be considered when breaking down Doc’s numbers in comparison to Santana — though Santana isn’t a ground-ball pitcher.

Another thing that I tend to look at (which some people to agree with me about) is Halladay’s place on Toronto’s staff. Some argue that the Cy Young Award is strictly an individual award and only numbers should be the basis of the voting. I believe that you need to look at the whole picture. Considering all the issues and injuries the Blue Jays’ rotation has seen this year, Halladay has really held the staff together — this from a guy who missed a lot of time over the last two seasons due to injury.

Anyway, that’s my brief take on Halladay’s chances at picking up his second Cy Young Award. I think he’d have a better shot of winning the Comeback Player Award, except for the fact that he’s not a candidate.

As if that wasn’t enough to stir some discussion, here are my current picks for the American League and National League awards, if the season were to end today:

AL MVP: David Ortiz, BOS
AL Cy Young: Johan Santana, MIN
AL Rookie: Justin Verlander, DET
AL Manager: Jim Leyland, DET

NL MVP: Ryan Howard, PHI
NL CY Young: Brandon Webb, ARI
NL Rookie: Dan Uggla, FLA
NL Manager: Joe Girardi, FLA

I’m sure I’ll offer my thoughts again when the season ends. We’ll see if any of my picks change…

The Last Homestand

After a 3-3 showing on their recent road trip, the Jays head back to Toronto for their last appearance in front of the home crowds. Coming up are three final series: three games each against Tampa Bay, New York and Boston.

With 16 games left, the Blue Jays find themselves in the role of a spoiler, rather than a team hunting for the playoffs. A .500 record from here on out would give Toronto a 84-78 record. That’s short of where the Jays would’ve liked to have been at season’s end, but I think that’d be a decent mark, considering all the issues the club has had this year.

When the season began, there was one glaring weakness that I saw within the Jays. Sure, the 25-man roster looked strong when Opening Day arrived, but the depth behind the Major Leaguers didn’t seem to be a crop of players that would be able to step in and keep the team in a playoff race. Lo and behold, that’s what happened with injuries to A.J. Burnett, Gustavo Chacin, Alex Rios, amongst other issues.

The young fill-ins had their strong stretches, but it’s unrealistic to think guys like Casey Janssen or Ty Taubenheim — both pitched in A ball the year before — for example, could step up and instantly be a Jered Weaver or a Justin Verlander. The big league experience will help all the young players that helped out for next year and beyond, though.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting back to Toronto. I’ve only been home for about three days in the roughly the last three weeks. Given that fact, I’m going to be taking a day off on Friday. I’ll be back behind the keyboard starting Saturday.

Until then, here’s some notes to tie you over:

–Roy Halladay threw off a mound on Wednesday and appears to be set to start on Friday. If he doesn’t, Toronto manager John Gibbons said he would still probably pitch this weekend. Gustavo Chacin would pitch on Friday if Halladay couldn’t go. As of right now, the rotation will be Halladay, Ted Lilly, and Chacin in the three games against Tampa Bay.

–Alex Rios continues to sit due to a bone bruise in his right hand. He jammed his hand while hitting some time last week and hasn’t been able to grip a bat well since. He has played as a late defensive substitution lately, but hasn’t hit in a game in six games. No word on when he’ll be starting again.

–Third baseman Troy Glaus has been working through a tough slump lately. Gibbons said it looks like Glaus’ swing is a little long, which is a tendency that big power hitters tend to have sometimes. Gibbons bumped Glaus down to the No. 5 hole on Tuesday and sat him on Wednesday. I assume he’ll be back in the lineup on Friday.

–John Hattig and Adam Lind have been pretty impressive since joining Toronto. Hattig, who was called up when Toronto traded Eric Hinske, has hit .462. Lind, who was the Eastern League MVP this year, has posted a .464.

–Reports indicate that the Blue Jays are on pace to lose around $22 million this year. That’s roughly the amound of payroll Toronto added during its busy winter. Even so, owner Ted Rogers has said he’s willing to increase his club’s payroll for next year.

What's Up Doc?

Roy Halladay was sitting at his locker at Safeco Field today, wearing a wrap on his elbow to help treat the joint after he got hit by a line drive on Sunday. Halladay said the swelling is down and he’ll try to play catch on Tuesday. If all goes well, he doesn’t see why he couldn’t start as scheduled on Friday in Toronto. So let out the sigh of relief Jays fans, Halladay is doing better.

Alex Rios is still out of the lineup with a bone bruise in his right hand and Jays manager John Gibbons wasn’t sure if he’d play during the series in Seattle. Today’s lineup against the M’s: Johnson, RF, Catalanotto, LF, Wells, CF, Glaus, 3B, Molina, C, Overbay, 1B, Hill, 2B, Lind, DH, McDonald, SS.

This is my first trip to Safeco Field and I’ve got to tell you, it’s quickly climbing up my personal rankings of the stadiums I’ve been to. It’s a beautiful facility in a beautiful city. I’ve only been here since this morning, but Im really enjoying Seattle so far.

That’s really all I’ve got for you at the moment. I just wanted to toss a quick Halladay update on here for you all. Ah, one more thing. In case you were curious which Toronto farmhands were playing in the Arizona Fall League, here is the list:

Pitchers: Jordan De Jong, Danny Hill, Tracy Thorpe, Kyle Yates
Catchers: Curtis Thigpen
Infielders: Chip Cannon, Ryan Klosterman

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more…

The O.C.

I’m in sunny Anaheim, Calif., and am looking forward to heading over to Angel Stadium in about an hour. I haven’t been to the stadium, yet, and I’ve heard good things about it. Once I make it inside, Seattle’s ballpark will be the only American League stadium I haven’t seen (that’ll be taken care of by Monday).

This is an important series for Toronto — not for any playoff implications, but because the Angels are two games better than the Blue Jays. That’s the same margin that the Red Sox have over the Jays. A series win would be a good step towards overtaking Boston for second place in the division. That appears to be the Jays’ main focus down the stretch.

Finishing second won’t be an easy task, though. Toronto has series remaining against the Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels. Boston has one series against the Yankees and one against the Twins, but two left against the Orioles, one with the Royals, and another with the Devil Rays. Not to mention that the Red Sox are getting some of their regular players back.

All that being said, let me pose this question that a couple of us writers were pondering a couple weeks back:

Which would be better, finishing in second place with, say, 85 wins, or placing third with a higher win total?

Finishing with 85 wins actually would be somewhat of a success, considering the Jays are on pace to win 84. To win 90, Toronto would have to go 17-5 from here on out. That doesn’t seem realistic, given the schedule. My opinion? I think finishing second would trump winning more games and placing third. What’re your thoughts?

Ask And You Shall Receive

Blue Jays owner Ted Rogers announced today that he was willing to increase the team’s payroll. He didn’t say whether that meant specifically for next year or for 2008 and beyond, but that’s good new for Toronto, no matter what exactly it means.

Paul Godfrey, Toronto’s president and CEO, spoke about the matter prior to Tuesday’s game, but he also was unwilling to go into specifics because the issue was in a very premature stage. He said the Jays management went to Rogers and presented the payroll issue recently, and the owner’s comments appear to signal that he was convinced more money is needed.

Godfrey wouldn’t hint whether or not a similar three-year commitment was going to be made, similar to the one Rogers made prior to last season. That’s when the owner dished out $210 million for the 2005-07 seasons. It didn’t sound as if that was going to be the plan this time around, but again, that’s just me speculating.

That’s about all the news there is on that — other than the fact that Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi opted not to comment. We probably won’t know many more details until after this year is complete. But again, this is great knews for the Jays. A $100 million payroll would be ideal, but who knows if Rogers is willing to go that high. The current payroll is at $69.5 and it’s estimated to be around $78 next year.

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