March 2007

Bastian's 2007 Predictions

It’s midnight here in Clearwater, Fla., where I’m spending my final night at Spring Training. I board a plane Saturday morning and will be heading to Detroit. That makes this as good a time as any to dish our my ’07 regular season predictions:

AMERICAN LEAGUE STANDINGS

EAST
1. New York
2. Toronto
3. Boston
4. Tampa Bay
5. Baltimore

CENTRAL
1. Chicago
*2. Detroit
3. Cleveland
4. Minnesota
5. Kansas City

WEST
1. Los Angeles
2. Oakland
3. Texas
4. Seattle

NATIONAL LEAGUE STANDINGS

EAST
1. Philadelphia
*2. Atlanta
3. New York
4. Florida
5. Washington

CENTRAL
1. St. Louis
2. Milwaukee
3. Chicago
4. Houston
5. Cincinnati
6. Pittsburgh

WEST
1. Los Angeles
2. Colorado
3. San Diego
4. Arizona
5. San Francisco

*Indicates Wild Card

WORLD SERIES
Chicago White Sox over St. Louis Cardinals

AL MVP Award: Travis Hafner, Cleveland
AL Cy Young Award: Roy Halladay, Toronto
AL Rookie of the Year: Alex Gordon, Kansas City
AL Manager of the Year: Mike Sciocia, Los Angeles
NL MVP Award: Albert Pujols, St. Louis
NL Cy Young Award: Roy Oswalt, Houston
NL Rookie of the Year: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
NL Manager of the Year: Ned Yost, Milwaukee

So there you have it. Let the arguments begin. You know what the great thing is about preseason predictions? Nobody is wrong. I have to go finish packing my suitcases now and get ready for my trek to D-Town. I like traveling to Michigan because, being an MSU alum, I get the chance to see some old college buddies whenever I’m in the state.

Toronto should be in for a busy day tomorrow. I phoned Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi tonight and he said the club would reveal whether Victor Zambrano or Josh Towers would be its fifth starter on Saturday. Towers is scheduled to start. Toronto will also likely make a move with Francisco Rosario, who is out of options. It’s down to either him or Jeremy Accardo for the final bullpen spot.

The Jays will catch a flight early on Sunday, when they’re scheduled to have a 4 p.m. workout at Comerica Park. If the weather is bad, there will be no workout. Opening Day for Toronto is two days away. I’m ready to get this season going. How about you guys?

Game#29: Jays at Indians pregame

Toronto (10-14-4) at Cleveland (16-12-1)
at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Wayne Lydon, LF
Jason Smith, 2B
Jason Phillips, C
Chip Cannon, 1B
Rob Cosby, DH
Ryan Roberts, 3B
John McDonald, SS
Aaron Matthews, RF
Jeff Duncan, CF

PITCHING: RHP Victor Zambrano

INDIANS
Jason Michaels, CF
Josh Barfield, 2B
Travis Hafner, DH
Ryan Garko, 1B
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Mike Rouse, 3B
Mike Rose, C
John Drennen, LF
Jason Cooper, RF

PITCHING: RHP Jake Westbrook

Thanks go to Mr. John Lott of the National Post for letting be borrow his computer to put this post up. I have no internet connection here in lovely Winter Haven.

Stay tuned for more…

Game #28: Yanks at Jays pregame

New York (13-12-2) at Toronto (10-13-4)
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

YANKEES
Bobby Abreu, DH
Derek Jeter, SS
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Hideki Matsui, LF
Jorge Posada, C
Josh Phelps, 1B
Kevin Reese, CF
Kevin Thompson, RF

PITCHING: RHP Steven Jackson

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Alex Rios, RF
Frank Thomas, DH
Troy Glaus, 3B
Matt Stairs, RF
Gregg Zaun, C
Aaron Hill, 2B
Royce Clayton, SS

PITCHING: LHP Scott Downs, and a mix of relievers

NOTE: Center fielder Vernon Wells was a late scratch from the lineup with stiffness in his left shoulder.

PITCHING STAFF COMING INTO FOCUS

Toronto’s bullpen situation was made a little clearer prior to Thursday night’s game against the Yankees. That’s when left-hander Brian Tallet learned that he had cleared waivers and had been outrighted to Triple-A Syracuse. Tallet now has 72 hours to accept or decline the assignment. If he declines, he’d become a free agent.

"I had a pretty good second half last year and threw the ball pretty well for the team," said Tallet, who had a 3.81 ERA in 44 games for the Jays in ’06. "This year, in decisions, that didn’t really factor in.

"When you spend the kind of money that Ted Rogers has, the job [Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi] has is to try to get the best team on the field. If he feels that I wasn’t one of the guys, then I have to respect that."

So, for now at least, Tallet is out of Toronto’s bullpen picture. As of right now, B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Shaun Marcum appear to be the only locks. Those in the mix for the final three jobs include Casey Janssen, Jeremy Accardo, Francisco Rosario, Victor Zambrano and Josh Towers.

Thursday morning, Ricciardi said that, if Zambrano can last five or six innings against the Indians tomorrow, he just might win the fifth starter’s job. If that’s the case, he added that he’d "definitely" consider Towers in the ‘pen. The same goes if Towers wins the fifth spot. Basically, they’re both on the roser.

Like Tallet, Rosario is out of options. There are some trade options for Rosario, but Ricciardi said it’s "nothing that’s on the front burner." If Rosario was traded, Accardo would seem the likeliest pitcher to fill that spot. Janssen has made a strong bid for a spot this spring as well. Geremi Gonzalez was in the mix, but he was reassigned to Minor League camp before Thursday’s game, too.

So, as of right now, one possible bullpen scenario looks like this: Ryan, Frasor, Downs, Marcum, Janssen, Rosario, and Zambrano/Towers.

If Towers does win the fifth spot, Ricciardi did say he’d be on a short leash. Toronto’s GM also noted that Marcum, Janssen, and even Dustin McGowan could easily be backup options if someone in the rotation falters.

"I really think McGowan eventually will be here at some point. He’s pitching really well now," Ricciardi said. "[Toronto roving pitching instructor] Dane Johnson did a really good thing with him that I noticed the other day. They’ve got him tucking almost like Nolan Ryan. When you watch him as he’s gathering, if you can envision Ryan, he’s got his back kind of turned to the hitter, but it allows him to gather more and stay in his delivery. He seems to be clicking on it. Hopefully that’ll get him going."

As for John Thomson, he’s set to begin the year on the 15-day DL, and it’s not clear if he’d accept a Minor League assignment when he’s ready to be activated.

Ricciardi confirmed that right-hander Tomo Ohka will be Toronto’s No. 4 starter. He’s scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game on Friday. Towers starts Toronto’s last spring game on Saturday against the Reds at home.

DETROIT PROBABLES:

Monday, April 2: Toronto’s Roy Halladay vs. Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman
Wednesday, April 4: Toronto’s A.J. Burnett vs. Detroit’s Nate Robertson
Thursday, April 5: Toronto’s Gustavo Chacin vs. Detroit’s Justin Verlander

Anything else?

Oh yeah. A.J. Burnett (Triple-A) and B.J. Ryan (Double-A) each pitched in Minor League games at the Bobby Mattick Training Center Thursday afternoon.

Burnett’s line: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 9 K, 1 BB, 94 pitches, 64 strikes
Ryan’s line: 1 IP, 1 K, 8 pitches, 6 strikes

Ryan will pitch again on Saturday, and he’s all systems go for Opening Day. Burnett was also pleased with his outing, and just happy he’s healthy enough to break camp with the club. Last spring, he started on the DL ( one of eight times in his career) with an elbow injury.

"This is completely different," Burnett said. "What is this, the second or third time I get to break with a team? I’m pretty excited about that, especially with the team that we have here. It feels better to be a part of it."

And apparently there’s a night game scheduled for 7:05 p.m. here. It’s been a long day. Us reporters met with J.P. this morning at 10 a.m., headed over to the Minor League complex for the 1 p.m. games with Burnett and Ryan, and then turned around and shuttled back to Knology Park. If anything, this day got us all in a little better shape for the non-stop regular season schedule.

APOLOGIES: Sorry for no blog posts yesterday. Cleveland’s ballpark in Winter Haven is stuck in the stone ages and I couldn’t get online. So, same might go for tomorrow, when I make the trip again. I’ll try to blog, but it might have to wait until I get back to my condo.

Stay tuned for more…

Game #26: Rays at Jays pregame

Tampa Bay (8-17-1) at Toronto (10-11-4)
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

DEVIL RAYS
Carl Crawford, LF
Ben Zobrist, SS
Ty Wigginton, 2B
Jorge Cantu, DH
Delmon Young, RF
Akinori Iwamura, 3B
Elijah Dukes, CF
Carlos Pena, 1B
Shawn Riggans, C

PITCHING: LHP Casey Fossum

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Troy Glaus, 3B
Alex Rios, RF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Royce Clayton, SS
Sal Fasano, C

PITCHING: RHP Geremi Gonzalez

NOTES: CL B.J. Ryan threw 35 pitches in the bullpen and will make an appearance in a Double-A game on Thursday. … Toronto ace Roy Halladay headed over to the Bobby Mattick Training Center on Tuesday to start in a Triple-A game.

Blame the bus driver

There’s a few unwritten rules among sportwriters — OK, maybe they’re more akin to superstitions. For instance, I learned in my early days of covering baseball that you never say something like, "Boy, this game sure is flying by," no matter how quick it actually is flying by.

My first encounter with this part of "the code" came when I was still in college, covering the Lansing Lugnuts Minor League club for the Lansing State Journal in Michigan. Around the eighth inning or so in the first game of a doubleheader, I made an audible remark about the swift pace of the game. The result were some groans from the others in the pressbox, followed by a 15-inning game, and then another extra-inning contest after that. Lesson learned.

This afternoon, those of us Toronto reporters who made the trek to Bradenton to see a roster filled with Jays Minor Leaguers (OK, and Alex Rios, John McDonald, Jason Smith, Jason Phillips and Josh Towers) take on the Pirates, headed down to the visitor’s clubhouse around the seventh inning. It’s more of a shed that sits to the left of the left-field corner.

After getting an interview in with Towers, who had another solid outing for the Jays, we all walked out to near the foul line to catch the final inning. With Toronto up, 2-1, heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, the Jays’ bus driver, George, made this comment: "OK, 1-2-3 and we’re outta here!"

All of us writers groaned and gave the old guy a hard time. Sure enough, the first batter in the inning, Pittsburgh catcher Ryan Doumit, promptly deposited a pitch from Toronto reliever Brian Tallet over the left-field wall for a solo homer. That tied tha game up and sent it into extra innings. Thanks, George.

The game ended in a tie, and brought Toronto’s Grapefruit League record to 10-11-4. Maybe next year, MLB should think about introducing a "blast off" or some other sudden death-type thing to solve all the tie games this spring has produced. The standings are starting to look a lot like hockey.

Anyway, Towers looked good — five strikeouts, one walk, one unearned run and 88 pitches (58 strikes) in six innings. He threw 28 of those pitches in the first inning. The lone run scored when Xavier Nady popped up to left field, but Toronto Minor Leaguer David Smith booted an easy fly, allowing Ronny Paulino to score.

Before the game, Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg revealed what we’ve all already been writing about — John Thomson is no longer in the running for a job with the Jays. He’s scheduled to pitch 1-2 innings in Winter Haven on Wednesday, but there’s no room for him in Toronto’s bullpen or rotation.

Arnsberg also laid out the pitchers’ schedules for the next week:

TUESDAY: Geremi Gonzalez will pitch 3-4 innings against Tampa Bay in the 1:05 p.m. tilt at Knology Park. … Toronto ace Roy Halladay will start in a Triple-A game at 1 p.m. at the Bobby Mattick Training Center.

WEDNESDAY: Left-hander Gustavo Chacin will hit the road to start against Cleveland at 1:05 p.m. in Winter Haven.

THURSDAY: Right-hander A.J. Burnett will start in a Minor League game at 1 p.m. at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. … A soon-to-be-identified Minor Leaguer will take the hill for the 7:05 p.m. game against the Yankees. Casey Janssen might’ve started, but the Jays are preparing him as a reliever now.

FRIDAY: Right-hander Victor Zambrano will head to Winter Haven for a 5-6 inning start against the Indians at 1:05 p.m. Arnsberg said the Jays are still prepping him as if he were going to make the club as a starter. … Righty Tomo Ohka will start in a Minor League game that afternoon.

SATURDAY: Towers will make his last start of Spring Training in a 1:05 p.m. game versus the Reds at Knology Park.

It’s still not clear who the fifth starter will be — it appers to now be between Towers and Zambrano — but Ohka seems to be in line for the fourth job. Stating the obvious, Jays manager John Gibbons said Monday that the team will make a decision "by the end of the week."

Stay tuned…

Game #25: Jays at Pirates pregame

Toronto (10-11-3) at Pittsburgh (10-15-1)
at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Jeff Duncan, CF
John McDonald, SS
Jason Smith, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Jason Phillips, C
Chip Cannon, 1B
Ryan Roberts, 3B
David Smith, LF
Josh Towers, P

PIRATES
Chris Duffy, CF
Jack Wilson, SS
Ronny Paulino, C
Adam LaRoche, 1B
Jason Bay, LF
Xavier Nady, RF
Jose Bautista, 3B
Don Kelly, 2B
Paul Maholm, P

Game #24: Reds at Jays pregame

Cincinnati (15-7) at Toronto (9-11-3)
at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

REDS
Dewayne Wise, CF
Josh Hamilton, LF
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
Adam Dunn, DH
Scott Hatteberg, 1B
Javier Valentin, C
Mark Bellhorn, 2B
Paul Janish, SS
Drew Stubbs, CF

PITCHING: RHP Matt Belisle

BLUE JAYS
Royce Clayton, SS
Reed Johnson, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
Troy Glaus, 3B
Matt Stairs, RF
Gregg Zaun, C
Aaron Hill, 2B

PITCHING: RHP Tomo Ohka

NOTES: CL B.J. Ryan threw off a mound on Sunday and is on pace to pitch in Saturday’s game at home against the Reds. … RF Alex Rios is expected back in Florida Sunday night, and will probably head to Bradenton, Fla., with the Jays to take on the Pirates on Monday. … RHP Geremi Gonzalez is slated to start in Tuesday’s game against the Devil Rays in Dunedin, Fla. RHP Roy Halladay will start in a Minor League game that day. … Bench coach Ernie Whitt is currently back home in Michigan to be with his wife, Chris, who recently had surgery. Whitt is expected to be back with the team on Monday.

What was that pitch?

TAMPA, Fla. — Casey Janssen’s outing against the Yankees on Saturday was marred by one pitch. The right-hander ran a fastball inside on New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who promptly deposited the misplaced offering over the wall in center for a two-run homer.

The moon shot came on a four-seam fastball — a pitch Janssen has been working on this spring. Typically, with a right-handed hitter at the plate, Janssen would turn to a two-seamer, which breaks in on the batter. A four-seam fastball runs on a straight path without darting left or right as it gets near the strike zone.

"It’s just to give the hitter another look — keep them honest," said Janssen, when asked why he’s adding the four-seamer. "They see inside and they’re probably thinking it’s going to run off the plate. To give them a different look, and something that stays straight, it’s only going to help me."

It might also help his cause that the Blue Jays are well aware the allowed homer came on a pitch the 25-year-old has yet to master. It was the only significant flaw in a four-inning performance. Janssen allowed two runs on four hits in four innings. This spring, including a two-inning outing in a "B" game on March 5, Janssen has a 1.98 ERA with 18 strikeouts and one walk in six appearances.

Janssen has pitched his way into the running for a bullpen job this spring. After his outing on Saturday, Toronto manager John Gibbons said the righty had "pitched well enough to make the team." Shaun Marcum has also received Gibbons’ vote of confidence.

With that in mind, the projected bullpen appears to include B.J. Ryan, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Marcum and Janssen. That leaves two open spots. Brandon League won’t be in the picture to start the season. Brian Tallet and Francisco are out of options, so Toronto will consider them for jobs — Tallet appears more likely, and the Jays will probably try to move Rosario via trade to avoid losing him to waivers. If Tallet does make the bullpen, that last spot could have Victor Zambrano’s name on it. Jeremy Accardo appears to be on the outside, looking in, and Geremi Gonzalez was in the running, but now seems to be a long shot destined for Triple-A.

On Saturday, Zambrano also gave up two runs on four hits in four innings against the Yanks. He flew through the first three innings, but then appeared to hit a wall in the fourth, when he worked slower and needed 38 pitches to get through the frame. Still, his performance this spring has been impressive, considering he’s 10 months removed from major elbow surgery.

Gibbons said Toronto still hasn’t ruled out using Zambrano as a starter when the season opens. That means he’s in the competition with Tomo Ohka and Josh Towers. It appears to be a three-horse race as John Thomson has struggled on the mound and with injury. Both Janssen and Zambrano would be starters in a perfect world, but there’s a need in the bullpen and Toronto insists it’s taking the best arms north. Janssen and Zambrano have definitely pitched well enough to earn jobs, that’s for sure.

The decisions will be coming soon.

Game #23: Blue Jays at Yankees pregame

Toronto (9-11-2) at New York (12-9-1)
at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla.

Today’s lineups:

BLUE JAYS
Reed Johnson, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Vernon Wells, CF
Frank Thomas, DH
TroY Glaus, 3B
Matt Stairs, RF
Gregg Zaun, C
Aaron Hill, 2B
Royce Clayton, SS

PITCHING: RHP Victor Zambrano and RHP Casey Janssen

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jason Giambi, DH
Hideki Matsui, LF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B
Wil Nieves, C

PITCHING: RHP Mike Mussina

NOTES: RF Alex Rios is in Puerto Rico, spending time with his family after the passing of a grandfather. He’s expected to be back with the team in a few days. … Thomas made his first road trip of Spring Training. … Manager John Gibbons said CL B.J. Ryan should be back in a spring game by the middle of next week, and should be available for Opening Day. … Gibbons made it official that UT Jason Smith will be on Toronto’s 25-man roster.

Minor Matters

After I dropped the misses off at the airport this morning, I made the trek back to Knology Park, where most of the Jays’ regulars were in attendance. Those who made the trip to Fort Myers, Fla., to play the Twins included Gustavo Chacin, Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay, Jason Smith, Matt Stairs, John McDonald and Jason Phillips.

Not too many members of the Toronto press corps made the road trip, either. Why not? Jays starter A.J. Burnett made was on the hill at the Carpenter Complex — Philadelphia’s Minor League facility in Clearwater, Fla. — for a Triple-A outing. Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi and some other members of the Jays’ brass were at the Phils’ site as well.

While at Knology, though, I spoke briefly with Brandon League. The reliever’s velocity is way down and has League and Toronto’s staff scratching their heads. Ricciardi said it stems from the fact that League has been throwing from a lower arm slot this spring. The Jays are going have the young pitcher work more with long toss to try and get him back on top of the ball. As League spoke about the issue, though, he sounded desperate to find a solution.

"We’re hoping this is it. I don’t think we’re looking past, ‘If this doesn’t work,’" League said. "We’ve tried a lot of stuff this spring, and I’m banking on this one."

League appears a lock to begin the year on the 15-day DL, but there’s no known timetable for his return. It all depends on whether or not he can get comfortable again with the higher arm slot, which isn’t something that can’t happen overnight.

HOW MANY OUTS ARE THERE? Burnett turned in 5 2/3 shutout innings, but was supposed to go six frames. In the fifth, he struck out a Phils’ hitter and walked off the mound and headed for the dugout. Everyone followed him, which was no good, considering there were only two outs. The game went on, though.

"I’ve never seen that before — never," Burnett laughed. "I just threw the pitch and it was a strike, and shoot, it felt like a good third strike for the third out. I guess they all followed me in. I don’t know. Everybody was walking off at the same time. I’ll take it — save the pitch count."

TIDBITS: Infielder Ryan Roberts was tossed from the Triple-A game in the first inning for arguing a strike-three call — except none of us standing behind the backstop could see or hear him arguing. Strange. Rob Cosby had to take over at shortstop and Erik Kratz moved to first base. … Russ Adams belted to homers to right field off RHP Brett Myers, who is slated to start Opening Day for the Phils. … RHP Tomo Ohka is now scheduled to pitch six innings on Sunday. … RHPs Victor Zambrano (5 innings) and Casey Janssen (4 innings) and slated to pitch against the Yankees in Tampa tomorrow. … Word is that the Jays will likely release or trade RHP John Thomson. That leaves Ohka, Towers, Zambrano and Janssen as the leaders in the race for the fourth and fifth rotation jobs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Zambrano or Janssen (or both) could wind up in the ‘pen, either. That doesn’t mean Zambrano couldn’t possibly make the rotation, though.

HE SAID IT: "I’m not up to date too well on the back end, but Ohka is throwing the ball well, and Josh has had a good spring. Even Janssen and Zambrano have been pitching well, too. There were a lot of questions early, but I think any of those guys you can pick and they’ll fill in just fine. Me, Doc, and Gussy, and the other two are going to feed off of us. If the guys we have don’t get it done, we have other options. I feel good about it. We’re going to score runs." – Burnett, on the current state of the rotation

That’s all for now. I’ll be in Tampa tomorrow. It could be a crucial start for Zambrano, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does. Zambrano’s done pretty well against a few of the Yankees’ hitters over his career.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.