September 2008

Gaston announcement coming

TORONTO — Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston today confirmed that he expects to sit down with general manager J.P. Ricciardi this week to hammer out the details of Gaston’s contract going forward. Gaston said he believes an announcement regarding his and the coaching staff’s status going forward could come during this homestand.

“I think J.P. and I are going to talk some time this week, hopefully,” Gaston said. “We’re going to try to get together and, hopefully, it’ll happen this week. I don’t know if it’s going to be today, tomorrow or whatever. I’m pretty sure it’ll be before we go on the road anyway.”

Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey wouldn’t confirm whether or not the forthcoming announcement signaled that Ricciardi would be back as the GM in 2009. Godfrey did offer some criticism about Ricciardi’s declaration in early August that Gaston was going to be back in the manager’s seat next year.

“As I said at the beginning, everybody is going to be evaluated at the end,” Godfrey said. “J.P. is the one who announced that Cito would be coming back. That should have been done at the end of the season, but that’s something that I concur with. So I guess there’s nothing more I can say about that one.”

Some injury updates: Shaun Marcum is having an MRI on his right arm on Thursday and is unlikely to make his next start; Scott Downs (right foot) is still day to day and unlikely to pitch again, if you ask me; and Rod Barajas is still day to day with tight left hamstring and also undergoing an MRI on Thursday.

The Blue Jays also plan on picking up Barajas’ $2.5 million club option for 2009. That being the case, this could be the end of the line for catcher Gregg Zaun in Toronto. The Jays will still likely want a veteran backup to Barajas next year, so there’s always the possibility, while remote, that Zaun returns.

Today’s lineups:

BALTIMORE (67-82) at TORONTO (80-71)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

ORIOLES
Brian Roberts, 2B
Nick Markakis, RF
Melvin Mora, 3B
Aubrey Huff, 1B
Ramon Hernandez, C
Adam Jones, CF
Oscar Salazar, DH
Lou Montanez, LF
Juan Castro, SS

PITCHING: RHP Brian Bass (3-4, 4.84)

BLUE JAYS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Marco Scutaro, SS
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Adam Lind, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C
Travis Snider, DH

PITCHING: LHP David Purcey (3-6, 5.10)

Burn after Blogging

TORONTO — Yeah, went to see the new Coens Bro’s flick, Burn After Reading, last night and it was pretty funny. It doesn’t come near The Big Lebowski in being the best Coens’ comedy out there (hard to top the greatest comedy of all time), but it definitely had its moments. Brad Pitt’s character had me laughing pretty hard and I thought the ending was fantastic.

Oh, the Blue Jays?

Well, they’re here today and still without setup man Scott Downs and catcher Rod Barajas. Toronto skip Cito Gaston said Downs had an X-ray on his ailing right ankle, but no word yet on results. Barajas, meanwhile, is still nursing a sore left hamstring. I’d say Barajas is more likely to make a return than Downs.

Jose Bautista starts at second base today for the first time since 2006, when he played a whole three games at the position. Cito said that he wants to use Bautista and Travis Snider more often down the stretch to see more of them with next season in mind. Also, it’s possible that Scott Richmond could get a start in the last series in Baltimore.

Today’s lineups:

BALTIMORE (66-82) at TORONTO (80-70)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

ORIOLES
Brian Roberts, 2B
Nick Markakis, CF
Melvin Mora, 3B
Aubrey Huff, 1B
Ramon Hernandez, C
Luke Scott, LF
Adam Jones, CF
Oscar Salazar, DH
Juan Castro, SS

PITCHING: LHP Chris Waters (2-3, 5.73)

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, SS
Jose Bautista, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Adam Lind, DH
Gregg Zaun, C
Travis Snider, LF

PITCHING: RHP Shaun Marcum (9-6, 3.38)

Downs' season in limbo

BOSTON — As promised, Blue Jays setup man Scott Downs took some time out on Sunday morning to talk with reporters about last night’s mishap in the eighth inning. As Toronto fans will recall in horror, Downs stumbled running off the mound, allowing the go-ahead run to score in an eventual 7-5 loss in Boston.

Coming off the mound, in an attempt to corral a slow roller off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury, Downs aggravated the right ankle injury he suffered in mid August. Now, he’s day-to-day and at risk of being shut down for the season. If the Jays are eliminated mathematically soon, manager Cito Gaston said the club would lean toward shutting Downs down.

“It was when I broke,” Downs said. “I think it was my second step — I don’t remember. When I went to break and put pressure on it, it just gave out again. I caught it before it turned, but it’s just something that’s kind of been there and we’re trying to get through it the best we can.”

Also day-to-day is Toronto catcher Rod Barajas, who tweaked a left hamstring issue that first came up in Chicago earlier on the road trip. Barajas said he’s still a little sore, but he’s hoping the two days off will do him good.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (80-69) at BOSTON (87-61)
at 1:35 p.m. ET at Fenway Park

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Jose Bautista, DH
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Kevin Mench, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C
John McDonald, SS

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay (18-10, 2.77)

RED SOX
Jacoby Ellsbury, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Mike Lowell, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Jason Varitek, C
Alex Cora, SS
Coco Crisp, CF

PITCHING: LHP Jon Lester (14-5, 3.23)

Rod hamstrung

BOSTON — Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas is sitting out for Game 2 of this double dip in Beantown, thanks to a sore left hamstring. There’s a chance that Barajas will also be sidelined for tomorrow’s Fenway finale against the Red Sox.

So, that means Gregg “Grand Slam” Zaun is in the starting lineup tonight and will likely be behind the plate to catch Doc Halladay manana. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said Barajas has been bothered by the tight hammy lately, and he aggravated the injury when running from first to third during the sixth in Game 1.

“I’m day to day,” Barajas said between games. “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”

Also of note, my Michigan State Spartans were victorious today. So the competition was a tad on the weaker side — big deal. Next week it’s on to Notre Dame, and Zaunie — a big Irish fan — was already talking some smack this morning.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (80-68) at BOSTON (86-61)
at 7:05 p.m. ET at Fenway Park

BLUE JAYS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Marco Scutaro, SS
Alex Rios, CF
Vernon Wells, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Adam Lind, LF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C
Travis Snider, RF

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch (11-8, 3.70)

RED SOX
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Mark Kotsay, RF
Jason Bay, LF
Jed Lowrie, 3B
Alex Cora, SS
Kevin Cash, C

PITCHING: RHP Bartolo Colin (4-2, 4.09)

Not the best, but not bad

BOSTON — Headed over to The Southpaw today, one of the Blue Jays’ fan blogs I frequent to keep the ol’ finger on the pulse of the fan base (or something), and there was an item noting a report that Toronto’s team ERA is the best in the American League since 1985

Decided to see if there was any truth to that, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not even the Blue Jays’ best since ’85. With the aid of Toronto’s fine PR staff, we looked up the best staff ERA’s in the league since the Jays came into existence in 1977.

The best of the lot is the 1981 Yankees, who had a 2.90 team ERA in the strike-shortened season. The second-best is the 1989 A’s group that had a 3.09 ERA. The Jays’ current 3.54 team ERA, if it holds up, would rank 23rd overall in the Americal League, dating back to ’77.

The current staff would be the third-best showing since the Jays became a franchise. In 1985, Toronto had a 3.31 team ERA — ranked eighth since 1977. The 1991 Toronto squad had a 3.50 team ERA — good enough for 20th overall over that span.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (79-68) at BOSTON (86-60)
at 12:35 p.m. ET at Fenway Park

BLUE JAYS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Adam Lind, DH
Rod Barajas, C
Scott Rolen, 3B
Travis Snider, LF

PITCHING: RHP A.J. Burnett (17-10, 4.31)

RED SOX
Jacoby Ellsbury, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Mike Lowell, 3B
Sean Casey, 1B
Jason Bay, LF
Jed Lowrie, SS
Jason Varitek, C
Coco Crisp, CF

PITCHING: RHP Paul Byrd (11-11, 4.39)

Cito plays weatherman

BOSTON — Running behind here. Funny how that always seems to happen when A: I’ve been off for a few days (I guess I need time to get back into game shape) and B: There’s a rain delay.

You would think rain delays would make life easier on us scribes — maybe we’d be able to bring you the news sooner with all the “down” time. Turns out, it tends to make for a more relaxed atmosphere and makes our time down on the field before the game drag beyond when it normally would.

But, no excuses. I’ll get back to the normal routine from here on out.

Prior to the game, it was cloudy, but not raining. When Jays manager Cito Gaston came out around 4:45 to meet with the media, he had this to say:

“I don’t think we’re going to get a chance to hit. I think about 5:00 or so it should start raining and it’s going to be off and on all night.”

Well, what do ya know? As Cito went on with the interview, and the clock ticked beyond 5, it started to rain and then rain harder and harder and then the tarp came out. This game didn’t get going until 7:46 p.m. (a very lengthy rendition of the Star Spangled Banner added on a minute or two) and it’s now in the third with a steady rain still falling.

But, as Cito also said:

“I don’t think any of us would like to see back-to-back doubleheaders.”

Therein lies the issue. This game probably wouldn’t be played tonight in the current conditions, but for the fact that Toronto and Boston engage in a double dip tomorrow. A rainout tonight would’ve likely meant another double on Sunday. They’ll do all they can to get five in tonight to make this official.

No big news from pregame. Rios is swinging a hot bat. Cito doesn’t see why Snider can’t make the Opening Day squad next year. And Ryan and Downs could use a day off or two, but Cito plans on sticking with his best guys while the club is still on this run, so those two will continue to see their innings, if needed.

Now, for your belated “pregame” lineups:

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (79-67) at BOSTON (85-60)
at 7:46 p.m. ET at Fenway Park

BLUE JAYS
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Brad Wilkerson, LF
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Kevin Mench, DH
Rod Barajas, C
Scott Rolen, 3B
John McDonald, SS

PITCHING: LHP David Purcey (3-5, 5.23)

RED SOX
Coco Crisp, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Jason Bay, LF
Mike Lowell, 3B
Mark Kotsay, RF
Jed Lowrie, SS
Kevin Cash, C

PITCHING: RHP Tim Wakefield (8-10, 4.11)

Respect

TORONTO — Believe it or not, I will not be making the trek back home to Chicago to see the Blue Jays go for nine (or more?) in a row against the White Sox this week. I’ll be meeting up with the team in Boston for the weekend set against the Red Sox.

So, I won’t be in Chi-town for the ticker tape parade after the Bears’ complete thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts. Man, where was that when we needed it in the Super Bowl? All this does is raise my low expectations for my favorite football team. But, I guess Chicago should get some respect after this Week 1 upset.

You know who is getting some respect around baseball? Your Toronto Blue Jays. Eight wins in a row: the club’s longest streak since 1999. Sweeps over the Twins and Rays: teams in the hunt for the playoffs. The pitching staff: best in baseball. Other teams: taking notice.

“Toronto has been playing really well,” Yankees third baseman Alex “Ha!” Rodriguez said. “I’ll tell you what – a lot of people should be happy that they’re not in the playoff race, because they’d be the scariest team with the one-two punch they’ve got over there of Halladay and Burnett. They’re playing good baseball.”

Not in the playoff race? Shoot, if Toronto goes undefeated in September (not gonna happen) it’ll be right in the mix! Don’t look now, but the Jays have passed the Yankees in the standings for third place in the East. This eight-game swing against the White Sox and Red Sox is going to be a toughy.

Catch you from the Fens later this week…

Zaun Fire

TORONTO — With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 13th on Saturday night, Gregg Zaun strolled to the plate with the game on the line and the joke up here in the pressbox was that the catcher should pull a Babe Ruth and call his shot.

After all, he had done it before.

Then, as if to mock our joking, Zaun crushed the first pitch he saw from Rays closer Troy Percival and sent it over the right-field fence for a walk-off grand slam. After the game, Zaun was in a great mood, joking with reporters. One of us scribes chimed in: “Did we see you call your shot?”

“No, no, no,” Zaun said laughing. “Don’t get anything stirred up over there. Troy throws awfully hard. I don’t want to wear one in the earflap.”

Today’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY (85-55) at TORONTO (75-66)
at 1:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

RAYS
Akinori Iwamura, 2B
B.J. Upton, CF
Carlos Pena, 1B
Rocco Baldelli, DH
Willy Aybar, 3B
Eric Hinske, LF
Jason Bartlett, SS
Fernando Perez, RF
Shawn Riggans, C
Ben Zobrist, LF

PITCHING: RHP Matt Garza (11-8, 3.64)

BLUE JAYS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Marco Scutaro, SS
Alex Rios, DH
Vernon Wells, CF
Adam Lind, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Scott Rolen, 3B
Travis Snider, RF

PITCHING: LHP David Purcey (2-5, 6.15)

Bastiandamus

TORONTO — At the season’s midpoint, the Blue Jays were a half-game out of last place in the American League East and seemed to have little hope of doing much in the second half. Each year, us MLB.com scribes are charged with the task of making a “fearless” forecast for the second half, for our annual midterm report.

Yours truly went with this: Fearless second-half prediction: In an increasingly tough AL East, the Blue Jays will make a push in the second half to finish in third place. Considering how the first half went, that’d be a solid placing for Toronto.”

The standings back then:

BOSTON        57-40 (–)
TAMPA BAY  55-39 (.5)
NEW YORK   50-45 (6)
TORONTO     47-48 (9)
BALTIMORE  46-48 (9.5)

And the standings today:

TAMPA BAY  85-54 (–)
BOSTON       83-57 (2.5)
NEW YORK   75-66 (11)
TORONTO     74-66 (11.5)
BALTIMORE  63-77 (22.5)

Jays have won six in a row — the club’s longest streak since 2004 — and the Yankees are slipping. Toronto might just snag its practically-annual third-place position after all. That series against the Yankees from Sept. 23-25 is gonna be HUGE! Mark your calendars.

Today’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY (85-54) at TORONTO (74-66)
at 1:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

RAYS
Akinori Iwamura, 2B
B.J. Upton, CF
Carlos Pena, 1B
Cliff Floyd, DH
Willy Aybar, 3B
Eric Hinske, LF
Dioner Navarro, C
Gabe Gross, RF
Ben Zobrist, SS

PITCHING: RHP James Shields (12-8, 3.66)

BLUE JAYS
Joe Inglett, 2B
Marco Scutaro, SS
Alex Rios, CF
Vernon Wells, DH
Adam Lind, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Gregg Zaun, C
Travis Snider, RF

PITCHING: RHP Shaun Marcum (8-6, 3.60)

A case for Doc

TORONTO — Let’s try something here. Everyone is pretty much assuming — myself included — that Cleveland’s Cliff Lee has the American League Cy Young Award wrapped up. Roy Halladay undoubtedly deserves to be in the discussion, though.

So, let’s remove their records, because we all know wins and losses aren’t always indicative of how well a pitcher has performed (we all should know that by now, anyway), and take a look at their respective seasons in the ol’ Player A and Player B format.

PLAYER A:

2.32 ERA, 194 1/3 innings, 177 H, 50 ER, 27 BB, 149 K, 78 Quality Start percentage, 5.52 K/BB, 6.90 K/9, 14.7 pitches per inning, 266 grounders, 1.05 WHIP, .244 opponents’ batting average, four complete games, two shutouts

PLAYER B:

2.69 ERA, 211 innings, 186 H, 63 ER, 34 BB, 178 K, 68 Quality Start percentage, 5.24 K/BB, 7.59 K/9, 14.5 pitches per inning, 321 grounders, 1.04 WHIP, .235 opponents’ batting average, eight complete games, two shutouts

So, who’s your pick? It’s pretty close, isn’t it? Well, Player A is Lee, who has a 20-2 record with 5.97 runs of support per start. Player B is Halladay, who is 17-9 going into tonight with 4.73 runs of support per start. Maybe Lee shouldn’t be a shoo-in…

Just saying.

Today’s lineups:

TAMPA BAY (85-53) at TORONTO (73-66)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

RAYS
Akinori Iwamura, 2B
B.J. Upton, CF
Carlos Pena, 1B
Cliff Floyd, DH
Willy Aybar, 3B
Eric Hinske, LF
Dioner Navarro, C
Gabe Gross, RF
Jason Bartlett, SS

PITCHING: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (13-6, 2.69)

BLUE JAYS
Joe Inglett, 2B
John McDonald, SS
Alex Rios, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Adam Lind, DH
Rod Barajas, C
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Travis Snider, LF

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay (17-9, 2.69)

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