May 2010

Chess Match: Game 53

Breaking down a key moment in Monday’s 3-2 win over the Rays…

The situation: The Blue Jays are clinging to a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning. Left-hander Scott Downs has just allowed a run-scoring triple to B.J. Upton and Rays manager Joe Maddon is turning to Willy Aybar as a pinch hitter with one out.

The decision: Manager Cito Gaston turns to the bullpen and brings in Shawn Camp.

The outcome: Camp induces a groundout to second base off the bat of Aybar, scoring Upton to pull the Rays within one run. Camp then yields a single to Sean Rodriguez before escaping the inning with a groundout from Ben Zobrist. Jays closer Kevin Gregg survives a shaky ninth inning to seal the win.

The analysis: The eighth inning provided a classic manager vs. manager situation. First, Gaston pulled Brandon Morrow after the starter allowed a leadoff single to John Jaso, turning to Downs with Hank Blalock due up next. Maddon then turned to Gabe Kapler as a pinch hitter.

The managerial dance continued two batters later, when Maddon chose to go with Aybar over Reid Brignac and Gaston went with Camp over Downs. It was all about the percentages. Aybar was 2-for-3 with a home run in his career against the left-handed Downs and 0-for-2 lifetime against Camp.

My verdict: I thought Gaston handled the situation perfectly and Camp managed to play damage control in setting up the save situation for Gregg. Now, the bigger question might have been, “Why did Gaston pull Morrow after he’d only thrown 91 pitches in a game that saw the righty carry a no-hitter into the sixth?” Well, that answer rests in the fact that Hank Blalock (pulled in favor of Kapler as a pinch hitter vs. Downs) had gone 4-for-6 with one double and two home runs in his career against Morrow.

~JB

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Game 53: Rays at Jays

TAMPA BAY AT TORONTO
at 7:07 p.m. ET, Rogers Centre


Rays2.pngRAYS (34-17, – GB)

1. Ben Zobrist, RF
2. Carl Crawford, LF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Carlos Pena, 1B
5. John Jaso, C
6. Hank Blalock, DH
7. B.J. Upton, CF
8. Reid Brignac, SS
9. Sean Rodriguez, 2B

Pitching: Matt Garza (5-3, 2.97)


Tlogo.gifBLUE JAYS (30-22, 4.5 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Jose Bautista, RF
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Lyle Overbay, 1B
8. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
9. Jose Molina, C

Pitching: Brandon Morrow (3-4, 6.66)

~JB

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Covering the Bases: Game 52


RR530.jpgFIRST:
There is an easy way to see just how good of an afternoon Ricky Romero was having for the Blue Jays during a 6-1 win over the Orioles.

There is the “9″ that appears in the second inning of my scorebook and then the “7″ in the eighth inning. Two fly outs to the outfield. That’s it. Basically, Vernon Wells got the day off from running around too much in center.

Kind of a boring day for the outfielders.

“Any boring day where they only score one run is a good day,” right fielder Jose Bautista said with a smile.

Romero allowed one run in the first inning, but then settled in and cruised, finishing the second complete game of his career. Nine innings, one run allowed on six hits with two walks, seven strikeouts and 17 outs on grounders (4 on double plays).

This outing came one start after Romero’s worst showing of the season and one day after Roy Halladay — ever hear of him? — threw a perfect game for the Phillies. Why do I drag Halladay’s name into this? One, Romero’s performance was much like many Doc has turned in for the Jays. Two, here’s what Romero said when asked about his complete game…

“It’s a good feeling. That’s what you aim for every time you’re out there. There was a guy here that did it really, really well and you try to learn from that.”

SECOND: The Blue Jays went five innings without launching a home run in Sunday’s win. Quite the drought. Fortunately, Toronto didn’t let the power outage persist, slugging out three homers before the game was through.

Was manager Cito Gaston expecting the long balls to come at some point?

“I wish I could say that,” Gaston said with a laugh. “Home runs are hard to come by, but it seems to be easy this month for us.”

Sure does seem that way…

The Blue Jays now have 53 homers in May, setting a new club record for any one month. The last team to belt 50+ in one month was the Indians with 51 in September 2005. Toronto would need five homers on Monday to match the single-month record by any club. The Mariners launched 58 in May 1999 and the Orioles did the same in May 1987.

Your latest Home Run Heroes included Lyle Overbay (three in the past two games), Jose Bautista (leads the Majors with 16 this year) and Alex Gonzalez (his 11 are the most he’s had in one year since belting 16 in 2007). Bautista also has 12 in May, matching the club record for one month (Jose Cruz Jr., August 2001; Carlos Delgado, August 1999).

THIRD: Some in the pressbox were joking that this three-game sweep of the Orioles deserved an asterisk since Baltimore has been playing so poorly. A sweep is a sweep, though, and a common trait of any good team is the ability to defeat the teams they are supposed to defeat. Here’s a look at the sweep by the numbers: Jays hit .274 with nine home runs, 16 runs scored on offense; went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA, 25 strikeouts, four walks and a .207 opponents’ batting average as a pitching staff.

HOME: Now comes a big test for the Blue Jays. Up to this point, the Blue Jays have played 34 games against the Central and West, going 21-13 in those contests. Against the East, Toronto is 8-7, but six of those wins are against last-place Baltimore. The Jays have gone 2-7 combined against the Rays and Red Sox so far. Now comes a stretch of 24 games in a row against teams with records above .500. The next nine are versus the Rays and Yankees — both above the Jays in the East standings. Then comes Interleague Play, which has not been Toronto’s favorite time of year for the last few seasons.

This is when we find out if this Blue Jays team is for real…

~JB

Game 52 lineups: Orioles at Jays

BALTIMORE AT TORONTO
at 7:07 p.m. ET, Rogers Centre


Thumbnail image for Orioles.gifORIOLES (15-35, 19.0 GB)

1. Corey Patterson, LF
2. Julio Lugo, 2B
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Ty Wigginton, 1B
5. Miguel Tejada, 3B
6. Luke Scott, DH
7. Adam Jones, CF
8. Matt Wieters, C
9. Cesar Izturis, SS

Pitching: Jeremy Guthrie (3-4, 3.64)


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (29-22, 5.5 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Jose Bautista, RF
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Lyle Overbay, 1B
8. John Buck, C
9. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B

Pitching: Ricky Romero (4-2, 3.42)

~JB

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Will Jays look to add? Too early to say.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos met up with the team in Anaheim today to discuss a variety of issues with manager Cito Gaston. Anthopoulos also watched another tightly-contested game, though Toronto came up short in a 6-5 loss to the Angels.

Even with the loss, and this 3-5 road trip, the fact remains that the Blue Jays are within striking distance of the American League East leaders and are exceeding expectations. The offense has been powerful and the pitching staff has been solid for the most part.

So, the question is, in this year of building or rebuilding of whatever you want to deem it, what if the Blue Jays remain in contention as the season wears on? Anthopoulos has a long-term plan in mind, but could a strong showing up until the July 31 Trade Deadline suddenly turn Toronto into buyers?

For Anthopoulos, he could be presented with a situation where he is balancing being reactionary about what is happening now with being mindful of the long-term plan.

“You’re always balancing that,” Anthopoulos said. “I think that’s a great problem to have. We’re still sitting here pretty much at the end of May — two months into the season. Really, by the time we get to the Trade Deadline, that’s another two months away. We’re halfway to the trading deadline, so a lot can change over that time for the better or for the worse.

“If we’re in that position come late July, that means this team has been playing well start to finish, there’s been a consistency. I’m sure the offense will continue to be good and the rotation will continue to solidify itself. If that happens, you always try to evaluate how close are you relative to the other teams. You’re balancing the short term and the long term. That’d be a great problem to have and a great position to be in.”

Anthopoulos added that it is important to remain realistic.

“No matter who you are,” Anthopoulos said, “whether you’re a team that’s been there every single year or not, you’re always balancing the short term with the long term. You also have to be realistic, too, with your lot in life and your place in the standings and the construction of the team. We make the evaluation of where are we positioned, how are we placed, how realistic is it, whether we go out and get someone, what would the piece cost. Those are things we would all balance.”

So, time will tell…

~JB

Chess Match: Game 49

Breaking down a key moment in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Angels…

The situation: The Blue Jays are tied with the Angels, 5-5, heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Left-hander Scott Downs has already logged one inning and Angels catcher Mike Napoli is due up first to open the ninth.

The decision: Manager Cito Gaston sticks with Downs.

The outcome: Napoli leads off with a double and advances to third on a groundout from Maicer Izturis. Downs issues consecutive walks to set up a force at any base. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez makes a spectacular play on a groundout, retiring the inning’s second out at the plate. Bobb Abreu delivers game-winning hit to left field.

The analysis: This was a case of Gaston sticking with the hot hand. He had already used relievers Rommie Lewis, Shawn Camp and Jason Frasor earlier in this game. With right-hander Josh Roenicke logging more than one inning on Tuesday, Kevin Gregg and Casey Janssen were right-handed relief options.

If the game goes extra innings, Gaston would need someone like Janssen to eat up some frames and he had not worked in the last couple games. Gregg is the closer, but he had posted a 9.95 ERA over his last seven games dating back to May 7. Downs, on the other hand, had a 0.60 ERA over his last 14 games dating back to April 26.

Downs had previously worked more than one inning in four games this season, allowing a run in just one of those outings. Napoli had just one career at-bat against Downs as well, so not much of a sample size. That said, Napoli entered the game hitting .382 vs. lefties on the year and .290 for his career.

The intentional walks made complete sense. With just one out and the winning run standing on third base, the Jays needed to increase the probability of getting a double play (they almost got one, too). The second walk came against Erick Aybar, who is a threat to pull off a squeeze bunt.

The comments:

Downsy is one of those few guys that you want out there when that time comes.” –Center fielder Vernon Wells

He’s one of my best guys out there.” –Manager Cito Gaston, asked why he went with Downs in the ninth inning

You can certainly pitch to Aybar, but he’s going to bunt. He’ll squeeze him in in two seconds. You can go up there and pitch out a couple times, but he’s still going to squeeze him in. That was about the only play we had. You never know with Mike [Scioscia]. Next time, he might make Kendrick squeeze him in. You take that chance in that situation. You’ve got a play at the plate anyway.” –Gaston, on the intentional walks

My verdict: It is easy to look at Napoli’s track record against lefties and quickly criticize Gaston for using Downs to begin the ninth inning. That said, Gregg’s outings have been shaky of late and Downs had been solid for the entire month. Knowing that a clean inning takes the game into extras, I would have stuck with Downs in that situation, too.

~JB

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Game 49: Jays at Angels

TORONTO AT LOS ANGELES
at 7:05 p.m. ET
Angel Stadium

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (27-21, 6.0 GB)
*1. Jeremy Reed, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Jose Bautista, RF
8. John Buck, C
9. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B

Pitching: Brandon Morrow (3-4, 6.80)

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Angels.gifANGELS (22-26, 5.0 GB)
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howard Kendrick, 2B
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Torii Hunter, CF
5. Kendry Morales, 1B
6. Hideki Matsui, DH
7. Mike Napoli, C
8. Maicer Izturis, 3B
9. Michael Ryan, LF

Pitching: Joel Pineiro (3-5, 5.00)

*LF Fred Lewis still out with a bunion issue on his left foot

~JB

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Game 48 lineups: Jays at Angels

TORONTO AT LOS ANGELES
at 10:05 p.m. ET
Angel Stadium

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (27-20, 6.0 GB)
*1. Jeremy Reed, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Jose Bautista, RF
8. John Buck, C
9. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B

Pitching: Ricky Romero (4-1, 2.71)

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Angels.gifANGELS (21-26, 5.0 GB)
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howard Kendrick, 2B
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Kendry Morales, 1B
5. Juan Rivera, LF
6. Hideki Matsui, DH
7. Mike Napoli, C
8. Maicer Izturis, 3B
9. Reggie Willits, CF

Pitching: Ervin Santana (3-3, 3.75)

*LF Fred Lewis was a late scratch with a bunion issue on his left foot

~JB

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Game 47 lineups: Jays at Angels

TORONTO AT LOS ANGELES
at 10:05 p.m. ET
Angel Stadium

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (26-20, 7.0 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Jose Bautista, RF
8. John Buck, C
9. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B

Pitching: Brett Cecil (3-2, 4.98)


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Angels.gifANGELS (21-25, 4.5 GB)
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howard Kendrick, 2B
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Torii Hunter, CF
5. Kendry Morales, 1B
6. Juan Rivera, LF
7. Hideki Matsui, DH
8. Mike Napoli, C
9. Kevin Frandsen, 3B

Pitching: Joe Saunders (3-5, 4.42)

~JB

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Game 46 lineups: Jays at D-backs

TORONTO AT ARIZONA
at 4:10 p.m. ET
Chase Field

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (25-20, 7.0 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, CF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, LF
4. Jose Bautista, RF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
7. John McDonald, SS
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Shaun Marcum, P

Pitching: Marcum (3-1, 2.61)

Dbacks.jpgDIAMONDBACKS (20-24, 5.5 GB)
1. Conor Jackson, LF
2. Tony Abreu, 2B
3. Stephen Drew, SS
4. Justin Upton, RF
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
6. Mark Reynolds, 3B
7. Chris Young, CF
8. Chris Snyder, C
9. Billy Buckner, P

Pitching: Buckner (0-1, 3.60)

~JB

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