May 2010

Chess Match: Game 45

Breaking down a key moment in Saturday’s 8-5 loss to the D-backs…

The situation: Blue Jays are trailing 8-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning with D-backs right-hander Edwin Jackson in the midst of fashioning a gem.

The decision: Manager Cito Gaston uses the developing blowout as an opportunity to provide a couple of his players with rest. Center fielder Vernon Wells is pulled out of the cleanup spot and replaced by Fred Lewis. Jose Bautista is pulled as part of a double switch.

The outcome: The Blue Jays did what they’ve done consistently all season, mounting a late comeback attempt fueled by home runs. Toronto pieced together a four-run eighth inning to cut Arizona’s lead to three runs. During the eighth, Jeremy Reed struck out hitting out of Bautista’s spot in the order. In the ninth, Lewis grounded out hitting out of Wells’ spot in the order.

The analysis: Gaston rarely uses his bench players, meaning his starters get a ton of playing time throughout a season. With a day game on Sunday, and a blowout in the works, it seemed like an opportune time to give Wells and Bautista — players who have been in there every day — some rest.

Gaston also pulled shortstop Alex Gonzalez in the seventh and put John McDonald in the lineup. McDonald wound up collecting a single to jump-start Toronto’s four-spot in the eighth inning. It is Gaston’s way of trying to keep players fresh without giving them a full game off and in that respect it made sense.

The risk, though, is that Toronto starts to rally and the game is suddenly thrust into the hands of guys like McDonald, Reed or Mike McCoy (moved to right field when Bautista was pulled). Lewis has been enjoying a hot spell at the plate as well, but missing Wells as the cleanup man late is a risky move as well.

Also needing to be factored in is the fact that the D-backs were going to stick with Jackson as long as possible in light of the team’s bullpen. Arizona’s relief corps entered Saturday with a MLB-worst 7.79 ERA. So, the chances of a late comeback are increased when considering Jackson might wear down and the D-backs’ bullpen has a habit of imploding.

The comment:

I wanted to get some guys some rest.” –Manager Cito Gaston

My verdict: I understand Gaston’s line of thinking, but the sixth inning seems a bit early to start pulling key guys out of the lineup in my opinion. A seven-run lead is tough to overcome, but the Jays’ bullpen was performing well and Toronto’s offense has shown all season long that it can put up a pile of runs in a hurry. The D-backs’ bullpen has also shown all season long that it can give up a pile of runs in a hurry.

~JB

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Game 45 lineups: Jays at D-backs

TORONTO AT ARIZONA
at 5:10 p.m. ET
Chase Field

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (25-19, 6.0 GB)
1. Jose Bautista, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, LF
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. John Buck, C
8. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
9. Dana Eveland, P

Pitching: Eveland (3-3, 4.98)

Dbacks.jpgDIAMONDBACKS (19-24, 5.5 GB)
1. Kelly Johnson, 2B
2. Tony Abreu, SS
3. Conor Jackson, LF
4. Justin Upton, RF
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
6. Mark Reynolds, 3B
7. Chris Young, CF
8. Chris Snyder, C
9. Edwin Jackson, P

Pitching: Jackson (2-5, 6.33)

~JB

Covering the Bases: Game 44


EELewisFall.jpgFIRST:
Manager Cito Gaston had a decision to make prior to Friday’s Interleague tilt against the D-backs. With no DH, who would he sit?

Gaston decided to give Adam Lind the day off from the field, putting Fred Lewis in left, Jose Bautista in right, and Edwin Encarnacion at third base.

The most likely alternative would have seen Lind manning left, Lewis shifted over to right and Bautista spelling Encarnacion at third base. Well, the Jays ultimately lost 8-6, but Gaston came out looking smart.

Encarnacion launched three home runs (his four hits since coming back from the DL have each been long balls), Bautista belted his 13th homer of the season, Lewis led off the game with a homer for the first time as a Blue Jays, and, oh yeah, Lind smacked a pinch-hit, solo shot in the ninth.

So, what about Saturday?

“I know. Who do you take out?” Gaston said. “Let me think about that all night. That’s a tough one.”

Gaston said the most likely candidate to sit out on Saturday was Lewis, considering he’s never faced Arizona starter Edwin Jackson. Besides, how do you bench a guy who just had a three homer game? And how do you sit Bautista when he’s hit six homers in his last seven games? And Lind? He’s supposed to be Toronto’s top hitter. How can he sit two days in a row?

Where’s that DH when you really need it?

SECOND: The pitching line for Brandon Morrow was not pretty and it’s a main reason why the Jays can launch six homers and come out with a loss. Morrow went just four innings, giving up six runs on eight hits with five strikeouts and one walk. Look at the bright side (Cito did): Morrow only walked one.

Gaston said Morrow’s fastball was sharp, but he was missing with his breaking pitches. Throw in a ball that should have been caught in the fourth inning and suddenly the night took a different turn for the righty. Was it a good showing? No. But was Morrow as off as he has been in other starts? Definitely not.

THIRD: About that dropped fly ball, err… double. After Upton led off with a double in the fourth, Adam LaRoche sent a pitch from Morrow lofting high into shallow left. Lewis ran in, Encarnacion ran back, and then they ran into each other. The ball dropped to the grass (see above photo) and LaRoche was gift-wrapped a two-base hit.

On that play, Encarnacion has to let Lewis take the ball. Cito?

“Fred’s got the better angle on it, yeah,” said the skip. “I haven’t talked to them [yet]. … I don’t know if Fred was yelling and [Encarnacion] couldn’t hear, or if Freddy didn’t yell or whatever. But that’s pretty much Freddy’s ball there.”

After the gaffe, Morrow allowed a two-run double, a single and then later a two-run double to Dan Haren. Just like that, it’s 6-1 D-backs and the Jays have a big ol’ hole to try to dig out of for the next five innings.

HOME: And here’s the thing, the Jays ALMOST dug out of that hole. Toronto launched six homers, but went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. Six homers. Six runs. That marked the most homers in a loss for the Jays in team history and, get this, only the second time since 1920 that a team hit six solo homers to account for all its offense in one game. The other was the A’s in 1991. Encarnacion’s three blasts were the first by a Jays since John Buck belted a trio on April 29. In fact, three of the last four Major Leaguers to go yard three times in one game have been Jays. Adam Lind had three on Sept. 29 last year. The lone exception in there is Mark Teixeira, who had three in a game earlier this season for the Yankees.

Catch you from the park tomorrow.

–JB

Game 44 lineups: Jays at D-backs

TORONTO AT ARIZONA
at 6:40 p.m. ET
Chase Field

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (25-18, 6.0 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. John Buck, C
8. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
9. Brandon Morrow, P

Pitching: Morrow (3-3, 6.15)



Dbacks.jpgDIAMONDBACKS (18-24, 6.5 GB)
1. Kelly Johnson, 2B
2. Conor Jackson, LF
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. Dan Haren, P

Pitching: Haren (4-3, 4.83)

~JB

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Game 41 lineups: Twins at Jays

MINNESOTA AT TORONTO
at 12:37 p.m. ET
Rogers Centre

Thumbnail image for Twins.jpgTWINS (24-14, – GB)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, DH
5. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
6. Jason Kubel, RF
7. Delmon Young, LF
8. Brendan Harris, SS
9. Nick Punto, 3B

Pitching: Carl Pavano (4-3, 3.30)

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (23-17, 5.0 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. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
9. Jose Molina, C

Pitching: Shaun Marcum (2-1, 2.78)

~JB

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Chess Match: Game 40

Breaking down a key moment in Monday’s 8-3 loss to the Twins…

The situation: Two outs in the fourth inning, first baseman Lyle Overbay misplays a throw from third baseman Jose Bautista on a would-be groundout. On the play, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau attempts to advance from first to third base while shortstop Alex Gonzalez hustles to cover the bag.

The decision: Overbay quickly picks up the baseball after the missed catch, sees Gonzalez with a slight lead on Morneau in the race to third base, and fires the baseball across the diamond in an effort to get the inning’s final out and stop the Twins’ rally.

The outcome: The throw is wild, allowing Morneau to score a fourth run in the inning, putting the Blue Jays behind, 5-2.

The analysis: Plain and simple, Overbay made a reaction play. Overbay is typically a sound defender — despite Monday’s debacle — and one of the first baseman’s strongest assets is his ability to throw. Overbay has made plenty of strong throws that other first basemen might hesitate to try, leading to outs in critical situations.

Prior to this play, Overbay already had two singles for the Twins that went under his glove. One of those came one hitter earlier. After then making an error on the catch — Bautista’s throw was low, but it was well within Overbay’s range — Overbay had to make a quick decision: try to throw Morneau out or hold the ball?

Under the circumstances, a strong throw and an out at third base would’ve helped make up for the first error. Also complicating matters was the fact that Overbay was having another rough day at the plate and the crowd was really letting him have it. Overbay has remained in the lineup partly due to his defense and this was a chance for him to show that skill again.

The comments:

“I saw daylight on Gonzo and I threw it. But, that’s not a good play. I should’ve just eaten it and been done with it.” –Overbay

“I can’t say that [he shouldn't have thrown the ball]. He thought he had a chance to get the guy at third base. If you think you have a chance, go for it. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong.” –Manager Cito Gaston

My verdict: Overbay admitted he should have simply held on to the baseball and I completely agree. In a game like Monday’s, it’s all about damage control. Throwing across the diamond is a big risk when the play already had taken a chaotic turn with the first error. If he holds on to the ball, the Jays might escape the inning down 4-2. A two-run deficit is a little less pressure for the offense, especially one that scores in bunches.

~JB

Game 40 lineups: Twins at Jays

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


Thumbnail image for Twins.jpgTWINS (23-14, – GB)
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Hudson, 2B
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Jason Kubel, DH
7. Delmon Young, LF
8. Brendan Harris, SS
9. Nick Punto, 3B

Pitching: Kevin Slowey (4-3, 4.62)

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (23-16, 4.0 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, LF
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Jose Bautista, 3B
8. John Buck, C
9. Randy Ruiz, DH

Pitching: Dana Eveland (3-2, 4.81)

*OF Travis Snider placed on 15-day DL with sprained right wrist

~JB

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Chess Match: Game 39

Morrow516.jpg

No “Covering the Bases” today. I’m going to switch things up and go with a “Chess Match,” breaking down an important moment in the Blue Jays’ 5-2 win over the Rangers on Sunday.

The situation: Josh Hamilton at the plate for the Rangers with no outs and runners on the corners in the first inning. Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow on the mound.

The decision: Alternate fastballs and offspeed pitches until reaching a 2-2 count, then switching things up by going with consecutive changeups.

The outcome: Hamilton strikes out swinging on a changeup from Morrow with a full count. Young was running on the play, and Blue Jays catcher John Buck threw him out at second base for a critical strikeout-caught stealing in the first. Morrow then strikes out Nelson Cruz to escape the inning unscathed.

The analysis: This arguably set the tone for the entire game for Morrow. Entering Sunday, the right-hander had a 7.71 ERA in the first inning and he was coming off a disastrous outing in Boston, where he allowed six runs with six walks in just 1 2/3 innings. Morrow ran into another early jam, but settled in and shut Texas down.

In this outing, Buck and Morrow opted to focus more on offspeed pitches than the right-hander’s hard four-seam fastball. That meant more curve balls, more changeups and more two-seam fastballs. Morrow throws a hard change — around 90-91 mph — but it is enough off his 95 mph fastball to keep hitters honest when it’s working.

During Saturday’s game, Hamilton struck out three times against Ricky Romero’s changeup. During that first-inning at-bat on Sunday, Hamilton swung through a changeup from Morrow on a 1-0 count. Hamilton entered the game with a .211 average when in a 2-2 count, so a change was a good call. The hitter resisted temptation and worked the count full. Hamilton was hitting .357 with a 3-2 count.

Sticking with the changeup was a good choice for Morrow. First off, Hamilton had already shown he was having trouble with the pitch. Beyond that, Buck and Morrow entered with a game plan and it was important to keep on it. Firing another heater there might have played into Hamilton’s hand.

The comment: “He hadnt shown 94 five times in a row when he needed to reach back and get it. We had thrown some other pitches, which I think it helped those hitters not quite be on that 94, because you don’t see it over and over again. You see stuff bending. You see some stuff sinking.” – Buck

My verdict: In my book, this was the most important at-bat of the game (although Jason Frasor getting out of a bases-loaded, no outs jam with only one run allowed in the seventh was also important). Morrow had shown in other starts that if he could get through the first few innings relatively unharmed, then he could get into a good rhythm. When he has run into trouble early, it has led to some nasty innings and some ugly pitching lines. Having Buck throw out Young on top of the strikeout made this as critical as any other moment in the game.

Expect more “Chess Match” and “Covering the Bases” throughout the season

–JB

Game 39 lineups: Rangers at Jays

TEXAS AT TORONTO
at 1:05 p.m. ET
Rogers Centre

Thumbnail image for Rangers.jpgRANGERS (20-17, – GB)
1. David Murphy, LF
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, DH
4. Nelson Cruz, RF
5. Ian Kinsler, 2B
6. Justin Smoak, 1B
7. Matt Treanor, C
8. Andres Blanco, SS
9. Julio Borbon, CF

Pitching: Colby Lewis (3-1, 3.03)

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (22-16, 4.0 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Jose Bautista, 3B
8. John Buck, C
*9. Mike McCoy, LF

Pitching: Brandon Morrow (2-3, 6.69)

*OF Travis Snider still day-to-day with sore right wrist

~JB

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Game 38 lineups: Rangers at Jays

TEXAS AT TORONTO
at 1:05 p.m. ET
Rogers Centre


Thumbnail image for Rangers.jpgRANGERS (20-16, – GB)
1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. David Murphy, LF
7. Justin Smoak, 1B
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Andres Blanco, 2B

Pitching: Scott Feldman (1-3, 5.84)

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (21-16, 4.0 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, RF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, LF
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Jose Bautista, 3B
8. Randy Ruiz, DH
9. Jose Molina, C

Pitching: Ricky Romero (3-1, 3.42)

*OF Travis Snider day-to-day with sore right wrist

~JB

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