Monday, June 18, 2018

Ten weekly random thoughts - week 11 June 11-17

The past three weeks have served to show where the Blue Jays stand against AL East opponents. In the last 2 and a half weeks, they were swept by Boston, NY Yankees and Tampa Bay and they swept the Baltimore Orioles, who are on a historically bad streak and are the only team in the MLB with less than 20 wins. This puts Toronto 4th in the AL East, better than Baltimore but worse than the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. Against Boston, NY and Tampa Bay combined this season, the Blue Jays have a 6-19 record and against Baltimore, their record is  6-1. Boston and NY are built to win now whereas Tampa Bay is in a similar situation as the Blue Jays where they are playing a number of stop-gap players in their lineup and pitching staff while their prospects are developing. Baltimore is, well, Baltimore. The Orioles have not been getting good pitching and Manny Machado is essentially the only dangerous hitter you have to worry about in their lineup. On that happy note, here are ten random thoughts from the 11th week of the MLB.

1. Before I get into the usual injury updates this week, I just want to give my 2 cents on a couple of things stemming from the Rays series this week. Tropicana Field has been a proverbial house of horrors for the Toronto Blue Jays. In the past decade, the Blue Jays record at the Trop (including this season) is 33-63. The only season where their record in TB was above .500 was 2016, when they went 6-4. Their worst single season record was 1-8 (2012 and 2009). Conversely, their home record against Tampa Bay during the same time period is 43-47. Why is it that the Blue Jays struggle so mightily in Tampa Bay? The Roger's Center and Tropicana field both have AstroTurf fields and both teams play in domes (Toronto has a retractable roof and Tampa Bay does not so weather conditions and whether the roof is open can vary the way the ball bounces when it hits the field on a given day in Toronto), but that is where the similarities end. Tropicana Field has a unique playing surface with catwalks on their roof that can count as HR, ground rule doubles or outs depending on where the ball hits. The actual roof is white, the color of the ball, and if you're not paying attention fly balls will drop in for hits. Other mitigating factors, other than the field conditions, which are the same for both teams, are how each team is playing leading into the series and which players are playing well/poor. Heading into this weeks series, the Blue Jays were feeling great about themselves having won four straight and yet they still dropped all three games to the Rays. I think the struggles this year are attributable to the team struggling as a whole and being in a year of transition.

2. Tampa Bay is in a unique circumstance with their pitching staff. Three of their five starters, Chris Archer, Jose De Leon and Jake Faria are all on the DL, leaving only Blake Snell and Ryan Yarbrough as the pitchers who are stretched out enough to pitch deeper into a ball game. As a stop gap, the Rays have been deploying a tangent of relievers on the other three days where the "starter" pitches throw two or three innings and the next pitcher goes the middle innings, into the 7th or 8th inning and the Rays use shorter length pitchers to finish the game. There are 2 problems with this strategy: it puts a lot of pressure on the 2 starters who are expected to go 6 or 7 innings and what happens if the Rays get into a game that goes say 16 innings as the Giants/Marlins did on Thursday? I would be much more inclined to call up a pitcher from the minors who is a traditional starter and risk him getting knocked around or maybe stretch out one of the relievers as the Blue Jays did with Joe Biagini in 2017. The Rays strategy was pretty effective vs. an inept Blue Jays lineup but may not work against a more superior lineup, like the Yankees or Red Sox. Also, as Buck Martinez mentioned in the broadcast, some manager will flip the lineup to favor his batters. Further, you will wear out the relievers and risk injury due to overuse over time.

3. Marcus Stroman took another big step towards returning to the Blue Jays rotation. Stroman made his first rehab start on Wednesday, giving up 2 runs on 1 hit, 4 walks and 3 strikeouts over 4.1 innings and 60 pitches. Stroman is scheduled to make another rehab start on Monday and after that he could return to the rotation.

4. Steve Pearce was sent out on a rehab assignment Saturday. He has been out with a strained oblique for over a month now, so he'll need a week's worth of games to get his swing back. Look for Pearce to potentially rejoin the team for the road trip in Anaheim next weekend.

5. Josh Donaldson had somewhat of a setback on Thursday. He attempted to run the bases as the final step before being sent on a rehab assignment, unfortunately he was not able to go full out. Donaldson will be monitored day to day but he likely won't be back until later in the week, maybe the road trip.

6. Troy Tulowitzki came into Tropicana field to visit with the media and say hi to his teammates and give an update on his rehab progress from surgery to remove bone spurs. Tulo expressed cautious optimism about returning at some point this season to the Blue Jays lineup. Even if Tulowitzki does make it back to the team this season, he will not be an every day players. He'll play 4-5 times a week (2 days on, 1 day off, much like Russell Martin and Devon Travis have been doing) and he won't play the day game after a night game. If he is not ready for rehab games in mid-August, expect the Blue Jays to shut him down for the year and get him ready for 2019. Since joining the Blue Jays in 2015, Tulowitzki has missed 18 games in 2015 when he cracked a shoulder blade running into Kevin Pillar pursuing a pop fly, he missed 20 games in 2016 with a strained quad, he missed a month with a strained hamstring in 2017 and the remainder of the 2017 season was wiped out on July 29 after Tulo damaged ligaments in his ankle stepping on 1st base awkwardly. He came into spring training this season with bone spurs in both heels that required surgery and now he is at the point where he is ready to try running the bases soon. You have to feel for the guy who has been hit hard by injuries the past 4 seasons. I, for one, am rooting for him to return this season.

7. Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is making the contracts of Kendrys Morales, Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki look great right now. The struggling first baseman, who used to be one of the premium left-handed power hitters in the game is in a terrible slump this season. The fact he has 4 years left on his contract will make it very difficult to trade him at a time when teams are trying to watch their spending habit with the uncertainty of the CBA. It is highly unlikely Davis would accept a stint in the minors to rediscover his swing. The only option is to keep him on the roster or DFA him and hope a team takes a chance on him.

8. A happy father's day to all the fathers on JITH. I love reading your contributions to my posts and on the game threads. Have a good one.

9. A double birthday shoutout is in order this week. First, a very happy birthday to my mom, who turns 64 years old. She has made many sacrifices to make my life better, despite her own health issues (she has epliepsy and Parkinson's Disease). Second, a huge birthday shoutout to Wolf, who turns the big 4-0. He has really stepped up this season with the game threads, even throwing them together last minute when no one else has. I hope both of you have a great one..

10. Blue Jay of the week: Devon Travis. He was one of the few Blue Jays to get a hit in Tampa Bay this week and he had 6 hits this weekend. He has been on a roll since being recalled May 22.

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