Monday, August 12, 2019

Ten weekly random thoughts: Week 19: August 5-11

It was a solid week of baseball for the Blue Jays. First, they went into the house of horrors that is Tropicana field and took two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays. Monday was especially sweet as Jacob Waguespack, Justin Shafer, Tim Mayza and Derek Law held a good Rays lineup to 5 hits and 2 walks. Bo Bichette scored both runs. The next day, the Blue Jays bullpen blew a 6-run lead and lost in extra innings on a wild pitch. The Blue Jays held on in the 9th of the 3rd game of the series to edge the Rays 4-3 and end the 10-game road trip with a win. The Blue Jays then hosted the Yankees for 4. The Yankees brought their bats to the opener of the 4-game set out-slugging the Blue Jays 12-6 The Blue Jays also lost Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the 9th inning of that game (more on that later). The Blue Jays took the next 2 games, before a masterful 8-inning shutout performance by Masahiro Tanaka, who always seems to pitch well vs. the Blue Jays. Looking ahead, the Blue Jays have a three game series vs. the Texas Rangers, who took two of three in Arlington back in the beginning of May. Then the Blue Jays FINALLY get an off-day after 20 straight days of games. They then face the Seattle Mariners before embarking on the final west coast road trip of the season. Like the Blue Jays, the Mariners are in the midst of a rebuild and are likely several seasons away from contending. The only names you'll really recognize on Seattle's roster are 2B Dee Gordon, Kyle Seagar and Mallex Smith. Felix Hernandez is recovering from a right shoulder strain that has kept him out the bulk of the season. He was just sent on a rehab assignment this week, so he'll be a few weeks away. Mitch Hanigar ruptured a testicle and is out a few weeks. Here are ten random thoughts from week 19 of the MLB.

1. Let's start the week off with the not-so-surprising news about lefty Ryan Borucki. On June 26, 2018, Borucki made his big league debut, throwing 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits while walking 4 and striking out 3 against an excellent Houston Astros lineup. He finished the season 4-6 with a 3.87ERA in 17 starts. Borucki pitched into the 7th inning or longer in 7 starts that season. It was expected that Borucki was going to challenge for a spot in the rotation. However, towards the end of spring training, Borucki was shut down after experiencing elbow inflammation prior to a start. He was only expected to miss a start or two at most. It was later discovered that Borucki had bone spurs in his elbow, forcing him to miss the first three months of the season. Borucki finally made his debut July 22 against Cleveland, where he allowed 4 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits while walking 4 and striking out 3. Not the best pitching line, but it was his first start of the season and for Borucki, it was the equivalent of coming off spring training when everybody else has been in midseason form for 3 months. It was to be expected that the lefty would need to work out some things with command and mechanics. Five days later, he was knocked around for 6 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks and a hit batter over 2 innings with the damage coming on 2 3-run HR. During a side session a couple of days after the start, Borucki experienced more elbow inflammation and he was shut down again. This time, Dr. James Andrews recommended season-ending surgery to clean up his elbow and remove the bone spurs. There has to be big concerns about the health of Borucki going forward. He has already undergone Tommy John surgery back in 2012. Success rates coming back from one TJ surgery are generally good for a pro athlete (~ 75% in the MLB). However, success rates of a second TJ surgery are much lower. For now, the Blue Jays appear to have dodged a bullet.

2. On Thursday, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. suffered what at first glance appeared to be a very serious leg injury hustling to first base in the 9th inning of a game where the Blue Jays were down by 6 runs and heading for a loss. I'm not criticizing Gurriel Jr.'s hustle at all. I suppose he could have laid off a bit given the score. Nonetheless, Gurriel Jr. suffered a grade 1 strain of his left quad and required a stint on the 10-day IL. He has emerged as an excellent converted outfielder after he experienced the defensive yips in the infield. Gurriel Jr. has an impressive 9 outfield assists and he's been one of the Blue Jays better hitters. Gurriel Jr. is batting .279 with 19HR and 47RBI in 294AB. Here's hoping he can make a speedy recovery (pun intended)

3. Then there's Ken Giles. The Blue Jays closer has been experiencing as frustrating a season as Borucki and fellow reliever John Axford, who I'll talk about next. At the beginning of the season, it was expected that Giles would be among the players shipped out at the trade deadline. That plan quickly went out the window when Giles started experiencing elbow inflammation (is a pattern developing for the Blue Jays?). As expected, save opportunities were few and far between on a Blue Jays team that was either losing or blowing out the opponent when the 9th inning rolled around. I don't know if pitching just once or twice a week could have contributed to the elbow problems. However, Giles had to go on the IL for ten days in June and then he was used three days in a row for the first time all season. During the all-star break, he evidently had a rough massage that led to nerve issues in his elbow, making him unavailable when he needed to prove his health to other teams. Fast forward to the end of July. Giles received a cortisone shot July 29th. He was shut down from throwing for 48 hours to give the injection time to work its magic. Giles throws on the side and declares himself good to go. He gets into a game August 4th, throwing a decent inning, allowing just one walk. Three days later, Giles struggles through an inning, allowing a pair of runs on three hits, but managing to get the three outs and secure the save. He hasn't pitched since. It's time to do the right thing, put Giles on the IL and this time keep him there as long as he needs. The season is lost. The Blue Jays are going to finish 4th in the AL East. Shut Giles down and get him healthy for next year.

4. If there's any pitcher who should be frustrated by a lost season, it should be John Axford, who was competing for a spot in the bullpen. Axford experienced a stress reaction in his elbow Axford threw all of one inning in the Gulf Coast league in a rehab appearance before shutting it down for good. He had surgery the same day as Borucki to clean up his elbow. Axford was 4-1 with a 4.41ERA in 45 appearances (one start) for the Blue Jays before being dealt to the Dodgers. Axford made just 5 appearances for LA before taking a comebacker off his shin and fracturing his fibula. I would like to see Axford come back next season and compete for a spot in the bullpen.

5. There is a potential bit of good news on the injury front this week. Clay Buchholz was sent on a rehab assignment on Thursday. He missed the first couple of weeks of the season and made five less than spectacular starts before suffering a grade II strain of his teres minor muscle. At this point, the Blue Jays could use a starter who can eat up several innings to save the bullpen. Buchholz was 0-2 with a 6.57ERA in those 5 starts. I think it would be unlikely that the Blue Jays would re-sign the soon-to be 35-year old. Fun fact: I'm a day older than Buchholz (I turn 35 on Tuesday and his b-day is the next day)

6. Yet another pitcher is set to make his Blue Jays debut. The Blue Jays signed veteran righty Neil Ramirez after he was released by the Indians earlier this week. Ramirez is 0-1 with a 5-40ERA in 16 appearances this season. At this point in the season, it's about evaluation and seeing what the Blue Jays have got for next year. He has another year of control before becoming a free agent in 2021. Ramirez will be the opener for the Blue Jays today.

7. Let's look at the outfield for the remainder of the season. I'm going to assume Lourdes Gurriel Jr. makes a speedy recovery and that he is back when the Blue Jays hit the road next week to LA. Center field will be split between Teoscar Hernandez, who has struggled mightily at the plate this season, raising his average with a hot week to .224 with 18HR and 46RBI over 332AB, and Randal Grichuk, signed through the 2023 season. Jonathan Davis should be a September call-up and will be in CF when he's in the lineup. The corner outfield positions will be occupied by Grichuk, newcomer Derek Fisher, who took a ball to the face his first start as a Blue Jay, Billy McKinney (rarely), Brandon Drury and Gurriel Jr. All these players will get long looks in spring training next season. Anthony Alford, injured right now, will also get some reps next year.

8. We are six weeks from the end of the season and there are some intriguing playoff races. In the AL Central, which has been owned by the Indians, is a tight two-horse race with the Minnesota Twins. The Indians made a huge blockbuster 3-team trade at the deadline, sending Trevor Bauer to the Reds  Bauer became an Indian in 2012, along with Brian Shaw and Matt Albers, in another three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Reds. The Diamondbacks received Didi Gregorius (now a Yankee), 1B Lars Amderson and lefty Tony Sipps (now an Astro). The Reds got Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald. This time around, the Indians got Yasiel Puig, Scott Moss, Franmil Reyes, Logan Allen, and Victor Nova. The Padres received Taylor Trammell. The Twins bolstered their bullpen, acquiring righties Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo. After Sunday's games, the Twins and Indians are tied with identical 71-47 records and 6 head to head games left.

Things are even wilder in the NL Central with the Chicago Cubs holding a 2 game lead over the Brewers, 2.5 game lead over the Cardinals and a 7 game lead over the Reds. The Cubs received Martin Maldanado from the Royals Mid-July and flipped him for Tony Kemp, only to see Wilson Contreras go down a few days into August with a strained hamstring. They also acquired lefty Brad Weck and righty David Phelps to bolster their bullpen. The Cardinals acquired lefty Tony Cingrani for their bullpen. The Brewers acquired righties Jordan Lyles, Jake Faria, and Ray Black, as well as lefty Drew Pomeranz. The Cubs have 6 games remaining vs. the Brewers and Cardinals and three left vs. the Reds. The Cardinals have 8 games left vs. the Reds and 9 games left vs. the Brewers. The Brewers have three games left vs. the Reds. Stay tuned, this race will come down to the final weekend.

9. Here are some other races to keep an eye on in the final six weeks of the season. Here are my predictions for the races:

  • AL Central: Cleveland Indians
  • NL Central: Chicago Cubs
  • NL MVP: Christian Yelich
  • NL Wild Card: Nationals host Brewers
  • AL Wild Card: Indians host Rays
  • NL East: Atlanta Braves
  • NL ROY: Fernando Tatis Jr.
  • NL Cy Young: Hyun-Jin Ryu
  • AL ROY: Vlad
  • AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander
  • AL MVP: Mike Trout
  • AL Manager of the year: Aaron Boone
  • NL Manager of the year: Mickey Callaway (if the Mets pull off a miracle and make the playoffs
  • AL East: NY Yankees
  • AL Wast: Houston Astros
  • NL West: LA Dodgers

10. Blue Jay of the week: Bo Bichette. He continued his impressive MLB debut, getting on base at least once every game this week. He had his hitting streak snapped Friday and went hitless Saturda, but he still drew a walk on both days and came around to score. He was the only Blue Jay with multiple hits Sunday against a dominant Masahiro Tanaka.