Monday, August 19, 2019

Ten weekly random thoughts: Week 20: August 12-18

The Blue Jays wrapped up their marathon 20 games in 20 days set with a trio of games against the Texas Rangers. By all rights, the Blue Jays could have mailed it in this week citing fatigue from so many games in a row. Instead, the Blue Jays took 2 of three from Texas, outscoring the Rangers 25-11, including a 3-0 shutout and a 19-4 blowout in which the Rangers used a position player to pitch (Jeff Mathis). Everyone had at least one hit in the rout. All but Derek Fisher had at least one extra base hit. The next day, Blue Jays pitchers held Rangers batters to 5 hits and 5 walks in a 3-0 shutout win. Clearly everyone was understandably tired Wednesday and the Blue Jays just didn't have enough left in them to rally late. Then, the expansion cousin Seattle Mariners rolled into town. Both teams are having pretty similar seasons, although Mariners fans should feel more frustrated given the Mariners did an even bigger roster turnover since these two last met in August 2018. The Mariners also got off to a 13-2 start and have gone 38-71. At least the Blue Jays didn't tease the fans with a hot start or stretch. The most the Blue Jays won in a row was 5 at the beginning of this lengthy 20 day stretch of games. Both teams won a game of the weekend series, setting up a rubber match Sunday. The Mariners used their bullpen day Saturday very effectively, keeping Blue Jays hitters off-balance and holding them to 3 runs on 9 hits and 3 walks. Of course, losing Vlad after just 2 innings (knee) didn't help things (more on that later). The Mariners took the rubber match  thanks to a stellar 2-hit, complete game performance by lefty Yusei Kikuchi. Mariners batters also went yard 4 times off Blue Jays pitchers. Looking ahead to next week, after an off day/travel day Monday, the Blue Jays embark on their final west coast swing of the season. They kick things off with some interleague action against ex-Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin and the LA Dodgers. Trent Thornton is the only Blue Jays pitcher with a hit in interleague play this season (he was 2-3 with 2 runs scored in San Francisco back in mid-May). The Dodgers are all but certainly going to win the NL West title and should have home field advantage until the World Series. The last time these two teams met in 2016, the Dodgers took 2 of 3 including a dominant 7-inning performance from Clayton Kershaw, who should pitch in this series. Justin Smoak is the only current Blue Jay who played in that Series. Russell Martin caught 2 of the 3 games for the Blue Jays, but he's now the Dodgers backup catcher. Next weekend sees the rematch against the Mariners in Seattle. Last year, the Blue Jays took 3 of 4 in Seattle. Felix Hernandez may make his return to the Mariners rotation next weekend. He's scheduled for a 4th rehab start in Tacoma today. Here are ten random thoughts from week 10 of the MLB.

1. Let's start off talking about the injury to Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who left Saturday's game with soreness in his left knee that occurred while fielding a grounder in the top of the 2nd. He was subsequently replaced in the field by Brandon Drury at the top of the 3rd. Much has been made about the way the HPD (High performance development) team has handled Vlad's playing time since he was recalled in May. One big reason for the extreme caution (liberally giving him half days off with DH assignments and giving him full days off once a week or so) is his injury history. Last season, Guerrero Jr. missed a month last season with a petellar tendon injury in the same knee he injured Saturday. In spring training this year, he strained his oblique muscle, delaying his MLB debut by several weeks (even with the manipulated service time). Another factor is his body type, which makes him prone to fatigue and injury. While it will be disappointing to Dodgers and Mariners fans if Vlad doesn't make the west coast road trip this week, it's far more important to his future and the Blue Jays to get him fully healthy now, even if it means missing a couple of weeks. A big focus in Vlad's off-season training program is going to have to be geared towards slimming down a bit, increasing his fitness level and better diet. In the long run, it will lessen the chances of him getting hurt and he'll be able to play more games as he'll have more endurance.

2. The Blue Jays provided an update on Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has missed a week so far after straining his quad running to 1st base. He was set to undergo a follow-up MRI Saturday along with other tests to determine the next step in his rehab. Assuming he gets the green light to ramp up his baseball activities, it's a reasonable target for him to return when his brother Yuli and the Astros come to town (Toronto that is) the last weekend of August. Gurriel Jr. has had an interesting season to say the least. He began the year at second base, played 9 games and made 2 critical errors in that 9th game, got sent down for 6 weeks, where he was converted to the outfield, came back up and since then has been among the Blue Jays success stories. Gurriel Jr. has 9 outfield assists and just dares opposing runners to advance off him on a fly ball. At the plate, Gurriel Jr. has raised his average from .175 on April 14th to .279 currently. He has 19HR and 47 RBI in 294AB this season. Hopefully the Blue Jays get the big bat in the lineup again soon.

3. One Blue Jay who is not close to returning is backup catcher Luke Maile, who could be moved in the off-season with Reese McGuire showing he is ready to be in the majors full-time. Maile strained his oblique prior to the game July 27th and McGuire arrived in time to catch the final inning of that game, which went 11 innings. McGuire had a huge game-tying HR in the 7th of Saturday's game and gave his team a chance to at least tie, smacking a double down the 1st base line with 2 outs in the 9th. Mcguire is batting .265 with 3 HR and 4 RBI in the 10 games he's played the past 2 weeks. Maile is batting .153 with 2 HR and 9RBI in 111AB over 41 games this season. Another indicator that Maile isn't close to returning is the Blue Jays claimed minor league catcher Beau Taylor off waivers Friday. When/if Maile does return, he probably won't get many more starts behind the plate with the bulk of the remaining games likely going to starter Danny Jansen and McGuire.

4. Two pitchers who could return over the next couple of weeks are Clay Buchholz (rehabbing a Teres Major injury) and Ryan Tepera (recovering from elbow surgery 6 weeks ago to remove bone chips). Both pitchers have had frustrating seasons. Tepera began the season a couple of weeks late due to an elbow injury. He was shut down after 12 appearances where he went 0-2 with a 6.55ERA. I imagine he tried to pitch through the pain and either it got worse or he realized he needed to get the injury dealt with because he was getting lit up by the opposition when he was pitching. Buchholz also started the season late with a knee injury. He made 5 starts going 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA. Buchholz's injury was concerning due to his history of shoulder injuries. I expect both pitchers, assuming no setbacks, to return by the end of the month with both possibly pitching out of the bullpen.

5. So what about the remainder of the injured Blue Jays? Will any, some or all comeback this season? With just a couple of weeks remaining in the minor league season, it's doubtful too many of the injured players will return. Elvis Luciano was to possibly begin a throwing program two weeks after the July 23rd update. The rookie righty has missed 2 months with a sprained pitching elbow. Becaise he's a reliever, the Blue Jays may give him a few games down the stretch if the throwing program goes well this month. Luciano was 1-0 with a 6.51ERA in 20 appearances before the injury. Matt Shoemaker, Ryan Borucki and John Axford are all done for the year with ACL (Shoemaker) and elbow (Borucki and Axford) surgeries. All three should get long looks for jobs in spring training next year. Nick Kingham strained his oblique August 3rd. The nature of that kind of injury can be difficult to rehab. He may be shut down for the year soon. I don't expect Devon Travis to play at all this season. Travis has missed the entire season thus far after having knee surgery for a bucket handle tear. He has had several setbacks and he was not doing any baseball activity per the July 23rd update, but rather focusing on lower body exercises. To me, it's time to cut ties with Travis and focus on Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette. Maybe try to re-sign Eric Sogard. Finally, there's Ken Giles, who has struggled with elbow inflammation most of the season, and had a 10-day stint on the IL earlier. He may be shut down soon if he can't consistently be available to pitch. Best to give his roster spot to a healthy body.

6. With the minor league seasons winding down in the next couple of weeks, I thought I would take a  brief look at each of the Blue Jays affiliates.

  • Gulf Coast League (Dunedin) Blue Jays. It is the lowest minor league level possible and consists of players who will have to fight hard to make the majors. This season, the GCL Blue Jays are 19-20, good for 3rd in their division and are expected to miss the playoffs.
  • Dominican summer league Blue Jays: Same as GCL, except it allows players originating from Central America to play closer to home while still receiving MLB caliber coaching. The DSL Blue Jays are 31-35, 3rd in their division and expected to miss the playoffs
  • Bluefield Blue Jays (Appalchian league): It is considered a rookie level league and is the first stop of many draft picks. Miguel Hiraldo, the Blue Jays #13 prospect, is 7th in the league, batting .310 with 6HR and 32RBI in 200AB. 24th round pick Spencer Horwitz is batting .332 with 2HR and 45 RBI in 187AB, good for 3rd in the league. Bluefield is 27-29, 3rd in their division and expected to miss the playoffs
  • Vancouver Canadians Class A Short Season: This is probably the minor league affiliate I follow closest since they are practically in the same city I live in. The Canadians see many of the Blue Jays draft picks make their first stops here. Kacy Clemens, son of Roger Clemens played here last year. 1B Yorman Rodroguez, who was recently promoted to Lansing, tore up the league this season batting .369 with 4HR and 21RBI in 157AB this season. As a team, the Canadians are having a terrible season with a 23-37 record, dead last in the entire league
  • Lansing Lugnuts Class A:  The league is similar to the Canadians league, but with a longer season. This is the first or second stop of most draft picks. Otto Lopez is second in the league in batting with a 313 average, 4HR and 43 RBI in 383AB. The Lugnuts are 60-63, 5th of 8 teams in their division and expected to miss the playoffs
  • Dunedin Blue Jays High-Advanced Single A: It is the final stop at the single-A level and first stop for the elite prospects (Vlad started his pro career here). It is also the first step in rehab assignments. Ryan Borucki, Vlad, David Phelps, Ryan Tepera, and Dalton Pompey all played games here this season when they were sent on rehab assignments. The recently acquired Simeon Woods Richardson, in a trade deadline deal with the Mets, is 1-2 with a 3.95 ERA in 3 starts for Dunedin. Clemens is also on the team this year. Nate Pearson made 6 outstanding starts before being promoted to AA. Dunedin is 72-50 and is guaranteed to make the playoffs, having won the 1st half.
  • New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA): The 2nd to last stop before the majors for most prospects. Forest Wall, drafted in 2014 by Colorado, with a .270 average, 9HR and 41RBI in 415AB this season. The Fisher Cats are 55-69, dead last in their division and expected to miss the playoffs
  • Buffalo Bisons (AAA): The last stop before the majors for most prospects. The Bisons current roster is considerably weaker than at the start of the season with Vlad, Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio all making their major league debuts and likely final minor league appearances, except for injury rehabs. AAA tends to see the most turnover of its roster with players bouncing up and down from MLB rosters when injuries occur. Also, players are sent down to work on things when they are struggling at the big-league level. Rowdy Tellez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez all had stints in the minors to work on things this season. Pitchers are also sent up and down often when they are expected to be unavailable for a day or two. The Bisons are 64-60 on the season and 4 games back of the 2nd WC spot.

7. The 2020 MLB schedule was released this week and certainly some key dates to look forward to. The Blue Jays have a chance to make life miserable for the Boston Red Sox, who they open the season against with a four game series at home and face in the last week of the season at Fenway. Their interleague division will be the NL Central with home series vs the Reds (it could be Joey Votto's final time playing in Canada), St. Louis, Philapdelphia (home and home and only NL East team faced) and Chicago. They will travel to St. Louis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. August will be a crazy month with 29 games in 31 days (a 17 day stretch from July 31-August 16 and a 13 day stretch from August 18-30). The first west coast swing of the season starts May 8 and includes 3 teams (Oakland, Texas, and Chicago White Sox) and is 10 consecutive days. The Blue Jays are in Seattle the weekend of July 24-26. Exciting times ahead

8. For the 3rd time in as many weeks, Brett Gardner bashed his bat against the ceiling of the dugout. He did the same thing during a recent road trip to Toronto and the week prior to that in the Bronx. This is poor sportsmanship and should not be behavior that the MLB should want young fans seeing and later doing on their own little league teams thinking it's ok. Time for the league to step up and start punishing Gardner. Start with a hefty fine.

9. Since 1952, Canada has had a team at the Little League World series in Williamsport represented by the winner of the Canadian Baseball Championships. Provincially, BC has represented Canada the most (28 times, including this year's underdog entrant from Coquitlam. BC teams have a record of 31-51, which is the best of all the provinces). The next highest province with 14 reps is Quebec, which has an 8-27 record at the LLWS. Manitoba,  Newfoundland, New Brunswick, PEI, Northwest Territories, Yukon Territories and Nunavut have never had a rep team at the LLWS. All other provinces have fielded at least one team. So far, Canada is 1-1 at this year's LLWS, opening the tournament with a 5-0 loss to the always tough Mexicans, and then routing the Italians 10-0 the next day. They play Curacao today in a double elimination game.

10. Blue Jay of the week: Brandon Drury. He was one of only 2 Blue Jays to get a base hit Sunday. Drury also hit a grand slam Monday plus a 5th RBI. He had hits in 4 of the 6 games this week. He should see playing time this week at 3rd base with Vlad dealing with knee inflammation.