Monday, August 26, 2019

Ten weekly random thoughts: Week 21 - August 19-25

The Blue Jays faced a stiff test to start their final west coast of the season. On Tuesday, the Blue Jays hitters faced one of the premier pitchers in the game in Clayton Kershaw. Bo Bichette homered twice off the veteran lefty, who wasn't at his best, but still prevailed thanks to the Dodgers putting up 16 runs against Blue Jays pitchers, which included backup infielder Richard Urena pitching the bottom of the 8th. The next day, the Blue Jays faced one of the better young arms in the game, Walker Buehler, who held the Blue Jays to 5 hits over 7 shutout innings. Rowdy Tellez became an unlikely hero, hitting a game-tying HR, which I called in the game thread, off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. The HR only delayed the inevitable as the Dodgers big bats were due up in the bottom half of the inning. Max Muncy ended it with his 33rd HR of the season. Charlie Montoyo made some curious moves towards the end of the game. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who did not start the game as a precaution with his knee, which he injured the weekend prior, pinch hit in the top of the 8th for the pitcher and and was part of a double switch in the 8th to put him at 3B and removed Cavan Biggio and his bat from the game. In the top of the 10th, Vlad drew a walk and was promptly removed for a pinch runner. Why not just let Vlad stay in the game. Further, why do the double switch? The pitcher's spot probably wouldn't have come up for an inning or two the way the Blue Jays were swinging the bat that day anyway. The sweep was completed in epic fashion the next day in a blown save by temporary closer Derek Law, who was filling in for Ken Giles, who was away on paternity leave. Law should not be used as closer anymore this season. He is not consistent enough outing to outing. It should be closer by committee when Giles is unavailable, whether it be needing a day off or injury.  The Blue Jays lost two of three to their expansion cousins, to finish the road trip with a disappointing 1-5 record. Bo Bichette (see point 8) was one of the few bright spots in the Blue Jays lineup this week.

It was players weekend this weekend and it was an epic fail on the jersey selections. Take the Blue Jays uniforms, for example? White on white for both the jerseys and helmets? You need to have some contrast so the fans watching, both in the stands and on TV can read the writing and see the logos. Here are the jerseys from the 2018 player's weekend. There's no comparison. Hopefully whoever came up with the bright idea for black and white uniforms for every team is no longer employed because these uniforms are simply an embarrassment.

Looking at the week ahead, the Blue Jays will have a pair of difficult tests with the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros coming to town for 2 and 3 games respectively. The Blue Jays will also face the Braves in Atlanta a week later. This will be Josh Donaldson's first game back in Toronto since the 2018 trade to Cleveland. I expect him to get a warm reception from the fans. Aaron Sanchez, who will not pitch in the weekend series as he is on the 10 day IL with a pec strain, and reliever Joe Biagini, will make their returns to Toronto after both being dealt at the last minute July 31st. Atlanta is mired in a tight battle for the NL East title with the Nationals just 5 games back. Houston is all but guaranteed to win the AL West title, but home field advantage through the playoffs is at play. Here are 10 random thoughts from week 10 of the MLB.

1. Let's start off with some good news on the injury front. Clay Buchholz was activated from the 60 day IL and started Sunday vs. the Mariners. Boy, what a difference being healthy makes. Buchholz had his best game in a Blue Jays uniform, firing 6 strong innings, allowing a pair of runs on three hits, walking none and striking out 3 on just 62 pitches. Had it not been his first game off the IL, Buchholz might have even had a complete game. It's unlikely the Blue Jays will re-sign the 35-year-old righty, who's bday is the day after mine. The final 5 weeks of the season will serve as a bit of an audition for other teams and to perhaps jack the price up on his next contract.

2  Ryan Tepera is not far behind Buchholz in returning to the bullpen. He had his rehab transferred to AAA-Buffalo after pitching a few games at the advanced-A level. Assuming he has no setbacks, at worst he'll be a September call-up. More than likely he'll be activated either Tuesday or Friday. Tepera missed 2+ months after having elbow surgery to remove loose bodies and relieve a nerve issue. Like Buchholz, Tepera struggled mightily before being shut down (he's 0-2 with a 6.55ERA in 12 appearances this season). Hopefully he'll have similar success to Buchholz simply from being healthy.

3. As mentioned in the 1st paragraph of the preamble this week, Clayton Kershaw picked up the win. It wasn't just any career win. He surpassed fellow ex-Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax, who threw a perfect game among his career wins. The three-time NL Cy Young winner (Kershaw) now has 166 wins, 6th on the active list behind Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia. Kershaw is tied for 204th on the career win list with Bob Buhl, John Burkett, Howard Ehmke, Eddie Lopat and Paul Splittorff. Cy Young has the most career wins with 511.

4. Zack Greinke should tie ex-Blue Jays legend Roy Halladay in career wins next week. Greinke sits at 201 career wins, 2 behind the late Doc Halladay. The milestone won't happen when the Astros face the Blue Jays next weekend as Greinke is set to start against TB on the 29th, unless AJ Hinch knows where Greinke is on the career wins list and opts to use him on short rest. Greinke is third on the active career wins list behind teammate Verlander and Sabathia. He's tied for 113th overall with Rube Marquard and  Charlie Root.

5. As mentioned in the third paragraph of the preamble, Josh Donaldson will be playing his first game in Toronto since being dealt to Cleveland at the 2018 trade deadline. Donaldson hit .280 in 50AB to end the 2018 season with 3 HR and 7RBI over 16 games. This season, he has played the most games since 2017 when he played 155 games. Donald's batting .263 with 30HR and 74RBI in 459AB over 128 games this season. He batted .281 with 116HR and 316RBI in 1749AB over 462 games as a Blue Jay. I expect him to get a warm ovation from the crowd on Tuesday and no doubt the Blue Jays will have a tribute video to welcome him back.

6. In just over 24hrs, two ex-Blue Jays, Aaron Sanchez (pectoral strain) and Marcus Stroman (hamstring strain) left their start early last week. While it's never a great time to get injured, the timing's a bit worse for Sanchez for a couple of reasons. First, his team is playing in Toronto this week and now Sanchez won't get a chance to face his former team until next year (maybe Hinch is nice and lets Sanchez make the trip to Toronto to see his former teammates and coaches even though he won't pitch. The other crappy timing thing for Sanchez is he was trying to play for a spot on the playoff roster, possibly as the 4th starter. There's every chance that by the time Sanchez makes it back to Toronto next year, he'll no longer be a starting pitcher. We here at JITH were screaming at our TV's.computers for months to put Sanchez in the bullpen. Now that he has a new manager, that might happen by next year. Joe Biagini is also slated to return to Toronto this week, but that all depends on where he's pitching. He's been bounced between the minors and majors since the trade. It's looking more and more like Stroman's NY Mets will miss the playoffs.

7. With series vs. the Dodgers, Astros, Yankees and Red Sox all within a month, it's got me thinking, which team has the best rotation in the game. When healthy, the Red Sox can throw out Chris Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez. The Astros have the formidable trio of Verlander, Garrett Cole and Zack Greinke. The Blue Jays just saw how dominant Kershaw (even when not at his best), Walker Buehler and Kenta Maeda can be. The Yankees have James Paxton, JA Happ and Luis Severino (who dominated last year). To succeed in the playoffs, a great starting rotation that can get you 18 to 21 outs is huge. Debate this one among yourselves, but I'd be happy with the Dodgers or Astros rotation myself.

8. Bo Bichette is easily off to the best career start among the three graduates from the minors this season among Vlad, Cavan Biggio and Bichette. Through 26 games, he has 14 doubles and 8HR. Only Joe Dimaggio had more extra base hits (22) through his 1st 25 career games. His home run Saturday tied him for the franchise mark with Carlos Delgado for most HR through the 1st 25 career games. Bichette hit not one, but 2 HR off Kershaw to start the week. Defensively, he threw out a runner at home for a huge second out to help secure the only win this week. It's scary to think how good he'll be in his first full season.

9. Over the next three weeks, I'm going to look forward and backwards at each position, starting with the starting pitchers this week. Next week, I'll look at the bullpen, catcher and 1st base. The following week, I'll analyze the remainder of the infield and the following week will be the three outfield positions.

Heading into spring training, the Blue Jays rotation was supposed to consist of Stroman, Sanchez, free agents Clay Buchholz, Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard with Ryan Borucki and Trent Thornton fighting for the final spot in the rotation. Injuries quickly changed those plans with Borucki, Richard and Buchholz all missing the start of the year with injuries. Shoemaker turned out to be an excellent free agent pick-up. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in a run down during his 5th start of the year in Oakland and was done for the year. Shoemaker finished 3-0 with a 1.57ERA and 0.87WHIP.. Borucki made just two starts, after missing the first three months of the season, before being shut down for good with season-ending elbow surgery. He was 0-1 with a 10.80ERA in those 2 starts. Richard made 10 starts before straining his lat mid-July. He's just starting a throwing program recently. It's unlikely he'll return this season. Richard was 1-5 with a 5.96ERA in those ten starts. Buchholz is just back after missing 2+ months with a grade 2 strain of his teres major muscle. He was 0-2 with a 6.57ERA prior to the injury. Stroman was one of the few bright spots in what's been a miserable season for the Blue Jays. He was 6-11 with a 2.96ERA in 21 starts for the Blue Jays this season before being traded to the NY Mets for a pair of lower level prospects. Sanchez had a miserable season by contrast, going 3-14 (most losses in the AL) with a 6.07ERA while giving up a league-worse 59 walks. He was starting to look better in the second half and the Blue Jays were able to get the Astros to take the struggling righty off their hands. Thornton has had an up and down year in his rookie campaign, going 4-8 with a 5.34ERA over 26 starts so far. Jacob Waguespack has emerged as another bright spot in the Blue Jays rotation. He's 3-1 with 3.63ERA over 10 appearances (7 starts).

Looking at the rotation next year, there is certainly uncertainty with regards to the health of Borucki. Keep in mind, he's had one TJ surgery already and far fewer pitchers make it back to the majors after a second TJ surgery, and if they do make it back, they're usually not as effective. Thornton has much to work on with his command, but he stands a good chance of being in the rotation with the limited options in the system at the moment. Anthony Kay, who is 1-1 with a solid 2.36ERA in 5 starts in Buffalo since being acquired in the Stroman trade, and Nate Pearson, who threw 7 shutout innings of 3-hit ball in his first start at the AAA level this week should both get long looks in spring training next year. SRF, who has struggled mightily as a starting pitcher this season, going 2-4 with a 4.26ERA in 9 appearances (6 starts) with the big club, Thomas Pannone (3-5 with a 6.44ERA in 30 appearances, 6 starts) and Sammy G (4-2 in 41 appearances) will probably be stretched out in spring training to be able to start. Waguespack has more or less cemented a spot in the rotation with his strong play this season. I fully expect Shoemaker to come back strong after having his season end the way it did. I'm not going to speculate which free agents the Blue Jays may target this week, but don't expect it to be a player like Garrett Cole or Zack Greinke, who will command big $$.

10. Blue Jay of the week: Bichette who got hits in 5 of the 6 games this week and has been the most consistent Blue Jay in the past 25 games. He also gets the much-coveted weekly award for making a huge play in the 8th inning of the only win this week that allowed that win to happen. If the run scored, I think the Mariners would have tied that game and maybe even taken the lead with a shaky Derek Law pitching.