Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Ten weekly random thoughts: Week 22 - August 26-September 1

It was reunion week at the Rog with several ex-Blue Jays returning to the 6ix. On Tuesday, Josh Donaldson played his first game in Toronto since the August 31st, 2018 trade that sent him to Cleveland more on that later). Alex Antropolous, who was largely responsible for putting together the 2015 and 2016 teams that went as far as the ALCS, was also back in town, as were former trainers George Poulis and Mike Frostad. For some Canadian content, you had Vlad (born in Quebec when his father played for the Expos) and Freddie Freeman, who's parents are both Canadian. The Blue Jays and Braves split the 2 games here with a pair slated for Monday and Tuesday this week in Atlanta. On the weekend, the Houston Astros came to town along with ex-Blue Jays Roberto Osuna and Joe Biagini. Aaron Sanchez, who is rehabbing a pectoral injury, did not make the trip. The two teams split the first two games and Sunday's rubber match was dominated by Justin Verlander, who threw his 3rd career no-hitter and 2nd vs. the Blue Jays (the first coming here as a member of the Detroit Tigers). To makeSunday's gem even more impressive, Verlander became the 5th starter all-time to get 250 strikeouts in a single season five times. Looking at the week ahead, as mentioned,the Blue Jays play their final interleague games of the season this week in Atlanta. They then travel to Tampa Bay on a rare Wednesday off-day to begin a 4-game series at the Trop. The Blue Jays completed the trade for Eric Sogard this weekend, acquiring righties Curtis Taylor (from Port Coquitlam, BC; 0-3 with a 3.06ERA in 15 games this season in AA-ball in 2019) and Edisson Gonzalez (4-2 with a 2.45ERA in lower A-ball in 2019). Sogard is batting .307 with 3HR and 9RBI in 27 games since the trade. The Blue Jays took 2 of 3 from the Rays at the Trop a month ago. Here are ten random thoughts from week 22 of the MLB

1. Let's kick things off this week with the worst kept secret. Devon Travis will officially have his 2019 season wiped out after unsuccessful knee surgery just prior to the beginning of the season. Travis did not pick up a baseball once this season and he was unable to progress from lower body exercises designed to strengthen his troublesome legs. It's high time for the Blue Jays to cut ties with the 28-year-old, who will turn 29 before next season.The last time Travis played in an MLB game was September 21st, 2018 before he was shut down due to his knee. In the past 2 seasons, he has played just 153 games, largely due to the knee. He also had major shoulder surgery that derailed his 2015 rookie season. Cavan Biggio has more than proven he's ready to play full-time in the bigs and Brandon Drury has been adequate as a utility infielder. It would not be surprising if Travis decides to retire without playing another game.

2. Ryan Tepera was activated off the 60 day IL after missing 3 months recovering from right elbow surgery to remove loose bodies. He shut things down after going 0-2 with a 6.55ERA in 12 appearances. He did not pitch Sunday, but expect him to get into a game early in the week. Tepera should be a key part of the bullpen next year.

3. Another player who is nearing a return to the lineup is Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who is undoubtedly disappointed he could not make it back in time to face his brother this past weekend. Gurriel Jr. has been out since straining his quad August 9th hustling to first base in the 9th inning of a game against the Yankees. The initial hope was that Gurriel Jr. would miss the bare minimum 10 days after the initial MRI showed a grade I strain of the quad. He required double the time to recover and will join the team on the road trip after completing full BP Sunday ahead of the game vs. the Astros. The aim is to activate him before the series that starts Thursday in TB. Gurriel Jr. has been one of the pleasant surprises of the year after a trip to the minors and making the transition to being a left-fielder. He has an impressive 9 outfield assists on the year, impressive considering he's never been an outfielder prior to this season. Gurriel Jr. is batting .279 with 19HR and 79RBI in 294AB over 79 games.

4. A final player with a slim possibility of returning before the end of the season is Elvis Luciano. The rookie righty has a bit of a target that must be met in order to remain on the Blue Jays roster after the season closes. See, Luciano was a rule 5 draft pick from the Kansas City Royals and he must be on the active 25-day roster for 90 days. Currently, Luciano has been on the active roster for 77 days, and thus must be activated no later than September 16, otherwise he must be returned to the Royals (someone can clarify if this is in fact correct). As of the latest injury update, Luciano does not appear close to being ready for game action. The Blue Jays hope he can get in a few games before the season runs out. The problem is the minor league seasons are over and none of the Blue Jays affiliates made the playoffs. I don't think it's wise to have Luciano on the active roster if he can't play because he'll just be taking up a spot a healthy player can use. At the moment, Luciano is 1-0 with a 6.51 ERA in 20 appearances before a severe elbow sprain derailed his rookie campaign.

5. As far as the rest of the wounded Blue Jays, Luke Maile appears to be on track to get into some late season games. He has been out since July 27th after he strained his oblique prior to the game vs. the Diamondbacks. His days as a Blue Jay may be numbered with the emergence of Reese McGuire, who is batting .283 with 4HR and 6RBI in 53AB over 16 games, including Sunday. Maile is batting .153 with 2HR and 9RBI in 111AB over 41 games. Maile is currently back to catching and throwing and is expected to start swinging the bat soon as of the August 27th injury update. Matt Shoemaker and Ryan Borucki, who were both previously ruled out for the season with respective ACL and elbow surgeries, continue to progress in their rehabs without setbacks. Shoemaker's prognosis is decidedly more bright. Finally, Clayton Richard, who has been out since July 14th with a lat strain, managed to sneak in one rehab appearance for AAA-Buffalo, going 2 innings and firing 41 pitches. At this point, the Blue Jays will probably use Richard as a traditional starter and hope he can eat up some innings for a tired crop of relievers.

6. Speaking of relievers, let's continue with a look at the present and future that I started last week with the starting pitchers. This week, I'll look at the relievers, catchers and first base. I'm going to focus on the situation internally and won't really speculate free agents or trades the Blue Jays may make in the off-season. I'll save that for the final random thoughts post of the season. Thirty-six different pitchers have made at least one appearance for the Blue Jays this season. For pretty much the entire season, the Blue Jays have been going with a 9-man bullpen most games due to the inconsistency of the starting pitchers and lack of pitchers stretched out to handle the load of a traditional starter.

Looking at the closer's role, Ken Giles was supposed to be the go-to guy, but he has battled elbow problems most of the season. When he's been healthy, he's generally been rock solid with a 2-3 record and 1.67ERA heading into Sunday (he took the loss Sunday after giving up a 2-run HR) in 44 appearances this season. Derek Law, acquired in the Kevin Pillar trade at the beginning of April, has filled in when Giles was unavailable. He's been more shaky in the closer's role. While he's notched 4 saves and blown just 1, he has made life difficult for himself by walking batters and giving up base hits. Law is 0-2 with a 4.91ERA in 47 appearances in 2019. From the left side, the Blue Jays have primarily used Tim Mayza (1-3, 4.50ERA in 64 appearances) Buddy Boshers (0-2, 5.11ERA in 16 appearances and Thomas Pannone (3-5, 6.44ERA in 30 appearances, 6 starts). On bullpen days. Wilmer Font (1-1, 2.70 ERA in 12 appearances, 8 starts) has been the designated opener with Sam Gaviglio (4-2, 4.50ERA in 43 appearances) and/or Zack Godley (1-0, 5.97ERA in 6 appearances) throwing the next several innings. The Blue Jays have also used Maile and Richard Urena for 3 innings combined. Maile was far more successful, throwing 2 scoreless innings, giving up 1 hit and hitting a batter and striking out 3. Urena gave up 4 runs on 4 hits and walked a batter in his only inning. Urena probably won't be called upon to pitch again anytime soon.

Overall, the pitchers have managed an ERA of 4.74, which is 8th in the AL. The Blue Jays have used 2 less pitchers than 2018 and there have been far less cases of using 2 or more pitchers to get three outs in an inning. Next year the rules change so that pitchers must face a minimum of three batters or end an inning. For example, if Mayza comes in with 2 outs in an inning and DOES NOT get the first batter, he must face at least one more batter (and get that batter out) before he can be replaced. If Mauza gets the first batter, he can be replaced to start the next inning. This means the elimination of situational pitching where a reliever is brought in for one batter (usually left on left) and then replaced. Expect more or less the same crop of pitchers next season with several names being demoted/recalled when fresh arms are needed.

7. Let's move on to the catchers. Prior to the start of the season, Russell Martin was traded to the Dodgers, leaving the Blue Jays with a tandem of Danny Jansen and Luke Maile to start the season. Jansen has started and played in the bulk of the games (98 heading into Sunday's action). The rookie has steadily improved both in handling the pitchers and defensively. Pitchers have thrown 40 wild pitches when he's been behind the plate and he's allowed 3 passed balls. Jansen has 4 errors on the season and has initiated 6 double plays. He's thrown out 16 base runners and 37 others have successfully stolen bases off Jansen. Offensively, Jansen is batting .210 with 12HR and 42RBI in 314AB. Pitchers have thrown 14 wild pitches with Maile behind the plate and Maile has allowed 4 passed balls. Base runners have stolen 15 bases off Maile and he has thrown out 12 base runners. Maile has 3 errors on the season and has been part of 4 DP. See point 5 for his offensive stats on the season. Pitchers have thrown 8 wild pitches with McGuire behind the plate.and he has not had a passed ball against him. Eight base runners have stole bases against McGuire and he has thrown out 3 base runners. McGuire does not have an error against him and has been involved in 1 DP. See point 5 for McGuire's offensive stats. Next season could see the Blue Jays part ways with Maile as IMO, McGuire has done enough to play FT in the majors in this month long stint.

8. Moving onto 1st base, 5 players (Justin Smoak, Brandon Drury, Rowdy Tellez, Billy McKinney and Alen Hanson have played at least one game at the position. At the beginning of the season, Tellez and Smoak were expected to platoon at 1B. Tellez, however struggled offensively (although he did contribute 2 of the rookie grand slams to break the all-time MLB mark). Tellez was eventually sent down to AAA-ball to work on his swing and play every day. He has played 42 games at 1B, has 2 errors and has been part of 28DP. He is batting .218 on the season with 15HR and 43RBI in 303AB over 90 games, including 41 as DH. Smoak has also been given more rest days as DH or completely off as he's had some minor aches and pains this season and his being 32 years old. He's played 82 games, including Sunday, at 1B. He's committed 2 errors and been part of 62DP. Smoak is batting .215 with 20HR and 55RBI in 368AB over 108 games, including Sunday. Drury has played 9 games at first base, not committing an error and being part of 5DP. He's batting .222 with 14HR and 40RBI in 370AB over 106 games, including Sunday this season. McKinney has played 7 games (1 start) at 1B this season. He has no errors and has been part of 4DP this season. McKinney is batting .216 with 9HR and 22RBI in 213AB over 67 games, including Sunday. Hanson has played 2 games (1 start at 1B this season. He has not committed an error at 1B this season and has been part of 1DP. Hanson is batting .163 with 0HR and 4RBI in 43AB over 18 games this season.

It is expected that the Blue Jays will part ways with Smoak in the off-season, unless they aren't sold on Tellez, who is out of options and must make the team next year. Drury should also see time at 1B. The Blue Jays may look at the free agent market or try to make a trade to acquire a 1B but options are limited.

9. Finally, Sunday marked the final time rosters will expand to 40 players. Starting next season, rosters will still expand September 1st, but only to 28 and not the current 40. This means that teams like the Yankees won't have the luxury of using unlimited relievers. Players who might have gotten cup of teas in September will no longer be afforded the opportunity. The 40-man roster will still exist, but only 28 players can be active at one time. Discuss among yourselves whether this is good or bad.

10. Blue Jay of the week: Cavan Biggio who was the only Blue Jay to get on base vs. Verlander, drawing a one out walk in the 1st inning. Biggio was also largely responsible for the Blue Jays beating Houston Saturday with a 2 hit, 3RBI, 2 runs scored day. He also drew a walk to make it 3 times on base.His play since making his big league debut has probably spelled the end of Devon Travis's time in Toronto.