Monday, September 23, 2019

Ten weekly random thoughts: Week 25 -September 16-22

We have reached the final week of the 2019 MLB season. The Blue Jays came into this week needing four wins to avoid a 100 loss season. They finished off the road portion of the schedule with tilts in Baltimore and New York this week. Tim Mayza had his expected elbow surgery and the prognosis was as bad as it gets (more on that later). The week started with a big come from behind win over the Orioles, led by Cavan Biggio, who hit his first career cycle. Trent Thornton pitched 5 innings of three hit ball, allowing just the one run. The next day was a slugfest with both teams wanting to hand the other team the win. Randal Grichuk hit a grand slam in the 9th and Teoscar Hernandez hit a 3-run shot. With Ken Giles apparently unavailable, Derek Law eked out the win, walking 2 batters and giving up a run on 2 hits before inducing a pop fly to Trey Mancini, who has been killing the Blue Jays all season. The Blue Jays got a scare in the 9th when Vlad tweaked his rib cage on an awkward slide (more on that later). The next day, the Blue Jays got a bigger scare when Bo Bichette took a fastball off his batting helmet. He remained in the game for 2 more innings and was then removed when he started experiencing concussion-like symptoms. He didn't play in the series on the weekend, but hopefully he's back soon because he's been the Blue Jays best leadoff hitter this season. The Blue Jays came from behind again to defeat the lowly Orioles. For the second day in a row, the Blue Jays put up a 6-spot. The Orioles kind of beat themselves in this one, walking three straight batters in the 7th and throwing 12 balls in 15 pitches. Anthony Kay threw 4 strong innings and got his first big-league win. The Blue Jays won their 5th straight game Friday and officially avoided a 100 loss season. Veteran Justin Smoak broke the tie in the 7th with a 2-run blast. Ken Giles pitched the 9th for his 21st save of the season. Umpiring was lousy in this one (more on that later). The Yankees exacted revenge Saturday, winning 7-2. Mike Ford and Giancarlo Stanton did the damage, combining for 5 hits, 3 runs and 4RBI. Luke Maile made his return to the lineup after missing 6 weeks with an oblique strain (more on that later. On Sunday, the Blue Jays were undone by 3 HR and were down 8-0 after 5 innings. Luis Severino threw 5 dominant innings in just his second start of the year striking out 9. Billy McKinney made it sort of close with a pair of late HR. Looking at the week ahead, the Blue Jays play three against Baltimore starting Monday. After the final off-day of the season Thursday, the Blue Jays face the Rays in a series that could decided the 2nd WC spot in the AL. Currently the A's and Rays are tied for the 2nd WC spot and both teams have been matching each other win for win. This battle could end in a tiebreaker game.As is traditional, all games on the final day of the season begin at 3PM EDT so no one has an advantage when playoffs begin. Here are ten random thoughts from week 25 of the MLB.

1. Let's start with the news that will affect the Blue Jays bullpen for next year. Tim Mayza, who tore his UCL on this pitch a week ago. You knew instantly something was very wrong. Unfortunately, the surgery revealed not only the expected UCL damage, but also that the ulnar tendon had been ripped right off the bone. Apparently Justin Smoak heard the tendon snap from first base. The added damage means there is no chance that Mayza will return next season. It was great to see all his teammates rally around him the day of the injury. Several teammates visited him in the training room between innings, including the three catchers he threw to this season (Luke Maile, Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. Mayza's injury means the Blue Jays will have to decide if they want to target a lefty reliever through free agency or trade or stick with internal options (Buddy Boshers and/or Thomas Pannone). Next year a new rule comes into effect where reliever must face a minimum of three batters or end an inning.

2. The other big injury scare this week was to leadoff man and SS Bo Bichette. The 21-year old rookie was hit in the head by this pitch. While he initially remained in the game, he was pulled a couple of innings later when he started experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Nikki Huffman should have removed Bichette from the game immediately. I know that Bichette was indicating he was fine to continue, but he's going to plead his case. Bichette's a competitor  who wants to play every day. Huffman's job could be on the line with all the mishandling of injuries this season. Bichette is batting .311 with 11HR and 21RBI in 49 games this season.

3. Another player who's injury situation has been mishandled is Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The transformed outfielder, who's having a breakout season this year, with 9 outfield assists. Offensively, Gurriel Jr,. is batting .277 with 20HR and 50RBI. Back on August 8, Gurriel Jr. strained his quad while running out a ground ball. He was placed on the IL the next day with the hope he would only miss the minimal time (he missed 5 weeks). Gurriel Jr. was finally activated last week and returned to the lineup on September 14. He has since played 5 games and just once in the field. Montoyo revealed that Gurriel Jr. is not 100%, but evidently learning to play hurt. Why? It's not like the Blue Jays are playing fir anything right now. You want to try playing Gurriel to see how he's healing? Fine play him a game and if there's any sign of injury put him right back on the IL. There's 6 games left in the season including today. Shut him down and let him heal properly so he can have a normal off-season routine and come into spring training 100%.

4. Luke Maile made his return to the Blue Jays lineup Saturday after he missed almost 2 months with an oblique strain. Maile is just finishing his 3rd and what is likely to be final season in a Blue Jays uniform with Reese McGuire more than proving he's ready for full-time employment in the MLB. This season, Maile is batting .150 with 2HR and 9RBI in 42 games this season. He struck out in both AB's Saturday. The Blue Jays should do what they should have done with Russell Martin last year and either start Maile or use him later in the game as a pinch hitter on the final day to give fans a chance to cheer him on one last time.

5. Another injury scare this week was to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who tweaked his ribs in an awkward slide into 2nd on Wednesday. Luckily, the injury wasn't serious and Guerrero Jr. played the next day. He was off Sunday, which should be the last day off for him, unless there are any lingering effects from the rib injury suffered Wednesday. His off-season program must include a focus of getting his weight down.

6. The San Diego Padres became the first team to fire their manager, letting Andy Green go after 4 seasons. In 4 seasons, Green had a 274-366 record and the Padres missed the playoffs every season. Which other teams will choose to let their managers go after the season is done. Joe Maddon of the Cubs is rumored to be gone if Chicago misses and their season is on life support after losing 3 of 4 this weekend to St. Louis. Boston's owners can't be too pleased that the Red Sox went from winning the World Series to 3rd place in the AL East. I know many of you guys would love to see Charlie Montoyo gone after one year, but I think the Blue Jays will stick with Montoyo at least to start next year. Pete Walker or the hitting coach might be the scapegoats for a lost season. Bruce Bochy has already announced he's gone in San Francisco. Baltimore doesn't seem to be getting any better either, with their second straight 100 loss season a certainty. It could be a black Monday in the MLB the day after the season closes next week.

7. The MLB has been experimenting with robo umps in the AFL this season. This is one of the rule changes I would full heartedly support with a caveat. The umpires should have the option of overruling the technology if it is wrong. The integrity of the game is at stake when you get bad umpires like Joe West consistently calling balls/strikes wrong. What happens if game seven of the world series ends on a strikeout that should be a ball or a bases loaded walk that should have been strike three. Balls/strikes are about the only play that is not reviewable. Perhaps that should change as well.

8. I want to discuss the use of the opener for a second. On Sunday Wilmer Font opened for the Blue Jays for the 14th time this season with Trent Thornton pitching the next 5 innings. A couple of things bother me about using an opener. First, you build up four or five pitchers to throw 90-100 pitches with the intention of them starting (and possibly if they are on finishing the game). To me, using an opener signals a lack of confidence of the manager in the pitcher to get through the 1st inning. Show some faith and let the starter work at getting through the first part of a lineup. I don't think the MLB should micromanage and ban the use of an opener per se, but if a team does something crazy and fields a 25 man roster of 15 pitchers and 10 position players (just a backup catcher on the bench) then there will be a need for a rule to have a minimum of 2 or 3 bench players, otherwise it's up to each team to figure out the composition of their daily rosters. I just find it sad that with the prominence of the pitch count that there will be more openers being used and less traditional starters.

9. Finally, let's end things off this week looking at the current playoff standings. Since I last looked at the playoff picture a couple of weeks ago, things have clarified and several teams have clinched division titles (NY Yankees Thursday, Atlanta Braves Friday, Houston Astros Sunday, and the LA Dodgers last week). The Yankees have also clinched home field advantage for the ALDS with their dominant win over the Blue Jays Sunday. The Boston Red Sox were eliminated from postseason play of any kind this week, meaning there will be no repeat champion for the 19th straight year (The Yankees were the last to repeat 1998-2000). The Twins (4.5-game lead over the Indians) and Cardinals (3-game lead over the Brewers) should clinch their respective divisions early in the final week. The AL Wild card race is a tight 3 horse race with the A's holding a 2-game lead for the 1st WC spot over the Indians, who have a slim 0.5 game lead over the Rays for the 2nd WC spot. This race is most likely going down to the final weekend of the season and could easily result in a tiebraker game. The NL WC race looks pretty close to done. The Nationals and Brewers hold the two WC spots and are tied in the standings. They both have 4 game leads over the Cubs (who lost 3 of 4 to the Cardinals on the weekend and look too banged up to make up ground), a 5-game lead over the Mets and a 5.5 game lead over the Phillies. All that's really left to decide in this race is who gets home field advantage in the WC game. That could also need a tiebreaker to decide. Stay tuned, there's still lots to play for and the Blue Jays will be right in the thick of it with a final weekend series vs. the Rays.

10. Blue Jay of the week: Cavan Biggio who hit his first career cycle on Tuesday and was one of the better Blue Jays this week.