Monday, September 30, 2019

Ten weekly random thoughts: Week 26 -September 23-29

The 2019 MLB season has mercifully come to an end for the Blue Jays. The final week of play started with an epic 15 inning marathon that ended with Anthony Alford walking it off for his first career HR. The ball was flying out of the yard with a combined 10 home runs. Both teams used 9  relievers, and had the game dragged on much longer a position player probably would have pitched. If you like offensive displays, you would have loved watching this juggernaut. The next day, Baltimore snapped a 4 game losing streak against the Blue Jays as Dylan Bundy was his usual masterful self against the Blue Jays with a solid seven innings. Dwight Smith Jr. killed his former team with 2 runs scored, 3 hits and 3 RBI. Trey Mancini went 5-5 and drove in yet another run. Mancini finished the season series with 25 RBI against the Blue Jays. Toronto ended the season series against Baltimore with a victory. In a bit of a quirk, every run the Blue Jays scored was a leadoff home run to start an inning (Billy McKinney in the 1st and Rowdy Tellez in the 4th and 6th). Baltimore made things interesting in the 8th, scoring a pair of runs, including off a bases loaded walk. Luckily, Wilmer Font got Chris Davis to fly out to end the threat and Ken Giles struck out the side in the 9th. Tampa Bay came into the final series of the season needing a win or Cleveland loss to punch their ticket to the postseason. They got both with Cleveland getting pounded 8-2. Meanwhile, the Rays were their usual stingy self with patient AB's, scoring runs every which way (HR, single and a double error by Reese McGuire). The bats were pretty silent (4 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks). The next day, the Blue Jays jumped all over a Rays teams early that had clearly partied late into the night. Rays starter Ryan Yarborough gave up 3 runs on 4 hits in the 1st and and just 1 hi, 2 walks and a hit batter in his final 4 innings. Trent Thornton threw 5 shutout innings in his final start, but continues to struggle with command with 4 walks. Ken Giles appears to be back to full health (he retired the side in order on just 10 pitches). On the final day, it was fan appreciation day and the annual team awards were handed out. Randal Grichuk was named team MVP. He finished with a .232 average, 31HR and 80RBI. Ken Giles was pitcher of the year, finishing 2-3 with 23 saves and a 1.87ERA in 53 appearances. My personal choice would have been Tim Mayza, not for performance, but for being such a warrior. The rookie of the year was Bo Bichette, who finished batting .311 with 11HR and 21RBI in 46 games before a hit by pitch ended his season ten days prematurely. Finally, the most pleasant surprise award went to rookie Reese McGuire, who finished batting .299 with 5HR and 11RBI in 30 games. McGuire also threw out 5 of 19 would be base stealers. Several Blue Jays had strong games on the final day of play. Clay Buchholz threw five solid innings, allowing 1 run on 4 hits while walking 1 and striking out 6. Teoscar Hernandez hit a big 3-run HR that proved to be the difference in the game. Justin Smoak hit a pair of RBI doubles. Breyvic Valera went 3-4, scored twice, drove in 2 runs and made a nice play defensively. Ryan Tepera pitched a perfect 9th on just 12 pitches, striking out 1. All in all, it was great to see the Blue Jays end a miserable season with a win. This post will be both a look back on the season that was and a look to the future. Here are ten random thoughts from week 26 of the MLB.

1. Nobody likes to use injuries as an excuse for a poor season, but they definitely played a big factor in what was a lost season. Sure the Blue Jays may not have had as many injuries as, say, the Yankees, who set a new MLB record for most players on the IL with 30. It's not about the quantity of players on the IL, but rather where the injuries occurred. At one point, the Blue Jays were missing 3-4 starting pitchers (Buchholz, Clayton Richard, Trent Thornton, and Ryan Borucki). Ryan Tepera missed a couple of months and Ken Giles had a couple of days where he was unavailable plus IL stints. Most of the injured players are expected to be ready for spring training, save for Tim Mayza (he won't be ready until at least 2021 after it was discovered during his TJ surgery that his ulnar tendon had been ripped right off the bone), Ryan Borucki (lots of uncertainty with his elbow) and Devon Travis (didn't play a single inning after knee surgery). I still think the Blue Jays should part ways with Travis with Cavan Biggio clearly ready for FT MLB action. I fully expect Matt Shoemaker to be as good or better than he was this season before he tore his ACL in his fifth start of the season Around the all-star break, Shoemaker was already getting ready to begin a throwing program. Injuries are a part of the game, the good teams can overcome them with organizational depth, or in the case of the Yankees, a really strong coaching staff.

2. With the Blue Jays all in on the rebuild, there were a lot of rookies making their MLB debuts or transitioning to the majors full-time. The rookies who impressed me most were Cavan Biggio (became 2nd Blue Jay to hit for the cycle, ), Reese McGuire (called up when Luke Maile went down with an oblique strain mid-July. Offensively, he batted .299 with 5HR and 11RBI. His play down the stretch likely means the end of Luke Maile's time in Toronto. McGuire does need to work on his defense. but that will come with time and experience), Bo Bichette (the last of the three highly anticipated prospects to make their MLB debut; had his season come to an unfortunate end ten days early due to a concussion from being hit in the head by a fastball; finished batting .311 with 11HR and 21RBI), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (made some nice plays in the field at times, finished batting .272 with 15HR and 60 RBI). The jury's still out on SP Trent Thornton, who had an up and down year, finishing 6-9 with a 4.84ERA in 32 appearances (29 starts). He needs to work on his command. Jacob Waguespack turned out to be one of the Blue Jays most consistent starters. He finished 5-5 with a 4.38ERA in 16 appearances 16 for strikes. Elvis Luciano was put in a tight spot right from the get go. He was a rule 5 pickup and had to remain on the active for 90 days or he would have to be returned to KC. The 19-year old had his struggles, finishing 1-0 with a 5.35ERA in 25 appearances. He missed three months after spraining his elbow. Jordan Romano struggled more often than not. He finished 0-2 with a 7.63ERA. He gave up a pair of runs on 3 hits on the final day of play. Richard Urena, Jonathan Davis and Anthony Alford appear to have fallen out of favor with Blue Jays management. Danny Jansen had an OK first full season in the MLB. Pitchers gave up 41 wild pitches with him behind the plate and he only caught 28% of would-be base stealers. Offensively, he batted .207 with 13HR and 43RBI. Next year, TJ Zeuch and Anthony Kay, who both got starts in September, should get extended looks in spring training.

3. I haven't really talked much about by thoughts on first year manager Charlie Montoyo, so now would be an appropriate time. One big philosophical change that came when Montoyo was hired was the approach to hitting. John Gibbons'  teams were pretty much home run or bust. Montoyo's team played a lot more small ball with players bunting more with runners on base. I found this approach quite refreshing because it was a shift from the way things run in the previous three years. He didn't particularly handle the pitching staff real well at times, leaving starters in a batter too long. I also did not care for the use of the opener that would only pitch the first inning or two and either have the next pitcher throw the bulk of the innings or every reliever pitches an inning or two max. Montoyo also made questionable lineup choices (batting Teoscar Hernandez leadoff, not using the players the Blue Jays have to make a decision on in the off-season (Davis, Alford, Urena, and Tellez). Montoyo will be back next year for sure, but whether he lasts the whole season or beyond will depend on progress being made. The Blue Jays can't lose 90+ games next year. Their attendance was down almost 25%.

4. What about the rest of the coaching staff? Pete Walker is the veteran of the staff. He has been the Blue Jays coaching staff, serving as the pitching coach since 2012. Pitching was a big issue and a large part of why the Blue Jays lost 95 games. While it's not really his fault that the Blue Jays pitchers weren't able to execute on a regular basis, he could be the scapegoat for a lost season. Luis Rivera has been the Blue Jays third base coach and he should return. John Schneider, who coached the catchers this season, did a decent job at it. He needs to focus on technique with Danny Jansen and whoever is his backup because there were too many wild pitches. The caught stealing success rate should improve as well. One coach who could see his role changed is hitting coach Guillermo Martinez. Montoyo said at the end of the season that the Blue Jays may look into hiring a coach purely for video and analysis. If Martinez is let go, the Blue Jays should hire the dad of Cavan Biggio or Vlad. Both their fathers are in the hall of fame and were premier hitters in their playing careers. Dave Hugens was the bench coach this year. He could be promoted to hitting coach, the same role he had with the juggernaut Astros. Mark Budzinski was the 1st base coach this year and should be back next year. Finally, Mark Buschmann was the bullpen coach. He's a good asset to have because he's not that far removed from his playing days.

5. The Blue Jays have three free agents, two of which will almost certainly sign elsewhere. Justin Smoak, who played an emotional final game Sunday, giving the fans one last thing to cheer about, knocking in three runs on a pair of doubles. In 5 seasons with the Blue Jays, Smoak had one decent season (2017 when he batted .270 with 38 HR and 90 RBI and made the all-star team for the only time in his career). The other seasons were average at best and Smoak is now on the wrong side of 30 and his stats are likely to diminish even further. The Blue Jays will either go with Tellez or look on the free agent market for a replacement. Clay Buchholz, who was signed with the hopes of regaining his former all-star self, was a disappointment, finishing 2-5 with a 6.56ERA in just 12 starts due to starting the season late with a stress reaction in his knee and later missing several months with a severe teres major strain. Buchholz won't be back. The only Blue Jay free agent who will return is John Axford, who missed the entire season with a stress reaction in his elbow. He pitched 1 inning in the minors mid-year before shutting it down for good.

6. Let's have a look at some MLB awards:

  • AL MVP Mike Trout. He made the all-star team for the 8th year in a row, batted .291 with 45HR and 104RBI. His season ended a couple of weeks early to have surgery to remove foreign bodies in his foot. It's just too bad Trout is stuck on an Angels team that likely won't make the playoffs in the near future.
  • NL MVP - Cody Bellinger- The Dodgers 3rd year veteran was neck and neck all season long for this award with Christian Yelich. I give the nod to Bellinger because of Yelich breaking his kneecap September 10. Bellinger finished batting .303 with 47HR and 115 RBI
  • AL Cy Young Justin Verlander- to show you how deep the Astros rotation is, this is a battle between two teammates, who both had excellent seasons. Both studs had no-hitter opportunities with Verlander completing his and Cole having his no-hit bid broken up in the 6th inning. Oh, and Verlander reached 3000 strikeouts in his career and 300 strikeouts on the season in his final start. He consistently goes 6 or more innings. Verlander should win this year after finishing 2nd in voting last year
  • NL Cy Young Hyun-Jin Ryu- The southpaw gets the nod for leading the NL with a 2.32ERA. He had a 14-5 record in 29 starts.
  • AL ROY Yordan Alvarez If not for lack of games, Bo Bichette might have won this award. Nonetheless, Alvarez is deserving of this award for batting .311 with 27HR and 78RBI in a very deep Astros lineup.
  • NL ROY Pete Alonso. This one is a no-brainer. He beat Vlad in the finals of the HR derby and set a new rookie HR record with his 53rd HR on Sunday. The Mets have their 1st baseman for years to come

7. Now that the regular season is over, the top 5 teams in each league will battle it out to see who wins the World series. For the 18th straight year, there will be a new champion crowned with the Red Sox not even making the playoffs. The most dangerous team has to be the Astros with the Dodgers being a close second. Houston has 3 pitchers who would be the staff ace on any other team (Zack Greinke, Verlander and Gerritt Cole. There's no easy out anywhere in their lineup, except maybe the pitcher in an NL stadium. The Yankees, who's players have seemingly been held together by duct tape all year are scary because they've dominated with secondary players and now they are getting healthy at the right time. Part of me hopes the Rays beat the A's to see Charlie Morton try to beat his former team. There's plenty of ex-Blue Jays to cheer on: Josh Donaldson in Atlanta, JA Happ and Edwin Encarnacion in NY, Joe Biagini in Houston, Daniel Hudson in Washington, and Eric Sogard in TB. Stay tuned, the next month could be fun.

8. Let's end things with a top moments in Blue Jays history (1977-present) video.

9. Blue Jay of the week: Justin Smoak. Gotta give the nod to Smoak on this one for having a strong game in what is likely his final season as a Blue Jay

10. Blue Jay of the year: Ken Giles. When he was healthy, he dominated. Blue Jays should really be signing him long-term, not trying to get rid of him. Giles was 2-3 with a 1.87ERA and 23 saves in 53 appearances in 2019.