Monday, August 3, 2020

Ten weekly random thoughts - week 2 -July 27-August 2

What a wild week in the world of baseball. Typically, this random thoughts post focuses on Blue Jays baseball and the week that was. However, before the first pitch was even thrown for this week, the baseball world was essentially turned upside down with the bombshell that 18 Miami Marlins had tested positive for COVID-19. Last Sunday, the Marlins voted to play the Philadelphia Phillies, despite four of their players testing positive for COVID-19. Twenty-four hours later, this decision proved to be unwise to say the least. By mid-week six teams were affected directly and/or indirectly (Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, the Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees and Orioles played a three-game series this week to allow for scheduling flexibility. The Marlins were the most severely affected leading to alter the roster in order to field a baseball team for next week. they signed three players, and the 20 ill staff members and players were bused back to Miami. Both the Marlins and the Phillies must now try to make up 7 games each cramped schedule of 60 games in 66 days. Oh, and the Milwaukee Brewers and St Louis Cardinals had their weekend series wiped out after some Cardinals players tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday The Blue Jays got an unexpected long weekend out of this fiasco, not a bad thing with the injuries that are piling up. The Blue Jays split the four games they played this week against the defending world series champions, the Washington Nationals. They won the first two games lost to arguably the best pitcher in the National League, then saw ace Hyun-Jin Ryu knocked around to the tune of 5 earned runs on 9 hits while walking 1 and striking out 5. Will there be any baseball to talk about in a week? Here are 10 random thoughts from week 2 of the MLB.

1. Obviously the big news of the week was the bombshell of an entire team about contracting COVID-19. This was the worst nightmare of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. Teams were expecting there to be some positive results, given that they were not using hub cities as the NBA, MLS, and NHL wisely chose to do. Instead, teams were playing out of the regular stadiums, save for the Blue Jays, and travelling and buses the other team's home parks. The rules around conduct were much less stringent. Reportedly, several Marlins players decided to go to a night club after a game in Atlanta, which is where they contracted COVID-19. It's a miracle that none of the Toronto Blue Jays or Tampa Bay Rays got COVID--19 when the two teams met in Florida last weekend, the worst state by far in terms of COVID-19 cases. I just looked at the schedules again and the Phillies and Marlins will actually have 10 games to make up (the entire week from this week and the three games the two teams are scheduled to play in Miami next week). Even with doubleheaders there's no way the Phillies and Marlins can possibly make up that many games with such a compact schedule already. Neither team plays in a domed stadium. They better hope that there are no rain delays that cancel further games for either team.

2. The MLB introduced another temporary rule change for this season only. Starting Saturday, all doubleheaders were a minimum of 7 innings as opposed to 9. There are probably a couple of reasons why this temporary rule came into effect. First, pitchers have not been able to pitch deep into games, forcing teams to use a lot of relievers early on. Second, there are likely to be a lot of doubleheaders this season because of COVID-19 positive results, on top of games that are postponed due to inclement weather. The MLB needed to shorten the length of games in a double-header to keep players fresh through  the remainder of the season. Also, the stadium workers needs time to sanitize the playing surface after games. I understand the need to shorten double header days. However, I wonder if it makes the game more like a beer game as opposed to a major league game. If the MLB can't manage to play baseball with the normal length of game (nine innings or more) then they should just stop playing altogether.

3. Another temporary rule change that I feel I can comment on this week is the one that for extra innings, a runner starts on second base at the beginning of each inning. The Blue Jays have played two extra inning games this season so far and lost both. Teams that are going to succeed with this format have a strong back end bullpen and clutch hitters that can come through. In the first game that went extra-innings, last Sunday in Tampa Bay, the Blue Jays manufactured a run to take the lead. However, in the bottom half of the inning, new Blue Jays reliever Shun Yamaguchi gave up a game-ending triple after walking the first batter he faced. Closer Ken Giles had already been used in the ninth and he blew a save by giving up two runs in the ninth. On Wednesday, the Nationals battled the Blue Jays to a scoreless draw through 9 Innings. Yamaguchi had another rough inning, this time allowing four runs, including a bases-clearing triple that scored three runs. You can't put all the blame on Yamaguchi. He was put in a difficult situation twice, having to start an inning with a runner on second base. Also, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. should have had the grounder that got by him on Wednesday. Overall, I don't like the rule of starting a runner on second base. Why not just start the runner on third base if you want to increase the chances of a run scoring. Besides, it didn't help the Dodgers and Astros, who's game went 13 innings on Wednesday.

4. Another reason why the MLB should just shut down play because at least one player, Red Sox Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez suffered long-term effects from COVID-19. He has been shut down for the remainder of the season with myocarditis, a disease that can cause heart failure. MLB players are a unique bunch of athletes, in that, they may not be as physically fit as a hockey player or a football player, for example. The physical demands of baseball are vastly different from other sports. The MLB is more likely to have players at risk of the long-term effect of COVID-19. Umpires and the various staff members tend to be older and more out of shape as well and are also more at risk of the long-term effects of COVID-19. Will it take a death for the MLB to wake up and do the right thing and cancel the season already. There is no way that the MLB can hope to contain the COVID-19 virus from spreading to most, if not all of the teams with everyone travelling and not enough people wearing masks during play (those players who opted wear masks are often seen with them underneath their chin, which has no benefit). Players not inside any sort of a bubble. It's a miracle that the virus is not widespread among more teams as of yet. At this point, it's a matter of when, not if, the season will be cancelled.

5. One effect that is already taking place from playing too many games in a short period of time injuries. Consider your Blue Jays. In no short order, the Blue Jays are missing closer Ken Giles, right fielder Randal Grichuk, outfielder Derek Fisher, corner infielder Travis Shaw (away from the team for personal reasons, not injured), and shortstop Bo Bichette.  Giles' injury appears to be the most serious and is the most concerning. The flame-throwing righty is far and away the best pitcher in the Blue Jays bullpen. On most nights that he comes into the game in the 9th and the Blue Jays have a three run or less lead, nine times out of 10 the Blue Jays will win the game. Giles has a forearm strain injury, which can often be a precursor to Tommy John surgery. The right-hander also issues last season that prevented him from pitching on back-to-back nights often. Bichette was able to return to the lineup Thursday after missing three games with a hamstring strain. Fisher was injured on Thursday (left quad strain), so he may not be ready to return to the lineup when the Blue Jays return to play on Tuesday. Grichuk is coming along nicely from his SI joint injury and is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday in Atlanta. It was great to see Ryan Borucki get into a game for the first time since injuring his elbow at the beginning of the 2019 season. The Blue Jays will be very cautious with using him this season and expect him to remain in the bullpen pitch an inning or two at most. Maybe at some point next season he might go back into the starting rotation, but for this season, he'll be in the bullpen

6. There has to be some major concerns on the Blue Jays about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He is learning a new position this season, going across the diamond to play first base after spending last season at the hot corner. Guerrero Jr. has directly blown two games because of fielding  mistakes, so far. Last Sunday, Guerrero Jr. dove for a ball when he should have been running to cover first base. Reliever Brian Moran was unable to get to the back in time to get what would have been final out of the game. On Wednesday, he had a ground ball down the first-base line glance off his glove and into the right field corner for a bases-clearing triple that put away the game in the 10th inning. Guerrero Jr. is also struggling as a plate. Like last season, he is hitting into a lot of ground outs or striking out. Unfortunately, the minor league is cancelled for the year, so he might as well just continue to get better in the majors this season. Hopefully the Blue Jays gave Vlad lots of reps at first base during four days off. The Blue Jays should also consider having the Guerrero Jr. play first base the majority of the week instead of alternating him at first base and DH as they have been doing this season so far. He needs all the playing time he can get at first base to learn the new position.

7. To the surprise of no one, believer Sam Gaviglio was optioned to the minor league team on Saturday after a nervous couple of outings. He has given up three earned runs while walking three and striking out one batter into an inning of work in two appearances. The 30 year old pitched exclusively out of the bullpen last season and made 52 appearances last season. Manager Montoyo threw Gaviglio into a high pressure situation, pitching in the eighth inning of a tied ball game. Unfortunately, Gaviglio had a rough inning on a triple and a balk to the next batter to hands the Rays the game last Saturday. He is one of the returning relievers so Montoyo should have known better than to put the righty in such a situation. His whole career, Gaviglio has been an average pitcher at best. It's only been the last two Gaviglio has transitioned to becoming a reliever. In Seattle, Kansas and  his first year in Toronto, Gaviglio was primarily a starting pitcher.  It is a completely different mentality being a reliever versus a starting pitcher. When you're coming out of the bullpen, you are expected to throw strikes and get outs in a timely manner. As a starting pitcher, you're going to face the same lineup two to three times. Also, relievers are generally not built up to throw more than 20-30 pitches in a night. Perhaps the Blue Jays to consider turning Gaviglio into a long reliever/spot starter.

8. Next, I want to talk about the performance of Charlie Montoyo for a minute. There has been a lot of critique over how Montoyo has used the bullpen and made the line up early on this season. Montoyo is in the second year as manager of the Blue Jays. Looking at the bullpen, there have been many changes. New to Montoya are Ryan Borucki (made all of two starts last season and pitched 6 2/3 of an inning before missing the rest of the season with elbow issues), Anthony Bass, AJ Cole, Rafael Dolis, Brian Moran, and Shun Yamaguchi. With that many new relievers, Montoyo needs to learn where they fit best in the bullpen and in what role. at the moment, closer Ken Giles is out with a forearm strain, so we have to figure not only how to get to the 9th Inning but how to get the last 3 outs with what they have to work with. As far as his decision to alternate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. between first base and designated hitter. he may not have a choice there either. There have been huge question marks about Guerrero Jr's commitment to working out in the gym as a pro. He may be  alternating every game to save him for the rest of the season. Maybe Vlad can't handle the pressures of playing in the field two days in a row. If that's the case, then the high performance team and the strengthening and conditioning coaches are to blame for the decision here. Injuries have forced Montoya to use players that he wouldn't normally use and in different positions/situations. Besides, if you're going to fire Montoyo, who are you going to replace him with? No, Montoyo needs to work through these challenges, and then the Blue Jays can re-evaluate him in the off-season.

9. Finally, after watching a week's worth of games, I now feel that I can make a comment on playing in an empty stadium. Most teams are using fan cutouts to fill some of the empty seats. MLB could do a better job covering home plate because all of those are empty seats and that is what the TV viewing fan sees most of the game when the pitcher pitches to the batter. A lot of the cutouts are spread either around the outfield where fans would sit to catch a ball for a home run. It's good to see them playing the batter's walk-up music. I have been watching the games on mute because I'm not a big fan of fake crowd noise. The MLB is doing something pretty cool this season. You can join in with a virtual cheer for your team. Each game, on top of the link for watching online on MLB.TV and the link for gameday (which is essentially a play-by-play so fans can follow games live without watching them and paying money), there is a link in the shape of a megaphone you can click and then click on your team and do a virtual cheer for them. It's a great way for fans to be in the stadium, without actually being in the stadium, however long games keep happening until the MLB is forced to pull the plug on the season.

10. Blue Jay of the week: Nate Pearson. The hard-throwing right-hander made his MLB regular season debut on Wednesday, tossing five shutout innings, allowing a pair of hits, walking two and striking out five. His fastball topped out at 99mph. No doubt Pearson will only get better and will likely win the first Cy Young Award since Roy Halladay in the coming years.