Monday, September 14, 2020

Ten random thoughts- August 10-September 11


It's been a month since I last posted a weekly random thoughts post. Normally, I would provide updates on each post with with each individual game. This time I will take a broader view of the last month and go series by series. The middle of the month started with a two split of series with the Miami Marlins, including a 14-11 loss. Then the Blue Jays routed the Tampa Bay Rays before the Rays edged the Blue Jays in the next 2 games. The Blue Jays then went on a bit of a run winning the next six games, including sweeps over the Orioles and the Phillies (a one day double header). The Blue Jays then dropped two of the next three games. On August 23rd the blue Jays  acquired Daniel Vogelbach from the Seattle Mariners. Vogelbach only lasted four games, in which he came in as a pinch-hitter before being DFA'd and picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers. Toronto was supposed to have embarked on 30 game in 29 game stretch starting August 14th however, the Blue Jays and Red Sox postponed their game on August 27th in protest of the shooting in Wisconsin. This was in collaboration with NBA, and NHL who also postponed their games for a couple of days. August 27th was also the day that the Blue Jays acquired Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners. Walker made his Blue Jays debut on the 29th, firing six shutout innings. Two days later, the Blue Jays acquired three more players: Jonathan Villar, Robbie Ray, and Ross Stripling. Since the trade deadline the Blue Jays split the two games in Miami, won 3 of 5 against Boston in a rare series, thanks to a doubleheader, which the two teams split. They then came home to Buffalo and took two or three from the Yankees, then got blown out in the opener against the Mets 18 to 1, and beat them the next night. In the rubber match on Sunday, the Blue Jays responded with a pair of runs in the 2nd inning after the Mets took the lead in the 1st inning, before breaking the game open with a s-spot in the 6th. Hyun-Jin Ryu was solid in 6 innings. Looking ahead, the blue Jays embark on their final road trip of the season after a final off-day Monday with series in New York and Philadelphia, where they will play a doubleheader to start the series on Friday. Blue Jays then end the regular season with a key series against the Yankees that will go a long way to deciding who wins second place in the AL East. The Blue Jays end the regular season with a weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles who are 4.5 games back of a wild card spot. Here are 10 random thoughts from the last month of the MLB.

1. First off, the MLB has to be commended for largely making it the pandemic to date. Unlike the NHL and NBA, the MLB chose to forgo using a bubble to isolate teams in a few cities. Instead, the MLB combined regional divisions (AL east teams played NL east teams (as well as the teams in their own division) and AL Central teams played NL Central teams (plus the teams in their own division) and AL West teams played NL West teams (on top of the teams in their own division). This meant that teams were flying from city to city. Also, teams were living out of their regular homes and not staying in a hotel. Right off the bat, the MLB saw a major setback when virtually the entire Miami Marlins team (20 players and staff when the dust settled) were infected with the COVID-19 virus. Because the Marlins and Phillies voted to play on the first Sunday of the season when they knew that four players on the Marlins had already positive for COVID-19, the MLB was forced to cancel the schedules of the Phillies and Marlins for an entire week, affecting the schedules of 7 teams. Since then, St Louis Cardinals also an outbreak of COVID-19 and had a week's worth of games postponed. Cleveland Indians pitchers Mike Clevenger (he would later be traded to San Diego at the trade deadline after relationships with the Cleveland Indians soured following the incident) and Adam Plesac were sent home after violating team protocol on a road trip to Chicago. The vast majority of teams have done extremely well with their conduct both on and off the field and that is why baseball is still being played. The MLB is wrapping up negotiations with the MLBPA on the terms with which the playoffs will be played. At this point, it looks like for the first round, teams will play all three games at the home field of the higher-seeded team. Then for the next rounds until the World Series, teams will play either in the home ball parks of the San Diego Padres or LA  Dodgers if they are an AL team or the home ball parks of the Houston Astros or Texas Rangers if they are an NL team. The home ball park of the LA Angels is also being considered as one of the stadiums. Contending teams will start to quarantine in hotels during the final week of the regular season. I like that the MLB is taking away home field advantage the Astros Dodgers, padres and Rangers. 

2. No doubt the MLB will be watching NFL fairs with their COVID-19 protocol. The NFL is using a similar strategy for playing their season as the MLB has done. The difference is, the NFL is going to allow fans at some of their games. Some of the NFL teams are waiting at least a week or two before allowing fans in. One thing to keep in mind is football is a much more physical sport than baseball and there is less physical distancing in football, especially at the start of plays. Like the MLB, the NFL plays most of their games in outdoor stadiums with a few domed arenas. That may affect the ability of the virus to spread.

3. Ok, let's get back to baseball. As one might expect, the Blue Jays had to adjust to several injuries. Closer Ken Giles missed almost 6 weeks with a strained forearm before returning this weekend. Bo Bichette also missed considerable time after injuring his knee stretching out before and at bat, and he made his return on Saturday. More recently, Rowdy Tellez (strained knee tendon) and Teoscar Hernandez (oblique injury) were placed on the injured list. Trent Thornton missed 10 days with a forearm strain, came back for one game, before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow. Highly-touted pitching Prospect Nate Pearson has also missed time with in his pitching elbow. He's getting close to a return, but his role will change, as he'll be pitching out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season. Reliever Jordan Romano strained a tendon in his pitching finger. Matt Shoemaker, who was arguably the most consistent starter rotation this season, went down with a strained shoulder the same weekend as Thornton did with his elbow. It must have been frustrating for Shoemaker, who missed almost the entire 2019 season after tearing his ACL in his 5th start in a Blue Jays uniform. Finally, Wilmer Font is also on the injured list with an undisclosed injury. The Blue Jays have been smart juggling players around the lineup and in different positions to be ready to jump in if a player got hurt. Take Cavan Biggio, for example. His natural position is second base. However, he can also be used in right field or center fielder should Randal Grichuk need a day off. He even played at the hot corner for the first time Sunday. Travis Shaw Jonathan Villar, and Joe Panik can all play (and have played) multiple positions in the infield. this is a great luxury to have so much flexibility when it comes to making defensive substitutions late in games when the Blue Jays are leading, or in the event of injuries. 

4. Starter Tanner Roark was livid after he was taken out of the game after throwing 68 pitches through four Innings on Wednesday. All season, Charlie Montoyo has been  leaning towards giving pitchers the early hook as they near the 90 pitch threshold. This has put a lot of pressure on the bullpen, which on most nights has had to get at least 16 outs, if not more. the Blue Jays have been deploying an eight-man bullpen, and making roster changes as needed when pitchers aren't going to be available for at least a game due to having thrown a lot of pitches the past game or two. So far this season,  26 pitchers have thrown at least one inning for the Blue Jays. Rafael Dolis, who got his 6th save of the season Saturday, and Anthony Bass both made their 21st appearances of the season on Saturday and Dolis pitched Sunday to make it 22 appearances this season. Tim Mayza who blew out his elbow after being overused in 2019, is a tale of caution for overusing the bullpen. Many of the Blue Jays relievers are known to throw hard, and thus could be at a greater risk of getting injured. Ryan Borucki has already undergone Tommy John surgery, and had a similar elbow surgery that Thornton just had to remove loose bodies last year. The season could potentially go another six weeks if the Blue Jays make the world series.  They need the starters to start going deeper in games.

5. Another major issue for the Blue Jays has been base-running follies. As of September 3rd the Blue Jays had made 18 outs due to base running mistakes. Whether it be trying to stretch a single into a double, running through a stop sign in an attempt to score, or getting thrown out trying to steal a base, you have to pick your spots and be smart. When it comes to the playoffs, every scoring opportunity counts, and if the Blue Jays run themselves out of rallies, they will find themselves being eliminated rather quickly. Jonathan Villar has been guilty of a few of these running mistakes, and was nearly picked off first base in the 8th inning Saturday. Speaking of pick offs, the Blue Jays had been picked off five times as of September 3rd, with only the Marlins and Padres faring worse in that stat. the Blue Jays best spend the final off day of the season doing a lot of base running drills.

6. A huge part of baseball is executing the fundamentals and making the plays you should be making. Again, as of September 3rd, the Blue Jays had committed 20 errors (which was middle of the pack), but were minus-22 in defensive runs saves, which was among the worst in the league. Twelve different players have committed at least one error this season. Jonathan Villar (4 errors) has the most on the team, and he's only been on the Blue Jays for two weeks. You have to wonder if having players playing multiple positions is really such a good strategy, as opposed to having players play their natural positions every day, with the occasional day off, or until injuries arise. Further, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is supposed to be learning a new position (1B) and yet, he's playing every other game as the DH. Is it punishment for not following his strength and conditioning program?Are the Blue Jays trying to keep Guerrero Jr. from getting injured by limiting his time in the field? Whatever the reason, the Blue Jays should be playing Vlad in the field daily so he can learn his new position faster. Now that Tellez is out with an injury, maybe that will happen.

7. The Blue Jays have been playing musical chairs recently when it comes to the backup catcher. Danny Jansen has established himself as the clear number one catcher that will play the majority of games. He's been solid defensively and worked well with the pitchers. Reese McGuire was initially supposed to be the backup, playing 2 or 3 times a week. However, he's had a terrible time offensively, with just 3 hits in 41AB. McGuire was optioned to the taxi squad after making a terrible throw to third base when the bases were already loaded. The Blue Jays then recalled Caleb Joseph, who got into 3 games (2 starts) before being DFA'd. Joseph was 1-8 at the plate with 2 runs scored and 2 RBI, including a HR. Defensively, Joseph was 0-4 when trying to throw out base runners, had a passed ball and wild pitch when he was behind the plate. Top catching prospect Alejandro Kirk was recalled Friday and made his big league debut Saturday, catching lefty Robbie Ray. Offensively, Kirk was 1-3 with a run scored and a walk. The 9th inning was a bit of an adventure for him with a runner reaching on what should have been the last out of the game after the ball bounced to the back stop. On the next pitch, the ball deflected off Kirk again, but he managed to keep the ball close enough to keep the runner from advancing. It will be interesting to see who the Blue Jays decide to use in the final two weeks of the season. Will they stick with Kirk? Will Reese McGuire be given another chance?

8. I do want to touch a bit on the protests by teams August 26-28 in the NBA, NHL (only the 27-28), NFL (no games scheduled but teams opted to skip practices), and MLB (8 teams boycotted on the 26th and 14 teams boycotted on the 27th). I thought it was interesting that some teams in the MLB chose not to join the boycott. The MLB and it's players should have more of a vested interest in protesting given the history of black baseball players. Before Jackie Robinson, blacks weren't even allowed to play in the majors. There was a lot of backlash online about the players choosing to boycott the games with many saying that sports and politics should be separate. However, these athletes live and work in the communities where the shootings are taking place the majority of the year. The victims of these shooting are their friends and neighbors. The shooting victims have probably watched these athletes perform and even attended games live. Some of the victims may have even been lucky enough to meet some of the athletes and even get their autographs. I'm not going to get into the events that triggered the boycott. However, there's only so much the athletes can do to show their support for the BLM movement. They have knelt during anthems, NBA players have worn approved slogans on their backs instead of their last names, baseball has a stenciled logo supporting BLM on the mounds this season, athletes can wear patches on their jerseys. This time, they felt they needed to send a stronger message by sitting out a game. Will there be no more shootings because of this boycott? No, but the boycott got/kept the conversation going and forced people to step away from their TVs and address what's going on in the world. There will absolutely be fans that stop watching these sports because of this boycott, but the sports will play on and thrive without the ignorant fans that choose not to tune in because the athletes chose to have a voice.

9. Finally, with the sprint of a season about to wrap up, it's time to consider the awards for this season. I don't see how the MLB can really award an MVP, Cy Young winner or rookie of the year winner, because there just weren't enough games played to really weed out the top players. Take the Cy Young for example, can you really judge a starting pitcher after just 10-15 starts? I would honestly be inclined to award the Cy Young to a reliever this season, because they've been having to pick up the slack on a lot of nights with pitchers having to build up pitch counts after a really quick summer training camp and one or two exhibition games. For the batting title, you're judging on ~250AB. Generally, pitchers are ahead of hitters at the start of the season, and it might have taken a quarter of the season for some hitters to heat up. No, this year's awards should come with an asterisk.

10. Blue Jay of the week: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. He robbed two Mets of extra base hits on Saturday and Sunday and had a couple of clutch base hits. Gurriel Jr. has also been one of the more consistent Blue Jays hitters this season.