We are now at the unofficial hallf way point of the 2021 season. This week's random thoughts post will take a look back at the first half and the news of this week. Next week's post will be more of a focus on the remainder of the season and whatever happens on the first weekend back against the Red Sox at Fenway next weekend. Thiss week, the Blue Jays limped home after a dreadful west coast swing that saw them win just once. In fact, they had just 1 win in 10 games after the loss in Seattle a week ago. The off-day was spent attending the funeral of Blue Jays 1st baseman. The timing of the funeral was fortuitous because it gave the team closure, but it also took away an off-day to rest. The Blue Jays swept the two game set against the Phillies. In a surprise move, Charlie Montoyo was fired Wednesday afternoon, a couple of hours prior to the game Wednesday (more on that later). The Blue Jays dropped the opener of the final series before the all-star break, but bounced back with a big win. In fact, the Blue Jays finished the week strong with three straight wins, including two straight comeback wins. Looking at the week ahead, after a much-needed four days off for most of the team, the Blue Jays open the second half of the season with a three game set against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The Blue Jays have won 7 of the 10 games against the Red Sox this season, outscoring the Red Sox 42-32. Here are ten random thoughts from week 3 of the MLB.
1. The big news of the week was the firing of manager Charlie Montoyo. The timing of the firing was a bit awkward, given that the team had just won the day before, albeit despite blowing a couple of leads - a troubling trend this season. Montoyo might have survived the extra day because the team was attending the funeral of 1st base coach Mark. "Bud" Budzinsky. The Blue Jays actually won Montoyo's last game at the helm, but with the utmost difficulty with multiple blown leads. Prior to Tuesday's win, the Blue Jays had won just once in ten games. There were hug expectations for the 2022 Blue Jays. They were coming off a successful 2021 season where they missed the playoffs by one game. Yes, they lost several key players to free agency, but the Blue Jays got Kevin Gausman, who was thought to be equally as good as Robbie Ray. They signed project Yusei Kikuchi as a 5th starter, with the hope that Pete Walker could work his magic. The bullpen was more or less the same with the addition of Yimi Garcia. Randal Grichuk was traded for the cheaper Raimel Tapia. Bradley Zimmer was brought in to back up George Springer. Unfortunately, the 2021 Blue Jays turned out to have many holes. Opening day starter and ace Jose Berrios only recorded just one out on opening day and was wildly inconsistent. He had good starts and bad starts. Kikuchi struggled from the get-go with fastball command and has a team high 41 walks on the season.He is 3-5 with a 5.12ERA in 16 starts. The most innings he was able to throw in a start was 6 (accomplished in 3 starts). In nine other starts, he threw less than 5 innings. To make the bullpen throw that many innings that many times is simply not sustainable. Bradley Zimmer turned out not to be able to hit - at all. He was batting .113 heading into Sunday's game. The biggest critiques of Montoyo during his time as Blue Jays GM were his handling of the bullpen, continuing to use arms that weren't working (Rafael Dolis, Tyler Chatwood and Trent Thornton for three), his lineup choices (sitting Vlad on national holidays, starting Bradley Zimmer ahead of Raimel Tapia) and in-game decisions such as bunting with 2 strikes. The Blue Jays made the playoffs just once, in 2020 when they were swept 2-0 by the Rays in a best of 3 wild card series. Montoyo was an even .500 as a manager with the Blue Jays winning 236 and losing 236.
2. Replacing Montoyo, at least for the remainder of the season, will be former bench coach John Schneider. After his playing career ended due to concussions, Schneider became a catching instructor and was quickly promoted to manager of the Blue Jays rookie-level Gulf Coast Blue Jays (he also managed the team in 2013 after a leave of absence from the Canadians). Between 2008-2018, he worked his way through the various minor league levels managing the Vancouver Canadians (2010-11, 2014-15), Class-A Lansing Lugnuts (2016-17) and double A New Hampshire Fisher Cats (2018). He led the 2011 Canadians and 2017 Lugnuts to championships. The Fisher Cats made it to the championship game, but lost that game. After the 2018 season, Schneider was named bench coach. He worked closely with Montoyo and played a big part in the in-game strategy. Whether Schneider remains as manager beyond this season will be largely dependent on how the team fares in the second half of the season. They are off to a good start under Schneider's guidance, winning 4 of 5 games, including 3 straight wins and 2 comeback wins.
3. The Blue Jays made a pair of moves Saturday, opting to DFA Sergio Romo and trading righty Jonatan Bernal for lefty Griffin Foster. For Romo it was a short stint in a Blue Jays uniform. Signed June 29, Romo made 6 apparances for the Blue Jays and was 0-1 with a 4.29ERA. He really only had one bad appearance, when he allowed a pair of earned runs on 3 hits June 8 in Seattle and took the loss. Foster Griffin was optioned to AAA-ball after the trade. It's been a really bad season for Griffin, who has a dreadful 12.46ERA in 5 appearances for the Royals over 4.1 innings. Bernal was 1-5 with a 5.47ERA in 14 games (7 starts) for class-A Dunedin Blue Jays.
4. The Blue Jays will be repped by five players in this year's all-star game in LA: Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Alejandro Kirk, Alek Manoah, Santiago Espinal and Jordan Romano. George Springer was also nominated by his peers, but declined the invitation, opting for the 4 days off to rest a sore elbow. Guerrero Jr. and Kirk will both be starting, having been nominated by the fans. Manoah was picked as a pitcher and Espinal and Romano were named as injury replacements. Guerrero Jr. is batting .271 with 20HR and 57RBI in 92 games, mostly at 1B and 19 games as DH. Kirk.is batting .315 with 11HR and 37RBI in 83 games (49 as catcher and 27 as DH). Espinal is batting .271 with 6HR and 37RBI in 91 games (80 at 2B, 9 at 3B, 6 as DH and 8 at SS). Springer is batting .250 with 17HR and 42 RBI in 82 games (57 in CF, 20 as DH and 2 starts in RF). Manoah is 10-4 with a 2.28ERA in 18 starts. Romano is 3-2 with a 2.73ERA and 20 saves in 29 appearances. He surpassed Tom Henke for most consecutive saves.
5. Here are some fun Blue Jay all-star facts:
- First all-star: Ron Farley (1977)
- Most all-stars in a season: 7 in 1993 (Joe Carter, Paul Molitor, Devon White, Duane Ward, Roberto Alomar, Pat Hentgen and John Olerud)
- Most all-star appearances in a Blue Jays uniform: Dave Stieb with 7 (1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985. 1988 and 1990)
- All-star game MVP: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last season
- Times Toronto has hosted the all-star game: once in 1991
6. Three Blue Jays who impressed in the first half:
- Alejandro Kirk - The first Blue Jays catcher voted to start an all-star game, Alejandro Kirk has swung a hot stick all season, batting .315 with 6HR and 37 RBI in 83 games. He became a veteran presence for prospect Gabriel Moreno, recalled to backup Kirk during Danny Jansen's second DL stint. During the first stint, the catching duties were split between Kirk, Zack Collins and Tyler Heineman. Collins had a bad game against Milwaukee June 26 and it was decided to recall Moreno. Kirk has also done well as personal catcher for Manoah.
- Adam Cimber - The 31-year-old side winder has been one of the Blue Jays most reliable relievers this season. He has been credited with 8 wins this season and has the chance to break the MLB record for most wins by a reliever, held by Roy Face of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won 18 games in 1959. Cimber will need to come into 10 games over the last three and a half months of the season where the game is tied and have the Blue Jays take and hold a lead in that inning to match the record. He usually appears in the 7th or 8th inning. Cimber also has 4 saves and 3 losses this season and has a 3.15ERA in a league high 42 appearances in the first half.
- Alek Manoah - The sophomore righty has exceeded expectations right from his impressive MLB debut back on April 11 last season when he threw 6 shutout innings at Yankee Stadium and struck out DJ LeMahieu, the first batter he faced, on three pitches. This season, he is 10-4 with a 2.28ERA in 18 starts. One quirky stat is he leads the league in hit by pitches, hitting 9 batters this season. Manoah will pitch in the all-star game.
7. Three Blue Jays who disappointed in the first half.
- Yusei Kikuchi - Projected to be the Blue Jays 5th starter, Yusei Kikuchi has had a dreadful season, struggling mightily with fastball command. He is 3-5 with a 5.12ERA in 16 starts. He has walked 41 batters this season and hit another 6. The bigger concern is in 10 of the 16 starts, Kikuchi managed to go less than 5 innings, making the bullpen get more than half the game's outs. His worst start was June 8 against Kansas City when he couldn't get out of the 1st inning and ended up giving up 3 runs on 2 hits, walking 4 and striking out 2. Kikuchi pitched 6 innings twice. He's currently on the 15-day IL with a neck strain. Really though the Blue Jays were going to have to skip him or do something with him because he was way too inconsistent.
- Hyun-Jin Ryu- In the 3rd season of a 4-year deal signed back in December 2019, Ryu is done for the season after Tommy John surgery June 20. Like Kikuchi, Ryu struggled to get through 5 innings this season, although trying to pitch through an elbow injury certainly didn't help. Ryu was 2-0 with a 5.67ERA in 6 starts, the last two he left early complaining of a sore forearm. Ryu has been on a slow decline the past couple of seasons. He lived up to his contract in the pandemic shortened 2020 season where he was 5-2 with a 2.69ERA in 12 starts and was 3rd in Cy Young voting. Last season, he was 14-10 with a 4.37ERA in 31 starts. The earliest Ryu is likely to be ready to return is around the all-star break next season. He may have thrown his final pitch in a Blue Jays uniform.
- Bradley Zimmer - acquired to backup George Springer in CF, Zimmer has not done an adequate job. He came into Sunday's game batting .113 with 2 HR and 3RBI. He was 0-2 Sunday with a strikeout. While he's been fine in the field, his play at the plate has meant Cavan Biggio and Raimel Tapia have been the options when Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Teoscar Hernandez or Springer need a day off. It also doesn't help that Zimmer is basically a center fielder only, whereas Tapia can play any of the 3 outfield positions. Because Zimmer is a fast runner, he has remained on the roster to be used as a pinch runner late in games or replacing Springer when the game is not in doubt, either a blowout win or blowout loss.
8. We are now halfway through the second full season with the universal DH in place. The rule was temporarily in place in the shortened 2020 season as well. I want to focus on the national league teams because this is where the rule has the biggest impact. The AL has been using the DH since 1973. The biggst positives of the universal DH have been to create 15 more jobs that otherwise would not exist, pitchers won't get hurt running the bases or getting hit by a pitch, and pitchers can concentrate on perfecting what they are paid to do - pitch. It has also extended the careers of aging veterans, such as Albert Pujols and Mike Moustakas. Bryce Harper has the best stats of the 15 primary NL DH's, batting .318 with 15 HR and 48RBI over 69 games.
9. Blue Jay of week 15: Teoscar Hernandez: the Blue Jays slugger was 8-25 with 4 runs scored, and drove in 8 runs, including the game winner Saturday.
10. Blue Jay of the 1st half: Adam Cimber. Several Blue Jays have had strong first halfs, but none of them are on pace to set an MLB record. Adam Cimber has credit for 8 of the Blue Jays wins, ten wins shy of the single season mark set by Roy Face of the Pirates in 1959. Cimber is perhaps the most trusted reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen after closer Jordan Romano. He usually comes in to pitch the 7th or 8th inning.