Monday, July 11, 2022

Ten weekly random thoughts - Weeks 9-14 May 31-July 10


It's been a while since a Monday off-day. The Blue Jays have played a TON of baseball since the last edition of ten weekly random thoughts waaayyy back on May 31. Before we get into the meat of this post, let's do a quick recap of the last 5 weeks. First off, the Blue Jays swept the White Sox at home. Hyun-Jin Ryu started the second game of this series and it would be the last pitch he threw in 2022 due to season-ending Tommy John surgery (more on that later). The Blue Jays then dropped 2 of 3 to the Twins. The series featured a pair of blow out victories by the Twins and Blue Jays respectively and a rare bad start by Kevin Gausman, who gave up 5 runs over the 1st 2 innings. The comeback fell short unfortunately by 2 runs. The Blue Jays then went into Kansas City where they shutout the Royals the first two games by a combined 15-0 score.  The final game of the series didn't go so well. Yusei Kikuchi could not even get out of the 1st inning, throwing 45 pitches and walking four batters. Unfortunately, the bullpen was unable to keep the score close enough. The Royals tacked on runs in every inning but the 2nd, 3rd and 8th innings. After an off-day, the Blue Jays blew out the Tigers 10-1, dropped the second game and shut out the Tigers 6-0. Next, the Blue Jays faced the bottom feeders of the AL East the Baltimore Orioles, who aren't quite the laughingstocks they once were, but still bad nonetheless. The two squads split the four games with the losses coming on subpar performances from Kikuchi (hey at least he lasted 4 innings this time) and Gausman (dang I got him on my fantasy team!). 

The Yankees then came into town and showed why they are running away with the division title, winning the first two games of the series on timely hitting, great starting pitching and a strong bullpen. The Blue Jays needed a HUGE 3-run bomb by Teoscar Hernandez to get a late lead and a fantastic play by Bo Bichette with the tying run on 3rd base with 2 outs to win one game over the Bronx bombers. The Blue Jays also needed a huge final game of the series in the next series in Chicago to avoid the embarrassment of sweeping a series at home and being swept by the same team in their own park. It also gave the Blue Jays their second season series win of the season. In Milwaukee, ex-Blue Jay Rowdy Tellez hurt his former team big time on Sunday with a pair of 2-run HR against Jose Berrios. Fellow ex-Blue Jay Jonathan Davis also scored once and drove in one in the series. Vlad, essentially the reason why Tellez was traded to the Brewers in the 1st place was a combined 4-11 in the 3 games, scoring twice and driving in 1. He also drew 2 walks on Sunday. The Blue Jays then came home and continued their dominance of the Red Sox, taking 2 of 3 and extending the season record to 7-3 in 10 games. The Canada Day weekend started out great with Kikuchi having his best start in a Blue Jays uniform with a 6-inning effort, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits while walking one and striking out 8. They then celebrated Canada Day with a blowout win. The remainder of the weekend was somber and quite frankly baseball was probably the last thing on the players minds. First base coach Mark (Bud) Budzinski tragically lost his eldest daughter Julia in a tubing accident Saturday. Before the tragedy occurred, Kevin Gausman was drilled in the ankle by a line drive that pushed back a scheduled Thursday start in Seattle. The team also dropped the rubber match of the series as players understandably weren't at the top of their game. After all that, the Blue Jays had to take a cross-country flight to play a west coast road trip with no off day to travel. With fatigue likely being a factor, the Blue Jays dropped the first game of the series on a rare subpar performance from Alek Manoah, The next day, Kikuchi was unable to build on the last solid start and couldn't make it through the 3rd inning. He walked 5 batters and hit two others as fastball command continued to plague him. The Blue Jays offence did just enough to avoid the series sweep. In Seattle, The Blue Jays lost all 4 games on the weekend and are now out of a wild card spot.. Looking at the week ahead, the Blue Jays return home to face the Phillies, who will be short several key players who are unvaccinated for the series, in a mini-2 game set. The Blue Jays then play 4 against Kansas City before the all-star break and a much-needed 4-day break. Here are ten random thoughts from the last 5 weeks of the MLB.

1. The big injury that will impact the team through at least the middle of next season is the Tommy John surgery for Hyun-Jin Ryu. The 35-year olf lefty started showing some worrying signs  when he left recent starts complaining of left forearm tightness - often a red flag for a UCL injury. Ryu previously had major surgery on his elbow in September 2016, so there was already a history of issues there. Justin Verlander is probably a good comparison in that he was a similar age when he had the surgery. If Ryu throws another pitch in a Blue Jays uniform, it may be from the bullpen after next year's all-star game. Ryu's injury has given Ross Stripling a spot in the rotation for the remainder of the season, but it leaves Casey Lawrence, Trent Thornton and Max Castillo as the longer options out of the bullpen. The snake-bitten Nate Pearson has suffered a setback in his rehab from mono. Pearson left a June 19th appearance in Buffalo after just 2 pitches with right shoulder discomfort. It turned out to be a lat strain and Pearson has been shut down through July from throwing. Honestly, the Blue Jays should cut their losses and move on from Pearson, who can never stay healthy. The equally snake bitten Julian Merryweather left June 13th's game against the Orioles with a left oblique strain. He's expected to be out weeks. Merryweather was recently placed on the 60-day IL so he can't return until mid-August. Trevor Richards missed 10 days with a strained neck and has pitched better since being activated. The hope is similar results occur when the disastrous Yusei Kikuchi returns from his 15-day stint on the IL with the same ailment. Lefty Taylor Saucedo, who has been out since April 29 with right hip discomfort, is on a rehab assignment in Buffalo and could be a bullpen option in the coming days. As far as position player injuries go, Danny Jansen is nearing a return to the Blue Jays lineup. Jansen has been out since June 6 when he fractured his finger after getting hit by a pitch. His return likely means Gabriel Moreno is optioned back to AAA ball. I could certainly see one of the catchers traded at the deadline or during the off-season. George Springer, Vlad and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have been rotating DH duties and each has been given full days off in recent weeks as they deal with various ailments not serious enough for an IL stint.

2. The Blue Jays reached the official halfway point of their season last Monday, a 5-1 loss to the A's. After Monday's games, they were 4th in the AL East, 14.5 games back of the Yankees, who barring a complete second half meltdown should be the AL East champs. There is an extra wild card team this season or the Blue Jays would be out of a playoff spot. If the standings stay as they are now at the end of the season, the Astros and Yankees would have byes to the divisional round of the playoffs and the Blue Jays would face the Twins in one best of 3 and the Red Sox and Rays would battle it out in the other best of 3 series. At this point, the Blue Jays are likely to be in one of the 3 wild card spots, but they can ill afford to have any major slumps. The Mariners, Orioles, White Sox, Indians and Rangers are all within five games of the Blue Jays for the final wild card spot.

3. Julia Budzinski, the eldest daughter of first base coach Mark "Bud" Budzinski, who tragically passed away in a tubing accident over the Canada Day long weekend deserves a point in this thread. From all of us here at JITH, our deepest condolences to the Budzinski family and all those impacted by this terrible loss. Also, kudos for a good chunk of the team for using the off-day today to fly to Virginia for Julia's funeral. Hopefully this brings the team some sense of closure so they can refocus for the last week before the all-star break.

4. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Alejandro Kirk were voted as starters for this year's all-star game. An unfortunate Rogers power outage on the final day of voting probably stopped another two or three starters from getting voted in. Bo Bichette, George Springer and Santiago Espinal were the other Blue Jays who were polling high in all-star voting this year. Kirk is batting .310 with 10 HR and 33RBI in 75 games, largely split between DH and catcher, this season. Vlad is batting .270 with 19HR and 54 RBI in 84 games, mostly at 1B. Alek Manoah (9-4 with a 2.33ERA in 17 starts) and George Springer ( were 

5. Pete Walker has been the Blue Jays pitching coach since 2012. He is regarded as one of the best pitching coaches in the game. He has gotten accolades for turning around the careers of pitchers like Robbie Ray and Steven Matz. Walker has also worked with pitchers who have not worked out and were eventually cut by the Blue Jays (see Rafael Dolis and Tyler Chatwood as prime examples). This season, pitching has been perhaps the biggest issue the Blue Jays team has grappled with. Injuries have been a factor (see  thought one and the impact Hyun-Jin Ryu,'s injury had on the bullpen). Many of the pitchers have been with the team for several years, including Tim Mayza and Trent Thornton. Like the manager, pitching coaches have a shelf life too. Perhaps Walker's message to the pitchers is starting to wear thin. I argue it might be time to perhaps bring in a new voice that might put the team over the edge.  

6. Yusei Kikuchi, Tanner Roark, Ross Stripling, Clay Buccholz and Ryan Borucki. These are the #5 starters the Blue Jays have used since the rebuild of the current team started in 2018. All but Stripling have proven to be ineffective. In today's MLB where pitch counts are strictly adhered to and most starting pitchers throw between 80-100 in a start, it's critical to have 5 starters that can reliably pitch 5-7 innings. Perhaps it's been Walker's reputation for improving project pitchers such as Ray, who came to the Blue Jays with a penchant to issuing too many walks. However, the Blue Jays need to be more selective when signing or trading for a 5th starter, otherwise the bullpen will burn our by midseason and those relievers will start getting hurt from overuse.

7. Former teammates have been burning the Blue Jays lately. In Milwaukee, Rowdy Tellez hit a pair of 2-run HR in the final game of the series June 26. Another ex-teammate, Jonathan Davis scored a run and drove in a run in the same game. Tellez is batting .230 with 17HR and 55 RBI in 82 gamesa and 287 AB. Davis is batting .184 with 1 RBI in 38AB  this season. On Friday, Ryan Borucki threw 2 scoreless innings to secure an extra innings win for the Mariners. Ex-Blue Jays closer Ken Giles threw a third of an inning in the same game. The next day, Robbie Ray threw 6 excellent innings, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits while walking 2 and striking out 6. Ray is 7-6 with a 3.51ERA in 18 starts this season. Matt Chapman hit a pair of home runs against his former team this week in Oakland.

8. With Friday's extra inning loss, the Blue Jays are now 2-5 in extra inning games and have been outscored 44-36 in those scenarios. When we look back on the season, it will be the missed opportunity of winning in extra innings that could be rued. Driving in runners in scoring position in general has been an issue for the 2022 Blue Jays. Quite frankly, they should try advancing the "ghost runner" with a sac bunt every now and then. At least that way they could score one run and have Jordan Romano come in to close it out if they are the road team.

9. Finally, there was a significant milestone in the bigs Sunday with Zack Greinke throwing pitch #50,000. With the pitch count limiting how many pitches are thrown in a given game, that feat may become rarer than Yusei Kikuuchi throwing a gem. Congrats to Greinke on the milestone.

10. Blue Jay of the past 5 weeks: Alejandro Kirk. In the month of June, Kirk hit .341 with 7 HR and 18 RBI. He's about to become the first Blue Jays catcher to start an all-star game and the first catcher since Russell Martin in 2015 to be name to the all-star game. Martin was a reserve in 2015 whereas Kirk was voted in by the fans. Other Blue Jays catchers named to past all-star teams (all were reserves) were John Buck (2010) and Ernie Whitt (1985).