September 2014

Thoughts on season 2014

After such an awful month of August when the Jays could only win nine games as they lost lots of ground in the Eastern Division, who would have thought that John Gibbons’ team would be involved in the race to the playoffs.

But the hill was too steep to climb in such a short time.

So, for this last blog of the 2014 season, I’d like too share with you my thoughts on the last six months.

It was a season filled with happy surprises and less happy situations. And since I always like to leave my readers with a good taste in their mouths, let’s start with what I did not like.

The offensive output of Colby Rasmus, probably on account of his too many strikeouts surely had an influence on his defense which, at times, was nonchalant.

Also, maybe on account of is leg injury, Jose Reyes was not able to cover as much ground as in previous years and he made too many errors (17). I think that the Jays may be tempted to move him from shortstop to another defensive position. One thing for sure, the absence of Brett Lawrie at third base did not help him, but still he was not up to his reputation defensively.

And again, without a second baseman who could anchor the infield defensively, the Jays must be dreaming of a Ryan Goins who could hit around .250 to go along with his gold glove.

The health situation that has hampered closer Casey Janssen is always a source of worries. Once again he could not start the season on time and after the All-Star Break, he was not up to par on account of a virus or food poisoning.

One has to admit that he was not available on a regular basis and that Sergio Santos failed miserably.

Now let’s look at some more positive aspects of the Jays.

The biggest surprise was, among non-pitchers, without any doubts the performance of Dioner Navarro. He did an outstanding job handling the pitching staff, his stamina was better than expected as was his offensive output.

Melky Cabrera, until he was hurt, was the most regular hitter on the team and his defensive skill improved a lot, since he was healthy. I sure hope the Jays will find ways to convince him to stay in Toronto. There is nobody in the farm system or on the free agent market who, currently, can replace him.

Jose Bautista was once again the leader of this Jays team. He hit more that 30 homeruns and drove in more than 100. He also was brilliant defensively.

It remains to be seen if one of the younsters among Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar and/or Dalton Pompey is ready to step in and claim center field to replace Rasmus.

On the infield, Juan Francisco may have hit many homers in a limited number of at-bats, but like Rasmus, his too many strikeouts make him a liability. The Jays need a healthy Lawrie at the hot corner. Danny Valencia is a gifted substitute in the infield because he can play at more than one position.

At second base, the injury to Maicer Izturis made Munenori Kawasaki a regular player instead of a part-time player. Vroom, Vroom as we have knicknamed him, is a crown pleaser and even if he improved his batting average he does not have enough power, the weakness of his arm and his limited mobility make him a reserve player at best.

At first base, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind form a sound combo. The offensive potential of « Double E » outweights his defensive shortcomings while Lind is one of the most productive hitters against righthanders. But they both need to be healthy.

Finally, the pitching staff.

I think that veteran Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dicky did a fairly good job despite Buehrle’s rough rime after such a great start.

Drew Hutchison had a season of ups and downs, but he ended on a strong note. J.A, Happ also was irregular. He could be a fifth starter, unless the youngsters coming up bypass him. For Happ, it could mean a trip to the bullpen or being involved in a trade.

The emergence of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez allow the Jays to look forward to an injection of young blood in a pitching staff filled with promises. But it is premature to say that Daniel Norris, Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman are ready to step in.

Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil are the lefthanders of the relief corps, but I have my doubts about Dustin McGowan and Brandon Morrow on account of their contracts for next year.

What about manager John Gibbsons and his coaching staff? I really can’t say what is in store for them.

The coming months should be interesting as G-M Alex Anthopoulos will get ready to attack the winter meetings (in December) with lots on his mind.

Until next spring, I wish all my readers lots of health and many happy surprises along the way.

Where were the hitters?

The last road trip of the season started on a very bad note as the Blue Jays could not buy a hit when they needed one as they fell 5-2 in Baltimore.

How can a team hope for a win when hitters can’t get more than three hits on 16 occasions with runners in scoring position? And 11 runners were stranded on the basepath?

That’s the way the Jays allowed the Orioles to reduce to ONE the magic number which would crown them championsof the Eastern Division of the American League.

Even in the first inning, the Jays reached Wei-Yin Chen for three straight hits, but two strikeouts and an outstanding catch later, he was off the hook as the Jays scored only one run.

On the other side of the ledger, Marcus Stroman was unable to handle the Orioles. He allowed five runs on nine hits on his way to his sixth loss of the year.

The following day, for a second year in a row, the Jays witnessed the champagne celebration of an adversary winning a championship. Last year, the Red Sox had also done it at their expanse.

Just like the day before, the Jays took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but the Orioles struck right back as Steve Pearce hit a three-run homer off Drew Hutchison.

Once again, the Jays got only one hit with runners in scoring position and when Alejandro De Aza hit a three-run triple in the seventh inning, they were doomed. Despite the fact that Hutchison struck out 11 Orioles, he suffered his 12th defeat of the season, as he gave up six runs on five hits and two walks.

Then the Orioles completed the sweep as they unloaded three homeruns, two more by Steve Pearce, to win it 6-1.

What was unbelievable,  is the fact that the Jays put their leadoff hitter on base in seven of the first eight innings while scoring only one run! I guess this is what happens when a team gets only one hit in twelve occasions with runners in scoring positions.

J.A. Happ went down to his 11th loss of the year as the Orioles scored five times on eight hits. Pearce drove in four of those runs with his 19th and 20th homers.

It id not get any better when the Jays arrived in the Bronx as they fell into third place, suffering their fifth loss in a row, 6-2.

A painfull loss as an easy grounder went thru the legs of Adam Lind, allowing pinchrunner Antoan Richardson to reach home with the winning run, in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Aaron Sanchez, who came in relief of R.A. Dickey, was tagged with his second loss. Dickey was solid for six innings and he reached 200 innings on the mound for the fourth season in a row.

Jose Bautista had tied the game, 2-2, when he hit his 33th homerun of the year, a two-run blast to come within one of another 100 rbis season.

In the second game, the Jays went down for the sixth time on this trip, this time by a score of 5-3. Again there was not much to crow about, if not for the first career hit of young Dalton Pompey and the 100th rbi of Bautista.

Mark Buehrle lost despite spending six innings on the mound and he is only six innings away from a 14th consecutive 200 innings season. The crafty lefthander simply cannot handle the Yankees as in 20 career starts, he has a 1-14 record against the Bronx Bombers.

Again, the Jays were hitless with runners in scoring position, even in the seventh inning when they had the bases loaded.

On Sarurday, the Jays ended their six-game losing streak as Stroman won his 11th game of the season, beating the Yankees, 6-3.

Bautista supplied the power with his 34th homerun and Edwin Encarnacion reached the 90-rbi plateau. Casey Janssen recorded his 24th save.

But the road trip ended as it started with another defeat, this time by a score of 5-2. Hutchison could not go beyond the fourth inning. He gave up two homers, including the 15,000th of the Yankees’ history by Brett Gardner.

Joe Reyes got three hits and Encarnacion added two but the Jays could not really get going as Masahiro Tanaka was very sharp in his return to the mound. He won his 13th game and David Robertson notched his 38th save.

A painful week if ever there was one…

Two hiccups that really hurt

The Blue Jays could not hope for a better way to start their homestand against the Chicago Cubs.

Marcus Stroman registered his first career complete game and first shutout, 8-0, as he limited the Cubs to three hits, did not issue a single walk, and struck out eight hitters, using only 93 pitches.

The Jays hit at least one homer for the 12th game in a row when Jose Bautista slammed his 32nd of the year, a three-run blast. It was the 200th of his career and he extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Joey Bats leads the Jays with 92 rbis.

Adam Lind, Dioner Navarro and Kevin Pillar, who is making the most of his playing time as Melky Cabrera is on the disabled list, added two hits each. Navarro also drove in two runs for a season total of 65, a new personal high.

Stroman was masterful as he retired 19 hitters in a row to win his 10th game of the year.

In the second game of the series, the Jays were slow getting started, but even if they did not hit any homerun, they did get 14 hits on their way to beat the Cubs 9-2.

Bautista hit safely for a 13th consecutive game and drove in four runs. During his hitting spree, Joey Bats has hit eight homers with 19 rbis.

Despite giving up 10 hits, Mark Buehrle won his 12th game of the year as he allowed only two runs over seven innings.

The Jays completed the sweep as they posted an 11-1 win over the Cubs as Drew Hutchison was again very solid at home. He gave up only one run on four hits and struck out 10 hitters on his way to his 10th win of the season.

The Jays sent 17 hitters to the plate in the 6th and 7th innings to put the game out of reach with an 8-run outburst.

Jose Reyes, Danny Valencia, Anthony Gose and Dioner Navarro each got two hits, while Valencia, Encarnacion and Navarro drove in two runs each. But Bautista’s hitting streak was stopped at 13.

The off-day on Thursday did not bring what was to be expected, as the Jays bowed 1-0 against the Tampa Bay Rays, getting only two hits.

A first hiccup that made a sweep impossible…

They wasted their best chance to score any runs in the first inning as starter Nathan Karns issued two walks and hit a batter, but that threat disappeared when Encarnacion hit into a double play.

The Jays did nothing offensively to help J.A. Happ who gave up only two hits, including a solo homer by Ryan Hanigan, leading off the 3rd inning. He suffered his 10th loss of the season.

The Jays could not solve the Karns’ mystery as the tall righthander  gave up only two hits and two walks, while striking out eight batters.

The loss prevented the Jays from gaining ground in the wild card race since the Yankees suffered two losses while the Indians and the A’s were also beaten.

On Saturday, both team battled to a 3-3 tie over the first six innings. But, in the seventh, the Jays got their bats going against the Rays’ relievers.

Adam Lind broke the tie with his 5th homer of the season, a two-run shot off Brad Boxberger and then Encarnacion greeted Steve Gelts with a solo blast. The Jays were on their way to a 6-3 win.

R.A. Dickey won his 13th game of the year, giving up three runs on four hits and two walks over the first six innings and Casey Janssen notched his 23rd save.

But in the last game on Sunday, the Jays were once again slow off the gate et they had to score five runs in the last three regular innings to tie the Rays 5-5.

And unfortunately, Brandon Morrow started the tenth by issuing a walk, which came around to score and the Jays lost 6-5.

Mark Buehrle was roughed up for four runs on nine hits over the first six innings and his only consolation was that is now 12 innings shy of his goal of reaching 200 innings for a 14th consecutive season.

That was the second hiccup which cost the Jays a very important series.

And for the Jays, time is running out…

The last straw?

The last thing the Jays needed at this time of the year, was another injury.

Riding a five-game winning streak, after sweeping the Rays in Tampa Bay, the Jays stormed into Boston with a high dose of optimism, hoping that a sweep against the celler-dwelling Red Sox would put them back in the race to the series.

The first game in Tampa Bay could have been the turning point of the season as the Jays faced a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the 9th inning with the score tied at 0-0. But Brett Cecil got himself out of the jam by striking out the next three hitters!

Then, despite being frustrated after being benched, Colby Rasmus hit a pinch-hit homer. And Casey Janssen, bypassed in favor of Aaron Sanchez in the previous game, registered his 21st save and the Jays had swept the Rays, in Tampa Bay, for the first time in their history.

Mark Buehrle, although not involved in the decision, held the Rays in check over the first eight innings on five hits and one walk.

The Jays had won the first game of the series thanks to their favorite weapon: the homerun. Danny Valencia (4th), Jose Reyes (9th) and Dioner Navarro (11th) had one each but Jose Bautista’ string of five games with a homer came to an end. R.A. Dickey notched his 11th win, allowing two runs, on two hits, three walks and two hit batters.

In the second game, the Jays won 7-4 using the long ball to drive in four of the seven runs as Edwin Encarnacion (29e) and Navarro (12e) both connected.

Marc Stroman held the Rays hitless for five innings, but was reached for two runs in the sixth en route to his 9th win of the year and Sanchez got his second career save.

But everything came crashing down in Beantown.

The Jays played with fire late in the game and this time they got burned.

With the game tied 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Dustin McGowan got himself in trouble by allowing the first two hitters he faced to reach base. But he got the next three Sox out to put out the fire.

The Jays scored twice to lead 8-6 in the top of the 10th inning.

Then, the Jays called upon Casey Janssen for a second game in a row and the closer could not preserve the lead as the Red Sox scored three runs on four hits. The five-game winning streak ended with a crushing 9-8 loss.

The game was not the only thing the Jays lost.

Melky Cabrera had to leave the game with a hand injury and X-Rays showed a right pinkie fracture. He will be operated on and his season is over.

The injury to the Jays best hitter came at the most inopportune time and probably means that all hopes of making it to the series are to be forgotten.

Bautista and Encarnacion, one of the most dangerous offensive duo in baseball, both hit their 30th homeruns and young Daniel Norris made his major league debut as he struck out David Ortiz.

The next day, the Jays could not muster any decent attack against Clay Buchholz as they got only one hit in seven occasions with runners in scoring position.

They lost 4-3 and fell four and one half games out of the race for the third qualifying spot for the post-season series.

J.A. Happ was not in top form, as he gave up four runs over the first six innings allowing 10 runners to reach base.

Colby Rasmus supplied the only offensive spark as for the second time during this road trip, he came off the bench and hit a homerun, a two-run blast in the 7th inning.

Finally, les Jays averted the sweep as Bautista supplied the three-run homer R.A. Dickey need to notch his 12 win of the season.

Bautista hit his 31st homerun in the fifth inning with Reyes and Gose aboard.

Dickey mastered his knuckleball as he allowed only one run on six hits, no walks and six strikeouts over the first seven innings and Janssen pitched a perfect ninth to register his 22nd save of the year.

Playing catch-up is a no-no

The French Fableist Jean De La Fontaine wrote a fable entitled « The Hare and the Tortoise » to illustrate that if you start late, most of the time you will not be able to make up for the time lost.

And the 2014 Blue Jays’ season reflects that too many times, the Jays had to play catch-up baseball and fell short at the end of those games.

In their first game against the Red Sox, the were fortunate enough to tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, since they had been handcuffed on two hits by Clay Buchholz. J.A. Happ started strong over the first five innings, but in the sixth, he gave up three runs on two homeruns.

In the 10th inning, the Jays called upon young Aaron Sanchez instead of Casey Janssen who is going thru a rough spot and the tall righthander suffered his first career loss when he gave up a Yoenis Cespedes’ single which drove Brock Hol home with the winning run.

Same story in the second game of the series, as R.A. Dickey gave up three runs, two on a Dustin Pedroia’ homerun in the first inning.

The Jays wasted chances to get back in the game in the first two innings. But, in the fifth, they tied the game 3-3 and again 4-4 in the seventh inning on Jose Bautista’s  25th homer of the year.

In the 11th inning, Janssen was in his second inning of relief when he gave up four runs and Sergio Santos could not do any better as he was touched for  three more runs ans the Red Sox ran away with the win. The Jays tried a comeback in the bottom of the 11th inning, but three runs were not enough as they bowed 11-7.

The Jays were able to avert the sweep when young Marcus Stroman got back in the grove, giving up only two runs over seven and two thirds innings, while making 112 pitches.

Danny Valencia came up with a big three-run pinch-hit homerun in the seventh inning and Bautista added his 26th while Brett Cecil notched his fifth save.

Then, the Yankees came to town.

Mark Buehrle shut down the Yankees over the first six innings, but he ran out of gas in the seventh. He could not retire any of the first four hitters he faced. The Yankees scored five runs to overcome the 0-1 deficit (Bautista hit his 27th homer in the bottom of the fourth). Aaron Loup came in to put out the threat, but instead he gave up a two-run blast to Jacoby Ellsbury. It was the first career homerun issued by Loup to a lefthanded hitter.

The Yankees were 6-3 winners as Buehrle is now 1-13 vs the Yankees!

On Saturday, the Jays found a winning combo with Drew Hutchison and Bautista.

Hutchison gave up only one hit over the first seven innings and Bautista provided him with a 2-0 cushion in the first inning as he connected for his 28th homerun.

Young Sanchez came in relief and pitched two perfect innings to register his first career save, 2-0.

In the series finale, the Jays found their long lost offensive weapon: the homerun!

Three homers by Cabrera (16th), Bautista (29th – he has hit a homerun in five consecutive games, one shy of the Jays team record) and Encarnacion (28th) helped the Jays tie the game 3-3 and Munenori Kawasaki’ single, off Dellin Betances, drove Steve Tolleson home with the winning run, 4-3.

Janssen came on to notch his 20th save of the year, helping J.A. Happ to win for the ninth time. Happ gave up three runs on nine hits, but did not issue a single walk and struck out six Yankees.

So, the month of August ended on a positive not, but overall it was a disaster as they scored only 84 runs over their last 25 games for an 8-17 record.