Daily Dose: Jays cut Ryan, eat $15 million

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Earlier this year Scott Downs emerged as Toronto’s closer thanks to
B.J. Ryan’s struggles and Wednesday the Blue Jays welcomed him back
from the disabled list by releasing Ryan. Ryan has been a mess, posting
a 6.53 ERA with 17 walks and just 13 strikeouts in 20.2 innings while
displaying decreased velocity, but the move still comes as a surprise
given that he’s owed $10 million for 2010.

While his days as a dominant closer may be over it wouldn’t be
shocking if Ryan got things together enough to be a capable middle man
or left-handed specialist, yet the Blue Jays are eating the $15 million
remaining on his contract rather than stashing him back on the DL or in
a mop-up role. And they’re doing so less than 24 hours after saying
that they had no plans to let Ryan go. Something is fishy.

While the Blue Jays learn the dangers of handing five-year contracts
to relievers, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Demoted to Triple-A less than a month ago, Manny Parra is
scheduled to rejoin the Brewers’ rotation Thursday afternoon against
the Cardinals. Parra wasn’t all that great in four starts at Triple-A,
posting a 2.92 ERA and 19/13 K/BB ratio, but with Seth McClung coughing
up seven runs in his last outing Milwaukee decided to reverse the
rotation switch that was made last month.

Parra definitely has the stuff to thrive in the majors and went 9-2
with a 3.68 ERA through mid-June last year, but since then he’s 7-14
with an ugly 5.77 ERA and 1.69 WHIP in 156 innings. Plus, while he has
just 44 career starts under his belt Parra is quite a bit older than
his experience level and actually turns 27 years old in a few months.
He still has upside, but even NL-only teams should be cautious.

* General manager Tony Reagins said Tuesday that Kelvim Escobar
still feels “a deep ache” in his surgically repaired shoulder and
hasn’t picked up a baseball in weeks, leading to speculation that he’s
unlikely to pitch again this year. “We’re not writing him off, by any
means,” Reagins said. “We’re going to move forward cautiously. If we
get him back, great. If we don’t get him back, then we don’t.”

* Jose Contreras earned a mid-May demotion to the minors by going
0-5 with an 8.19 ERA, but he’s been a new man since returning a month
ago. Contreras held the Indians to just one run in 6.1 innings
Wednesday, making him 4-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 38/6 K/BB ratio in 44
innings spread over six post-demotion starts. He’s not suddenly an
elite starter, but the solid 4.50-ERA guy from 2005-2008 is back.

Note: I’ll be live blogging this afternoon’s games over at NBCSports.com.

AL Quick Hits: David Ortiz homered and knocked in four runs
Wednesday … Joe Mauer went 3-for-5 with a homer and a double off the
wall Wednesday … Carlos Guillen (shoulder) is hoping to start a rehab
stint this weekend … David Aardsma blew a three-run lead Wednesday as
all six batters reached … Scott Rolen went 3-for-5 with a double
Wednesday to extend his hitting streak to 25 games … Tim Wakefield
celebrated his first All-Star selection by becoming the AL’s first
pitcher to 11 wins … Scott Kazmir was rocked for seven runs in 6.1
innings Wednesday, but escaped with a no-decision … David Hernandez had
his third straight Quality Start on Wednesday and should stick in
Baltimore’s rotation … Jim Leyland said Wednesday that he plans to
platoon Magglio Ordonez and Clete Thomas in right field … Moving up a
day thanks to Glen Perkins’ illness, Anthony Swarzak failed to make it
out of the fifth frame Wednesday … Andruw Jones homered in each of his
first three at-bats Wednesday, but then popped out and struck out.

NL Quick Hits: Manny Ramirez went deep Wednesday for the second
time in five post-suspension games … Raul Ibanez (groin) is hoping to
come off the disabled list Friday … Wandy Rodriguez totaled 11
strikeouts in a complete-game shutout Wednesday, slicing his ERA to
2.96 … General manager Mike Rizzo has made it clear that the Nationals
won’t deal Adam Dunn … Oliver Perez returned from the DL by handing out
seven walks in five innings Wednesday … Rafael Soriano has overtaken
Mike Gonzalez as the Braves’ closer, picking up his fourth save of the
month Wednesday … Chris Volstad threw a complete-game shutout Wednesday
after going 1-5 in his previous seven starts … Homer Bailey turned in
his second straight good start Wednesday and may finally be in the
majors for good … Dave Bush (biceps) is slated to begin a rehab
assignment Friday at Single-A.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.