Springtime Storylines: Is anyone gonna want to watch the Blue Jays this year?

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Blue Jays old logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Ah, the Blue Jays.
The lambs to the AL East slaughter . . .

The
big question: Is anyone gonna want to watch the Blue Jays this year?

I’m not gonna lie to you, bunky: it’s going to be an ugly, ugly year in
Toronto. Doc Halladay is gone. Vernon Wells is still here. Edwin
Encarnacion has a whole season in which to show Jays fans how poorly a
fellow can play third base. Cito Gaston is going to spend less time
going over lineups and spray charts than he will spend looking over the
plans to the little cottage he and the missus are going to retire to at
the end of the season or when he gets fired, whichever comes first. 
Some promising young arms are going to get shelled because that’s what
happens to promising young arms, but only sick and twisted pitching
junkies like me are going to enjoy it for the learning experience that
it will be.

But that’s the nature of rebuilding, isn’t it? I lived with it — and
even grew to love it — in the mid-to-late 80s with the Braves. Sure,
Vernon Wells isn’t as likable as Dale Murphy was, but a rusty anchor is a
rusty anchor. Cito Gaston and Chuck Tanner may not look much alike, but
given that they each have an old championship ring laying in an ashtray
on their dresser at home and a fairly obvious case of short-timer’s
disease, they may as well be the same guy. It’s too early to tell if any
of the Jays’ young pitchers are a Tom Glavine in the rough, but there
are probably a healthy number of Kevin Coffmans and Derek Lilliquists
hanging around.

It’s hard to watch a team that finds itself in these dire straits, I
know, but if anything a true Jays fans will be better off watching every
single game
this team plays — to eat, drink, sleep and breathe the
whole messy experience in — than they are to check in once a week and
be disgusted from afar. For one thing, there’s high comedy in bad
baseball, and you’ll laugh a lot. For another, if you keep close tabs
you’ll know later when the GM is blowing smoke about the progress of the
rebuild. Casual Braves fans might have thought that German Jiminez was a
big deal when they signed him from the Mexican League in ’88. My
fellow dead-enders and I knew we were being lied to. I’m sure that experience
helped me at some point over the past 22 years. When I figure out how,
I’ll be sure to tell you.

But to answer the question: no, no one is going to watch this team. Jays
fans have had at least some glimmers of hope over the past few years
and, of course, they had Roy Halladay to look forward to every fifth
day, and that’s all out the window now. I predict small crowds at the
Rogers Centre and poor ratings on the telly for a team that wisely
chose to allow itself to hit bottom and do a proper rebuild than to stay
in third-place limbo indefinitely. It happens. Hopefully the Canucks
within the sound of my voice will resist the urge to look away, however,
and take in an experience — rebuilding — that fans in Boston and New
York haven’t seen for years.  It’s actually kinda enjoyable in a sick, twisted sort of way.

So what else is going on?

  • All of the above notwithstanding, there are some good players on this team. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are Silver Sluggers (and Hill plays good defense too).  Travis Snider will get a wide open shot at starting from the beginning of the season. He raked in hitter-friendly Las Vegas for 50 games last season and was kind of meh upon being called up, but he is just 22. He’s been hanging around so long that it’s easy to forget that. Ricky Romero will be fun to watch. There could be a Kyle Drabek sighting as the first chill winds of autumn blow in off the lake.
  • The rotation is going to be where all the action is this season. Shaun Marcum, Romero and Brandon Morrow seem set. Others who will cycle through this year include Mark Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, Brian Tallet, David Purcey,
    Dustin McGowan, Dana Eveland, Jesse Litsch, Shawn Hill, Kyle Drabek, Scott Richmond,
    Robert Ray, Dave Steib, Brad Mills, Zach Stewart and Reider Gonzalez.  If you can tell me what’s wrong with that list, you’re paying closer attention to this preview than I figured you would. Congratulations.
  • The Vernon Wells release watch. I don’t need to remind anyone that Wells’ contract is just about the worst in baseball history (pfun pfact! He’s only making $12.5 million this year! It doesn’t start getting really ugly until next year, after which he’s owed $21-23 million each year through 2014!). He wouldn’t be worth the money even if he went back in time seven years and replicated his best season ever. And it’s not like he’s some big name draw or anything. The fans resent his very presence on the team.  Unless he starts the season on an absolute tear, is there any reason to not simply release him? Sure, the White Sox picked up Alexis Rios last year, but the odds against anyone taking Vernon Wells off the Jays’ hands are astronomical. And I don’t mean simply long like surviving overnight on Hoth with nothing but tauntaun guts to keep you warm or successfully navigating an asteroid field. I mean effectively impossible.
  • There’s been an ongoing, much-publicized race for the closer’s role, with Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Kevin Gregg battling it out.  Of course a 90+-loss team without a closer is like a fish without a bicycle, but at least covering this race has kept the Blue Jays writers off the streets.  Probably should have kept them off the track too. Sorry, Jordan.

So how are they gonna do?

My mother taught me four things when I was a kid: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who
has the same first name as a city; never get involved with a woman
with a tattoo of a dagger on her body; and never, ever bet on a rebuilding team who just shipped off the best pitcher in baseball and is paying Vernon Wells $126 million to do anything but finish last in the AL East.

Prediction: Last place, my friends. There’s really no escaping it.  Leafs camp opens in September.

Eyebrows raised as ESPN cuts Schilling’s segment from a 2004 Red Sox documentary

Curt Schilling
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Several years ago ESPN produced a documentary about the 2004 Boston Red Sox’ amazing comeback in the ALCS called “Four Days in October.” They’ve re-run it a lot. Yesterday, in the run up to last night’s Yankees-Red Sox game, they ran it again, on ESPN2. Only it was a bit shorter than usual. Why? Because it omitted the part about Curt Schilling and his bloody sock in Game 6.

Which, um, that’s one of the signature moments of that series, right? It’s one of the signature moments of the entire modern era of the franchise. Why edit that out? Many Red Sox fans — who also didn’t much care for ESPN’s handling of the DeflateGate story — believe that it was a vindictive act. A figurative airbrushing out of Schilling and his moment given his recent termination by the World Wide Leader. Even Schilling himself snarked about it:

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For its part, ESPN had a simple explanation: the softball game which led in to the documentary ran long and they needed to cut someplace. Which makes some sense. It’s probably also worth noting that decisions about programming on their secondary network on a sleepy Sunday afternoon are not likely made in a board room by mustache-twirling villains. If ESPN really has it in for Schilling at this point, that’s a rather random and passive aggressive way to show it. My gut instinct is that this is just a coincidence.

But when it’s ESPN and Schilling it’s understandable when people assume there’s something more to it than coincidence. Both sides have, in the past, behaved in curious enough ways with respect to innocuous things that the benefit of the doubt is not something which is likely to be given automatically by some. Especially in Boston.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws to the plate during the second inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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WE’RE GOING STREAKING!

Well, we’re talking  a lot about streaks or the end thereof. The end of a lot of losing streaks. The end of some winning streaks. Getaway day games can be momentum disruptors. Anyway, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 1, Padres 0: Clayton freakin’ Kershaw, man. A three-hit complete game shutout with fourteen strikeouts AND he drove in the only run of the game with an RBI single. That’s some one man gang action there, buddy. Still, I wonder if it’s yet safe for me to note, again, that the Padres are terrible. Phillies fans got mad when I said that after Vince Velasquez dominated them. Maybe Dodgers fans won’t get mad if I note it again given that, you know, a pitcher being great and a team sucking aren’t mutually exclusive things.

Nationals 6, Cardinals 1: When people ask me why baseball can’t market its young players like the NBA does, I point to games like this one in which the biggest star in the game, Bryce Harper, goes 0-for-4 with 4Ks and the Nats still cruise to victory. If you tease a big Cards-Nats matchup with “Watch Bryce Harper take on the Cardinals!” he might go 0-for-4 and strike out four times and the Nats could still win easily. Or, he might have a big game and the Nats may still lose. Thing is, in lots of games what a big star does doesn’t matter a lick to the outcome. If someone neutralizes Steph Curry like that, the Warriors probably aren’t winning. There are so many moving parts in baseball, however, that no one game is ever likely to live up to NBA-style hype, especially with respect to one big star. Anyway, Max Scherzer is a star too and he pitched seven shutout innings and struck out nine. That helped. That’s a three-game sweep of the Cardinals for Washington. The Redbirds have lost four in a row overall and now go to take on the [checks glasses] dangerous Philadelphia Phillies.

Phillies 2, Indians 1: Six straight wins for a team most thought would be garbage. They’re 15-10 now. They may wilt, but once you bank wins no one takes them away from you. Vince Velasquez pitched six shutout innings and struck out six.

Astros 2, Athletics 1: Houston only got two hits but one of them was a Jose Altuve homer. It was his seventh, by the way. That’s a 40+ homer pace for the diminutive second baseman. Doug Fister allowed one run in six and two-thirds. He needed that one. He’s been pitching like a dog this year.

Giants 6, Mets 1: The Mets had won eight in a row before this one and lost due to a dominant performance from one of the best pitchers in the game in Madison Bumgarner, so no reason to feel ashamed. Bumgarner has shut the Mets out for the last 18 innings in which he has faced them. Hunter Pence homered and drove in three.

Blue Jays 5, Rays 1: It was Marcus Stroman‘s birthday yesterday. He partied too, allowing one run in eight innings on only three hits and struck out nine. Still, when he left the game he had every reason to think he’d get a no decision, as it was tied 1-1 through eight. The Jays rallied for four while he was still pitcher of record, however, capped off by a Troy Tulowitzki three-run homer.

White Sox 7, Orioles 1: Chris Sale‘s amazing start continues, as he allowed only one run, five hits over five and a third. Walked four too, as he wasn’t particularly sharp, but he’s now 6-0 on the year in six starts.

Reds 6, Pirates 5: The Reds end their six game losing streak. The Pirates’ six game winning streak is snapped. This is very satisfying for those of us who seek out the symmetrical in life. Scott Schebler hit a go-ahead double in the ninth inning for Cincy, they blew that lead, so then he hit another RBI double in the 11th. “I can do this all day,” he would’ve said evenly, if this was some kind of movie and he was a badass. Instead I assume he said something bland about finding his pitch to hit and then credited his teammates more than himself. That’s another reason baseball can’t market young stars, by the way. Most of them don’t act like the sorts of stars who are easy to market. And when they do, they’re criticized for being all me-first. Why this occurred to me in response to a guy like Scott Schebler I have no idea, but the point stands.

Brewers 14, Marlins 5: Lots of streak-ending yesterday. Here the Marlins’ seven-game winning streak ended. Chris Carter went 3-for-5 with two homers as the Brewers got 18 hits in all. After the game Carter, who had been struggling, said “You can’t let the past get to you. You’ve just got to focus on looking forward.” “Can’t repeat the past?” Gatsby cried incredulously in response. “Why, of course you can!”

Tigers 6, Twins 5: The Tigers’ bats have warmed up and, less than a week after Victor Martinez complained about their “horses**t” offense, they’ve won five games in a row. Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and Nick Castellanos hit a three-run homer

Braves 4, Cubs 3: Julio Teheran pitched seven scoreless innings striking out nine, but the Braves’ bullpen blew it. Nothing we’ve seen from this team suggested that they wouldn’t just wilt after that, but they showed a bit of fight for once when Daniel Castro singled and scored on Nick Markakis‘ sacrifice fly in the 10th inning and they held on. It wasn’t all glory, however, as the Braves were playing with only 24 men because the front office messed up a transaction yesterday morning. I’ll post on it later. Let me enjoy a win for a few minutes.

Angels 9, Rangers 6: L.A. stops the Rangers four-game winning streak. Starter Garrett Richards was pulled after four innings because of dehydration, but the pen responded with four shutout innings before running into some trouble in the ninth. Kole Calhoun got three hits and drove in two.

Royals 4, Mariners 1: The Royals’ five-game losing streak ends. The last two of those losses were shutouts to the M’s so the fact that Eric Hosmer homered, Lorenzo Cain had an RBI single and Alex Escobar had three hits would’ve been welcome even if they lost again.

Rockies 6, Diamondbacks 3: Nolan Arenado had two hits and three RBI. One of those hits was his major league-leading 11th. I have no idea if the Dbacks will turn their season around and challenge in the NL West like many thought they would, but if they do and fall short, they’ll recall that they dropped five of their first six against the Rockies this year and that’s not the sort of thing a would-be contender does.

Red Sox 8, Yankees 7Christian Vazquez hit a two-run homer to break a tie in the seventh. Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts each had three hits and Travis Shaw homered. The Sox have won seven of eight and are in first place in the AL East. The Yankees have lost five in a row and six of seven. You’re gonna see some “if the Boss was still alive!” action in the coming days. Count on it.

Tim Lincecum to hold long-awaited showcase on Friday

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 16:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the game at AT&T Park on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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At long last, the Tim Lincecum showcase has an official date: this Friday, May 6 in Scottsdale, according to CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic (citing a report from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman). Lincecum, still a free agent, has been allowed to throw at the Giants’ facility in Arizona.

Lincecum, 31, has reportedly still drawn the interest in at least half the league. San Francisco remains Lincecum’s preferred landing spot, however, per Pavlovic.

The right-hander showed better results in 15 starts last season after three consecutive tough campaigns. He finished the 2015 season with a 4.13 ERA and a 60/38 K/BB ratio in 76 1/3 innings. Given how starting pitching is always in demand, Lincecum should walk away with a handful of offers.

Video: J.J. Hardy collects carom off Manny Machado’s glove, converts the out

A ball hit by Chicago White Sox' Todd Frazier gets by Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Baltimore. Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, not seen, was able to get the ball and throw it to first to get out Frazier on the play. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Some great defensive plays leave you saying, “Wow!” This one will leave you saying that, and, “How the heck did that happen?”

In the top of the fourth inning at Camden Yards, White Sox slugger Todd Frazier lined a Ubaldo Jimenez offering right at third baseman Manny Machado. The ball skipped and caromed off of Machado’s glove, creating what seemed to be an easy single for Frazier. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, however, was ranging to his right and used his cat-like reflexes to snag the redirected ball. He planted and threw a one-hopper to Chris Davis at first base to convert the out.

The replay at about 21 seconds really does the play justice. Outstanding stuff by Hardy. The Orioles, however, wound up losing 7-1 to the White Sox.