The Week Ahead: Moment of truth for Blue Jays

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wells-vernon-blue-jays-100530.jpgThe Yankees, Red Sox, and perhaps, the Rays. That was the common thinking on how the AL East race would go entering the season.

The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t listen to those projections and enter the week at 30-22. They’re only in third place and 4 1/2 games back. But their record would be good enough for at least second place in any other division, and would lead the AL West and NL East.

How are the surprising Jays doing it? Quite simply, they are hitting the ball very, very hard. Led primarily by Jose Bautista (15 home runs), Vernon Wells (pictured, 13) and Alex Gonzalez (10), Toronto leads all of baseball with 85 home runs. And it’s not even close, with the Reds and Red Sox tied for second with 67. They also rank first in doubles, first in slugging percentage and second in runs scored.

The offense has survived slow starts by Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, and more than offset a pitching staff that has been predictably mediocre.

They’ve also been somewhat fortunate with the early season schedule, playing 20 games so far against the Orioles, White Sox, Royals, and Indians, and going 16-4 in those contests.

But things change a bit this week things change a bit, as the Blue Jays play host to the two best teams in baseball – who also happen to be division rivals – in the Rays and Yankees. After that, they head to Tampa for three more games before embarking on an interleague road trip to Colorado and San Diego.

It’s a tough couple of weeks to be sure, and will probably bring the Jays back down to Earth a bit. But get through this stretch with a decent showing and maybe we’ll start to believe.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Phillies at Braves, May 31-June 2:
The Phillies have been struggling to score runs and now must face Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe. The NL East is getting pretty interesting.

Rockies at Giants, May 31-June 2: In addition to the Ubaldo Jimenez-Tim Lincecum matchup on Monday, we get Jeff Francis vs. Matt Cain on Wednesday. Both teams remain in the thick of the NL West race. 

Reds at Cardinals, May 31-June 2: Cincinnati enters the week with a one-game lead over the preseason favorite Cardinals atop the NL Central. Watching Albert Pujols smash three bombs on Sunday can’t help the Reds’ confidence that they’ll stay there long.

Braves at Dodgers, June 3-6: Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Dodgers have been playing much better of late, climbing within two games of first place in the NL West. On top of that, they’re scheduled to get Andre Ethier back on Monday, who has been on the disabled list since May 18 with a fractured pinkie finger, yet still leads the team in home runs and RBIs. Things are looking up in Los Angeles.

Padres at Phillies, June 4-7: Guess which of these teams has a better record entering the week? I’ll give you a hint: The notoriously thrifty Padres are actually considering adding payroll via the trade market instead of trading away star slugger Adrian Gonzalez.

ON THE TUBE
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Phillies at Braves (ESPN)
Wednesday, 8:15 p.m.: Reds at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Marlins at Mets (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Brewers at Cardinals (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rays at Rangers (FOX)
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.: Brewers at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

David Wright: Matt Harvey made a mistake not talking to the media

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19: Pitcher Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets walks off the mound after being relieved during the third inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on May 19, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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The day after Matt Harvey left the clubhouse without talking to the media following yet another bad start, Mets captain David Wright spoke to the press about the whole affair.

Despite column, after column, after column after column in which Harvey was portrayed as a prima donna, was called names and otherwise had his character impugned for not talking to the press, Wright, amazingly, found a different tone to strike. Specifically, he managed to note that (a) it would have been better form and would have shown some accountability for Harvey to talk to the media; while (b) simultaneously acknowledging that Harvey is going through a bad time like most players go through and that it’s understandable that he’d make a mistake in this regard. Which Wright calls a “lapse” which he doesn’t think will happen again and about which Wright will likely talk to Harvey.

Most amazingly, Wright does all of this without calling Harvey names, saying he’s a phony or bringing up minor incidents from years ago in an effort to disingenuously cast Harvey not talking to the media as just the latest in a series of serious and escalating transgressions and/or failures of moral and ethical worth. How he did that I have no idea. Unlike the learned members of the sporting press, Wright didn’t even go to college. Maybe he’s mistaken to think this situation is somewhat complicated and emotional rather than one of stark right and wrong? Clearly, Wright must be mistaken. Life really is that simple, after all.

Or maybe Wright was simply able to appreciate that another person’s struggles are not about him. And that the healthy first impulse when someone who is struggling makes a mistake is to have at least a modicum of empathy and understanding rather than enter into a competition with one’s colleagues to see who can roast that struggling person the hardest.

But again, maybe that’s just crazy talk from a person who didn’t go to journalism school.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 25: Brandon Crawford #35 of the San Francisco Giants is congratulated by George Kontos #70 and Matt Cain #18 after hitting a walk-off RBI single against the San Diego Padres during the tenth inning at AT&T Park on May 25, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres 4-3 in 10 innings. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The lite version today, as I mourn the last day of school for my kids. Really, kids should go to school until mid-June. And then start school again in late June. School all year with no breaks except for, maybe, when the parents want a vacation. It would make the world run way, way better.

The Giants continued to roll on yesterday, winning in walkoff fashion with a Brandon Crawford RBI single in the 10th. They’ve won 13 of 14 games and now would be a good time to remind y’all that I picked them to win the World Series. The Yankees’ six-game winning streak was snapped thanks in part to a couple of homers from their old friend Russel Martin. A couple of streaks continued, hitting streaks that is, from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts with the former’s standing at 29 games and the latter at 18. The Braves fell to the Brewers in 13 innings, causing one to wonder what on Earth would make someone watch a 13-inning Braves-Brewers game if they weren’t being paid to.

Anyway, summer unofficially begins this weekend. If you’re like me and your kids will be hanging around constantly now, claiming they have nothing to do, summer begins at about 3pm today.

Here are the scores

Mets 2, Nationals 0
Phillies 8, Tigers 5
Twins 7, Royals 5
Cubs 9, Cardinals 8
Rangers 15, Angels 9
Indians 4, White Sox 3
Giants 4, Padres 3
Blue Jays 8, Yankees 4
Pirates 5, Diamondbacks 4
Red Sox 10, Rockies 3
Brewers 3, Braves 2
Marlins 4, Rays 3
Astros 4, Orioles 3
Mariners 13, Athletics 3
Dodgers 3, Reds 1

Video: Odubel Herrera’s glorious bat flip

DETROIT, MI - MAY 25: Odubel Herrera #37 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a three run home run during the fourth inning of the inter-league game against the Detroit Tigers on May 25, 2016 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera, playing in his second game since being benched for a lack of hustle, hit a three-run home run to extend his team’s lead to 5-1 in the fourth inning on Wednesday afternoon. After putting a sweet swing on an Anibal Sanchez 2-1 slider, Herrera flipped his bat in grand fashion. It wasn’t quite as emphatic as Jose Bautista‘s from last year’s ALDS, but it was glorious nonetheless.

To the Tigers’ credit, Herrera’s bat flip didn’t result in any shouting or fighting or throwing intentionally at hitters. So that’s nice.

Herrera is now batting .327/.440/.461 with five home runs and 17 RBI on the year. The Phillies selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Rangers ahead of the 2015 season and he’s proven to be the lifeblood of the offense thus far.

30 years ago, Dave Kingman sent a live rat to a female reporter

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Someone on Reddit’s /r/baseball page linked to this New York Times article from June 1986.

Dave Kingman, then with the Athletics, was 37 years old and playing in what would be his final season. He was fined $3,500, which is a little over $7,600 in 2016 dollars, for sending a live rat in a pink box to a female reporter, Susan Fornoff of The Sacramento Bee. The rat wore a tag that said “my name is Sue.”

Kingman refused to apologize, saying, “I’ve pulled practical jokes on other people and I didn’t apologize to them.”

According to Fornoff, Kingman had said to her that women don’t belong in the clubhouse, and Kingman had been harassing her since she began covering the team in ’85. The Athletics didn’t keep Kingman around after the season, and he ended up hanging up the spikes.

Pete Dexter wrote in more detail about the incident at Deadspin a few years ago. It’s a good read.

I wasn’t familiar with this story as I was still more than two years from being born when it happened. Sports media has made strides towards being more inclusive of non-white cisgender straight men, especially compared to 30 years ago. But, of course, we’re still a long ways away from an ideal world in which everyone is treated equally and everyone has equal access. Some of the best baseball reporting and analysis these days is being done by women and it’s nice to see sites, especially FanGraphs recently, make a concerted effort towards diversification.