Deep Thoughts: The Blue Jays' home runs

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A friend of mine emailed me a few minutes ago and asked — all of my previous objections to PED accusations of Jose Bautista notwithstanding — whether the fact that the Blue Jays had hit so many home runs this year still didn’t raise any suspicions in my mind. Specifically, he noted — correctly — that the PED scourge of the 1980s-2000s followed a pattern in which players on one team “infected” players on another team with some of them — notably Jose Canseco — acting as Typhoid Marys or what have you, so why couldn’t this be happening on a team that, as a group, is hitting a ton more home runs.

I thought about it a bit, but I came back to the same place I’ve been all along: yes, anything is possible, but give me some evidence — any evidence — that anyone on the Blue Jays is using in 2010 and then I’ll entertain the thought.

But my friend’s question did cause me to wonder if the mere fact of the home runs themselves, absent any external evidence, can be explained by some factor other than random chance. I came up with two possibilities that, in my mind at least, are more plausible than PEDs:

1) Non-PED cheating such as hanky panky with baseballs thrown to Blue Jays hitters, some elaborate sign stealing scheme or the like.  No, we have no evidence for this either, but if we’re going to assume cheating of some kind, doesn’t this seem like a better bet than ‘roids?  With steroids a couple dozen guys would have to sneak through multiple PED tests this year.  If you pulled a 1951 Giants or had a secret humidor for balls for the opposition however, everyone could benefit and no would get caught unless there was a snitch in the group (I got my eye on you Yunel Escobar!);

2) Swinging for the fences. I’m sure someone has written about this at some point this season, but it’s worth noting that the Blue Jays’ 2010 offense is worse than the Blue Jays 2009 offense, home runs notwithstanding. Team OBP is down from 2009, as is
their run scoring. Meanwhile, their strikeouts are up substantially
(they’ll finish with 130-140 more this year than last year). 
Essentially, they’ve traded a number of singles, doubles and walks for a
greater number of home runs and strikeouts, all to the detriment of
runs.

Like I said, I’m sure someone has asked Dwayne Murphy or Bautista about it at some point this season (I put his under “Deep Thoughts” because I’m suffering from the mid-afternoon blahs right now and I don’t want to look it up), but it would not shock me at all if, as a team, everyone just decided to grip it and rip it this year. Proudly Canadian — you always school me on Jays stuff. Am I out to lunch here?

Anyway, the whole reason I even wrote all of this is not because I think either cheating or hacking is the best explanation — I still think chance played a huge role — but because, if people are going to gravitate to easy explanations like the “Bautista is a ‘roider!” thing, they may as well have another couple of easy options at their disposal as well. Especially a couple that seem slightly more plausible.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.