Jose Bautista

2014 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Toronto Blue Jays.

The Big Question: Isn’t doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results the definition of insanity?

That’s what Albert Einstein said, anyway. To be fair, it’s only “over again,” not “over and over again” for the Jays. Last year was the big shakeup in which they traded for R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and signed Melky Cabrera. That didn’t work. They’re back with almost the same team for 2014, however, and are hoping that last year’s expectation — a strong team contending for the playoffs — becomes this year’s reality.

There’s reason to think that things should improve, of course, because a lot of players lost time to injury last season. Jose Bautista was the biggest blow on offense, but Jose Reyes played fewer than 100 games too. The pitching staff was even more decimated with injuries, as 13 different men started games for Toronto last season, and only R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle pitched more than 20. But it wasn’t just injuries here. Dickey and Buehrle both posted below average ERAs, as did every other starter (we call that “The Reverse Woebegone”). Overall the Jays’ rotation ranked 14th in the AL in ERA.

The Jays are going into 2014 with basically the same pitching staff and most of the same offense. If Bautista, Reyes and the other 3/5 of the rotation can stay healthy — and if Dickey and Buehrle can simply pitch better — things should improve. But they finished 23 games back, and there is little if any reason to believe that even a healthier Blue Jays team can improve by anything close to that many games. They needed more than better health heading into this season. They didn’t get it.

What else is going on?

  • The bullpen isn’t bad. A lot of teams would like to have Casey Janssen,Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar in the late innings. They and their friends in the Jays’ relief corps were overworked last season, however, and the pressure is on the starting rotation to take the pressure off the pen.
  • The worst player on the Jays last year — and maybe the worse in all of baseball — was J.P. Arencibia. He’s gone, Dioner Navarro is in and even if Navarro comes nowhere close to his flukey .300/.365/.492 13 HR season from last year, catcher should not be a black hole like it was a season ago.
  • Edwin Encarnacion, hit 36 homers last season while walking 82 times and striking out only 62 times. In this age of whiffs, that’s a pretty damn amazing accomplishment.
  • The rotation, should it need reinforcements, may include Marcus Stroman at some point this season. He was the Jays’ first round pick in 2012 and struck out 129 guys in 111.2 innings at Double-A last season.

Prediction: They could be better, but I doubt it’ll be anywhere near better enough to contend. Fifth Place, AL East.

Congressional candidate uses Jose Fernandez’s death to score political points

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As a horrible Sunday unfolded yesterday there was at least one thing buoying the public mood: the overwhelming outpouring of emotion and love for Jose Fernandez and warm remembrances of his all-too-brief time on Earth.

But it wasn’t a unanimous sentiment. Some people, like this Florida state representative who is currently running for Congress, thought it was a great time to make a political point:

Setting aside the tastelessness of Gaetz’s timing and intent, one wonders if he appreciates that the reason Fernandez risked his life on multiple occasions was specifically so he could live in a country where protesting and not exhibiting a reflexive loyalty and patriotism is a fundamental right and does not get you thrown in jail.

But really, it’s the tastelessness which most galls here.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Luke Maile #46 of the Tampa Bay Rays tries to make the tag on Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox at home plate as Pedroia scores the winning run in the tenth inning of their game at Tropicana Field on September 25, 2016 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr. /Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 3: Toronto blew a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth but scored two of their own in the bottom half, first with an Ezequiel Carrera squeeze bunt topped with an Edwin Encarnacion walkoff RBI single to win it. Toronto remains in the first Wild Card position, a game and a half ahead of Baltimore and three games ahead of the Tigers.

White Sox 3, Indians 0: Carlos Rodon was dominant, shutting the Tribe out for eight and punching out 11. Carlos Sanchez drove in two of the Sox’ three runs. Fun fact: when we bought our first house back in 1999, my ex-wife’s credit report came back with the name “Carlos Sanchez” listed under “possible aliases.” We got the mortgage anyway and nothing was ever disrupted, but I’m keepin’ my eye on you, Carlos. Or maybe I should’ve just been more suspicious about my ex-wife back in the day. She seems like a normal, well-adjusted person, but what if she’s really a spy for the Venezuelan government?

Royals 12, Tigers 9: The Royals jumped out to a 7-0 lead after three innings against Matt Boyd and Anibal Sanchez and, try as they did, the Tigers never pulled closer than to within two. Whit Merrifield tripled in the first and hit a single and a double as well. The Royals hit four homers as a team. Dropping two of three to the Royals caused the Tigers to drop out of Wild Card position.

Mets 17, Phillies 0: The Mets are losing pitchers every week but it sorta does’t matter when you play the Phillies. New York took three of four in the series, scoring 44 runs in those four games. Yes, they gave up 23 and that might not always be the best thing in a four-game series, but they’re up a game on San Francisco and up a game and a half on St. Louis at the moment so they can’t really complain. Asdrubal Cabrera hit a grand slam, Jose Reyes had four RBI, including two, not one, but two bases-loaded walks. Curtis Granderson hit his 30th homer of the year.

Red Sox 3, Rays 2: And the Red Sox never lost again. That’s 11 in a row. Dustin Pedroia scored the go-ahead run in the 10th on David Ortiz‘s RBI double despite the fact that he should’ve been dead to rights at the plate. He avoided the tag — and missed home plate — but lunged back to the plate as Rays catcher Luke Maile dropped the ball. Pedroia also hit a homer. Oh, and Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out a career-high 13 in five and a third. At one point he and reliever Heath Hembree combined to strike out 11 consecutive batters. That’s a major league record. It’s also the sort of thing which should probably make the Rays petition the league to just let them go home and forfeit the last week of the season because, Jesus, what’s the point?

Orioles 2, Diamondbacks 1Hyun Soo Kim hit an early two-run homer and it held up. Dylan Bundy allowed the one run on three hits over five innings. Zach Britton got his 46th save.

Nationals 10, Pirates 7: Controversy here as Jung Ho Kang faked a tag on Bryce Harper, causing Harper to slide awkwardly which caused him to injure his thumb. Later, when Kang came up to bat he was buzzed by Nats pitcher A.J. Cole, leading to the benches clearing. So, apparently, faking a tag is a violation of the unwritten rules. Maybe someone should tell that to Derek Jeter and the million of other guys who have deked runners in the past:

Whatever the case, the Nats scored five runs in the eighth inning to come back from a deficit, powered by a Jayson Werth two-run homer which tied it along with two RBI singles and a bases loaded walk. Harper will have X-Rays on his thumb today to see how bad off he is.

Reds 4, Brewers 2Brandon Finnegan tossed five shutout innings to kick things off and Cincinnati built a 4-0 lead by the seventh inning. Finnegan only needed 54 pitches to get through five, but he game out as his leg tightened up following being hit with a comebacker in the second inning.

Mariners 4, Twins 3: Two homers for Nelson Cruz and one for Jesus Sucre. Seattle is two and a half behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot after going 12-5 in their last 17. Such and up and down team this year.

Astros 4, Angels 1: Joe Musgrove was strong and Evan Gattis, Tony Kemp and Tyler White homered. Houston is three back of Baltimore. They and Seattle can play the what-coulda-been game all winter.

Athletics 7, Rangers 1: The A’s avoid the sweep with a seven-run second inning that ended this one not long after it started. Jharel Cotton was strong once again, going seven innings while allowing one run. Since his callup in early September he’s allowed only four earned runs in 25 innings. The season highlight for the A’s is gonna be a midseason trade with the Dodgers to get Cotton.

Dodgers 4, Rockies 3: The Dodgers have had a load of highlights this year, including this walkoff win to clinch the NL West. Second baseman Charlie Culberson delivered the solo homer in the bottom of the 10th inning. Not that he was the only hero. The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the seventh when Corey Seager tripled in a run to tie the game. Rockies outfielder David Dahl gave Colorado the lead in the ninth with a solo home run off of Kenley Jansen. But Seager hit a game-tying solo shot in the bottom half of the ninth to send it to extras. What an exciting final game in Dodger Stadium for Vin Scully.

Padres 4, Giants 3: Manuel Margot tripled in the seventh inning and then scored the go-ahead run on Wil Myers‘ RBI single. The Giants were eliminated from division crown contention, and are hanging on by their fingernails in the Wild Card race after splitting a four-game set with San Diego.

Cubs 3, Cardinals 1: David Ross homered on the night he was given a touching tribute by the Cubs while Jon Lester tossed shutout ball into the seventh to pick up his 19th win. Ross got a nice sendoff when Joe Maddon came to lift Lester in the seventh. Rather than just pat Lester on the butt and let him walk off, he took Ross out of the game first, allowing him to leave to a standing ovation.

Braves vs. Marlins: POSTPONED: The time you won your town the race,
We chaired you through the marketplace;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
As home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.