Tag: Michael Saunders

kevin pillar getty

Video: Kevin Pillar scales wall, robs home run


Watch as Blue Jays left fielder Kevin Pillar climbs the wall to rob Tim Beckham of a home run …

Pillar also went 2-for-4 at the plate with an RBI and two runs scored as the Jays topped the Rays 12-7. He’s been an excellent early-season fill-in for Michael Saunders, who is still recovering from February knee surgery.

2015 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

John Gibbons

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 2015 season. Next up: The Toronto Blue Jays.

The Big Question: Is it going to be all-mash, no-pitching for the Blue Jays once again?

The Blue Jays made some intriguing additions this past offseason. They signed Russell Martin. They made a couple of key trades in acquiring Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders and, according to some, made some additions by subtraction in getting rid of Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind. Now, leaven your excitement at least a little here given that (a) Melky Cabrera also left, and he’s been a big contributor (as was Lind last year for that matter); (b) Russell Martin’s 2014 was his best offensive season ever and, coming as it did at age 31, it’s not likely to be replicated at age 32; and (c) Saunders has battled injury all spring and, frankly, all career, so expecting him to be an impact player is not the safest bet ever. But those caveats aside, this is a team that should, once again, be one of the most mash-happy offenses in baseball. As it has been for the past several years.

The knock on the Jays those past several years, however, has been that the pitching staff has been mashed in return. Toronto had one of the worst AL staffs in runs allowed and homers allowed in 2012 and 2013 and, while it took a moderate step forward in 2014, it was only moderate. And the most promising part of that improvement came from Marcus Stroman, who tore his ACL early in spring training and will be gone for the year. Add that to a bullpen which was near the bottom of the ladder last season and didn’t really improve in the offseason, and it seems like the Jays, for all of their changes, stood mostly still this past offseason.

Not that that keeps them out of contention, of course. They won 83 games last year in a league where 88 wins got you into the Wild Card Game. The AL East, as we’ve noted several times this spring, is something of a crap shoot. And, as we’ll note below, the Jays have a couple of intriguing dice they’re getting ready to roll.

But if you are a betting man, it’s hard to look at the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays and see anything radically different than what you’ve seen in the past: some big bats, some holes in the bottom of the lineup and a lot of question marks with the pitching staff. That’s the sort of thing that makes a gambler want to hedge his bets.

What else is going on?

  • The impact of the Stroman loss is so, so big. With R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle getting long in the tooth, Stroman’s electric stuff looked poised to put him at the top of the Jays’ rotation. Now his transition into ace-hood is delayed a year, and the bottom half of the Jays’ rotation is filled with uncertainty. But it’s worth noting it’s not without promise: Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris are two rookies with oodles of talent and each will get a chance to stick there all season. Still, rookies are rookies and sometimes rookies take some time to adjust. If Sanchez and Norris do — or if innings limits or what have you limit them at some point this year — the starting pitching depth available to John Gibbons is less-than-stellar.
  • The bullpen has some issues of its own. Saying bye-bye to last year’s closer Casey Janssen is no big tragedy — the guy was falling off — and replacing him with strikeout machine Brett Cecil is an upgrade. Beyond him, though, it’s not a scary bunch of relievers. Marco Estrada and even Johan Santana could be contributing here. That is if they aren’t pressed into duty as starting pitching reinforcements. Not exactly encouraging.
  • For all of the thump (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson), on-base ability (Russell Martin) and table setting skills (Jose Reyes) near the top of the order, there are some question marks farther down. Another pickup from Seattle was Justin Smoak. He and his career line of .224/.309/.380 is the starting first baseman. There is some promise at second base with Devon Travis — picked up in a steal from the Tigers last year — and center field with Dalton Pompey slated to start. But each are young and unproven, so you have to expect some sort of growing pains here.
  • Indeed, there are all kinds of youngins being paired with oldins here. Norris, Sanchez, Travis and Pompey as mentioned, but also some bullpen arms like Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro are all embarking on rookie seasons. Sometimes youth can inject vitality. Sometimes youth can induce some frustrating slaps to the head. John Gibbons’ biggest job this year will be getting out of the way of the former and limiting the damage from the latter.

Prediction: It’s not hard to write a story of the 2015 Blue Jays in which Reyes and Martin are on base for a lot of those Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson homers, Dickey and Buehrle show that they still have something left in the tank, the young arms of Norris and Sanchez surprise and the young bats of Travis and Pompey don’t embarrass themselves. It’s not hard to tell another story, however — a quite familiar story, actually — in which the Jays mash but the pitching stinks and they find themselves in either third or fourth place, depending on whether the Yankees crater. I’m going to take a pessimistic approach here, because the Jays have not exceeded expectations in some time and say Fourth Place, American League East. It’s up to some young guys to prove me a fool.

2015 Preview: Seattle Mariners

Felix Hernandez

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 2015 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Did they add enough offense?

The Mariners surprised in 2014, but man, if they just got a lick of offense, they could’ve surprised a lot more. Their 87 wins and near-wild card birth was achieved almost totally on the back of their pitching staff. Overall, the M’s had the best staff in all of baseball, allowing only 3.42 runs a game. The offense, however, was forgettable at best. Seattle scored 3.91 runs a game, which was third to last in the American League.

Robinson Cano is back, of course. As is third baseman Kyle Seager, who was the only other regular besides Cano to post an OPS+ above 100 in full-time play. Other positive offensive contributors in 2014 included Michael Saunders, who only played have the season and who is now gone, and Logan Morrison who played in 99 games. To improve upon 2014’s performance, the M’s needed more offense. So they went out and tried to get some.

The biggest addition was Nelson Cruz, who hit 40 homers and slugged .525 for Baltimore last year. Also added was Seth Smith, who hit .266/.367/.440 for San Diego in 2014. Given that Austin Jackson only played in 54 games last year you can think of him as an addition too. Rickie Weeks was acquired as well, though he’ll be riding pine and hitting against lefties mostly.

I sort of don’t think that’s enough. Taking Cruz out of Camden Yards and putting him in Safeco Field is going to cause him to take a step back a bit, and that’s before you acknowledge that he likely overachieved a bit last season in the first place. Seth Smith is not a cure-all, and full seasons of Morrison and Jackson could, based on their track records, mean full seasons of anything from good production to less-than-mediocrity. For the M’s to take that next step, they’re probably going to need more than this. They’ll need better production from Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino or they’ll need to add a bat at some point during the season.

None of which is to say the Mariners are in trouble. Heck, with their pitching staff (discussed more below) they’re almost instant contenders. But they were a flawed team last season which, while likely better on offense as 2015 begins, may not be quite good enough.

What else is going on?

  • The pitching is, of course, ridiculously good. Felix Hernandez needs no introduction. Hisashi Iwakuma has been one of the best kept secrets in baseball over the past three years. His late-season falloff last year is a bit worrisome, but given how James Paxton came on late in the season, the M’s may not need him to be a number two starter like he was before. Paxton has an injury history, of course, but he has gobs of talent. But wait, there’s more! Taijuan Walker has dodged injury and perpetual trade rumors to, presumably, earn a slot in the rotation following a spring in which he has tossed 18 scoreless innings with a 19/4 K/BB ratio. J.A. Happ at the back of your rotation is way better than J.A. Happ at the front of your rotation, and pitching in Safeco should help him. Roenis Elias is hanging around when someone needs a break, gets injured or forgets how to pitch. An extremely solid crew.
  • The bullpen was every bit as strong as their rotation last season, with Fernando Rodney, Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush all pitching well and all returning. Rodney is occasionally heart-attack inducing, but if he implodes, Farquhar can handle the job. Expect a bit of a step back for this crew, as all bullpen performances fluctuate from season to season, but it’s a strong unit.
  • Adding Rickie Weeks was fun. Because he’s a second baseman and the Mariners, you may have noticed, have a pretty OK second baseman. That makes Weeks a super-utility guy, who will probably get looks in the outfield. Which is hilarious given that one of the reasons he was on the outs in Milwaukee was because he basically refused to play in the outfield when they asked him to. One presumes that Weeks was aware of Mr. Cano’s presence before signing his deal with the M’s, so one presumes that he’s on board with the move to the outfield now. Should be fun, though. He’s only ever played 2B and DH.
  • Another smallish addition: Justin Ruggiano, who could platoon with Seth Smith and/or Dustin Ackley. Or maybe Weeks can platoon. A lot of flexibility here, it seems, and if Lloyd McClendon feels comfortable with doing some plate-spinning with this lineup, he may be able to squeeze a bit more production out of it even without another big name addition.

Prediction: It’s hard not to like this club’s chances to to compete for a playoff spot. I think they still have enough questions on offense to where the Angels get the nod, but I think the Mariners are contenders. Second place, American League West.

Michael Saunders will not be ready for Opening Day

Michael Saunders
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Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders was making steady enough progress in his return from knee surgery that reports about him possibly being ready for Opening Day began surfacing, but manager John Gibbons shut that down today.

Gibbons told Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com that Saunders will not be ready for Opening Day and will begin the season on the disabled list. At the time of the surgery the initial timetable had Saunders missing most of the first half, so returning at any point in April would still be a major boost for Toronto.

Saunders was acquired from the Mariners in exchange for left-hander J.A. Happ in December and will be the Blue Jays’ starting left fielder once he’s healthy. Last season he hit .273 with eight homers and a .791 OPS in 78 games.

Kevin Pillar strained his oblique sneezing

Kevin Pillar

Somewhere, Sammy Sosa is smiling. Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star reports that Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar strained his oblique while sneezing. Pillar is expected to miss a week of action but should still have plenty of time to be ready in time for the start of the regular season.

Baseball fans may recall that former Cubs great Sammy Sosa injured his back with a sneeze in May 2004, so Pillar is certainly not alone. The injury caused Sosa to miss more than a month of the regular season.

Pillar, 26, should get regular playing time in left field while Michael Saunders is on the disabled list. There’s a decent chance, though, that Saunders is ready by Opening Day, which would force Pillar back to the bench. Pillar hit .267/.295/.397 with two home runs and seven RBI in 122 plate appearances for the Jays last season.