Strike-throwing machine shut down for surgery

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No, not this strike-throwing machine.

Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey is scheduled for season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his wrist, which is bad news because a) he’s a good pitcher, b) Minnesota is short on rotation depth, and c) he’s an awful lot of fun to watch.

Drafted out of tiny Winthrop University in 2005, Slowey drew lots of
skepticism as a prospect because his high-80s fastball and lack of
secondary offerings didn’t match the insane numbers that he posted in
the minors.

He never blew anyone away, yet managed a 1.94 ERA and 361 strikeouts
versus just 52 walks in 367 innings as a minor leaguer, including a
1.95 ERA and 116/20 K/BB ratio in 139 innings at Triple-A. While the
Bob Gibson-like ERAs haven’t quite transferred to the majors, Slowey is
26-15 with a 4.39 ERA over 318 innings in the big leagues and has
continued to post ridiculously good strikeout-to-walk ratios.

In fact, with 245 strikeouts and just 50 walks in 318 frames Slowey has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio and the best walk rate of the past 75 years among pitchers with 300-plus innings through the age of 25. Thanks to the miracle of Baseball-Reference.com, here’s a look at the all-time leaders in both categories through age 25.

                     BB/9                             K/BB
KEVIN SLOWEY 1.42 KEVIN SLOWEY 4.90
Atlee Hammaker 1.68 Roy Oswalt 4.00
Bret Saberhagen 1.75 James Shields 3.89
Andy Sonnanstine 1.75 Cole Hamels 3.72
Scott McGregor 1.76 Jose Lima 3.68
Jose Lima 1.78 Huston Street 3.63
Lary Sorensen 1.80 Ben Sheets 3.55
Jim Merritt 1.88 Roger Clemens 3.54
Fritz Peterson 1.88 Andy Sonnanstine 3.51
Paul Dean 1.88 Jim Merritt 3.42

Not only does Slowey sit atop both lists, he blows away the
competition by being 15 percent better than second place Atlee Hammaker
in walk rate and 23 percent better than second place Roy Oswalt in
strikeout-to-walk ratio. Not bad for a guy who averages
just 89.6 miles per hour with his fastball and throws the pitch
two-thirds of the time. Velocity and stuff are nice, but being smart
and throwing strikes helps too.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

Blue Jays roster and schedule
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”