Thursday, May 21, 2009

Doc Halladay and the Interns

The Toronto Blue Jays have been leading the way in the American League's East division and all of the Major League Baseball to start the season but with their 8-3 loss last night in Boston, the Jays will lose a series for only the third time this year. A very impressive start has fans optimistic but the team has lost 4 of 5 games against the New York Yankees and the Red Sox; teams they need to beat to claim their first playoff appearance since the 1993 World Series win.
Former Red Sox and Expos pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee was a guest on the Fan 590 here in Toronto this morning and he was asked by co-host Mike Toth why Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston kept rookie left-hander Brett Cecil in a game that saw him give up five home runs - four of which came in the fifth inning. His reply, "Well, Catfish Hunter did it... Sometimes you have to let your kid (Cecil) get his brains beat out and you learn. The kid will be tougher next time and he'll get more cutters in, more change-ups down and he'll keep the sinker out of the strike zone." Hopefully for the Jays, the lesson has been learnt.
Jays Had Hoped for Rejuvenated Offense
Going into the season the Jays hoped for a rejuvenated offense with the return of Aaron Hill and the emergence of young players like Travis Snider and Adam Lind. Snider has begun to struggle after a quick start (.242 average, 3 home runs, 12 RBI), but Hill (.349 average, 12 home runs, 34 RBI) and Lind (.311 average, 7 home runs, 35 RBI) have surpassed all expectations. Hill has successfully returned after playing in only 55 games last season due to concussion issues and leads the Majors with 65 total hits. Lind is hoping to be a regular after playing in 89 and 88 games with the Jays in the last two seasons and has found a home as the team's Designated Hitter and occasional outfielder. Marco Scutero, the former Oakland A's shortstop, has given the team some quality at-bats (.276 average, 5 home runs, 20 RBI), and he has yet to make an error in the field in 43 games played. If Vernon Wells and Alex Rios can wake-up their bats, the Jays offense could be a serious threat to their opposition as the summer rolls on.
Vernon Wells has not been terrible at the plate, he has a .263 batting average, 5 home runs and 21 RBI, but more is expected of him batting in the fourth spot in the line-up; especially as Hill and Scutero keep getting on base. The giant contract Wells signed several seasons ago has fans and perhaps management expecting better offensive numbers from him. Injuries have been a factor in the last two seasons and Cito Gaston is the type of Manager that will keep Wells in the clean-up spot in the batting order while he sorts himself out. Perhaps he will heat up as the temperatures climb this summer.
Jays Started the Season with Halladay and Who??
Toronto started the season with Doc Halladay as their number one starter, as usual, and he has not disappointed. The question surrounded the other four starters. Halladay leads the Majors with 8 wins this season. His win/loss record is 8-1 with a 2.78 earned run average. He has struck out 57 batters in 63 innings pitched. Pitching in his 12th season with the Jays, the two-time 20 game winner is on pace to be in the running for his second Cy Young Award as the League's best pitcher. Last season he finally admitted to wanting to play for a winner and having a chance to compete for a World Series but as the youngsters continue to progress, it seems likely a contract extension will be in his future and he will finish his career in a Toronto uniform; perhaps wearing a Jays cap into the Hall of Fame.
Before moving to Toronto, all I ever heard about was the poor performance of General Manager J.P. Ricciardi. When he was hired, he made the promise to return the team to the post season within five years. This is what has angered most fans as they enter year seven and are still waiting. However, the job of drafting Ricciardi has done is truly remarkable. The "master plan" may be a year or two behind schedule but as one starter after another goes down to injury, another top prospect emerges from the Triple-A level and the team keeps rolling. By the time everyone is healthy, the Jays could have 9 MLB quality starters and a trade can be made at the deadline to fix any issues plaguing the team; using some of the young arms as trade bait.
The surprise of the Spring was North Vancouver's Scott Richmond. In the 2007 season, he was playing for the Independent Northern League's Edmonton Cracker-Cats. He signed a minor league deal with the Jays in 2008 and has emerged as the Jays number two man behind Halladay. In 48 innings pitched, he has 38 strike outs and a 3.64 ERA to go with his 4-2 record. He was the American League's Rookie Pitcher of the Month in April. Not bad for a former Cracker-Cat! Joining Richmond in the rotation this year, Brett Cecil, Bobby Ray and Brian Tallet.
The Kids are Alright
Despite last night's fifth inning meltdown, Brett Cecil has been tremendous, as all the young guns have been. Cecil is now 2-1 with a 4.38 ERA and has 18 strike outs in 24.2 innings. Bobby Ray, until yesterday Robert Ray, has struck out only 9 batters in 20 innings and has a 3.60 ERA but picked up his first win in his last start against the Chicago White Sox to even his record at 1-1. Brian Tallet had been coming out of the bullpen as a reliever to start the season but as the injuries mounted he became a short-term solution in the rotation. He is 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA (inflated from a 10 run crushing at the hands of the K.C. Royals on April 29th), and has allowed only 4 hits in each of his last two starts. Before that, he allowed only 2 hits during a victory in Oakland. On the sidelines, Ricky Romero was 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in three starts before a strained oblique muscle forced him to shut things down temporarily. The emergence of Tallet and Richmond and the others has forced Jays management to put Romero on the farm in Las Vegas until someone falters. Also in Las Vegas, acquired in the Matt Stairs deal with Philadelphia last season is Fabio Castro. He started the season in Double-A and is now pitching with the 51's (as in Area 51 near Las Vegas) at the Triple-A level. He is 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA at the two levels and has struck out 39 in 48 innings pitched. Eventually, the Jays will see the return of Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Casey Janssen. The Jays are very rich in the starting pitching department.
The Dog Days will Come
The Blue Jays will be tested this year as they attempt to join the "big boys" at the top of the division. The Red Sox, Yankees and now the Tampa Rays will all be fighting for the top spot. As we hit the dog days of summer, how will the Blue Jays react? If all goes well, Doc Halladay and his Interns will be able to make this a season to remember. Have a great sports day everyone.

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