Staying power

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First the bad news: Aaron Hill’s batting average and on-base percentage at month’s end has gone down each month since April (though he has a fighting chance to avoid that in August).

Despite that, however, his power numbers have been there each and every month – and at a surprisingly consistent rate. Should he maintain that for just one more month, the Jays’ second baseman will have a shot at 40 homers on the year, which would be a remarkable accomplishment – especially considering his previous high was 17 in 2007.

Hill’s 30th homer, which he launched during Tuesday night’s ballgame, was his sixth this month. That gives him monthly totals of 5, 7, 7, 5 and 6 so far this season. His monthly RBI totals, meanwhile, are 20, 17, 19, 14 and 12 — with a handful of games left to play in August.

Jays’ lack of offense offensive

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It’s never good when the number of errors you commit is the same as the number of hits you get on offense. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday night, as the team recorded three hits and three errors in an 8-1 loss to the Red Sox at Rogers Centre.

That’s the second straight game that the Jays have scored just one run. It’s certainly tough to win ballgames that way.

Jon Lester, of course, did his part, as the left-hander was sharp on the hill picking up his fourth career win against the Blue Jays. In fact, after giving up a single and a double to Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill, respectively, to open the game, Lester allowed just one more hit the rest of the way. And that was Hill again — meaning Toronto’s No. 3-through-9 hitters went 0-for-21 (with a pair of walks) against the lefty.

The Jays take a crack at the Angels starting Friday …

Home run derby

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

With another three long balls during last night’s 10-9 loss, the Blue Jays have now homered in a season-high 11 straight games, hitting 20 overall during that span. They’ve also gone yard in 15 of their last 16, and have hit 40 total since July 22 (23 games). That ties them for third-most in the majors over that stretch (the Yankees lead with 43).

Individually, Aaron Hill has wielded the most power among Blue Jay regulars this year. His 28 homers lead the club entering action Wednesday night. Hill’s 28 also leads all second basemen in the majors, as well as all No. 2 hitters in the league. He’s already set a club record for a second baseman, and has posted the most homers by an American League middle infielder since Alfonso Soriano hit 35 with the Texas Rangers in 2005.

Meanwhile, Adam Lind ranks second on the Jays with 24 (Vernon Wells has half that total, at 12). So, it appears the home run title will come down to Hill and Lind as the season winds to a close.

But wait just a second. If we expand things to look at the entire Blue Jays organization, another name comes into the fold: Randy Ruiz. The slugging DH/first baseman belted 25 homers at Triple-A Las Vegas before earning a recent call up to Toronto, where he has already hit three long balls in six games (including a second-inning solo shot off Boston’s Josh Beckett last night). That gives Ruiz 28 overall, tying Hill for the organizational lead.

So it looks like it’s a three-man race. But wait! Let’s throw a fourth into the mix: Brian Dopirak.

Dopirak, after all, has 26 homers in 2009 – he hit 19 at Double-A New Hampshire and has already hit another 7 at Las Vegas. And he may just be the next offensive player to receive a call up to the big club. In 32 games since his promotion to Triple-A, Dopirak has hit .331 with those seven long balls, eight doubles and 22 RBI. The 25-year-old has also posted a slugging percentage of .544 and an OPS of .905.

With no playoff race to cheer about, the least we can do is enjoy some Jays hitting some dingers. So, let the homers fly!

A job well done

Sunday, August 16, 2009

If you’re looking for bright spots in another non-postseason bound Toronto Blue Jays team, you need to look no further than the play of Marco Scutaro in 2009.

Scutaro was given two roles entering the season. He was tasked with full-time shortstop duties, and also penciled in as the team’s leadoff hitter. At 116 games into the season, it’s safe to say he’s performed admirably in both roles.

On Sunday, Scutaro brought his average back up to an even .300. Since July 19, the 33-year-old has hit safely in 18 of 22 games, batting .362 (34-for-94) with five homers and 12 RBIs during that span. Sunday he was 3-for-5 with his 11th long ball of the year in a 5-2 loss to the Rays. In classic Scutaro fashion, the shortstop saw a total of 25 pitches on the afternoon — the most by any player in the contest.

It’s still too early to tell whether or not the Blue Jays will make an offer to Scutaro, who will become a free agent following the ’09 season. There are both pluses and minuses (the plus being the two draft picks the Jays would receive by letting Scutaro sign with another team). But one thing’s for certain: he’s done everything the Blue Jays have asked of him in 2009 — his first full-time gig in the big leagues, no less.

Cleaning up

Saturday, August 15, 2009

When the Toronto Blue Jays gave in to Scott Rolen’s trade request, the club didn’t just lose the best defensive third baseman the franchise has ever known. They also lost their cleanup hitter.

Rolen, after all, had found a lot of success in the No. 4 spot in the lineup since being moved there in June. In 34 games, the veteran batted .319 (45-for-141) with five homers, 24 RBIs, a .504 slugging percentage and an OPS of .850.

Those numbers were a significant improvement over what the Jays received from Vernon Wells for the first two and a half months of the season. In 61 contests, Wells batted just .250 (62-for-248) with a .307 OBP, a .387 slugging mark and an OPS of .694.

With the loss of Rolen, manager Cito Gaston has been forced to pencil in a different player into that cleanup position. That player has been — for the most part — Lyle Overbay. And the first baseman has had success in the early going. In 10 games, Overbay has hit .414 (12-for-29) with three homers,seven RBI, eight runs scored and 10 walks. In addition, he’s posted a .564 on-base percentage, a .759 slugging mark and an OPS of 1.323. It’s obviously a small sample size, but Overbay has answered the call thus far.

Perhaps the unfortunate thing is that Overbay doesn’t play every day, which would certainly help maintain a hot bat. His platoon partner, Kevin Millar, was in action Saturday night and held down the cleanup spot in Overbay’s absence. The result? 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a pair of men left on base.

Editor’s note: Things didn’t go so smoothly for Overbay in the series finale against the Rays on Sunday, as the first baseman went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, leaving seven men on base in the process.

Mr. October

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wow. A 10-day absence from a blog is fairly inexcusable, isn’t it? 

Unfortunately, life got in the way a bit, folks. Good to be back though. Have some catching up to do. But first off, let’s turn things over to Allen Ford. The Jays may be on the road tonight, but here’s a bit of a Flashback Friday anyway …

Allen Ford is a former member (1985-87) of the grounds crew at old Exhibition Stadium (also affectionately referred to as ‘the mistake by the lake’). He’s posted previously at The 500 Level here and here. Today, he tells us what stands out most in his memory from those days …

When I think back to my two years on the Toronto Blue Jays grounds crew, I am surprised with what I remember.

I mean, why should I remember Burt Blyleven deliberately tripping himself so he could spill a bucket of balls, yet Don Mattingly, who I thought was God in Pinstripes, barely seems to register in my consciousness?

And so when I think back to those two I wish there where things and players I remembered more clearly.

There is one memory though that I cherish more than the rest. To me, it symbolizes just how friggin’ darn lucky I was to be on the grounds crew.

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Back in the day, first pitch at home games was 7:30 pm. That meant at 6:50 pm batting practice for the visitors concluded and all the equipment had to be removed from the field in order to begin prepping the infield for the game.

It was a well-orchestrated drill with every grounds crew member designated specific equipment to roll off, pick up and clear away.

And while it was a fun little team exercise because there was always an informal race to see who got off the field first—usually the guy taking the second-base screen won since he had the shortest distance to run to the left-field entrance—there were three positions that were distinct from the rest.

If you were one of the three guys who had to roll the batting cage away, you had the chance to be as close to major league baseball as the job allowed.

You see, while the other guys couldn’t actually cross the lines until BP had finished, the guys on the batting cage were allowed to be at the cage a couple minutes before 6:50 because the act of rolling up the carpets that sat under the cage to protect the home base dirt area was an unofficial signal to the players to take your last cuts as BP was wrapping up.

So, once the scoreboard showed 6:45, the three guys on cage duty made their way to home plate. And once there, you did what everyone else did: lean against the batting cage watching the players take their hacks.

For those three minutes though, there was no cooler place in the world. Listening to the players shoot the shit, hearing the smack of the ball from six feet away and admiring the arc of it as it sailed way into the bleachers was everything you could imagine it to be.

But there was one three-minute stretch where all I could do was look to the guy leaning on the cage next to me.

It was Reggie Jackson.

Sure, he was with the California Angels at the time, but he was still Reggie. He was still Mr. October. He may have asked how the weather was looking, or at what time the carpets were coming up, I honestly can’t remember. I can tell you though that leaning on the batting cage next to me watching batting practice wearing those slightly nerdy glasses and the old school batting helmet and with forearms the size of thighs was Reggie Jackson.

In our lives’ most enjoyable occasions, we can sometimes gauge the moment.  You may be laughing, shouting, or deep in a conversation, but you can somehow step away from the activity and sense how much fun you are actually having. Amongst those moments though are the rare ones when you are blessed with the realization that the moment is singular, that it won’t be repeated.

For those three minutes I remember thinking, ‘this is it, this moment will not be repeated.’ And so when people ask me ‘what was it like to be on the grounds crew?’ I always think of standing next to Reggie Jackson.

Allen Ford now lives and works in Ottawa as a graphic designer and still thinks about Fred McGriff’s sweet and languid stroke.

Support for Doc?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Scoring runs has been sort of an ongoing issue for the Blue Jays’ offense when it comes to supporting their ace, Roy Halladay. Even the best pitcher in the game needs run support if he’s going to win 20 games. And that has been an issue in the past for the Jays, as Halladay has been denied his share of wins over the last few years.

In 2009, however, that didn’t seem to be a problem – at least, not right away. Through Halladay’s first nine starts, for example, the Jays’ offense scored a total of 68 runs, or 7.6 per contest. In the process, Doc cruised to an 8-1 record.

Unfortunately, the story has been quite the opposite more recently. Since June 12, the Jays’ offense has managed just 21 runs in Halladay’s last eight starts. That’s a dismal 2.6 runs per contest. As a result, Doc has posted a record of 1-4 during that span.

Tuesday night was no different. Though Halladay made some rare mistakes, the Jays still only managed to score three runs in support of their ace in a 5-3 loss to the visiting Yankees at Rogers Centre.

For the year, Halladay has now received 109 runs from his offense in 21 starts, which works out to 5.2 runs of support per contest. Interestingly enough, this is actually right in line with the other four hurlers who have made the most starts for the Jays this season. Here’s a look (R/G = runs per game) …

Scott Richmond – 5.4 R/G (14 starts, 75 runs)
Roy Halladay – 5.2 R/G (21 starts, 109 runs)
Ricky Romero – 5.2 R/G (17 starts, 89 runs)
Brian Tallet – 5.1 R/G (18 starts, 92 runs)
Brett Cecil – 5.1 R/G (11 starts, 56 runs)

Streaking in Las Vegas

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Las Vegas 51s are on fire.

Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate won for the seventh time in a row Sunday night, 18-6, over the Salt Lake Bees. During that streak, the 51s have outscored their opponents 66-19, while hitting .329 as a team with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs.

They already led the Pacific Coast League in hits before pounding out another 17 Sunday night. Six of those were homers, including two by Brian Dopirak.

Soon some of these big boppers will get the call to Toronto – several in September and perhaps a couple before that. And Jays management will hope that what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. After all, they could use some of that offense.

Here’s a look at some of the recent big numbers being put up by Jays sluggers in Triple-A … 

Travis Snider, who’s likely to be the first to receive a call up to Toronto, has been scorching the baseball lately. Hitting cleanup for the 51s, the 21-year-old has recorded six multi-hit games in his last eight contests, batting .516 (16-for-31) with four homers and 16 RBIs during that span.

Dopirak, who had two homers in a 4-for-5 showing Sunday night, is the owner of a seven-game hitting streak – he’s batting .484 (15-for-31) with five homers and 12 RBIs during that stretch. In 16 games since being promoted to Las Vegas, the 25-year-old is hitting .343.

Randy Ruiz, who sits among the Pacific Coast League leaders in a plethora of offensive categories, launched his 24th home run of the season Sunday night, giving him a league-leading 98 RBIs. His season average sits at .323, and he has a league-best 140 hits and 41 doubles.

Third baseman Kevin Howard went 4-for-4 and belted a grand slam Sunday night. In his last five games, the 28-year-old is hitting .526 (10-for-19). In 56 games with Las Vegas this year, Howard has posted a .333 (72-for-216) average overall.

Longtime minor leaguer Howie Clark has six multi-hit games over his last eight contests, batting .316 (12-for-38) during that span. In the process he’s brought his average back over .300 (.304). On Sunday night he went 2-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs.

A little Canadian baseball news …

Thursday, July 30, 2009

In lieu of Jays news on this off day, let’s instead turn our focus to some Canadian baseball. That is, a Canadian who’s playing the game in the minors right now.

Chris Robinson, from Dorchester, ON, is in his third full season in the Cubs’ organization, and his first at the Triple-A level. After an up and down season in 2008, Robinson has put it all together so far in ’09. He earned a spot on the Pacific Coast League all-star team and is currently hitting .325 in 71 games at Triple-A Iowa.

Still, when Cubs catcher Geovany Soto went on the DL in early July, Robinson did not get the call up to the big leagues. But if the 25-year-old Robinson is frustrated, he’s not showing it. Instead, he’s simply continuing to make a case in the minors that he deserves a shot in “The Show.”

Click here for the full story, which appears over at the Canadian Baseball Network …

Loewen update

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hey, how’s Adam Loewen doing?

The pitcher-turned-hitter-turned Toronto Blue Jay has been swinging a bat in the minor leagues for about four months now. J.P. Ricciardi estimated it would take Loewen 1,000 at-bats in the minors before the Jays could make a proper assessment. Well, he’s exactly one-quarter of the way there following action Tuesday night.

Results have been mixed so far, but things look like they may be on the upswing for the 25-year-old.

Loewen got off to rough start, hitting .192 (19-for-99) over the first two months of the year.  However, things have been much better since then. In June and July combined, the left-handed hitting Loewen posted a .285 (43-for-151) average. The power numbers aren’t there, as he’s managed just two home runs and 23 RBIs on the year. But on the plus side, he’s showing he can draw a walk — he’s done so 37 times this season, helping lead to on-base percentages of .393 in June and .366 in July.

Strikeouts continue to be an issue — he’s compiled 78 in 76 games so far. But that’s to be expected for a young hitter (especially one returning from a long hiatus away from the batter’s box).

But one can’t help but be encouraged by this split: After batting .207 in 43 games prior to the all-star game, Loewen has batted .305 in 33 games since. His numbers across the board are much better since the Florida State League all-star break — .408 on-base percentage, .894 OPS, and a greatly improved walk-to-strikeout ratio (19/25 compared with 18/53 before the break).

All of this adds up to the following overall numbers in 78 games this season: .248 (62-for-250), .347 OBP, .715 OPS, 18 doubles, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 37 BB, 78 K.

We’ll keep you posted …


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