Archive for May, 2009

Marco! Scutaro!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

We’re now two months into the season, and Marco Scutaro continues to shine – both at the plate and in the field for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Given a full-time job for the first time in his career, the 33-year-old Scutaro has simply run with it. He’s played in all 53 games this season, hitting out of the leadoff spot and providing the spark for a Blue Jays offense that entered action Sunday leading the majors in hits (528) and the American League with a .285 team batting average.

Scutaro entered with a .301 average and a .407 on-base percentage. He ranked second in the AL in walks (37) and runs scored (42), and had drawn 20 walks when leading off an inning – eight more than the next-highest hitter (Curtis Granderson).

Among all leadoff hitters in the majors, his 37 walks were best, his 42 runs ranked second, he was tied for second in doubles (15) and tied for third in hits (62).

“He’s doing a great job as far as being our leadoff man this year,” Jays manager Cito Gaston said earlier this month. “He’s gotten a lot of walks, he’s gotten a lot of big hits for us, and he’s just been flawless playing at shortstop. He’s shown he can handle his spot.”

Sunday proved no different. Scutaro was the only Blue Jay to get two hits during Toronto’s 8-2 loss to Boston, finishing 2-for-4 to raise his batting average to .305, second-highest on the team (Aaron Hill, .333).

With that performance, he’s now managed an impressive seven straight multi-hit games, batting .485 (16-for-33) during that span.

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Gaston a model of consistency

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Steady as she goes.

That seems to be Cito Gaston’s mantra. Get swept by the Red Sox at Fenway? No need to panic. Lose six in a row? No reason to make any lineup changes. Come back from the worst road trip – nine consecutive losses – in franchise history? We’ll just get ‘em next time.

Gaston is a model of consistency. That can be seen by simply reading his lineup card on a daily basis. There are seldom any changes.

In fact, including Saturday’s game against the Red Sox at Rogers Centre, Marco Scutaro, Aaron Hill and Vernon Wells had batted first, second and fourth, respectively, in each of the Jays’ first 53 games this year. Alex Rios, meanwhile, has only batted out of the No. 3 spot (52 games), while Adam Lind has batted fifth in 50 of his 51 games played this year (he moved up to third once when Rios was given a day off).

GastonGaston was routinely pressed with questions during the recent road trip concerning whether or not the mounting losses would prompt him to alter the lineup.

“We could turn the lineup upside down, but I’m not much one for that,” Gaston said.

No lineup changes. No desperation team meetings. In fact, Toronto’s manager even said he didn’t plan on giving any of his hitters a day off. Why not? Because they were hitting, Gaston said.

And, aside from Lind, who batted an anemic .114 (4-35) during the nine-game stretch, Gaston was right. The other four hitters at the top of the order were still hitting. Rios batted .250 (9-36) – nothing to write home about, but far from horrible. Wells, meanwhile, hit .316 (12-38), and Scutaro and Hill each batted .317 (13-41).

“We’re getting hits,” Gaston said. “We’re just not getting hits when we need them.”

Wasn’t that the truth. To be more specific, the Jays hit just .185 (15-for-81) with runners in scoring position during the nine-game skid.

Since returning though, Toronto has not only continued hitting, but they’ve started to hit again when they really ‘need the hits.’ They pounded out another 14 on Saturday afternoon, going 4-for-10 with RISP en route to a 5-3 win over the Red Sox — the second straight against their AL East rival.

In their familiar spots in the batting order, Scutaro, Hill, Rios, Wells and Lind combined for 11 of Toronto’s 14 hits, batting an impressive .524 (11-21) for the afternoon. In the process, Rios had a season-high 4 hits, Hill extended his current hit streak to 13 games, Scutaro raised his average over .300 (.301) for the first time since April 18, and Lind hit his first home run in two weeks.

It’s the same lineup that propelled the Jays to a 27-14 start through 41 games, matching a franchise record in the process. And it was the same lineup that promptly hit the road and endured the worst trip in franchise history – nine losses in a row.

And now? Two straight wins and a chance for a series sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home.

Steady as she goes.

Jays’ new streak at one

Friday, May 29, 2009

Home sweet home.

In the friendly confines of Rogers Centre, the Toronto Blue Jays came full circle Friday night, beating the visiting Boston Red Sox, 6-3, in front of 32,026.

It was Tim Wakefield who started the Jays’ disastrous nine-game losing streak back on May 19 at Fenway Park, baffling Toronto hitters en route to a 2-1 Red Sox win.

Eleven days and nine losses later, the Jays reversed that trend Friday night against the same knuckleballer. Toronto struck for five runs off Wakefield in the fifth inning, including a trio of RBI doubles by Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay and Marco Scutaro.  

Though they still left 10 men on base, the Jays went a respectable 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position, an area that was of great concern during the losing skid. In fact, Toronto hitters batted a meagre .185 (15-for-81) in those situations over the nine losses.

The best news for the Jays? Friday night’s win came against the division-leading Red Sox, whom Toronto now trails by just one game in the AL East.

Now the question is: How long will this winning streak last? Toronto and Boston play Game 2 tomorrow at 1:07 p.m. …

An early American League all-star ballot …

Friday, May 29, 2009

Catcher – Joe Mauer
How does a guy (Victor Martinez) with a .359 average and the second-most hits (69) in the AL not make my all-star team? Well, he gets beat out by the best pure hitter in the AL, Joseph Mauer. He missed the first month of the season due to injury, but we can’t hold that against him. These numbers — .407/.496/.824 — along with 11 HR, 32 RBIs and 26 runs in 26 games are simply too good to leave off the squad. Hitting .400 may be impossible nowadays, but Mauer may be the only player in the league that could give it a run.

First Base – Justin Morneau
Lots of solid options at this position. Carlos Pena (16) and Mark Teixeira (15) have more homers than Morneau (14), and Miguel Cabrera – his main competition – has a higher average (.366). But across the board, Morneau has been no slouch. He leads all AL first basemen in runs (39), RBIs (44), slugging percentage (.658) and OPS (1.082). Plus, he’s Canadian. The M&M boys in Minnesota are doing pretty well for themselves thus far in ’09.

Second Base – Aaron Hill
Wow. There are a ton of great second basemen in the AL right now – Brian Roberts, Robinson Cano and former MVP Dustin Pedroia, to name a few. But for me, this contest comes down to Ian Kinsler and Aaron Hill. Over a full season, Kinsler is likely the best hitter among the group. He already leads second-sackers in homers (13), slugging percentage (.569) and OPS (.923). But it’s Hill who has put up the best numbers across the board through eight weeks. The Jays’ second baseman leads the league in hits (75), and is tops at his position in RBIs (37) and batting average (.344). And I think we’re all aware that the ‘homer effect’ might play a role in this pick.

Shortstop – Derek Jeter
Things have changed at the shortstop position in the AL. Gone are the days of having to choose from a list that included A-Rod, Jeter, Tejada and Michael Young. This year, things are thin at SS. So while Jeter may have earned a starting nod in the past in seasons he didn’t deserve the honour, this year he actually does. Having said that, Jason Bartlett was my pick before his recent injury. The Rays’ shortstop hit the DL with .373 average, 30 RBIs and 14 stolen bases – clearly numbers worthy of an all-star selection. But with Bartlett out for awhile, Jeter gets the nod – especially for his recent play. The 34-year-old Yankee veteran is riding an 11-game hitting streak, batting .388 (19-for-49) with a pair of homers and seven RBIs during that span. Overall, he’s at .297 with seven long balls, 22 RBIs and 10 stolen bases as the Yanks leadoff hitter.

Third Base – Evan Longoria
Michael Young leads the position with a .335 batting average, Chone Figgins leads in walks (23) and stolen bases (19), and Brandon Inge is tied for the lead in home runs (12). But it’s the man Inge is tied with who gets the all-star nod. In fact, Tampa’s Evan Longoria leads those at the position in almost every other offensive category, including runs (36), hits (61), doubles (20), RBIs (51), OBP (.395), slugging percentage (.622) and OPS (1.018). And his .324 average isn’t too shabby either.

Outfield – Adam Jones, Jason Bay, Torii Hunter
Coincidentally, my three outfield picks are the top three in terms of OPS for the position. Jones leads the way with a 1.047 mark. He’s been perhaps the nicest surprise for the Orioles this year, hitting .357 with 40 runs – both tops among AL outfielders. The 23-year-old also has 11 HR, 36 RBIs and a .410 on-base percentage.

Bay is Canadian, so he gets the nod. But seriously, the outfielder has stepped up his game to fill the void left by the struggling David Ortiz. Bay leads all AL outfielders with 14 home runs, 48 RBIs and 34 walks. His 37 runs are tied for second-most, while his .407 on-base percentage is fourth best.

Hunter, the third on that OPS list, is putting together quite a year for the Angels. He’s currently hitting .315 with a .394 on-base percentage. His 40 RBIs trail only Bay among AL outfielders. He’s also tied for fourth in homers (11), sixth in runs (34), tied for fifth in doubles (12), and has a solid 22/27 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

A team effort

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Of course, the big story during the Jays’ recent nine-game losing streak was the club’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position. Despite an improved 5-for-10 showing in those situations yesterday, the Blue Jays still finished with a .185 (15-for-81) average with RISP on the road trip.

Vernon Wells has received his share of criticism for the Jays’ struggles. After all, Toronto’s centre fielder is batting a dismal .164 (10-for-61) with runners in scoring position on the season.

But Wells was far from the only culprit on the recent trip. As the following breakdown shows, nearly Toronto’s entire lineup can accept a share of the blame. Aside from Lyle Overbay, who went 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs, no other Blue Jay hit better than .250 with RISP …

Adam Lind – 1-for-11, RBI
Vernon Wells – 1-for-8, 2 RBI
Alex Rios – 1-for-8, RBI
Jose Bautista – 1-for-7, 2 RBI
Scott Rolen – 1-for-6, RBI
Kevin Millar – 1-for-5, 2 RBI
Aaron Hill – 2-for-9, RBI
Marco Scutaro – 2-for-9, 4 RBI
Rod Barajas – 2-for-8, 2 RBI
Lyle Overbay – 3-for-5, 3 RBI
Joe Inglett – 0-for-2
Raul Chavez – 0-for-2

Skid hits 9

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back in 2005 we interned with the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx and got our first look behind the scenes of professional baseball. Our first manager run-in? Dave Trembley. He joined the Lynx in ’05 for his first taste of managing at the Triple-A level.

If we heard it once, we heard it a million times. “There are three things you need to have success in baseball. Good pitching, good defence, and timely hitting,” Trembley would tell myself and the Lynx beat reporters. “If you get one of those three, you give yourself a chance to win a ballgame. If you get two of them, you’ve got a good chance. And if you get all three …”

The Blue Jays got good pitching on Wednesday afternoon from starter Roy Halladay, who turned in a quality outing – three runs on eight hits over 7.0 innings. They didn’t, however, receive good pitching from their bullpen, as Jesse Carlson, BJ Ryan and Brian Wolfe combined to allow nine runs.

In the end, this game came down to timely hitting. And while the Jays did manage some of their own to jump out to an 8-2 lead in the fourth, it was Trembley’s Orioles who managed to reap the greater rewards for their timely hitting.

Timelier hitting, you might say.

The O’s, who scored five runs in the eighth inning to knot the score at 8, then walked off on a three-run homer by Nolan Reimold in the 11th.

Needless to say, Trembley, who took over as Baltimore skipper in 2007, was happy with his team’s effort on Wednesday.

“That’s about as much fun as I’ve had in a long time,” Trembley told MLB.com following the game.

Things were different in the losing clubhouse, where Cito Gaston and his club packed up to head back to Toronto after an 0-9 road trip – the worst in franchise history.

“This is one we had a chance to win,” Gaston told reporters. “This is probably the worst loss we had on this trip.”

Jays can’t stop woes against the O’s

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It was the same old story Monday afternoon for the Toronto Blue Jays. They had their chances, but came up empty once again. A 4-1 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards makes it seven straight that the Jays have dropped, putting them now third in the AL East – 1.5 games back of the Red Sox.

“We get nine hits, we leave nine people on base,” said Jays manager Cito Gaston following the game. “So we’re just not hitting with guys in scoring position.”

No, they are not. Toronto was 1-for-9 with RISP Monday afternoon, the lone hit coming off the bat of Vernon Wells. That may have been the one bright spot for the Jays, as Wells has struggled mightily with runners in scoring position this year – he entered Monday’s contest batting .161 in those situations this season. The RBI was Vernon’s first in 18 games.

The Jays wasted another quality start from left-hander Brian Tallet, who gave up just two runs on seven hits over 6.0 innings.

They also wasted nine hits on offense. Under normal circumstances, nine hits are often good enough to win a ballgame. In fact, prior to their current seven-game skid, the Jays owned a record of 20-3 in games in which they got at least nine hits. During the losing streak? 0-4.

How about games with nine or more hits and a quality start? Prior to yesterday, the Jays had lost just one other game this season under those circumstances. Coincidentally, it was another Tallet start back on May 4 against the Cleveland Indians.

The reason? A lack of timely hitting. It’s already starting to sound like a broken record. During the last seven games, the Jays have gone a combined 8-for-58 (.138) with runners in scoring position, stranding a total of 40 runners in scoring position in the process.

They’ll try again on Tuesday night against the O’s …

Oh so close …

Monday, May 25, 2009

You can’t blame Buck Coats if he’s feeling a bit dejected right now. After all, the 26-year-old outfielder came mighty close to receiving a call up to the Blue Jays last Friday.

Instead, J.P. Ricciardi & Co. opted to recall utility man Joe Inglett, who had just returned to the Las Vegas 51s on Thursday after missing a month with a hamstring injury. Inglett, who went 1-for-5 with an RBI against Oklahoma City on Thursday, learned later that he had been called up to the Jays to fill the void left by Travis Snider, whom Toronto sent down to Triple-A to work on his swing and get at-bats every day.

Inglett played a big role with the Blue Jays in 2008, filling in as a leadoff hitter and second baseman when starter Aaron Hill went down with a concussion. In 109 games, the 30-year-old hit .297 with three home runs and 39 RBIs. So it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise when Inglett was tabbed to fill in for Snider.

Still, it could easily have been Buck Coats.

He’s certainly earned the call. In 40 games at Triple-A, the outfielder has batted .318, tops among Las Vegas regulars. His team-high 55 hits, meanwhile, are good for fifth best in the Pacific Coast League. The 51s leadoff hitter also has 28 runs, a .372 on-base percentage, and a team-high 10 stolen bases.

But his call will have to wait. It’s been more than a year since Coats wore a Blue Jays uniform for the first (and only) time. The outfielder broke camp with the big club in 2008, and saw action in 12 games for Toronto before being sent down to Triple-A Syracuse on April 12. In the meantime, he’s switched cities – to Las Vegas – but not leagues.

So how did the 26-year-old react after learning he was bypassed for a ticket to the show? By hitting up a storm, of course.

On Friday night, Coats went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs in a 10-1 drubbing of Oklahoma City. On Saturday, he was 4-for-5 with a run and a stolen base in a 6-5 come-from-behind victory over the same RedHawks.

If he keeps swinging it like that, he’s bound to get a shot soon …

Wanted: timely hits

Sunday, May 24, 2009

When a team endures a losing streak there are usually a number of contributing factors that can be pointed to when assessing the damage.

Often, though, there is a certain theme to a club’s losing ways. Something that stands out as a glaring problem that needs to be addressed.

The same can certainly be said about the Jays’ current six-game skid that saw the club get swept twice – first by the rival Red Sox and then by the Atlanta Braves.

Against the Sox, the Jays ran into a solid outing from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to drop the first contest. And then they got back-to-back shaky performances from rookies Brett Cecil and Bobby Ray, who were quickly shipped back to the minors.

Against the Braves, meanwhile, the Jays managed just four hits off Kenshin Kawakami to waste a solid Roy Halladay outing. Then a lack of offense prevented Casey Janssen from getting a win in his first appearance since 2007. And finally, on Sunday afternoon, Toronto’s bullpen was tagged by the Braves en route to a 10-2 loss, moving the Jays out of first place in the AL East.

But all the while, there was one constant: a lack of offense. More specifically, a lack of timely hitting.

Despite the other aforementioned factors that helped contribute to the Jays’ woes over the last six days, the club still had plenty of opportunities to win. In fact, they could have arguably come away with three or four wins. But it was a lack of hitting in key situations that did them in.

Coming out of a four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays entered a three-game set against the Red Sox atop the AL with a .305 batting average with runners in scoring position. They had hit .400 (12-for-30) alone in their previous series. But things quickly changed.

Over their six straight losses on the road, Toronto hit just .143 (7-for-49) with runners in scoring position, dropping their overall mark in those situations to .288. A drastic reduction, indeed. They were 4-for-24 (.167) at Fenway, and 3-for-25 (.120) at Turner Field on the weekend.

Following Sunday’s 10-2 loss, Cito Gaston offered up perhaps the understatement of the year thus far.

“We just can’t get a big hit,” the Jays manager told MLB.com.

Lind in mini-slump

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Through six weeks of the season, it was safe to say Adam Lind was enjoying a breakout year in 2009. The 25-year-old was batting .329 with seven home runs and a team-high 35 RBIs in 38 games. The suggestion has even been raised to move the Jays’ regular DH into the No. 4 spot in the lineup, switching with the struggling Vernon Wells. After all, Lind had been the team’s best run-producer.

He still sits tied with Aaron Hill with a team-high 35 RBIs, but Lind has struggled himself over the last five games. Of course, the same can be said for most Toronto hitters during that stretch – overall, the club has hit just .232 (38-164) in losing four of five. But Lind’s struggles have stood out.

Following play on May 17 with a .329 batting average, Lind has gone just 1-for-19 since, lowering his season mark by 31 points, to .298. His lone hit was a single, and the 25-year-old went without an RBI while striking out six times compared with no walks.

It’s certainly not a prolonged slump at this point, but it’s safe to say manager Cito Gaston would love to see his ‘protégé’ rebound to his earlier season form. Here’s a stat: The Blue Jays are 13-4 (.765) this year in games Lind has recorded an RBI.