My Sports

17 May 2017

Artificial Turf Blues- Games 38, 39 & 40: Guest Columns

By // Sports

GAME 38
3-2 Win vs. Seattle
Season Record: 17-21

Today’s entry will be pretty short. It was Mother’s Day and I had a lot to do. If you’d like more reading, feel free to go back to my list of Top 25 Offensive seasons from earlier this week and re-organize it so there’s actually just 25 (not 27).  I highly recommend eliminating Tony Batista entirely. That guy just causes problems.

BASKING IN THE GLORY 
(after each win, three things that might have been the difference)

A BIG PLAY- This one ain’t rocket science. In the bottom of the ninth inning with the game tied 2-2, two outs and nobody on, Kevin Pillar strolled to the plate vs. Seattle closer (and Mike Shara fantasy team disappointment) Edwin Diaz. Diaz had dispatched the first two hitters harmlessly on five pitches, but he hung Pillar a 0-1 slider and he put a terrific swing on the ball – not a deep knee bending, trying-to-launch-it-to-the-moon swing, but a perfectly balanced, head-down swing, and it went 410 feet for the game-winning home run. It gave the Blue Jays a walk-off win for their first series sweep of the season and their first 4 game sweep of the Mariners in their history.

A BIG MOMENT- With runners at first and second and none out in the fourth inning, Seattle had Aaron Sanchez in a bit of trouble in his first appearance since April.  Danny Valencia then roped an 0-2 mistake from Sanchez to deep centre field.  Pillar raced back and made an outstanding catch to rob him of extra bases. As was the case the other day, Pillar’s catch was not only physically astonishing (balls hit hard directly over a fielder’s head are the hardest to catch because you are unable to create an angle to run the ball down), but incredibly well-timed as well. Seeing the ball hit in Pillar’s direction caused Nelson Cruz some uncertainty of what to do at second base and that hesitation ended up costing him any chance of tagging up and at least advancing to third on the play. The runners were forced to stay where they were and Sanchez was able to retire the next two hitters and keep the game scoreless at the time.

…AND A LITTLE THING- In his first outing of more than an inning, Sanchez proved why he’s so valuable to the Blue Jays by shaking off any rust and only allowing one unearned run in the game. After escaping the fourth inning unscathed, he was forced to bear down again in the fifth when, after Jose Bautista’s throw bounced off of Jean Segura at second base and allowed Carlos Ruiz to score the game’s first run, Segura was standing at third with just one out and their #2 and #3 hitters due up. Seattle hadn’t had many breaks this weekend and the unearned run could have been a breakout moment for them but Sanchez firmly slammed the door shut on any “breakout innings” by dispatching Ben Gamel with a grinding, eight pitch strikeout and then inducing Nelson Cruz into a harmless groundout. His ability to pitch himself out of tough situations in the fourth and fifth kept this game comeback-able. (It’s always nice when I end a day’s entry on a completely bullshit word, isn’t it?)

OH YEAH…AND ONE MORE LITTLE THING 

With Sanchez coming out of the game after five innings, manager John Gibbons needed some length from his bullpen today and he got it in spades from Ryan Tepera, who was outstanding today. Coming in with the game tied in the seventh inning, he mowed down all seven Mariners hitters he faced on just 23 pitches(!) to actually earn the win in relief. Tepera has looked better (more confident) each time he has taken the mound lately, and could prove to be a huge help to Gibbons as the Blue Jays look to replace Joe Biagini’s contributions in the bullpen.

I am away on Monday and Tuesday to see hockey and baseball games in Pittsburgh, PA, so I have invited two gents much smarter and more talented than me to write one column each while I’m gone. I have no idea what they’re going to write, but I’m sure whatever the esteemed Geoffrey Pounsett (Monday’s game) and Adam O’Byrne (Tuesday) come up with will be better than the dreck you’ve been subjected to from these pages since early April. Join me in welcoming them aboard and please try not to write too many comments about how much better their writing is/was. Otherwise I might not find the situation comeback-able.

GAME 39
10-6 Loss vs. Atlanta
Season Record: 17-22

*column by special guest Geoffrey Pounsett*

Thanks for having me. My favourite Argo is Mike O’Shea, my favourite Leaf is Daryl Sittler and my favourite Jay is Devon White. That’s my CV. @me all you want. Mr. Shara has to deal with the blowback.

Meanwhile, if I was my gracious host, I’d be obliged to point out that this interleague play thing was an eye-rollingly stupid attempt to add some kind of novelty to a very long baseball season that, nevertheless, doesn’t really need narrative aid. And I’d be right. That said, the Braves are a bit of an exception. We dig playing them. This isn’t a Jays-Diamondbacks threefer or a home & home against the Cubbies (ugh) : there’s history here. We share a manager that defined eras on both teams (the iconic Bobby Cox), we defeated a potent Atlanta team to win our first of back-to-back World Series (in ’92) and I’m pretty sure if you follow the dominoes closely enough , they somehow traded us Phil Niekro for R.A. Dickey (knuckleballer swap!).

And hey, last night’s game was shaping up alright, too. Atlanta has had a rougher start to the season than we have. 43 year-old Braves starter Bartolo Colon has seen more balls coming back at him than cross the plate over the last three starts, while the Jays finally look like they might be capable of driving in the occasional runner, even with two outs sometimes. A pretty good matchup for the bluebirds. Six in a row, maybe?

Soooooo…How’d it go?

Oh, brother.

How’d it go? Light-hitting Jane-Austen-rogue-turned-Jays-killer Dansby Swanson tore them up from the nine spot. That’s how it went.

COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA
(after each loss, three things that might have made a difference)

If the Jays COULDA kept more than two of their starters off the DL in the first six weeks of the season, they might not have been giving a second start to a guy they placed on waivers at the end of spring training. (I wonder why no one picked him up…?)

Mike Bolsinger followed up his white-knuckler of a first start by allowing 8 H & 5 ER over fewer than 5 innings in his second, while walking 3 hitters and plonking another three just for good measure. It’s possible he didn’t have great control. To be fair though, heralded precision pitchers Leonel Campos and Aaron Loup also drilled a Brave each, so maybe the plate wasn’t where it usually is, or something? Atlanta hurlers didn’t hit a single Jay in retaliation, though, so I’m guessing they pegged it for what it was: lousy pitching.

Without overlooking the 1/3 of an inning, 2 ER performance of lefty JP Howell (who has managed to contribute a grand total of three full innings over his 7 appearances), if Campos WOULDA avoided starting of the Major League HR leader with a big fat biscuit right down the centre of the plate, the Jays might have kept the game close-ISH at 6-3. Instead, Canadian Freddie Freeman parked a three-run shot that effectively put the game out of reach. For a Jays team that has scored a lot of late runs recently and was doing some damage in this game (Travis and Bautista both went 3-5, continuing a good week for each and bringing their averages in sight of .200…oh, man, what am I writing?) and would go on to score three more runs, this was a bad pitch. (On a side not, the Braves might have the best 3-4-5 hitters of any team not leading a division right now, let alone a team struggling to get to .400…Kemp/Freeman/Markakis is a very scary heart of the order. How do they not have more wins?Their pitching must be really bad. Like, Jays middle relief bad.)

Really, I’ve got nothing. They SHOULDA allowed maybe ten fewer baserunners.

The big picture? Maybe the front office should have worked a bit harder at finding some serious catching help during the off-season. With Russ coming off a sub-par season both offensively and defensively and clearly beat up, adding only the aged (and already released) Jarrod Saltalamacchia always seemed like barely a plan. Now that two Double A catchers are backstopping a team that at one point had more than just playoff aspirations, there is a giant pit in a lineup that already had several potholes. Yikes. You think Brett Lawrie could still call a big league game?

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Jays aren’t far off their 40-game record from two years ago, and with the bats coming around, they are still a legitimate threat. If they can get to 30-30, they likely need to go .600 over the rest of the season to be the wild card. That’s big, but with the pending return of Josh & Tulo, and the possibility that Biagini could be a starter, who knows? Sweet Jeebus, though. They can’t be gifting 10 runs to struggling teams. Even if they do play in the National League.

GAME 40
9-5 Loss vs. Atlanta
Season Record: 17-23

*column by special guest Adam O’Byrne*

I consider it an honour to report on Game #40 from my home in Los Angeles where the weather was almost identical to Toronto’s today and in a cruel twist of fate former Dodger and Padre, Matt Kemp, doomed the Jays. I watched a lot of Kemp back when he was a Dodger and Dodger games were actually on TV (Google Spectrum Sportsnet and DirectTV for coverage of that continuing fiasco). Once a dominant 5 tool player who dated Rhianna while playing for the Dodgers, Kemp, now a Brave torched the Jays over two games including a back-breaking 2-run double in the unfortunate 3-run 9th.

COULDA WOULDA SHOULDA
(after each loss, three things that might have made a difference)

I debated altering Mike’s format for what may be my lone missive of the campaign, but ultimately decided against that course of action.

It seems clear that Gibbons COULDA let Travis hit away, down a run with two men on and none out in the bottom of the eighth. Despite Danny Barnes surrendering a tie-breaking home run to the number 9 hitter in the top half, the Jays had regained some momentum and had the aforementioned set up with Travis coming to bat…the Travis who, at the time, was 2-3 with two doubles, a run scored and two runs batted in. Instead, Gibbons signalled bunt, Travis made two weak, unconfident efforts to bunt and then struck out on a 1-2 count. Seconds later Barney lined into an unfortunate double play and the Jays’ last threat was extinguished.

After his early-inning struggles in his last start, I WOULDA hoped that Estrada WOULDA come out strong today. He didn’t and is having a little run of Darvish-esque failure to launch.

That said, as usual, Marco gave the Jays a shot, kept them in it as long as he could against a hot-hitting club and was rewarded by being let off the hook when the Jays tied the game in the 7th.

I’ve been reading On Tennis: Five Essays by David Foster Wallace. If you are a sports fan (and I have to assume you are) and enjoy erudite writing on the subject (can’t make that assumption, unfortunately…Burn, Mike, BURN) then this book is for you. My favourite passage from the first essay:

“Wind did massive damage to many Central Illinois junior players, particularly in the period from April to July, when it needed Lithium badly, tending to gust without pattern, swirl and backtrack and die and rise, sometimes blowing in one direction at court level and in another altogether ten feet overhead.”

Anyway (I do have a point here), in tennis winning your own service game immediately following a break of your opponent’s service game is known as “consolidating the break”. If scoring runs constitutes a service break in this analogy (and it does), the Jays pitchers SHOULDA done a much better job consolidating their breaks. Down 3-0 in the fourth, the Jays pushed across two, only to see Marco surrender a two-run blast to Freddie Freeman in the fifth, then after rallying to tie the score at 5 in the 6th, Danny Barnes (who admittedly has been quite good this year) gave up the aforementioned four-bagger to the light-hitting (but well-named) Dansby Swanson. Finally, after the Jays’ unfortunate bottom of the 8th, the wheels came off in the 9th as first Smith then Osuna could not get Braves batters out.

So the home stand ends with a whimper. Can’t complain about going 6-3, but 6-3 when you were 6-1 stings a bit. On to Atlanta…where hopefully the Jays can return the favour.

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