Category Archives: breakout

The Sensational Six

Brett Lawrie capped off an epic, rollercoaster game on Tuesday night against the Texas Rangers with a ninth inning walk-off home run. The Sensational Six loved it.
John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

LIVINGSTONE: They heckled the drunk frat boys in our section. They gambled on who would get the first hit. They mused about whether or not the bunt Colby Rasmus laid down was a call from the dugout or his own decision.

They are the Sensational Six.

Sitting in two groups of three, one row in front of the other, the six elderly women – and if I’m guessing all in their early sixties – make it out to a dozen games a year as a group. During the early innings of Tuesday’s game  against the Texas Rangers – somewhere in the inning when pitcher Drew Hutchison gave up five runs, I noticed the woman sitting in front of me keeping an official score sheet, marking down every hit, out, walk, run and strikeout. The fact she was keeping the card made me smile. It’s always nice to see people coming out to enjoy the game rather than drink beer and take their shirts off in the seventh inning during the stretch (more on that later).

When Kelly Johnson hit the three-run shot in the bottom of three, followed by a towering shot from a struggling Jose Bautista, I noticed another sheet two rows down with the other trio of women, who I later found out are all from the area and have been coming to games since the early days of professional baseball in Toronto. The sheet, with The Sensational Six neatly scrawled along the top of the page – had a series of columns with players names penciled in for first hit of the game, first homerun, first double, etc. The sensational six was betting on game stats to make it a game within a game. The betting wasn’t for money, but for large gummies they had in a container with them. Sure, minor in nature, but the fact it brought a feeling of competitiveness and excitement to their experience – one of what is about a dozen a year.

While the game was surely one of the most exciting of the season – Lawrie’s laser beam walk-off in the bottom of nine was incredible to watch – it was watching these women analyze the game, talk about the sloppy play of Yunel Escobar as of late, Kelly Johnson’s love-hate relationship at the plate and in the field – at times – and the inability of the Jays bullpen to close out games (blown save number 56 last night). They truly loved the game and were there to take in the beauty of the sport.

Oh, the frat party. Speckled in the crowd – I swear we somehow got every drunk 19-year-old in the stadium in our section – groups of guys, and one lone idiot with his embarrassed girlfriend, were loud, obnoxious and obscene. It takes a lot to offend me, but these guys and the language used toward the Rangers players could have easily spoiled the night. I understand people come to the games to have fun, drink beers, experience the game the way they want to, but sometimes it goes too far.

Last night reminded me of opening night and the debauchery that went on, especially when a group of five guys sitting three rows in front of us to the right took off their shirts and began waving them like towels. I could smell them from my seat, no joke. It wasn’t pleasant. When the game was getting on into the ninth, one of the ladies started telling a couple extremely loud fans to shut up. I admired the women for their love of the game. Young and old alike, the game makes us all feel like a kid in the school yard, playing for the World Series championship. They wanted to enjoy the game and not put up with the sauced fans. Fair enough.

When Francisco Cordero blew the game with two outs in the ninth by giving up three straight singles to centerfield, I asked the women who bet on the Jays blowing the save opportunity. One of the sensational six chimed in and said, ‘hell we all would’ve picked it’. When Lind hit into a double play with none out early in the game, a sense of frustration bellowed from the women, one yelling ‘why didn’t you bunt? You can’t hit the ball!’ She wasn’t saying anything we already didn’t know, but it sure made me laugh.

So, Brett Lawrie. Kid has energy. You could sense it all over the stadium after he made the last out in the ninth to take it to the bottom, you could feel it. He wanted to end the game. And he did it in the classic, soon-to-be legendary Brett Lawrie way. When the ball hit the top of the outfield wall to end the game, the ladies were jumping for joy. It was like the World Series trophy was coming back to Canada for the first time in two decades. While the drunken buffoons jumped for joy – more likely because they were hammered – the ladies reveled in an exciting, likely to be one of the best games of the young Jays season.

I hope I’m lucky enough to have the sensational six sitting in front of me at a future game. Maybe I’ll get in on the betting with them. I do love gummies.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

On the plus side, some young closers are strutting their stuff

Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson has been perfect in the save situation, going seven-for-seven to start the season, closing out games with a high nineties fastball in his pitching arsenal.

McGILLIGAN: One of the early story lines this season was the poor performance of closers.

Teams were struggling to shut the door in the ninth inning and seal the win. Veteran guys – solid performers in seasons past – just weren’t getting the job done. Things have settled somewhat since then – injuries are still wreaking havoc in some cities – and part of the reason is new faces seizing their opportunities.

The two best examples of this are Jim Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles and Henry Rodriguez of the Washington Nationals.

Johnson has been perfect in his save opportunities this season (7-7), has yet to allow a run and has hitters off balance as evidenced by opponents mustering a measly.214 batting average.

The Orioles have struggled to find consistency the closer role, only once in the past five seasons has a player recorded two-straight seasons of 20 or more saves (George Sherrill in 2008 and 2009).

Heading into the year, Johnson had racked up 21 saves over the course of three seasons. Baltimore is a bit of a revolving door for closers, but early signs are positive for Johnson and the O’s.

The most intriguing closer-related story is in the National League. After the Nationals watched Brad Lidge blow a few saves, the job was given to Henry Rodriguez who had a grand total of two saves before this year. This season he’s recorded five saves in five chances, has not allowed an earned run and has opponents hitting a paltry .038.

What makes the Nationals situation so intriguing is the eventual return of Drew Storen. In 2011, Storen racked up 43 saves, tied for sixth best in all of baseball. He had minor elbow surgery earlier this month and could return sometime around the all-star break. If he can return to form, and Rodriguez continues his early dominance, the Nationals could have the makings of a great one-two punch for the eighth and ninth innings – in what order might be anyone’s guess.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

A look at the first week of baseball: Infante, D’backs and Ozzie Castro, er, Guillen

Miami Marlins second baseman Omar Infante is off to a good start - his manager, however, is struggling to remove his foot from his mouth.

LIVINGSTONE: It’s a week into the season for the boys of summer. It’s nice to get back into the routine of checking daily baseball stats, deciding the ole fantasy line-up for the day and catching whatever games I can on the tube – especially the late games. It’s my first full summer in Toronto and in addition to all things baseball from my years past, I now get to engage with the Fan590, the great crew of baseball nuts and the spot-on and absolutely moronic baseball fanatics – aka Jays fans – out there.

The anxiety and curiosity that comes with the start of the season is always at it’s worst. Everything is so up in the air. How will so-and-so perform? What pitchers are going to throw gems? Who is going to surprise and rip it up the first week and are they legit? Who is going to tank? When do we worry they may not get out of the funk?

And so on and so on.

So, in honour of the first week of the season, the biggest surprises and whatnots of the week.

1. The first-series sweeps of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

For the first time since 1966 (correct me if I’m wrong people) the two powerhouses of the last 20 years in the American League lost their opening series’ in not-so-classy fashion. Four blown saves (Boston had three, including two in one game; Rivera, surprisingly, blew a ninth inning lead to the Tampa Bay Rays). I know it’s early, but it’s surprising. Since then the Yanks have managed some wins against the lowly Baltimore Orioles, while the Sox lost two of three to the Blue Jays and sit at 1-4. No blown saves though, so that’s a positive.

That said – Boston has a nine-game homestand starting Friday. Rays (four), Rangers (two), Yankees (three). If they can’t pull it together at home against these three equals/better thans, it’s going to be a long, long season for Sox Nation.

2. Omar Infante

It’s early, but he’s tied for the league lead in dingers. I know, it’s only three, but still, it’s shocking. The guy hit seven total last season in 640 plate appearances (his 162-game average is nine). In seven seasons (2005-2011) Infante hit 35 home runs in about 2,000 at-bats (note: he hit 16 in 2004 for the Tigers). It’s very likely he won’t hit more than his 2004 total this year, his tenth, but the hot start has to be exciting for the Marlins, who rely on him to get on base and provide quality defense at second.

3. Ozzie Guillen

I’m not going to get into his love for Fidel Castro too much, nor the five-game suspension that followed – but holy lord. In the span of a week he told reporters he gets drunk at the hotel after every game and passes out, followed by bro-love for the longest standing dictator in the world in Castro. Well done Ozzie. Thing is, it’s not surprising – he has no filter.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

This team is potent. They’re deep on the bench and can field a solid one-thru-eight, loaded with solid hitters who can do damage if given the opportunity. Pitching? Yep, they have it. The addition of Trevor Cahill to the duo of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. The comeback against the Giants Saturday shows they can scrape back. Down six runs early, they chipped away and stole the win 7-6 from their division rivals – and biggest opponent for the division title.

5. Minnesota Twins

Six runs in four games – three of those games against the Baltimore Orioles. Enough said.

6. The week of blown saves

Sweet mercy, I don’t know what to think of all the blown saves, walk-off/extra inning wins in the first week. There were enough that it’s cause conversation among the three of us here at Out of Write Field. The AL East is particularly disturbing: Rivera (1), Jays Sergio Santos (2), Red Sox Aceves and Melancon (3) have had it rough in the first week. Watch for Matthew Strader’s piece on the closer issues going on across the majors – blown saves, injuries and everything going wrong in the ninth. As I write this Jonathan Broxton, Royals closer-of-the-day, just blew what feels like the 30th save opportunity in the first week of the season (I think it’s actually 17 at this point of the day with Broxton – but still…17!!? late addition note: Make it 18. Joe Nathan blew the game for the Rangers last night in the ninth to the Seattle Mariners)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bobby Valentine’s (likely) end-of-season apology letter

On the eve of the Leafs apologizing to their fans, I finished this Bobby V apology letter to Red Sox fans for not making the playoffs in 2012….

Apology to Red Sox Fans

From your one and only, Bobby “V” baby,

I’d like to apologize for the performance, execution and conduct of the players this year. In which, by the way, I had a lot of fun – those guys just need to learn to listen and we’re aces kids.

Okay, so we didn’t make it again. And we even finished below the bird team from Canada (man, I’ve never figured out why so many baseball teams are named after birds? I’d name them after cars…) but hey, things are going to get better, right?

I mean, come on….we’re the Sox.

In my opinion, we lost for two reasons this year.

Our starting pitching fell apart, and some nasty blogger labeled poor Dustin the “rubber chicken” and that really got in his head. He’s a sensitive little guy you know. That stupid video game pointed out that he couldn’t hit a high inside fastball and it took him months to adjust.

I know the bullpen didn’t look that great either, but it’s a bullpen, we’ll buy some new pieces.

Starting pitching comes down to two things according to Bobby V, a winning attitude and work ethic, and our guys had neither.

Countless times I would be in the make up chair before the game, and I swear, I could hear the video games on in the clubhouse again. I’d send assistants back to check, but it’s difficult to bark out orders while you’re balancing cold tea bags and cucumbers on your lids. And that’s Bobby V time.

So I would leave it for the weekends, when the games don’t really matter, you know?

It’s Saturday, everybody’s having a good time, I’d bring in some kids from the junior leagues around the city and run drills on fundamentals, like starting the runners with a full count, blocking the plate, and looking good for the camera. The guys’ would love it, the kids would love it.

I know when I was a kid nothing made me happier than a free lunch and a chance to throw the seventh. What? I’m gonna make Jenks do it? Come on. Someone has to go pick up the chicken, we’re not abusing our assistant’s on Saturday’s – we gotta keep the bosses costs down and Bobby V’s salary up.

Why do you think we’re KFC guys?

Now, as for next year, let’s not worry. Buy your tickets, your hats, and your jerseys. Okay, maybe it’s not time to throw a name on the back of that new shirt, ‘cause who knows who’s gonna be here next year right? Who’s going to step up. We do have that Crawford guy for a long time, maybe him? (I’m still really excited to meet him, by the way, seems like a nice kid.)

Meanwhile, listen to my radio show in New York. I’ll tell you everything that’s wrong with the Sox, the audience there is just loving it. I get a rousing ovation everytime I show up for the little side job.

Must have something to do with the sweet sounds of Bobby V…

Until next year folks. Keep my seat warm, I’ll see you sometime around May.

It’s May, right?

 

Bobby V

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Biggest Bash of them all

20120406-210543.jpg

STRADER: Alomar’s or Carter’s?

Which one was bigger?

By now, every die hard Jays fan knows I’m talking about dingers, not…anyway…

A walk off to win the World Series, at home – that is the stuff of legends.
But Alomar’s was a moment. An undeniable moment. We hadn’t won anything yet. Blue Jay fans remember watching that series and thinking, geez, we’re really giving Oakland a fight. We might, have a chance here? And then Eckersley came in. It was game four. It was game over, and probably series over if Oakland took that 3-1 lead. I mean, come on, it was 51 of 54 during the regular season, it was Eckersley.

Alomar hit that home run and we all had a collective moment. We all put our hands in the air. No dancing. No screaming. Just hands in the air, and a collective moment of disbelief. A breath in that hurt our chest.

He tied the game, and the Jays won the series.

It was something we hadn’t had before.
As fans, we got to live in that space between losing and winning and watch our team be the team that comes back, the team that finishes when it’s ahead.

We were witness to a moment as fans when you realize you’re watching a winner.

I just watched a major league record 16 innings, a three run shot that will be legend because of its timing, and I don’t want to talk about either. I want to talk about moments. A catch, and a simple tap of a manager’s arm.

I watched a major league record 16 innings, and I can’t stop thinking about the bottom of the fifth. Our starter was looking shaky. Romero was rough but he was hanging in there. And then a line shot got laced to centre. It was hooking toward the gap. Last year that ball falls.

It falls, the inning is extended further, and things really fall apart.

Outfield defense was an identified need, and it had been clearly answered.

Colby will be criticized for his average. We can all sense it now, it permeates the city. If he continues to struggle, Rasmus is going to be the name we always hear on the radio. Read in the paper. See on the TV. It’s gonna be a Rasmus summer. But this team didn’t need offense. It needed outfield defense. Romero needed that catch.
In 2012, he’s going to get it.

And my hands went in the air.

Romero couldn’t finish this game. (I was secretly hoping it wasn’t going to be a superstar seven inning comeback performance, ‘cause I’m still hoping to fleece him from my buddy Germain in our fantasy league) Farrell was going to have to make the walk, tap his arm, and call in relief. The comeback was going to be tough. Masterson was showing signs of being unhittable, it should be Mr. 5.65 ERA to hold things down, or dribble a few hits, a few walks here or there, maybe give us a chance. But this time, when Farrell goes to tap his arm, it’s Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, Oliver, Cordero…

It’s all men we’re used to seeing in one run game eighth innings, two run lead seventh innings. I was excited in the off-season, but it took 16 innings for me to realize the Cadillac this bullpen was going to be. And one tap of the arm to see that it was going to be there all season. None of our games are going to be easy on opposing hitters. What kind of gravy is this?

It was the game with a five man infield, and maybe the biggest double play in Blue Jay history.

A ninth inning comeback, our home run king showing in game one, hey, don’t forget the king.

But I can’t stop thinking, that in the bottom of the fifth and the top of the sixth, I was witness to a couple moments.

A catch, and a tap.

And what moments they were.

The debate is over: Giants settle on Belt

Giants' management made the right call by putting Brandon Belt on the starting squad. His bat is going to be a big addition to an otherwise low-run scoring offense.

Finally, it seem, the debate is over.

There has been a lot of talk about whether or not San Fransisco Giants’ first baseman – and pending superstar – Brandon Belt would even be on the squad to open the season against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the desert.

And the Giants’ have decided to put Belt on the roster – and start him at first base, displacing the over-paid Aubrey Huff into the outfield.

It’s been a day and night kind of career for Belt. In the minors he destroys pitching, especially in 2010 when he hit .352 between single-A and triple-A ball in the Giants system – not to mention 23 HR and 112 RBI, while only striking out 99 times in 462 plate appearances. Last year, same thing – in 53 games he hit .320 with 8 HR and 26 RBI to go with 12 two-baggers – this all while missing time due to a fracture in his wrist, requiring him to miss part of the season.

While his numbers in the minors are out of this world – his time in the big leagues has been nothing but disappointment. In 2011 he hit .225 in 168 plate appearances, had 9 round-trippers and 18 RBI – while striking out 57 times. Not the best case for a spot on the starting roster this year.

That said – his spring has been strong, apparently showing the talent he has in the minors during the Giants’ spring schedule. However, there is an overload of quality talent on the team and Belt ended up in a battle with career minor-leaguer Brett Pill (who had a decent last couple months last season in a call-up) and journeyman Gregor Blanco, who was turning heads this spring.

The Giants want to win, and they’ve got the line-up and pitching staff to do it. Belt comes with high expectations, and rightfully so. He should be performing to the number 23 ranking he was given by Baseball America in its annual top 100 prospects list.

And this could be his year to cement himself as the everyday first baseman. Huff is in the final year of a pricey contract – and with his age and numbers slowing down, it’s likely he won’t be back next season, leaving the door open for Belt.

To be honest, the fact the Giants’ were debating over Nate Schierholtz in the outfield, over moving Huff there and putting Belt at first – it’s just mind-boggling to me. Sure, Nate’s consistent at the plate and plays great defense – but in a line-up that didn’t fair well at the run-producing part of the game last season – Belt is needed to bolster the run support to compliment the pitching.

If he can get in some decent playing time this season and put up the numbers he did in the minors over the last two seasons – putting his dismal big league appearance from last year behind him – he will become part of a youthful core in San Fran poised to make noise for a number of years.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cecil down increases need for Nash

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil.

STRADER: Brett going down means Brian Burke needs to chase Rick Nash?

Yep.

No, I don’t think the big forward from Brampton can snap off a slider, but there was one thing on my mind after I saw the news that our 15-game winner from 2010 is going back to AA.

Please god don’t let this become a theme!

Sports writers have a duty. We can’t be homers. We have to look evenly at every situation and report on it how it is, not how we think it is, how we think it might be. Look like you’re favouring a team, coddling a favourite player, and what are you for your reader?

Here’s me doing a little Jays apologizing. But don’t fret, this is not homerism, this is a balanced and well thought out preemptive strike.

Shut the f–k up!

That’s for all the vultures circling the Jays rotation right now. For as many sports writers that look at the depth of talent the Jays have put together and see the light at the end of the tunnel, there will be those, call them the sheen on the glass walls of the fishbowl, that will circle a failure like vultures. Has Brett Cecil regressed? Absolutely. Is there an organizational concern with what once looked like a can’t miss prospect?

Yep.

But does this mean that if Dustin McGowan experiences a set back, if Henderson Alvarez comes back from (??? Superman’s home planet), that we need to see a million stories from a dozen or so sports geniuses who will go back and forth about whether 75 wins is a failure and the starting rotation is the reason, and they should have seen this coming….veteran starter….been saying it all year….Blah blah blah.

I’m certainly not saying don’t pick on the players. I’m not that guy.

I’ll heckle with the best of them. That’s the glory of professional sports.

But is a 75 win season by the 2012 Jays, if it happens, a failure?

No.

Brett can go down. He’s not ready, and maybe won’t be able to get it back.

Alzarez can struggle, he’s 22!!

Lawrie can bat .260, with maybe 15 homers, and learn more about his position and being a professional, these would all be normal. But with the amount of hype surrounding the Jays (Oh man, American writers are picking them for the playoffs, this is all we need…) there are those on the hunt for the pin, and as soon as they find it, they will jam it in the balloon.

Cecil is going down, McGowan’s got a bad foot, the vultures are in the air.

Let me say it here first. The Jays don’t need to make the playoffs. If they do, it’s icing on the cake, enjoy it as such.

But cake is still awesome.

Progression of the kids, growth of the minor league prospects, how is Anthony Gose doing with more major league type off speed pitching? What is Henderson Alvarez working on, a change up that he can throw away from left handers? A slider? A curve?

What are the weaknesses in Brett Lawrie’s swing? What are the holes, and how can he correct them?

How has Dustin McGowan changed as a pitcher now that he’s pitching again? Does he do anything differently on the mound, behind the scenes?

Why Eric Thames over Travis Snider? Can people stop guessing, analyze their motions in the batters box, write a comprehensive piece about their differences and talk to some scouts about what makes one better than the other? Is Thames being showcased while Travis gets work in?

The real wave of talent is coming in Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, Noah Syndegard, Drew Hutchison and others. Can we read more in depth pieces about what they bring to the table, or do I just get to read that Gose is fast until I see him with my own eyes?

I’ll reiterate, I’m not saying don’t pick on the team.

Look at the match ups for the first week. Romero vs. Masterson, Morrow vs. Jimenez, Carreno vs. Tomlin (?? – or whatever Carmona is called maybe?), and then we have Alvarez and Drabek facing the Red Sox, and for as many chicken jokes as people want to make, they’re a powerhouse.

I’m a Jays fan, but if they falter, I don’t mind pointing out why. I just don’t want to read the same thing all summer. Our rotation is Romero, Morrow, Alvarez, Drabek and McGowan, with Hutchison, McGuire, Jenkins, Carreno (probably a future reliever) and loads more of live arms waiting, and hunting, for their own spot.

Is our rotation a question mark right now? Yes. But is that a problem? No, it actually isn’t.

Please, can we read stories about baseball and not what baseball geniuses you all are for pointing out something that was obvious at the beginning of the season.

This team is young, the rotation is young. If the season falls apart, I would still take the same rotation into next year with a smile on my face.

So let’s read about what they’re working on, what’s happening on the field, and why.

Not a bunch of easy stories about how a young rotation is going through the problems of a young rotation.

Let Burke go pick up Nash, and halfway through the summer, we’ll leave the same old to the Leafs reporters, okay?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Can’t help but cheer for Morrow

Expect big things from Blue Jays RHP Brandon Morrow this year after a quality spring (0.52 ERA in 17 1/3 innings pitched).

LIVINGSTONE – Ah, Vogelsong. Definitely a guy you can’t avoid rooting for, especially being on one of the, if not the, best pitching staffs in baseball. It’s hard to remain relevant on a staff with the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain – but somehow Vogelsong did it last season.

For me, my Vogelsong – and don’t judge me because I’m a die hard Jays fan – is Brandon Morrow. Yeah, yeah, you’re just picking the guy because he’s on your favourite team. In some respects, yes, but in many, he is the guy this year who will settle into his own and put together an all-star season.

Since coming into the big leagues as a relief pitcher for the Mariners in 2007, Morrow has been on my radar. Sure, he was predominantly a reliever in his first two years (he started five games in 2008), Morrow showed potential to become a quality starter. In 2009 he threw 10 games as a starter and while his numbers weren’t off the charts (1.579 WHIP, 8.1 SO/9, 4.39 ERA), the Jays saw enough to bring him on as a starter and utilize the high-90s fastball, hard slider and twist-em-up change-up to bolster an under-performing rotation.

Yes, the rotation has under-performed the last two years – but Morrow’s shown steady improvement, despite faltering late in games (usually somewhere after the fifth inning). Despite an 11-11 record with a 4.72 ERA, he fanned 203 in 179.1 innings worth of work and finished 7th in the league in strikeouts and his 10.2 SO/9 innings was the best in the American League and third in all of baseball.

If his spring is any indication of what to expect from the hard-throwing right-hander, than a breakout season is in the cards. Morrow allowed just one run in 17 1/3 spring innings for a career-best 0.52 spring ERA. While he’s striking out guys less (7 Ks in his last 12.0 IP) he’s gained a lot of confidence with his change-up and curveball – both pitches that seemingly got him in a lot of trouble last season. Unable to rely on them confidently, hitters tagged him often on his heater and slider.

While I think he’s looking at a big year – I would’ve been faced with a difficult task had he been available by the time I would’ve thought about drafting him.

The last two years have been a tail of two different Morrow’s – the untouchable who would strike out the entire team and the guy who showed no confidence and got tagged for more extra base hits than one could keep track of. When Morrow is on, he is on and looks like one of the elites, but then he comes out and throws an egg of a game and one has to wonder if he is the real deal.

With the potential for the team to put up quality run support on a more regular basis, Morrow could have the safety net of runs on the scoreboard allowing him to focus more on his pitching rather than overpowering the opposition (as we’ve seen with his lower strikeout rate this spring).

And hell – if it’s not Brandon Morrow having the breakout season, it’s going to be a guy like Royals’ first baseman Billy Butler. Playing on a team with a group of young, potential superstars, Butler might finally have the bats around him to thrive. I expect a .300 AVG/30 HR/100 RBI season from this guy. Maybe even more.

Regardless – Morrow is looking damn good and one can only hope he brings his quality spring right into the regular season.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Reds’ Bruce poised – finally – for ‘big’ year

Cincinnati Reds OF Jay Bruce is poised for his biggest season yet - and a shot at the homerun title in the NL. (AP Photo/David Kohl)

LIVINGSTONE: He’s marching into his fifth season with the Cincinnati Reds, and despite his biggest year at the plate last season, OF Jay Bruce is poised to make more noise than he ever has before, and vault him into the National League elite – and, per my prediction – the league homerun crown.

Looking at ESPN’s statistics on what stadiums are most hitter-friendly, Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati ranks the third most-friendly to hitters (1.314) behind Coors Field (1.354) and The Ball Park in Arlington (1.500). The advantage to hitters who play 82 games a season is obvious, looking at Bruce’s numbers over the past four years (see baseball-reference.com). Hitting with the likes of Brandon Phillips, and perennial first baseman Joey Votto, along with Drew Stubbs and Ryan Ludwick, Bruce has the opportunity to capitalize on a line-up ripe with strong bats, forcing pitchers to pitch to him, rather than around him.

This all said – Bruce had a big year last and some would argue my pick for breakout player, well, he’s already broken out. He hit .252, 33 HR and 97 RBI last season. However, he struck out twice as much (158) than he walked (71) and his average dipped 25 points from his career-high in 2010 (.281).

There is a lack of plate discipline there, something it seems he’s worked on over the winter and through spring training. If he can shave down his strikeout total, and avoid swinging at pitches out of the zone, Bruce has the potential, tied in with the bats around him, to bring his average up and add to his round-trip total this year. He only bagged 26 doubles last season, a number that could easily rise close to 40 if he’s patient.

And let’s not forget what division Bruce plays in. the Central is seemingly weaker this year than it has been the last couple of years, especially with teams like Pittsburgh and Houston settling into a long year battling it out for last (who are we kidding – the Astros will finish dead last – in the league). Minute Maid Park in Houston and Wrigley Field will prove advantageous to Bruce, however, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Busch Stadium in St. Louis will favour pitchers over hitters, so this potential advantage might be a wash.

Regardless, Bruce is in for a big year and I think he’s got serious potential to hit .290 or higher, as long as he can show some plate discipline, and pop for 40 HR – or more. I think come September, Bruce will be in the thick of the homerun race.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

No reason to hate Jays. Pinstripers on the other hand…

One Write Fielder - the lone Sox fan in the trio - just can't hate the Jays. Why? Well, they aren't a concern to the Sox making the playoffs. The other two Write Fielders definitely disagree this season.

McGILLIGAN, POINT: I’m sorry Blue Jays fans, you just can’t make me do it. As a Red Sox fan I just can’t hate you. There’s only room in my heart for one massive hatred and that’s all filled up with pinstripes.

I hear you. Out there telling anyone who will listen that the extra wild card is yours for the taking. This is the year when you finally ascend into the upper echelon of the AL East. Jays fans are vocal and gleefully believing they’re leaving the Red Sox, in the dust.

As far as I’m concerned, talk until you’re blue in the face. Go ahead, it doesn’t bother me, know why? Because talk is all it is. No games have been played and supporters of teams from the Big Smoke are notorious for getting ahead of themselves.
Every year is the one where the Leafs will make the playoffs and the Jays are poised to reap the benefits of solid transactions and drafting.

I know the pundits are talking about Toronto being the surprise team, the one whose bandwagon is getting fuller by the day.

However, the team doesn’t possess one part of their lineup that beats the AL East Big Three. The Rays have a better pitching staff, Boston and New York have better offences.

I will admit the Jays would be a playoff team if they were in another division, but they are not. What I don’t understand in all this talk is where the Jays will make up 10 games, the number they finished behind the Rays in the wildcard race. A revamped bullpen will account for a few, but certainly not nine and Lawrie is a talented young player, but not one that accounts for that major a swing, at least not this year anyway.

The Jays had a losing record against the AL East last year (33-39). While it’s bound to be better in 2012, I have a hard time believing it will be dramatically different.

Ultimately, here’s what it comes down to for me:

The Yankees and the Sox have a long history and the Rays have caused Boston some recent heartaches, but the Jays haven’t made me suffer in a long time, so until that changes, I just can’t hate them, I’m too busy boiling over thinking about pinstripes.

LIVINGSTONE, COUNTERPOINT: Well, first off, you’re an asshole. Being a Jays fan  – and season ticketholder – I can’t help but shake my head at what you are saying: I don’t worry about the Jays because they can’t compete with the likes of the Rays, Yanks and Red Sox.

However, let’s remember, because it wasn’t too long ago, that you could have adjusted the J to an R and it would’ve been an equal argument. The Rays were one of the most lackluster teams for years, well, since they became a team in 1998 right up until they clinched their first ever post-season birth in 2008. That’s right, 2008. Seems like ages ago and seemingly McGilligan forgot about the fact they’ve only become a competitive team in the last four years (this will be their fifth).

So let’s look at where the Jays are at. They’ve got their superstar (Jose Bautista), Strong one-two-three rotation (Romero, Morrow, Alvarez), rookie on the verge (Lawrie), and quality role players to make up a strong line-up that can produce runs, steal bases and bash the ball. That and they’ve got the third best farm system and some of the most heavily touted prospects in the game (Anthony Gose, Travis D’arnaud, Drew Hutchinson, Deck McGuire, Adeiny Hechavarria..and plenty more).

The 2012 Jays have the makings of the 2008 Rays (NOTE: The Jays won 86 games that season, were 10 games over .500 and still finished fourth).

In 2008, The Rays finished with an 11-7 record against the Sox, as well as the Jays, a 7-11 record against the Yanks and an incredible 15-3 against the dismal Orioles. Far from dominant in the AL East stronghold owned by the Sox and the Yanks – but putting up a record like that against the other East birds, well, it would help you win 97 games. Don’t forget they played 6 games against the Marlins, three against the Astros and Pirates. 12-6 in interleague play.

I don’t think there is any reason not to think the Jays could compete this year for the post-season. If the Sox continue to have injury problems on their pitching staff (Closer Andrew Bailey apparently needs surgery now, and Josh Beckett is having thumb issues) and the likes of Carl Crawford continues to produce below his $100-million value – oh, and old man Ortiz finally shows regression – well, things could be ugly. The Rays, while likely to have one of the best pitching staffs in the league, they’ve got Kyle Farnsworth as a closer and some questions in their line up (how much can you rely on Evan Longoria to carry your offense?).

Regardless, I don’t think the questions surrounding the Jays are any worse than those around the Sox or Rays. Yankees? Yeah, looking damn good again (sigh).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,