Tag Archives: Lawrie

Jays line-up needs a shake-up

Like last season, Adam Lind looks lost at the plate. Time to mix it up in the Jays line-up?

STRADER: I love the guy. I do.

He seems like he’d be your best friend. His wife is Canadian. He loves the city. And I do love his swing.

But it’s enough already.

It’s time to move Adam Lind down in the lineup.

The vultures are circling Jose Bautista, and I understand why. The lack of 3-4 power is getting sooooooo frustrating.

But Joey Bats can’t move. He can go from the third hole to the fourth, I don’t mind that, but in my opinion he’s still one of the most intimidating bats in the league, we’re still seeing him intentionally walked, and he’s clearly pressing. He’ll break out.

But Adam Lind, yick. Besides 26 HR’s in a shortened season last year, he isn’t performing like a clean up hitter. His OPS against righties has hovered around .750 for three seasons now, and he struggles against lefties. That simply isn’t good enough for a clean up hitter in the AL East. I don’t want to see the kid given up on. I think he’s going to win a gold glove at first in the future, but I wouldn’t push for Lyle Overbay to be the clean up hitter in the AL East, would you?

Somebody on the team is seeing the ball well.

Somebody had an unbelievable 2.300 OPS against the Seattle Mariners.

Somebody is looking like the natural hitting machine you want in the RBI position.

That guy, is Edwin Encarnacion.

Sing it Nacho…

When the fantasy has ended
And all the children are gone
Something good inside me,
Helps me to carry on!

I ate some bugs,
I ate some grass,
I used my hand,
To wipe my tears

To kiss your mouth
I break my vow
No no no, no no, no WAY JOSE
Unless you want to
Then we break our vows together

Encarnacio-hooooon
Encarnacio-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-hon
Encarnacion
*Diduliduliluli!*

Encarnacio-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-hon
They are ready for you now.

Farrell has reportedly said it’s going to take 100 at bats for him to make any drastic lineup changes. So we have approximately two more weeks to wait and see if he’s fed up. I am.

So, here is what I would propose.

 

1.     Rasmus (yes, Johnson walks more, but I think Rasmus has the ability to if given the responsibility, and I want speed at the top. Real speed. Triples, steals, etc.)

2.     Escobar (He’s struggling, no doubt, and I think the ability that Hecchevarria showed in the spring might be in this guy’s head, but being in the two-hole, being asked to hit and run, bunt, move guys over, might get his bat going)

3.     Bautista (I still have to believe he’s the best bat on the team)

4.     Encarnacion (.323, .381, .667, 1.048, 8 2B, 8 HR, 21 RBI – we don’t even really need to discuss this, do we?)

5.     Johnson (He’s got pop, I want to see it utilized.)

6.     Lind (Maybe 7, ‘cause Lawrie looks amazing, but let’s still give him a prominent role before we bury him)

7.     Lawrie (I expect a response from Livingstone about seeing him third. But in my opinion, he’s 21, I want to see him brought up slowly)

8.     Thames (He’s hitting, but he still doesn’t look like a scary superstar to me)

9.     Arencibia (And I’m sorry JP, but Mathis looks like he’s finally figured out his major league bat, and was a very highly touted prospect himself, so my one note here is I’d like to see Jeff a little more often right now. Maybe twice a week)

That’s what I think Jays fans. Let me know what you think.

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A power bat? Where? I’m guessin’ left…

Subs outfielder Alfonso Soriano would be a good power bat addition to the Jays roster - however, the salary he is owed could be an issue.

STRADER: Does anybody get the feeling the Blue Jays aren’t happy with either left fielder?

I am.

One, because AA doesn’t make anything public, and his desire for an impact bat just became public. Two, because it’s not JP Arencibia that’s going to lose his job, I don’t care how many people want to focus on the low batting average.

How would the Baltimore Orioles feel if they’d given up on Matt Wieters?

Pretty dumb, I would imagine.

There’s way more to being a catcher than hitting and I don’t think the organization is as frustrated with Arencibia as some of the fans are.

(That damn debut is going to haunt this kid until he hits….)

No, there is a position on the field that doesn’t seem to be filled by that reliable, crushing, middle of the order bat, just yet.

So, with Anthopolous reportedly telling MLB network radio’s Jim Bowden that a middle of the order bat is his true desire, to “wear down” other teams, it appears that a trial run with a kid for a couple seasons is not what Anthopolous wants. And look around the diamond.

Do you move Rasmus? Nope. He’s looking confident and skilled again, and there’s a speedster in the wings.

Is it Escobar? Nope. Once again, not the power development that has been hyped, but there’s talent waiting on the depth chart there too in a young Cuban who’s looking all world.

No, left field, which I believe in two to three years will be occupied by Jake Marisnick could use a dominant, power-hitting, veteran.

So for fun, ‘cause speculation with the Blue Jays brass is always wrong, let’s take a look at Major League outfields and see if we can find a power-hitting veteran, that would come cheap, is on a team that wants to move him, and also a squad looking to add to their young talent.

Melky….I don’t know….Delmon….would Detroit trade anything right now?….Logan Morrison….is he proven enough?….Brennan Boesch…certainly a lot of talk about his ceiling….Jason Bay…I could only dream he becomes reliable again and lands in Canada….

Nope, I think I found the perfect hole filler. His team will absorb a lot of his contract. He would hit the snot out of the ball in Rogers Centre. And in a couple years, he would happily be replaced by a young outfielder, because he’s in his mid-30s.

Yep, I never thought I would say it, but I want to see Alfonso Soriano in a Blue Jay uniform.

Because of his critics, price tag, and lack of a market, I believe he would only require a couple mid-level prospects to get him.

His OPS is always above .700, this guy can simply hit the ball.

And without having to be the go-to guy in a lineup, he would be an unreal complement bat.

As I’ve said before, I’m patient. I’d rather see Travis Snider for a full season, leave him alone, let him play.

But if we’re going to see 24 and 25 year olds platooned with Rajai, replaced for defensive reasons, not playing against left-handed pitchers, then bring the vet, and wait for Marisnick and Gose.

Maybe Thames and a mid-level pitching prospect would get us Soriano?

And how wicked would he look sandwiched in there with Edwin, Brett, Adam and that dude in right field?

I’m thinking pretty good.

Of course, it looks like my Jenkins prediction was a little out of left field too….

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Dyin’ to see what Eric Thames can do – so let him do it.

Name: Eric Thames. Team: Toronto Blue Jays. Position: Starting(?) LF.

Strader: You know what the great thing is about Alex Anthopolous?

He sticks to his plan.

Did he dump a ton of money into Fielder or Pujols’ driveway?

Nope.

Did he go after CJ, ‘cause hey, he was the best of what was available?

Nope.

He’s patient. He’s calculated. He’s determined.

He’s deliberate.

I don’t get to know s—! And man, as a fan that can be really frustrating. But when Escobar for Gonzalez comes out of the blue, it can be really exciting.  So I deal.

I wanted Prince Fielder. I don’t care about the talk of albatross contracts in this town. I don’t care that Vernon Wells was overpaid. When his free agency was an issue, did I want him in Yankee pinstripes? Nope. Did I care what Rogers had to pay to keep him? Definitely not. Just keep him.

He regressed, he didn’t maintain his allstar status and that got frustrating, so Vernon had to go. Anthopolous has maintained he wants a superstar at every position, and I’m fully supportive of that. I get upset at players being vilified for performance, that I’m outspoken about. But I will cut a guy who’s not good enough, for the one who is. It’s all about winning.

And the guy who makes the show isn’t gonna hurt. He’s gonna be fine.

If they go bankrupt ala Warren Sapp, that’s their own problem.

So, I find myself really frustrated at watching Eric Thames.

Why? Because I’m patient. I don’t expect the Jays to contend this year. I’m happy to watch young players struggle, work, and hopefully grow.

So why does it seem that the organization already has their mind made up about Eric Thames?

Can he hit a lefty in the bottom of the seventh with two out and the Jays down by two?

I don’t know. ‘Cause he’ll get that shot once every two months.

Can he provide capable enough defence in the late evenings to be a consistent every day player?

I don’t know. ‘Cause the guy in left has Davis on his back.

If we’re building for the future, and we’re growing a superstar at every position, then I don’t want a guy out there, who at 24, is already being platooned, defensively replaced, pinch run for in every big situation…

That isn’t an everyday superstar. And if that determination is made, why am I not watching Travis Snider?

Dan Johnson’s name will live forever in Tampa Bay. You know why? Because he came through in a big moment. Johnson won’t ever be thought of as a superstar, but if you want to know if a guy is a superstar, doesn’t he have to be given the opportunity to show it?

There is the argument that Thames is being showcased, because trade value will grow more for a guy playing in the show, then a kid in the minors, no matter the numbers, but then what are the other GM’s watching?

Well, good fundamentals, but his team already believes he can’t play defence or hit lefties…so what are the Jays going to get for that???

I agree with the plan. And I will wait.

But I want to grow and nurture young players into everyday beasts, so that we can contend in the east.

Five tools is five tools. If you’ve already decided that a guy is three tools, then move on to the next tool. Play him in the big situations, and let’s see what this kid can do. Ok?

Or just dump the money. Albatross is a nice buzz word to criticize a GM, but if you’re sticking to your plan, and your team is winning, no fan is going to care how much money Rogers is spending.

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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

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Jays need to attack starters early and often, Santos will come around

Jays closer Sergio Santos got roughed up again last night, blowing the lead and taking the loss in a 4-2 comeback by the Sox. His command was off and two passed balls cost the Jays. But fret not - it's the fourth game of the season and Santos will find his swagger.

LIVINGSTONE: It wasn’t the prettiest of endings for the Jays last night against the Sox, falling 4-2 to the divisional rivals – but not all is lost like some of the people in attendance last night might seem to think so (Many weren’t necessarily ‘fans’ but people just there because it was opening night and the 500 level is a glorified frat house).

Already people are ripping on closer Sergio Santos for blowing two saves in the first four games of the season. Maybe he didn’t get enough work during the spring – he only threw about five innings or so all spring – and in comparison to the rest of the bullpen staff, many who tossed ten or more innings (Villenueva, Perez, Cordero, Frasor and Oliver all threw ten or more). It’s no excuse for giving up the lead, but Santos, pitching for the first time in the Skydome in front of an energized crowd, it couldn’t been too much for him. Let’s keep in mind the kid was drafted as a shortstop and only converted to the closer position about three years ago. He’s young and still trying to get comfortable in the role. He’s going to be the closer for the Jays and it’s going to take a lot for manager John Farrell and management to remove him from there. He’s in for the long-term, there is no doubt. There needs to be some patience.

Keep in mind: it was the fourth game of the year. Fans jeered and boo’ed Santos off the field after Farrell pulled him with two outs in the ninth. It was shocking, to be honest. I chalk it up to being a sold-out crowd of beer-chugging non-fans (half the row behind us in the 500-level where my season tickets are were passed out by the 7th), but hey, even they have expectations and that includes a pitcher not blowing the lead.

Things will get better for Santos and the two blown saves will be a thing of the past when he is closing out games later in the season.

However, it could be difficult for him to do that if hitters don’t start attacking starting pitchers through the first round of the order. It’s been the theme through the first four games – let the first pitch go, maybe even the second. I can’t think of one hitter outside of Colby Rasmus who hasn’t let the first pitch go in the majority of their at-bats. Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion and even Jose Bautista are settling into pitchers counts early in their at-bats and end up having to fight to stay alive at the plate. Lawrie has done it for more than 50 per cent of his at-bats.

The potent offense that we saw during the spring and last season exists, but if the team wants to capitalize on it, they have to stop letting starters get their confidence levels in the clouds. Sox starter Felix Doubront should’ve been an easy target for the Jays to open up the floodgates and mash the ball around. But they didn’t. They sat back on a lot of first pitch strikes – even second pitch strikes – and ended up having to settle on breaking balls and junk pitches to try and put the ball in play.I said to my wife during Colby Rasmus’ third at-bat of the game and said ‘I bet you ten bucks he swings at the first pitch’. He’s the only guy who has been doing it more than the rest of the team. While it hasn’t turned into a lot of hits – outside of a 1-for-15 series against the Indians and his crowd-pleasing triple last night – he’s attacking the ball.

Santos shouldn’t have been in such a tight game last night. The Jays had an opportunity to hit Doubront – who was pitching in his fourth-ever game as a starter – and they didn’t take that chance. If the run support is there, Santos won’t be in those tight games against such a potent, dangerous line-up like the Sox. And outside of Santos and the bats, the bullpen has been lights out sand the defense was incredibly solid last night. Rasmus and Lind made two great defensive stops to save runs. If they hadn’t, the game might never have gotten to Santos’ hands because they would’ve been down going into the ninth.

That all said, I can tell you I’m excited to get back to the stadium tonight. It’s been a twenty-year dream of mine to be a Jays season ticket holder and to attend opening night. It was exactly what I expected and more.

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Weekend notes: Collmenter’s delivery and Johnson’s plate discipline

Diamondbacks' pitcher Josh Collmenter delivery is odd in comparison to the rest of the league - it certainly got one Write Fielders' attention.

LIVINGSTONE: After watching the Jays drop the series finale of the opening weekend series to the Cleveland Indians 4-3, The San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks game came on and after watching Josh Collmenter throw his first inning, I had to sit down and write about him.

In the many years I’ve watched baseball, there are a number of unorthodox pitchers that come to mind – Hideo Nomo with his near corkscrew pitch delivery, Giants Tim Lincecum with his rocket launchpad approach, Brad Ziegler and Peter Moylan’s submarine-style delivery, the list could go on.

But looking back over the years, I can’t think of anyone with a delivery like Collmenter. While his delivery isn’t as, well, below the belt as the submarine, it is less than normal. When he throws a pitch – either the fastball or change-up, both pitches he relies on heavily – his arm looks like that of a cricket bowler (ie: the guy who launches the cricket ball), a near-mechanical looking delivery. Coming out of his wind-up, his arm doesn’t sit outside his shoulder, but seemingly right in line with it. The over-the-top delivery is uncommon in baseball and certainly can be deceptive to hitters.

There is a certain amount of expectation surrounding Collmenter. Since his days pitching for the Homer High School Trojans, where The Homer, Michigan native put up eye-opening numbers. Collmenter won 18 games in the 2004 season, the third highest total in state history. He recorded a state-record 13 shutouts that season while striking out 223 batters and notching a 0.13 ERA. Collmenter finished his High School career with 49 wins, 23 shutouts, 546 strikeouts and a 0.99 ERA, all of which rank in the top six in state history.

His minor league stats weren’t nearly as lights out – he went 45-27 between 2007 and 2010 with one Trilple-A appearance in 2011 before being called up to the Diamondbacks – but they were enough to get him a spot in the starting rotation where he went 10-10 last season, striking out 100 in 154-plus innings, helping the D’Backs win the National League West division.

He’s a fun kid to watch pitch and with some work on refining his curveball into a quality breaking pitch to compliment his fastball, change-up and cutter, Collmenter will be a top-three starter during his career.

That all said, I want to fast-forward back to the Jays opening series, briefly, to spare our readers the saturation of Jays talk.

Despite being three games into the season, Jays second baseman – and number two hitter – Kelly Johnson is showing some incredible plate discipline. While he’s 5-for-14 with a home run, he’s got four walks, most of them long plate appearances, drawing it out to eight or nine pitch at-bats before taking his base. The biggest one was in the ninth today against the Indians, taking a walk on a 12 (I think) pitch at-bat with two out to load the bases for Jose Bautista. While Bautista flied out (to the moon) to end the game, it wasn’t a total loss.

Hitting in front of one of the most dangerous bats in the game requires you to get on base as much as possible. If the opening series is any indication (Johnson’s OBP is over .500) Bautista is going to have ample opportunity to put runs on the board – or get walked (he’s got four walks in three games), paving the way for Lind, Encarnacion and Lawrie to empty the bases.

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The excitement – and emotion – of Opening Day

Opening Day. Opening Day. The two greatest words ever.

McGILLIGAN: Opening Day.

It’s unbelievable how two words can bring so many emotions.

For Cubs fans, hey, you’re still in the race and the drought might end this year (it won’t).

For Yankees fans, it’s time to be over confident, smug and arrogant – just kidding; you’re like that year round.

Yes, opening day can mean many things, but one thing it’s not is a day.

Didn’t the season start last week in Japan? Opening day is quite drawn out nowadays, but I digress. For me, opening day washes away all the beer and friend chicken smell and replaces it with the strong smell of hope (which smells like Fenway Franks and stale beer).

However, there is another side to opening day (week). It’s the time of year when my reverse sports Darwinism sets in. For the next 162 games I will be watching, monitoring and dissecting all things Red Sox making me into a less evolved person than my current form.

In fact it’s already started.

Who will replace Andrew Bailey as closer?

Why is Bard starting and Aceves in the bullpen?

How is Beckett’s thumb?

Why is Curt Schilling making it harder and harder for me to like him?

Do you think Theo misses us?

Is David Ortiz’s steady diet of rice and beans the secret to a fountain of youth?

Does Dustin Pedroia have a new nickname or are we still using ‘The Muddy Chicken?’

These are just the opening volleys of my baseball neuroses. As maddening as this can be for those around me, I actually enjoy it. Baseball is great because it’s the sport that can be analyzed the most through its ridiculous amount of statistics. Pouring over who should be in the lineup against right-handers and left-handers, who the outfield should shade to pull the ball and a whole host of things to ponder for no other reason than to distract myself from more pressing matters.

And this is why I love opening day, it’s time for me to focus on stuff that really doesn’t matter.

LIVINGSTONE: It’s finally here. After an off-season that saw the American League become the powerhouse of baseball with the additions of Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, columnists, baseball nuts and die hard fans talking about who will win it all, who will have the big season, who will throw the first no-hitter, who will fall from high expectations – it’s here.

For any baseball fan, opening day is about equality. Every team starts today tied for first in their respective divisions (not the Cardinals and Marlins, of course, after the 4-1 win last night for the reigning World Series champs).  Every team, after a long and intense spring training season, walk into their clubhouses to play the first of 162 games with the hopes – and dreams – of making the playoffs. Every fan is excited, even Astros fans, at the chance, albeit slim, that their team will play meaningful games in September and hopefully, in October.

For baseball fans, it’s about living out a childhood dream, day in and day out, watching your favourite team, favourite player, whatever it may be, playing the great game of baseball. It’s about the dream of being on the field, playing a game you once played in the schoolyard, or play with your friends on a Sunday afternoon in July. For the fan, it’s about being able to live that dream of playing in the major leagues, even if there was never a chance of being the starting first baseman for the Royals, or the starting center fielder for the Cubs.

We all dream it. Even today, nearly thirty, out of shape and likely to have my arm fall off if I tried to throw a pitch, I think about those days on the field when I was 13, pretending to be Juan Guzman, or Dave Stewart, or Rick ‘The Wild Thing’ Vaughan on the mound in small-town nowhere, pitching in the biggest game of my life. It brings me chills of excitement.

My wife teases me about my profound love for the game. I eat, sleep and breathe the sport and sometimes it drives her nuts and she’ll tune me out when I start talking about how I’m nervous about Adam Lind’s performance this year, or my never-ending rants about how frustrating it is the Jays didn’t sign Yu Darvish or whatever. But she understands. We all have a profound attachment to something in our lives – that isn’t necessarily a person.

I love my wife more than baseball (I think it’s a given, but I’m sure some fans love baseball more), but baseball takes me back to those timeless moments on the field, a wad of sunflower seeds in my cheek, my fist slapping the palm of my glove as I wait for a groundball, the dust coming up after a short-hop snag at first base. Whatever it is, I couldn’t care less. I was playing baseball.

Years later and more a slo-pitch player than anything, when opening day comes along in early April, I can’t help but revert back to my childhood, when nothing but baseball mattered.

It’s a beautiful day during the season of hope and revival. It’s the beginning of the baseball season and I, like millions, welcome it with open arms.

So today, leaving work early enough to get home in time for the first pitch of the Jays and the Indians, I’ll embrace another opening day and the childhood memories that come with it.

Lorraine McGillis loved the Blue Jays - especially Kelly Gruber. Her first baseball game is one Matthew Strader will always remember.

STRADER: When I think about opening day I think about my buddy Germain’s grandmother, Lorraine McGillis.

I moved to Toronto for the second time, about five years ago. My wife grew up here, here family unit is here, and so for our early-thirties lets start a family phase of life, she wanted to come home.

Chris Germain is one of my closest friends from the west, Kamloops to be exact.

He came to visit, and we arranged a Blue Jay game.

I was pumped. Canada doesn’t have a lot of us, true baseball fans I mean, so when one does come along, it’s a kindred spirit, and anything baseball you do get to do with each other you make a massive deal about it.

Believe me, I’ve had stickball games in my backyard that have lasted six hours.

But as our day approached, and Chris’ visit was imminent, it kept becoming clearer that this day, for him, wasn’t about us.

At first I was disappointed, and a little frustrated. But then I met grandma.

She was a heavy set women bound to a wheelchair. Serious health issues had stolen a good portion of her life. She clung to an oxygen tank, and would not leave her two-wheel ride that day no matter how much she had wanted to stand and cheer.

She wore grey on grey sweat pants and shirt. Clothes no longer were about fashion for her, simply practicality.

She was a picture of the phases of life we all in our heart fear, and yet, on that day, she was also one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.

You see, Chris’ grandmother had an unfortunate health story. Her body had begun to betray her years before that day. She had no choice but to cling to her chair, and because of that, her physical life stagnated.

And what did she do to pass the time?

She watched her Blue Jays.

Every day, every game she could. If no TV, she turned on the radio. She didn’t miss her Blue Jays. She hadn’t missed a game since the first opening day, health concerns or not. This was her team. Those were her boys.

She knew everything about everybody on the team, she knew everything about Blue Jay team’s I couldn’t even remember. She knew the look of the inside of the stadium like the back of her hand, and because of the way life was choosing to leave her, she’d never even seen the outside of it.

Her health problems, along with meager financial means, meant she was a TV only fan.

This was to be the first Blue Jay game of her life. Within minutes we were all children at our first game.

Chris and I joked weeks before hand that if Brian Tallet came into the game (a sign of certain death) we were throwing our peanuts and leaving.

Brian Tallet did come into that game. The Blue Jays lost 10-0.

None of us cared. We enjoyed every minute of it.

There is something pure about the game. Something magical about having your home team that you hold dear. We all get to feel involved, entitled, expectations and disappointments. We all get to feel…and that’s all she wanted.

She wanted to smell the smells, hear the sounds, and cheer with the crowd.

She wanted to enjoy a baseball game. I’ll never forget the day we got to give that to her.

Chris’ grandmother died in February of the next year. The Blue Jay game was still fresh on her lips.

“That game was all she talked about every weekly phone call from that day to her passing,” he told me.

When I think about opening day, and why I love this game, I will always think about that day, my buddy’s grandmother and the words of the great Ernie Banks.

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…let’s play two.”

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The Write Fielders unscientific guide to the 2012 MLB season

Matt Kemp for MVP? It's possible, and likely, says Write Fielder Andrew McGilligan.

McGILLIGAN: With the season about to start, what follows are my predictions for the 2012 MLB 2012.

I will either be proven a genius (the most unlikely of scenarios) or, like 99 per cent of others making predictions, just plain wrong.

So with that bit of inspirational writing here are my picks:

American League Division and Wild Card Winners

AL East – New York Yankees

Al Central – Detroit Tigers

Al West – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard – Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox

RATIONALE: The Yankees always find a way to win and I have a hard time thinking this year will be different, however, I think it will be extremely tight in the East. I think all the moves made by the Angels might take a few games to come together, but when they do, its going to be fun to watch. There’s no team in the central that should be close to Detroit. The Rangers should get one wildcard spot, as for the other, it’s a tossup between the Sox and Rays, but I give it to the Sox because, well, I like the Sox (no one said this was going to be scientific).

National League Division and Wild Card Winners

NL East – Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central – Milwaukee Brewers

NL West – San Francisco Giants

NL Wildcards – Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins

RATIONALE: I think the Phillies know the clock is ticking and will be fighting tooth and nail with the Marlins for the East, but pitching gives the Phils the division. So many people like the Reds and Cardinals in the central, but even without Fielder I think the pitching and decent but weaker Brewers lineup can still get it done. In the West, its pitching once again for me as the Giants staff will be too good to have the Diamondbacks wrestle the crown away for a second year.

World Series

Detroit over San Francisco in six games

RATIONALE: I’m big on Detroit this year. A solid lineup with two of the most intimidating hitters around combined with a pitching staff led by Verlander should be enough for World Series crown in Motor City.

And the trophy goes to…

AL MVPMiguel Cabrera – With Fielder doing the job of Victor Martinez providing protection for arguably the best hitter in the game, I see another outstanding year on the horizon.

AL Cy YoungDavid Price – He’s developed other pitches to go with his great fastball and I think this is the year he puts it all together.

AL Rookie of the YearMatt Moore – I was tempted to go with Yu Darvish or Yoenis Cespedes (honestly either one could have been my pick), but I’m going with the Rays rookie hurler Matt Moore to take the honour.

NL MVPMatt Kemp – Can’t see why he wouldn’t be just as great this year as last. New ownership makes it a more stable place to play, which can’t hurt.

NL Cy YoungRoy Halladay – I don’t ever like to bet against Roy Halladay, so I won’t. Chalk up another trophy for Doc.

NL Rookie of the YearYonder Alonso – I wanted to slot in Bryce Harper, but I decided to go out to the left coast and predict Padres rookie Yonder Alonso comes home with the award.

I also have some random predictions I hope come true this year:

– Ozzie Guillen conducts an entire press conference using nothing but Spanish curse words

– KFC tries all season to make Jon Lester and Josh Beckett their news spokesmen to no avail…..John Lackey offers to do it for bucket of chicken and is turned down

– After being thrown out of a game, Bobby Valentine dresses up as Matt Damon, sits next to Ben Affleck near Red Sox dugout and tries to coach using various hand signals being relayed to David Ortiz.

LIVINGSTONE: Predicting anything sports related is either going to make you look like a genius, a bandwagon jumper or a complete moron who was way off the mark.

I’d like to think I can be the genius, but it’s all a guessing game – so I’ll go with being the moron over the bandwagon jumper out of pure respect of taking a gamble rather than the safe bet.

Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista propels the Jays into the post-season for the first time in nearly two decades - and finally, his well-deserved MVP.

With out further adieu:

American League Division and Wild Card Winners

AL East – Yankees

Al Central – Detroit Tigers

Al West – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard – Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays

RATIONALE: The Yankees, while pitching may be a bit of a question mark, have a potent line-up that will likely win 97 games, despite an average rotation with one superstar (CC). Detroit is the sexy pick in the Central, and with good reason. Who else is going to compete with that monster? The West is going to be a shootout this year. I like Anaheim purely for the stronger pitching staff, considering CJ is going to be third or fourth in the rotation after being at the top in Texas. Sox and Jays – I’m calling it. Tampa is going to be in the mix, but the lackluster offense is going to be troublesome down the road. If the Jays can get their rotation woes straightened out, they’ll be strong contenders come September.

National League Division and Wild Card Winners

NL East – Washington Nationals

NL Central – Cincinnati Reds

NL West – San Francisco Giants

NL Wildcards – Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies (odd team out: D’Backs, Dodgers, Braves – all nipping at the heels)

OVER-RATED: MIAMI MARLINS (new stadium, new unis, new players – same whiny Hanley Ramirez. Expect him to bring down the team.)

RATIONALE: My ‘are you f’in’ crazy’ pick. Washington has a strong rotation, a quality bullpen and a strong line-up with young talent ready to breakout (Michael Morse, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and eventually, Bryce Harper). I like Philly, too, but age, injuries and what I predict to be a loss of one of the big arms in the rotation will make them fall short of the division title. Loving the Reds this year. Young, strong pitching, with a solid line-up and an MVP candidate.  San Fran – fixed the top of the order with Pagan and Cabrera and have by FAR the best rotation in the game. Expect a breakout year from Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey to be in fine form after missing last season. Milwaukee – hell, it could be St. Louis again, who knows. Brew Crew have a good rotation (Greinke, Marcum and Gallardo), closer (Axford) and a good line-up, despite losing Prince to the Tigers. Arizona will come up short when the duo of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy come back to earth.

World Series

Angels over Giants in six games

RATIONALE: The Angels are the real deal. Incredible pitching staff, out of this world line-up. It’ll be a pitching showcase in this Fall Classic, sure to be an interesting one.

And the trophy goes to…

AL MVPJose Bautista – Jays make the playoffs for the first time in 19 years on another massive year from Joey Bats. Don’t count out King Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder or Robinson Cano, though.

AL Cy YoungCC Sabathia – Guy just dominates year in and year out. Expect it to be a tight race with the likes of Verlander, Price and Angels’ Jared Weaver.

AL Rookie of the YearYoenis Cespedes – His team won’t make the playoffs, but he’ll have a big year regardless. Matt Moore will be nipping at his heels – and maybe even Yu Darvish.

NL MVPJoey Votto – The kid is going to put together one heck of a year to take his second MVP title. Don’t count out Rockies’ SS Troy Tulowitzki, Dodgers’ Matt Kemp or Washington’s Michael Morse (YEP – I said it!)

NL Cy YoungMatt Cain – Huge contract, huge year. If it’s not Cain it’s Lincecum. Expect dominate years from Halladay, Lee, Clayton Kershaw and Yovani Gallardo.

NL Rookie of the Year Brandon Belt – Originally, I had Alonso here like McGilligan, but I changed my pick once I found out Belt was making the team (see article on Belt from yesterday).

A healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau? Strader says watch out wild card favourites Texas, Tampa Bay and Boston - there is a surprise coming.

American League Division and Wildcard Winners

AL East – New York Yankees

AL West – LA Angels

AL Central – Detroit Tigers

AL Wildcards – Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins.

RATIONALE – Ok, ok, the Minnesota Twins. I know. But here it is. The pitching staff is not impressive, but it’s solid. The lineup is not impressive, but it’s solid. And there is a team every year that surprises all the prognosticators, so I’m sorry, I’m not going, Angels, Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, Rays like every other lazy ass out there.

It’s 162 games. Injuries happen. The Twins, I believe, will DH Morneau more than he even needs. I think Ryan Doumit, with some consistency and health, actually has a chance to outperform his career numbers, and there is an ability to do a bunch of different things with the offence (Span, Willingham, Mauer, Parmelee). Who better with a bunch of different parts than Gardenhire?

If I have to explain the other four, you’re probably picking the Royals and their young and up and coming lineup right now….

I know the Rangers aren’t there, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a year of injury concerns for a number of their players. And really? Three WS appearances in a row? Come on. They’re not the Bills…

National League Division and Wildcard Winners

NL East – Braves

NL Central – Cincinnati

NL West – LA Dodgers

NL Wildcards – Arizona, Colorado

RATIONALE: The Braves are too complete, and nobody else in the NL East quite matches up to that description. I believe, much like my colleague Livingstone, that Cincinnatti got a raw deal of circumstances last season, they have too much talent on both sides of the ball not to be a turnaround story. And I don’t think one playoff run makes David Freese a comparable replacement to ALBERT PUJOLS!! How did any Pujols bashing even start? I would have paid him double.

The Dodgers, yeah, that’s right, the Dodgers. They did it on the back of Ethier and Kemp before (sprinkled with a little Manny of course), they’re going to surprise and do it again. The question marks are over, those guys are going to be hungry to play ball.

Oh, and Kershaw’s kind of awesome.

World Series

Yankees over Braves in four.

RATIONALE: Sorry, but this feels like one of those years where we all love the season, and the only people who like the playoffs are the pinstripers…

And the trophy goes to…

AL MVP – Jose Bautista – In spring training we saw American media attention for Canada’s only team. During award season, we’re going to see what that media attention can do for your squad.

AL Rookie of the Year – Yu Darvish – Pitchers who win 18-20 games win awards. Plain and simple. (Honourable mention: Lorenzo Cain)

AL Cy Young – Ricky Romero – Maybe I watch the team to much, but look at the progression, the peripheral numbers, and the fact that all this left hander has to do is find his pitches to dominate lefties, and he’s actually one of the most dominant starters in the game.

NL MVP – Troy Tulowitzki. I don’t think we’ve ever seen the ceiling. A little health, a little less Ubaldo, and maybe we get to see it?

NY Rookie of the Year – Drew Pomeranz. He’s earned a spot and will start. I love Alonso’s bat, but pitchers get credit for pitching in Colorado more than hitters seem to get credit for hitting in San Diego. So I’m going Pomeranz.

NL Cy Young – Kershaw. I see a Greg Maddux style award dominance here for a while.

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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?

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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).

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