Sunday, April 28, 2013

When the Yankees come to town

While the Jays are getting their butts kicked in New York this weekend, looking more like a dog and pony show than a contending baseball team, I’d like to go back to the New York nine’s visit to Toronto last weekend.

I didn’t attend any games, but a few friends who did thought the fans, particularly on the two weekend games were rather rowdy. Apparently, things were even worth in the seats immediately behind and above the visiting team’s bullpen. There was a lot of heckling (expected when the Yanks are in town), but also a lot of bad language and eventually some stuff thrown – not a good reflection on ball fans in this city, to be sure.

However, this bad behaviour brought out the fact that the Yankees travel with their own security guards who watch over the pitchers during the game. Here’s a blog posting on the subject. You can read it while I go out and pour another cup of coffee.

The article was written before all was known about what happened. The two guys fingered by Yankee security and then thrown out by the Toronto Police at their behest admitted later to throwing a few peanuts down into the bullpen. Clearly, that’s out of bounds because it can easily escalate into throwing things like beer, soft drinks or other, more dangerous items like batteries or projectiles brought in for the purpose of being thrown.

But I have to say I was more than a little put off by the fact that it was the Yankees security people who seemed to be running the show here. That to me is really out of bounds. The cops totally dodged any responsibility (we were just doing what they asked us to do), but it should be Rogers Centre security calling the shots here. The Yankees were the visiting team, “visiting” being the operative word here. This wasn’t Yankee Stadium. They aren’t the home team. If they want to bring their own security, fine, but these guys have to know their place.

I would hope in light of this that the Rogers Centre took notice and will move to make sure that they don’t cede control to outsiders. Like other ball parks, heckling the visiting team is part of the game. As long as things aren’t thrown, then the visitors just have to put up with the gibes. If there’s a lot of cussing from the stands, home stadium security can (and does) step in to ask people to dial back a bit. If they don’t, then it is time to throw them out. But this sort of call should never be made by the visiting team. That’s just nuts.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

From the Now I’ve Seen Everything Department...

Combing through the MLB website this morning, searching for inspiration, I stumbled across the following clip:



Now if I understand this correctly (and I’m sure the inestimable Mssr. Braund will point out the error of my ways if I’m wrong. The man is a bloody walking rule book.), Jean Segura of the Brewers has done something that no ball player in history has ever accomplished: he’s managed to steal first.

That old baseball truism is now going to have to be thrown out of the game: you can’t steal first. Jean has done it, or at least he appears to have done it. If I’m wrong, then maybe he’s managed another first-time feat: getting tagged out twice in the same inning without the benefit of having two plate appearances. Sure, there are guys walking around who have made two outs in an inning. They’re pikers compared to our Jean. He’s now made two outs on only one plate appearance: once when he stepped off second base after making it back from his attempted steal of third (the play was still live since no one had called time) and once again when he tried to steal second for the second time in that inning (on one plate appearance). And if he hadn’t been tagged out on that second second base steal attempt, he also would have managed to steal second twice in an inning on only one plate appearance.

Confused yet?

Personally, I’m with Ryan Braun here, who, in a heads-up play, makes it to second during the Segura rundown between second and third, only to be told that he’s actually not safe. Knowing he’s in the middle of a very bad thing, he just throws up his hands and retreats to the relative sanity of the dugout where he can eat some Gatorade and drink a few sunflower seeds.

Somewhere in the middle of all this are the poor umpires. These men know the rule book inside out. Hell, they probably have to memorize the darn thing and then be able to recite it perfectly in order to work at the Major League level. Jean has probably given them heartburn over his baserunning adventures. Or he’s rewritten the rule book.

And who says your entertainment dollars aren’t well-spent when you go to the old ball yard?

An added bonus: Just to prove that strangeness is all around us, I offer this photo:


So now we know that Hu is indeed on first. Sorry, there’s no indication if What was on second at the time…

Friday, April 12, 2013

Egad!

What a day it was in Tiger Town on Wednesday! I went with my Dad – a 91 youthful years old – and brother-in-law Mike to game eight of the season. Heavy downpours, lightning and flooding on the road punctuated the drive to Detroit.  However, the game did start two-and-half-hours late. I thought it would be a washout. My Dad was positive there would be a game. The ground crew took off the tarp and the game began with mist and wind. The starting temp was 43°F and went down to 41 and ended around 7 pm. So much for a pleasant afternoon game!  It was a twilight single header.

We all had to put up with the very uncomfortable weather. The players had some tough plays in very bad conditions.  The fans really had it tough too. I met Jays fans from Kitchener and Windsor. The Jay's fans out numbered the Tiger fans towards the end. They were a very loud and persistent group. Nice to see.  All in all, it would have been better in a domed stadium. Northern climes should all be under the lid when needed, then  you can always have the game with a modicum of comfort. The Thursday game was 35°F and awful as well.



Sorry about the poncho. It was necessary.
The start to the Jay’s season has been about as unproductive as possible. The top-drawer trades, made for rebuilding the pitching staff, have not panned out so far. Mark Buehrle did not have his good stuff and on Thursday, Josh Johnson did not as well, for both their second starts of the season. So far the starting pitching has only one in the win column.

The pitching is the worst in the AL, with a total ERA of 5.48. The starters have a combined ERA of 7.064. J Happ has an ERA of 0.00 and so far the only win. He starts tonight and I wish him well against a red hot Royals team.  Everyone in the bullpen has been called upon so far for a total 37 innings already. John Gibbons will have to hope the starters can go deeper into the game and give some relief to the relief.  Still the team ERA must start to change. How much time do the fans give them? A few games do not make a season, but to have all the starters throw bombs at the same time is a bit much. Especially with new teams and contracts.  Johnson should come round soon as he has learned to finesse the ball even through he has lost lots off his fastball. With Buerhle, he has to have better control – no finesse involved.

The lumber, too, is dead. In areas where it counts, the Jays are worst in category. In Runs and Hits the Jays are 13th and 11th and yet are 5th in Home Runs. For BA and OBP they rank 12th and 11th.  So far, with batting, the opposing pitching is baffling them. I know that many are now in the AL for the first time. They are seeing a different set of pitchers for the first time. Still though, there are some pretty bad swings.

Wednesday was the first real comeback game the Jays have had. Down 6-1 in the sixth, they fought back against a weak Tiger bullpen. Rick Porcello departed in the fifth leading 6-1. Darin Downs put in 1.1 innings – one earned run – and then came Brayan Villarreal who promptly walked 3 in a row. All three runs scored.  Former Jay and former every other team, Octavio Dotel, served up two hits, one walk and three SO for no earned runs. He would have stayed in, but he took a line drive to the bit below his belt. OUCH! He was hurting. Phil Coke pitched the ninth with no ER.

On the Jays side, Buehrle lost it in the fifth. He had five ER and one IBB, which went to Prince Fielder. The rest of the bullpen was excellent. A line drive to the forearm also smacked Daren Oliver. Glad to hear he is available to play today. Casey Janssen closed it down very efficiently.

One real concern is the number of errors by Emilio Bonifacio.  He has collected four to date. The Tigers, as a team, have none. Bonifacio seems to be really struggling at second. He does not know where to make a play or how to pick up a grounder and fire it to first. I have heard it said that he is great in the outfield and the infield. Maybe he is just a good utility guy. Again, we are looking for a second baseman. Maybe Maicer Izturis is the guy.  I hope that Brett Lawrie is back sooner than later. Jose Reyes is the go-to guy right now, best in field and at bat. Bravo for the great start.

Even with the weather, we all had a good time and warmed up on the way home.  It was good to have the bats come alive on Wednesday but a big disappointment that they went so far away on Thursday. Doug Fister pitched a brilliant game and the Jays bats, again, were not to be heard from.

Hope that better days are around the corner. The expectations are high and when a top team is in last place, people worry. It is too soon to worry, but things do need to pick up. Is it John Gibbons who was told that you don’t have to stress too much because the team is so great? Maybe he will have to make some more serious changes.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Big Busts

Okay, so maybe the title is a shameless attempt to lure internet surfers, but it actually refers to a number of top line players who have yet to begin earning their big pay checks, players whose teams are counting on them to carry a significant portion of the load this year.

Let's begin with Alfonso Soriano, who must produce in the heart of the Cubs' order. Even with two hits on Monday he is still 6 for 27 for a .222 average and he has no home runs and no runs batted in. Matt Kemp bats third for the Dodgers and is 2 for 20 (.100) with no home runs and two runs batted in. 

Ryan Howard struck out three times on Sunday.
Marco Scutaro, who bats second for the Giants, is a dismal 3 for 27, .111, with – you guessed it – no home runs and no runs batted in. Phillie slugger Ryan Howard was, 7, 16, .322 in Spring Training, but he's 4 for 27 with no home runs and four RBIs. And the Cardinals are hoping for more from Carlos Beltran, who is just 4 for 21, with no dingers yet. 

As for the American League, Carlos Pena is one of the few bright lights in Houston's dim batting order. He's now 3 for 19, .158 with no home runs and no runs batted in. The Astros, who seemed World Series bound after leading the majors with a 1-0 record, are now, predictably, 1-5.

Tiger DH Victor Martinez, who looked so promising in Spring Training, is now 3 for 21, .143 with no home runs and one measly run batted in. He's hitting behind three great sluggers. Torii Hunter is hitting.393, Miguel Cabrera is batting .304 (though he has not homered yet), and Prince Fielder is .261 with eight RBIs. Imagine how well they'd be doing if Martinez was getting more hits.

Before I move on, I want to mention a very interesting stat I heard on Sunday's Yankees vs. Tigers broadcast. At the start of the game Cabrera was batting .368 for his career against the Yankees. Of all players with at least 150 at bats against the Bronx Bombers (who have few bombers in their order right now) only two guys had better averages – a couple of nobodies named Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Can Jay-Z get Robbie that $125 million deal?
The Yankees have two stars off to lousy starts, which they can ill afford given injuries to Jeter, Granderson, and Teixeira. Ichiro Suzuki, usually a base hit machine, was 2-18, .111 after the weekend, but got two hits in the Yankees' 11-6 win over the Indians Monday night. Robinson Cano, who recently – and interestingly – abandoned super sports agent Scott Boras for hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, may also need a new swing after being so awful in the playoffs last year. He was 3 for 23, .130 with no home runs and no runs batted in before getting three hits last night. Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner is batting .167.

The Blue Jays have two struggling stars. Edwin Encarnacion is 2-23, .087 with one home run. At least he has three runs batted in. So far this season Melky Cabrera without the juice is like a Sunkist orange – or a guy after a vasectomy – "all juice and no seeds". He is 4-24, .167 with no home runs and no runs batted in.

Ranger fans let Hamilton have it after another strikeout. 
Getting a whole lot of attention for his bad start is Josh Hamilton. On Friday night in the Rangers' home opener (how ironic that they should open against Hamilton's new team) he was greeted by a huge chorus of boos. He did the opposite of silencing the crowd, going  0-4 and dropping his average to a microscopic .050. To make matters worse, his wife had to ask for help from security because she was being insulted and sworn at .in the stands (their kids were with her).

Hamilton left six runners on base, though Pujols and Trumbo provided enough power to salvage a game out of the series. "If I was somewhere else the same thing would be going on. It'll get better", said Hamilton, who got three hits on Sunday. (That was after he'd grounded out with the bases loaded in the first inning.) The Angels lost again. Hamilton is now up (?) to 4-25, .160, with no homers and two runs batted in. Is that what $125 million gets you these days?

Halladay has not gotten past the fifth inning yet.
Roy Halladay, about whose troubles Rick wrote very poignantly in his last entry, is now 0-2 and has the worst ERA in baseball, an ungodly 14.73. On Monday, with little speed or control,  he was hammered by the Mets. "When you're trying to find something, the more you're grasping at it, the more you're reaching for it, the more you're trying to find it, the harder it is to get," said a candid and reflective Halladay after the Mets' pounding.

"You really have to stick to your routine, stick to your program, prepare every day and let it come to you." Cole Hammels is also off to an awful start, 0-2 after allowing 16 hits, four home runs, and five walks in 10.2 innings for a 10.97 ERA.

Over in the American League David Price is struggling. He's 0-1 with 17 hits in 11 innings. His ERA is 8.18. Jared Weaver is also 0-1, with a 4.91 ERA. 

Ya got give those web surfers somethin'.
Then there is Cy Young Winner R.A. Dickey. J.P. Arencibia may be having a hard time catching Dickey's knuckleball, but it doesn't seem to be messing up hitters very much. He's been shelled in both of his starts and is now 0-2, allowing 15 hits and three home runs in 10.2 innings. He was booed at the Rogers Centre on Sunday after giving up five straight hits including a home run. The Jays need Dickey to start getting people out if they are to begin their march to the post season. Say, I sure hope you guys enjoyed reading about these big busts.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

When the whispers start

With a Children’s Wish fan.
I have long been a fan of Roy “Doc” Halladay. Not only has he been a great pitcher for a very long time, he’s been a paragon of professionalism, a straight-talker to the press who doesn’t hide away in the club house when he’s had a poor game, as well as a total class act. When he left Toronto for the Phillies in a trade he asked for and deserved, it was followed by a letter to Toronto sports fans published in a newspaper, thanking them for their support and kindnesses during his stay in our city. There were no hard feelings when Roy left as there were when AJ Burnett kicked sand in our faces when he signed with the Yankees after we’d stood by him during an injury-plagued few years. We won’t even talk about skipper John Farrell, now of Boston, in town this weekend with his “dream job”. (I really hope Dickey and the Jays keep Boston’s ass in today’s game.) Torontonians actually felt good that Halliday had stuck with the team for so long, even though we’d never managed to get to the post season. That certainly hadn’t been due to anything he’d done.

During his first year with the Phillies, we were all pulling for him. I’d look at the box score every time he pitched. He had a typical Roy Halladay year, too, the first 20-game winner by a Philly right-hander since Robin Roberts had done it in 1955. On May 29th, he pitched the 20th perfect game in ML history. To commemorate the event, everyone on the team (and support staff) received a beautiful watch, engraved with their names on the back and with the box bearing the inscription: “We did it together. Thanks, Roy Halladay.” Now that, my friends, is class.

Not done yet, he pitched only the second no-hitter in post season history.

We all felt great for him, and I was exceptionally disappointed when Philly was eliminated and never made it to the series, something we all knew Halladay really wanted, and as we all felt, deserved. In 2011, they again failed in their quest to make it to the end.

Then last season, he began to have a lot of trouble. He spent time on the DL with shoulder problems and went 11-8 with the worst era since he first started pitching. It was a very un-Roy Halliday-type season. The whispers started.

His problems continued in spring training this year and the whispers grew louder. He claims everything is fine, but there’s no doubt the velocity of his fastball has dropped with it barely reaching the 90 mph range. More troubling still, even though he struck out 9 in 3 1/3 innings, it took him 95 pitches to do it. This is a pitcher who once chucked an 83-pitch complete game. The really troubling thing? The batters who didn’t strike out hit him at a rate of .857.

You have to ask if Halladay is through. No matter how you look at it, the question is legitimate. I would like to think that he isn’t. Roy Halladay has been a great pitcher for a long time. But more importantly, he’s been a smart pitcher. Jayson Stark, an ESPN baseball writer, states in his excellent post on the same subject that Halladays punch-outs of nine Braves hitters was done by fooling them.

I take heart in that. If Doc can find a new way to challenge hitters early in the count since his legendary pinpoint command isn’t quite there, his pitches are coming in flatter and the speed of his fastball has dropped, he could remain one of the elite pitchers in the game. He still has the stuff to fool hitters, as witnessed by the 9 punch-outs. But those are “soft”. He’s surviving by guile. He needs something new – or increased velocity.

A sidebar: It was a very cold day in that first game for Halladay this week. I have seen him have trouble  in this situation, no doubt because he doesn’t have a good feel for the ball. We tend to forget just how much a cold day can affect all ball players, some more than others. Perhaps this was the cause for his uncharacteristic wildness.

If anyone can find that, I would like to think that Roy Halladay is the man for the job. He’s not going to give in easily and he’s smart enough to come up with the answer. And perhaps his team will make it all the way through the post season and he will finally get his coveted World Series ring.

Then the aging warrior can retire at the height of the game. I’m not the only baseball fan who would love to see that happen. No ball player deserves it more.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

And So It Begins

Well the unthinkable happened, as you are all well aware. Rick and I were at the game and felt the energy and excitement that happens with each season opener. However, this year is different; the expectations are almost astronomical, ok not almost.

The mighty Jays fell in their first game – and now the second – to the Indians. The Indians just played better. Masterson was masterful in game one.

It appears the Jays were just too tight and anxious before the crowd of 50,000+ at the Rogers Centre Tuesday.  I guess that’s to be expected, as there are twelve new names on the roster – like the ’93 Jays- and five new starters for this game. Each of these players’ also know there are great expectations.

The weather was perfect. No snow, no wind and the mound was manicured to perfection. It would have been a rough night at Exhibition Stadium. However, RA Dickey and the flutter ball did not fool many. When it did, it really did. But the magic did not happen often. When the first hit was made, I said to Rick, “There goes the no-hitter.” He reminded me that knuckleballers never have a perfect game. Hopefully it was just the nerves kicking in and RA will control the speed a bit better next time out. Some of the fast knuckleballs sure looked more like slow fastballs.

JP Arencibia really did have a tough time behind the plate. A tougher time then he should have. I think officially there were three passed balls but several others got away; too many. As the starting catcher, he had the expectation and, I guess, the right to play the opener, but he had trouble. I just heard that John Gibbons will have Henry Blanco take RA’s next start. A good idea. Give JP a chance to settle. He needs more practice at this knuckleball thing and he cannot catch all the games anyway. Have Blanco do what he does best. We want games in the win column.

José Reyes was spectacular at short, with great catches and speedy throws to first. The crowd will come to love his energizing level of play. Already forgotten is the other guy.

The other José was pushing too hard. Just as he did last year – when he did finally settled down all was well. Then the injury happened, ending his great expectations and allowing Edwin Encarnacion go get the accolades. Bautista has a big ego.  For the most part that is good. But he cannot always be grousing on the umpire on every call. His bat-tossing incident on a perceived ball was in bad form. He has done this before to not only his detriment but also the team’s. Wins are what count, not his BA. It is a fine line between a legitimate complaint and that of showing up the ump. You cannot toss the bat before the ump makes the call. John Gibbon’s hands off approach may not work with Bautista.
If he continues in that vein he should be benched. Last night’s HR should help to settle the ego some.

That all being said, the home plate officiating by Jeff Nelson was awful. The strike zone appeared to be all over the place. From where I sat, the same pitch got different calls for no apparent reason.  That, too, must be improved. The zone looked to be a parallelogram. Not exactly a square. I hope it was better on TV, but I doubt it.

I hope against hope that the new look Jays will show up with the bats. Brandon Morrow’s fine showing last night should not suffer from DSS – Dave Stieb Syndrome, ie: no lumber.

By the way, Sergio Santos served up my favorite pitch last night, a Tomahawk, to the strikeout king, Mark Reynolds. Reynolds tore the cover off that one. Reggie Jackson would be proud.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Which Teams are off to a Healthy Start?

How many of you bet heavily on the Houston Astros to win it all this year? Well, if you did (at 300 to 1 odds), you will have been relieved on Monday morning to see that they stood, undefeated, atop the big leagues. Granted there were several games still to be played, but let's try to hold on to our excitement for the Astros.

If you have not had a chance to scrutinize the MLB injury reports, let me give you a quick run-down of which squads are healthy and which are not. I shall not include injuries to players who are likely to have little or no impact upon their team's success this season. The Pirates, for example, will be without the services of Charles Morton and Jeff Karstens. Neither pitcher is likely to blossom into a Cy Young candidate this year and their places can easily be filled.

In the National League, Arizona will have to do without right fielder Cody Ross for a while. He's a lifetime .267 hitter whose 2012 numbers were 22, 81, .267. So they will miss him a bit.  The Braves will start without Johnny Ventera, a set-up man, with a 2.33 ERA in his 3-year career. In 2010 and 2011 he appeared in 79 and then 85 games. So somebody else is going to need to step up.

The Dodgers are without the aging Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley, who was 10-9 with an ERA+ of 107 and a WHIP 1.29,  as well as shortstop Hanley Ramirez. He hit just .271 last year and has not recently come close to equalling his 33 home runs in 2008 or his .342 average in 2009. He hit 24 home runs over 667 at bats in the last two years.

Try pitching with that on Johan.
Miami is missing 1B Logan Morrison, who hit 23 bombs last year. The Mets have to get by for a while without Johann Santana, whose shoulder is still a concern. Santana is not the pitcher he was from 2004 through 2009. Last season he was 11-9, 2.98 with a 1.176 WHIP. They are also missing ex-Jay Shawn Marcum, who was 7-9 last year, with a respectable 3.76 ERA.

The Cardinals will miss third baseman David Fresse (20, 79, .293 last year), but not as much as Jason Motte, who had 42 saves last year.

So in the senior circuit the Mets, Dodgers, and the Cardinals are the teams most impacted by injuries.

Hard to believe anyone could have elbow problems doing this.
In the AL the Red Sox must begin without slugger David Ortiz, but not for too long. He will start a minor league rehab next week. They are also missing reliever Craig Breslow. The LA Angels have Ryan Madson on the DL with elbow problems. They were counting on him to help solve their right-handed reliever problems. He had 32 saves for the Phillies last year.

The Twins are missing Scott Diamond, who was 12-9 with an excellent 3.54 ERA and a 1.243 WHIP in 2012. Oakland's Hiroyuki Nakajima is out with a hamstring. He has hit 104 home runs and batted .310 in his 11 year career in Japan. 

Tampa Bay's Juan Carlos Oviedo is out for 60 days. He has 66 saves over the past two seasons in Florida, though his ERA was 4.06 last year. The Rays are also without DH Luke Scott, who hit 14 home runs and drove in 55 runs in 2012 in 314 at bats.

The Rangers are without Joakim Soria, who has amassed 160 saves over the past five years with the Royals. He had 28 last year after notching 43 in 2010. Brett Lawrie will not play for the Blue Jays for a bit as he is nursing sore ribs.
The Yankees' doctors are working overtime.

And then there's the Yankees. Their fans will begin 2013 biting their nails as they watch replacements for Mark Teixeira (wrist), Curtis Granderson (forearm), Derek Jeter (ankle), and Phil Hughes (back) suit up. Oh, and the once much anticipated Michael Pineda is again not coming out of Spring Training.

So the Angels, Rangers, Rays, and Twins have some problems, the Yankees may, to put it lightly, be screwed - unless their starters are better than expected and Mariano Rivera pitches like ... well, Mariano Rivera.

In case you have not been noticing which teams have not been mentioned, let me point out that likely front runners Cincinnati, Washington, and Detroit are virtually injury-free. Can they stay that way and fight it out in the World Series? Or is there any point if the Houston Astros are going to win it all anyway?

We're getting a little lonely…

Hey there, baseball fans! If you’ll look over to the right-hand column, you’ll see that we have a spot where you can sign up as a “follower” of Late Innings. We only have three, and after three years, that seems awfully paltry, doesn’t it?

So, if you enjoy reading our blog, John, Will and I would like to encourage you to become a follower. It’s quick and it’s easy. I’d love to tell you we’ll put you in our draw to attend all the games of the 2013 World Series, or we’ll fly you to the ball park of your choice for a full weekend of games, all expenses paid, but until someone can cough up the dough for a prize like that, we can only offer our eternal gratitude and the chance to be listed as one of the elite few who really gets what we’re trying to do.

Also, don’t be afraid to comment to any particular post. You can even flame us (especially John) if you don’t like something we’ve written, or you have a much different point of view. It’s all right, and for most fans, baseball is something that can be debated endlessly.

And thanks for checking in with us. We really appreciate it!

Rick “The Baseball Professor” Blechta