Signs of Life

The Blue Jays are now, after a road trip through Tampa and Boston, sitting at 15-24. They are in dead last in their division. And yet, I am encouraged. Through April, and even through the first few games in May, there were a lot of places to point the finger of blame. At some point, every aspect of the game had failed miserably. Injuries, defense, lack of clutch hitting, bullpen meltdowns, starters getting shelled. Every night, you could see something going wrong, and it proved to be the Jays undoing twice as often as they were able to salvage something. 11-21 was the record as they set out on the road last week. they were, to my eyes, almost unwatchable.

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Fight or flight: Impaling Lind’s spirit?

I know it’s en vogue to analyze teams and players strictly by the statistics available about them. There is definitely something to do be said for the value of statistics and basing organizational decisions on as much information as humanly possible. Math(!) is a good thing.

But, as much as I value math and people who are really, really good at it, I do think some people have a tendency to take the numbers too far. Baseball players are human beings and there’s a definite human element to their performance — unless the player in question is a Roy Halladay-like cyborg, of course.

Except for 2009 and a brief period of last season, Adam Lind has proven that he is not a good MLB hitter. Despite that, the team keeps running him out to first base everyday and, until very recently, he was batting cleanup on a daily basis.

Why does the team keep running Sleepy out there despite his obvious deficiencies? Well, he has shown that he has the potential to crush MLB pitching and he’s currently signed to a very team-friendly contract, so why not give him the chance to figure things out?

And, even if he didn’t have those things going for him, who would the team replace him with? David Cooper? Ha!

The only legitimate internal option is the trifecta of moves oft-mentioned by fans: Travis Snider promoted and installed in left field; Eric Thames moved to DH; and Edwin Encarnacion taking over first. In theory, I like those moves. In reality, it doesn’t seem likely as team management seems committed to finally giving Snider some stability and leaving him at one level (Triple-A) for an extended period.

Human beings, when threatened, generally go into fight or flight mode. Confront the problem head on or run away from it and hope for the best. Some, but not all, lapse into a sort of contentment when they’re not really threatened.

I won’t pretend to know what goes on in Lind’s head, but given his previous comments about how much he hates working out, I wouldn’t be surprised if he tends to feel content when he’s not pushed. Struggling at the plate? “Big whoop, what are they going to do? Call up Cooper?”

If that’s his attitude — and it may well not be, but hear me out — maybe he needs a push.

The team may have given him that push on Thursday.

At 37, Vladimir Guerrero is a shell of his former self. But the shell of a likely Hall of Famer is better than what Lind’s been doing lately. That Toronto signed the Impaler to a minor-league deal can only be viewed by Lind as a threat to his job security.

If Guerrero can prove in the minors that he’s got anything left in the tank, the team could easily improve its offence by moving Encarnacion to first and letting Vladdy DH while Lind rides the pine. Not only would it be a good move in terms of improving the offence, it’d have to be a PR score, too. Employing the services of a Montreal Expos legend isn’t exactly going to hurt.

Of course, there is always the possibility that Lind, sensing that he’s threatened, fights for his job and does whatever it takes to get as close to his 2009 form as he possibly can. If he does, the team wins on this deal with Vladdy.

If Lind doesn’t improve and Guerrero ends up making the Jays a better team, the team wins on this deal with Vladdy.

If Lind doesn’t improve and Guerrero doesn’t have anything left to contribute, well, Vladdy’s deal is for peanuts, relatively speaking, so the team doesn’t lose on this deal with Vladdy.

It’s a win-win-draw deal if I’ve ever seen one!

No such thing as too many options

The news broke late last night: The Toronto Blue Jays have optioned Travis Snider to Triple A Las Vegas. My initial reaction was one of frustration. Snider has the highest upside! Snider’s been jerked around so much, he deserves a real shot! If Snider was on any other team, Alex Anthopoulos would trade three relievers and a bag of popcorn for him and then let him play every day! TRAVIS SNIDER HAS LIGHT-TOWER POWER, DAMN IT.

I’m sure most of you have seen it already, but if not, check the 40-second mark in the above video. That was 2008. Snider was 20. He’s still only 24 (math!) and anybody ready to write him off is, well… foolish is probably the nicest word to describe those people.

So yes, I’m frustrated that Snider’s not going to get his much-deserved shot at the start of this season, but maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

Eric Thames is not a bad player. Not even close. If you can against root against Eric Thames, I don’t know that we can be friends. He works hard, he plays hard, he always looks like he’s having fun AND he can hit. He’s not Snider, but he doesn’t have to be.

Thames put a .262/.313/.456 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) slash line last year and he did that over nearly 400 at-bats. He could learn to take a few more walks, but the power certainly seems real. If he can improve at getting on without sacrificing the power, he could be something special — or at least above average.

But where does that leave Snider? If he goes down to Vegas and mashes the minor-league pitching as he usually does, he’ll certainly be deserving of another shot in the bigs, but what position will he play?

I have a lot of hope for the 2012 Blue Jays, but there are a lot of question marks surrounding them. Particularly at first base. If Adam Lind and/or Edwin Encarnacion struggle at the plate again, the team can’t afford to give them endless opportunities.

It pains me to say it, but Lind’s been one of the worst hitters in MLB over the past two seasons. Sure, maybe he can regain something of his 2009 form but, without some form of improvement, he no longer deserves an everyday spot in the lineup.

Encarnacion, when he’s on his game, he’s one of the best hitters going. But when he’s off? It’s ugly. Maybe the DH/1B role will lift the weight of 3B and the E5 moniker and allow him to focus on hitting well. Or maybe he’s just another streaky player who’s a better fit for a bench role.

Both Lind and Encarnacion are going to get a shot to prove themselves worthy, but if either struggles and the team does something about it (as it should) that will open up the DH spot. Snider’s a better fielder than Thames, so it’d be a natural fit for Thames to DH while Snider patrols left.

And if everyone comes out swinging and no spots open up for Snider? That’s not a bad problem to have, especially for a GM who seems interested in adding pitching.

Lunchbox Hero and the Safety Squeezers

One game can make all the difference, can’t it? Coming into tonight’s game against the Yankees, it seemed like people were fixated on the losses to the Red Sox, the slumps the Jays’ sluggers were going through and John Farrell’s seeming insistence on using Octavio Dotel against left-handed batters.

I tuned into tonight’s game during the eighth inning. I can’t speak to what happened before that, but what I saw afterward was pretty inspiring.

The bottom of the ninth. Down two to the Yankees. Mariano Rivera on the mound. This is not a situation many teams have been able to overcome. Ever.

Over the course of his career, Rivera had 566 saves in 615 opportunities. That’s a 92% success rate. That’s a pretty slim chance the Jays are going to win.

But win they did.

Yunel Escobar, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind: They all reached base. Travis Snider did not.

Escobar scored. Lind moved Bautista to third. Literally everybody’s favourite Blue Jay (if that’s not true, it should be) Johnny Mac comes to the plate.

Beginning the season, when the Jays were doing great, fans everywhere seemed excited about the running game and the willingness of the team under Farrell to take chances. Then, when the Jays started losing, the running game was the first target of many fans’ ire (and, in some cases, rightfully so.)

People criticized Cito Gaston for sticking to his guns, but Farrell does that, too. Last night, with the Prime Minister of Defence at the dish and down a run to the Yankees with Rivera on the mound, John McDonald executed a perfect bunt and Bautista came home to score on a safety squeeze.

Let me say that again: John McDonald laid down a perfect safety squeeze bunt against Mariano Rivera to tie the game.

It was a thing of beauty.

Of course, asking for Rivera to take the loss in addition to blowing the save would be too much, and he got out of the inning. Extras. A good enough top of the 10th from Jon Rauch and the Jays again got a chance to end the game.

Ivan Nova comes in and Edwin Encarnacion immediately singles. Jayson Nix and Escobar proceed to hit deep fly outs, but E5, often slammed for a lack of hustle, runs his little heart out on those two flies. The man wanted to win, wanted to be the one to score the run that capped the comeback against the Yankees.

Two outs and Snider, who was 0-for-5 in the game had struck out three times — once apparently breaking his bat over his knee in frustration — comes to the plate. The same Snider who came into the game with a slash line of .151/.250/.245 and who seems to have been touted as a “bust” by impatient Leafs fans for years now.

But since you’re reading this, I assume you’re not one of the Snider doubters.

Snider comes to the plate and what does he do? He justifies your love.

Lunchbox Hero.

If you read this hoping for some kind of insight why what happened happened, I’m sorry. Sometimes when you witness something great, you just need to get it down.

10 bold predictions

We interrupt your regularly scheduled postings from Chris to bring you a post from me, Cole, formerly a member of the yearly roundtable, now a contributing member of the blog.

Throughout the time that Infield Fly has been around, Chris has periodically asked me if I would write for it. After all, I have been called by many people the biggest Jays’ fan they know, and considering Chris and I met at journalism school, he knows I’m a writer.

I’ve always thought there was nothing I could really add to the blogosphere that isn’t already out there in other Jays blogs I love.

However, at about this same time last year I recall trying to motivate myself to write a blog post and the idea I came up with was to make a prediction/observation that the Jays squad was going to hit a lot of home runs in the 2010 season. Of course we all know that in fact turned out to the truth, but it’s also a fact that the aforementioned blog post never made it out of my brain and into words.

Too bad, I could have been a prognosticating genius (just like seemingly every major media outlet last year that predicted the Jays would be in the cellar and likely lose 100 games, *ahem*)

At any rate, I figured this year, I won’t let my predictions go undocumented. I will put them here and when October rolls around and the Jays are getting ready for their ALDS matchup (Let’s hear it for optimism???) I can look back and see how accurate I was.

I should also note that I’m by nature an optimist when it comes to the Jays, especially in the spring. Not all of my predictions are cheery and rosy, but for the most part you’ll notice I’m not hoping for the train to fall off the tracks here.  Continue reading

Won’t somebody please think of Lind?

Despite constant reassurances since he was resigned that he’d be the DH and occasional first baseman, the Blue Jays today announced that Edwin (E5) Encarnacion will be the team’s everyday third baseman.

According to the above-linked article from the National Post’s stalwart Jays reporter John Lott, manager John Farrell, the decision was made based on E5’s defensive improvement — especially his footwork.

Now, yeah, from the little bit I’ve seen, read and heard out of the Jays camp, E5’s looked great at first. Good footwork, good reactions, everything. If all that’s true, sure, he might be great at third. But E5’s problem at third hasn’t been his glove, it’s been his arm.

You can kind of get away with a third baseman who can’t hit the side of the barn if you’ve got a great glove at first, but Toronto’s got Adam Lind. I guess management is pretty confident in his glove. They’d better be.

Couple of quick things

Travis Snider’s eating and tweeting habits are newsworthy.

Let’s all root for Adam Loewen.

It’s too bad Drew’s outfield preview is out of date already, but it’s still worth a read if appreciate fun and smart.

Re-Encarnacion*

Dudes! The moment you’ve all been waiting for has arrived! Edwin (E5) Encarnacion is back!

Yes, your Blue Jays have signed the amazingly awful defender to a one-year deal that will pay him $2.5 million. The team’s also got a club option for $3.5 million in 2012.

I was pretty happy when Oakland claimed E5 off waivers, but I really like this move to bring him back. Why would I be happy to welcome back a guy whose defence is so bad and whose lack of hustle actually got him demoted to Triple-A at one point last season? Simple: He’s not going to be playing third.

The vast majority of Encarnacion’s fielding problems have to do with his throwing accuracy, not so much with his glove. So what can you do with a guy who can handle the glove, but not the arm, required to play third? Move him to first! And that is just what the Jays are going to do. Well, first and DH anyway.

This makes me suspect E5 will see more time at DH than at 1B. Alex Anthopoulos seems determined to see if Adam Lind can hack it at first, and that’s ultimately the way I hope things shake out. But if Lind can’t do it, or if he can’t find his swing against left-handed pitching again, Encarnacion seems like a good backup option.

* I can’t take credit for this pun. But it was first put out there by someone calling themselves “Infield Fly,” so there’s that.